This past winter, I did something very foolish: I responded to a comment about myself on twitter that I wasn't tagged in.
Now let me begin by saying that I don't believe that searching my name on twitter was the foolish part. At the time, I wasn't in a show, actively avoiding possible comments on my performance. I was teaching at Barry's Bootcamp and writing a comic book...and while I'm flattered some of you think I am, I'm not famous. I find a ton of stuff through twitter searches including articles I haven't seen and feedback on my fitness classes. Recently, I even found out I was nominated for an award on my favorite comic book website this way. If you're shocked that ANYONE reads about themselves online at this point, save your rant, please move on. I'm not going to get into the psychology behind it. If actors really were the completely secure, zen, and perfect super humans many people expect us to be, the Broadwayworld.com message boards wouldn't be such a controversy.
I sent a rolled eye emoji back at the tweeter in my pitiful and unwarranted rage. I then deleted the tweet out of immediate regret, wrote a tweet saying 'think before you tweet' out of pure guilt, and then blocked the user because I just wanted it all to 'go away, go away, go away'. That all happened pretty much within a matter of seconds. Pure crazy fumbling on my phone. I got home, sat down on my couch, and shook my head laughing at how idiotic the entire thing was. I tried to grapple with why it irked me so much. The young person who wrote it had every right to their opinion...and most importantly, I wasn't supposed to see it. I was an asshole to make them uncomfortable. But the subject matter overwhelmed me. It was a nasty comment about my work in The Book of Mormon (Gasp! Good heavens, no!). Why did it get to me? Well...I had put my time with Mormon on an emotional pedestal. It was a time of hard work and joy and someone was shitting on that. It was also the last time I felt I had presented an honest image of myself: Genuinely happy and healthy. It was the last time I had the state of mind I was still working hard to get back. A complete stranger had hit a chord in me that had nothing to do with a damn tweet or their opinion.
Over the years I've tried to be somewhat transparent about my struggles with anxiety and depression, but I often present it as something I have gravely overcome and conquered through 'working hard and being awesome!' (insert the same rolled eye emoji). Truth is, clinical depression is a bitch and a half. So here's my story:
After a year at Mormon on Broadway, I decided not to continue on tour with the show due to my relationship and several projects I had lined up in New York. I was at a point in my life where I had never felt more secure or excited about what was next. After all, 'what's next!?!?', is usually the most dreaded question in the world for an actor.
To make a long story short, here's what happened in the course of one year:
My relationship ended abruptly and painfully.
A Broadway show I had been cast in never came in.
A giant West End spectacular I was set to lead...was canceled.
My passion project was delayed and then never made an expected move to Broadway.
Okay so...Shitty year, yeah? I could write a book. Not the point, just the context. What matters is that I wasn't taking care of myself. With every bump in the road, I tried to cover up my perceived failures with pretty pictures on social media and pretending everything was 'amazing'. I was terrified of perception. Desperately trying to get back the feeling of calm and joy that had slipped away seemingly overnight. I was playing a character to try and mask the pain. My depression reared it's ugly head again and became increasingly severe.
My first real struggle with clinical depression was in middle school dealing with bullying. I became suicidal as a result. I had conquered that dark period in my life by working hard to succeed so that I could raise the biggest middle finger possible to everyone that caused me that pain. Turns out, that's a little destructive as well. When a series of unfortunate events happens, you realize (all too painfully) that you have put all of your confidence and strength into things that are ultimately fleeting.
I had grown weary of the constant 'failures' and felt out of control. In the Spring of 2015, while out of town in Seattle, I lost something else. It was my voice. I had a vocal issue that wouldn't miraculously resolve itself while I was trying to lead a very taxing show. Go figure! Convinced my vocal abilities were gone for good, I was sure I had lost everything. I convinced myself that I had nothing to live for. I wrestled with some of the darkest thoughts of my life and knew it was time to seek help.
I was ashamed of myself. For years, I had presented an image that I had wildly overcome these feelings and would never ever go back. I had an 'it gets better' video on YouTube stating just that, after all! Surely I had to live up to it! On top of the failure to succeed, I felt like a hypocrite and a fraud.
I returned to the city and began counseling. After one more out of town gig that summer, I decided to lay low and take a break from performing while I explored other options. I needed to prove to myself that I was worth more than all of the fleeting things that I had relied on for strength. I needed to prove to myself that I had the power to create and control my own life. I needed to know that the path I had so definitively chosen for myself at 19 (...jesus christ) wasn't the only path I could take, no matter how much I loved it.
Instead of waiting for things to happen, I decided to take action. The wallowing in my own self pity and pain had gone on long enough. I just had to find the guts to ask people for help. Which is hard when you're a stubborn asshole like myself.
Thanks to the help of so many incredible fans that have supported me over the years, I was able to create my album, Uncontrolled. I put my grief and fears into that album and I'm so proud of what we achieved. I was moved beyond words by the outpour of generosity from everyone who backed the project on Kickstarter.
Along with the album, I decided to pursue other avenues as well. Fitness helped me work though some of the toughest times. Instead of just claiming to be a fitness guru, I decided to study, become a certified trainer, and actually know what the hell I was talking about. I then asked a friend of mine to take a risk on me and hire me as a trainer. I also wrote a comic. I love comics, wanted to write one, so I approached a comic book company with my best friend and we got the deal. That comic is in development to be an animated series now. I will be executive producer and creator on it.
Asking for help, daring to try things completely out of my comfort zone, and pushing myself to new limits has saved my life.
Eventually, when I felt ready, I fell back into theater. This time, every project finally felt like a luxury. Something I had the opportunity to do, rather than something I needed desperately. An experience I would never have had if I let my depression consume me.
Yes, I'm writing this very long winded blog because things are 'good again'. Hard work has payed off and I feel triumphant in my successes. But I'm not a teenager anymore. I recognize now that clinical depression isn't something your conquer and move on from. It's something that requires patience and constant care. This time I'm not raising a middle finger to the bullies of Ross Middle School, but rather at the heavy weight that still sits on my chest from time to time. The all-over pain and paralysis that can come out of nowhere and suffocate. It's real. It's difficult. It HAS to be okay for anyone to talk about it.
My depression has made me so angered by people's perception of me over the years. Frustrated that people would think I had it so good when I was struggling so badly inside...or furious that people would think I'm struggling so badly during a time where I was working hard and feeling so good. Perhaps being a little bit more open about my experience will free me of a few false perceptions in this new social media crazed world that I am so very much a part of. I don't want to play a part off-stage. I want to feel the ground beneath my feet and know that I can stand even during the darkest times.
We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We have so much at our disposal in this world. We DO have the power to change our own lives at any moment. So often I would stop myself from pursuing something I legitimately wanted to do because I was worried about how it would be perceived. As if those middle school bullies were following my every move and would judge. As soon as I lifted those restraints I began to feel grounded again. I allowed myself to grow. I allowed myself to see beyond the grief. I stopped limiting myself to fit a certain set of perceived ideals.
I just...need to spend less time on twitter.
This blog is to help anyone feel a little less crazy, a little less alone, and a little less ashamed. Take care of yourselves. Don't forget to check in and ask yourself if you're really okay.