“I started to believe that the reason I was creative, the reason that I was able to be a good writer, and the reason that people thought I was funny is because I was mentally ill.”
I stood on the platform in the Times Square subway station. My mind wandered as I listened to Jenny Jaffe speak about her struggles with depression and OCD and watched a subway rat weave between the train tracks. Immediately post-therapy, I mulled over the session as I waited for my train to arrive. But those words jolted me out of my reverie and into the story. It was a thought I had periodically as I contemplated going on medication. This specific fear of a professional creative sounded ridiculous in another person’s voice. And yet as it rattled around in my own head, it felt like the most logical conclusion one could reach.
I returned to therapy shortly after moving to New York. Life circumstances brought back long-buried demons that were gradually stealing joy and passion from the most precious places of my life. Leaping from the safety and familiarity of the state I called home for twenty-five of my twenty-six years, I landed in a city over-saturated with uber-ambitious, talented high-achievers. Everything moved faster except the various modes of transportation. Those seemed to move at a pace more appropriate to my sleepy, water-front hometown.
May of 2016, I walked across a stage and received my Masters of Music in Vocal Performance. I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was ten, though I didn’t have a name for it until I was twenty. Even so, I knew this feeling threatened to dictate the terms of my life. While it wasn’t something I could totally control or ignore and it made me do and say weird things, I never wanted it to get the final say on the big things. Moving to New York was one of those big things. After graduating, I decided that, if there was a time to try living in New York, this was it. I arrived jobless, seven days before the movers, and my mom drove away in what was formerly my green Subaru Outback.
Away from the safety of school and the obligations of a weekly voice lesson, the voice of my anxiety amplified and reverberated in my head. I got a day job, first temping then back in food service. I staggered down the typical NYC aspiring creative road, from acting classes to voice lessons, subscriptions to the newsletters and sites where directors posted about auditions, and following the latest news and influencers in the Broadway world. I had an idea for a musical I wanted to write, and so I dove into books about how to make that happen.
It didn’t happen in a single moment, but after less than a year of the grind, a familiar feeling creeped back in and settled. Without meaning to, I was spending most of my free time laying on my couch, staring at the ceiling. I wanted to get up and practice singing, but I was unable to do so. The times I managed to drag myself off the couch, my head was consumed by anxious thoughts and I struggled to make sounds in front of my keyboard. I knew the feeling and what it meant, so I set up an appointment with a new therapist.
Medication seemed like a necessary next step, but I was worried. Last time, the medicine caused me to gain fifty pounds in six months. Perhaps the pill helped in some ways, but not enough to outweigh the side effects. My anxious brain also decided that taking medication was in some way cheating, like I should be able to manage on my own. I just needed to figure out how to properly motivate myself so I could try harder.
And then there was the potential creative cost. Even though I was so consumed by anxiety that I couldn’t bring myself to practice, let alone audition, derp brain convinced me that pills would hinder my creativity.
I started listening to The Hilarious World of Depression when absentmindedly browsing for something to listen to. The title grabbed my attention instantly. Humor and morbidity go together like Macaroni and Cheese, so I decided to check it out. I listened to John Moe interview comedians about their mental health, and in their words and their humor, I heard my own thoughts and fears. By the time I listened to the episode with Jenny Jaffe, I was already thinking about medication. But hearing about the experiences of creatives like me, I started to have hope that things could be different.
At my next appointment, I asked about medication and expressed my concerns. My counselor told me I needed to see a psychiatrist who would evaluate me and then manage my medication. I didn’t know what would happen or how exactly it would go. But I had direction and I had hope. And that was something I hadn’t had in months.
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