On our descent into O’Hare International Airport in Chicago Friday night, we passed through a thick layer of fog/smog. Not sure which. This was after a week of Christmas celebrations and travel with two non-functional post-op feet. A week of very little alone time for a woman who loves alone time.
Anyway, we had to fly through fog, okay? But then, once the fog broke, there were all these little lights. If you’ve ever flown at night, you’re aware there are little lights. This was different. These were Christmas lights. Teeny tiny Christmas lights decorated little Monopoly-sized houses that got bigger and bigger as we descended into O’Hare.
It was … beautiful. All those houses lit with glimmering lights of green, blue, red, et cetera. Houses I will never see up close, decorated by people I will never meet. It didn’t matter. It was a sight that took my breath away.
Friday night, I was tired. I was grumpy. I was in pain. All of it went away when I saw all those twinkle lights beneath the fog.
I suppose the metaphor is obvious, but let’s reiterate: beneath all the shit is something beautiful. Beneath all the sadness and tough times you’re going through, something meaningful awaits. We don’t go through shit for no reason. We don’t float through the fogs of mental illness/death/worthlessness/name your poison for nothing.
Eventually, twinkle lights show up and remind us that life is beautiful. It’s easy to forget, especially during this difficult time of year when we’re supposed to be jolly and blah blah happy blah joy to the world blaaaaaaaaah. Most of us aren’t fucking jolly, okay? We’re sad and stressed and just want the parties to be over.
Then, there were those tiny lights decorating houses in Chicago, and BOOM.
A wily giggle.
Sorry if you’re going through the fog right now. I know I have been. And no, the lights didn’t heal everything, but they made me remember that life is pretty damn good. Yeah, we pass through dark times, but there’s light eventually. We just gotta be strong and wait. Trust me; the light shows up when you least expect it.
I’ve been riding the crazy train since I was fourteen, ebbing and flowing on tides of happiness, depression, and anxiety. Many writers can probably say the same. Hell, engineers can say the same. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.
I didn’t talk openly about my mental health (or lack thereof) until Robin Williams committed suicide. I realized that if someone as “happy” as him could do such a thing, maybe there were other people struggling in silence, too. I first started writing about my personal demons; then, I gave a big speech at the University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
Yeah, I was terrified, but since then, I’ve spoken a lot IN PUBLIC (arrrgggguhh) about mental illness: its causes and its treatments. Last November, I had a pretty nasty relapse. My mental health was the worst it had been in years. The depression, anxiety, and overwhelming fear wouldn’t stop, negatively affecting my work, my sleep, and my relationships
Sorta scared of medication, I sought therapy instead, and my therapist suggested I start a mental health blog … so I did.
Mental illness is a solitary disease, but it’s important to realize you are not alone. I’m just as messed up as you, I promise. There are plenty of us out there going through similar battles with body image, self confidence, paranoia, and severe melancholy. Let’s remove the stigma and talk about it.
If you’re up for a journey, come visit me HERE at Successfully Mad and subscribe in the sidebar. (You can learn more about my mental health speech there, too, and learn a bit about my background.) I’m going to try to be brave, so be brave with me.
Whatever you’re going through, have a hug through the internet. You’re not alone, and we’re gonna get through all this nasty shit together.
There’s something so soothing about cannibalism. While recently watching the brilliant French film Raw, I totally spaced out on bloody images of a nice girl chewing on human flesh. With the addition of a well-mixed Cosmopolitan (it’s not a during-dinner movie), I put my kicks up and relaxed. Something I’ve done very little of lately.
As a writer, we all have bad days. I’ve had a bad month. Granted, I have so far spent much of 2018 creating. By end of March, I was burnt out. I thought going to Florida for the annual Bite Somebody Pilgrimage might help. A week spent doing nothing while sitting on the beach only made things worse because it made me notice how happy I felt not producing.
Currently, I stew in a state of discontent. Life feels slightly off, like a glitch in the matrix. I’ve even had trouble reading, comparing myself to every author and feeling like I’ll never stack up. I have yet to bang my head against a desk, but I’m close. At least if I’m unconscious, I won’t obsess over all the work I’m not doing.
Jake was out of town two weekends ago. Our empty, old house reminded me how much I love scary things—which was when I remembered a friend had suggested Raw. I paid a visit to old favorites, too, like Woman in Black, Neon Demon, and Poltergeist. I turned my back on my usual genres and started reading Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. (True, I took a fluffy break to watch Alexander Skarsgard play Tarzan, but well, who doesn’t want to watch that?)
As close friends know, I watch Rocky Horror Picture Show when I’m really depressed. Something about being trapped in a spooky castle surrounded by spooky people during a champagne sex party really brightens my mood. When I speak about mental illness, I often mention my love of horror films: “No matter how bad things are, at least I’m not being chased by an ax murderer.” True—and probably why I’ve been fully immersed in the horror genre for weeks.
I’m struggling. I’m semi-drowning. A perpetual state of discontent is not a good state. My mom calls my writing a “gift.” My devotional this morning pretty much said the same. I am happiest when I’m writing, so why am I avoiding my favorite thing at all costs?
True, the “business” gets exhausting. The constant promoting and selling and pitching and rewriting and … ARG! I gave a presentation recently about “The Write Life,” and I explained to my audience that actually sitting down and writing—creating—is a surprisingly small part of the writer’s job. The birth of something, its initial inception (that blessed first draft) is the best part of the gig and, arguably, the smallest.
Which makes me want to watch every Halloween movie ever made and drink a dozen martinis.
I’m tired. I’m disgustingly discontented—and yet blessed because I have so many new releases in the coming year that are going to be amazing. Despite all the good stuff, it’s human nature to gravitate toward how messed up we’re feeling. Which I think is okay, really, as long as we don’t fixate on how messed up we’re feeling.
Dunno, guys. If I don’t feel the itch to create something new soon, I’m going to go right mad. I relate most to Mary Shaw in Dead Silence. I don’t like kids, and I already have the dolls.
The past month has been a special version of Hell. I seriously injured a rib while helping my neighbor move a heavy chair. I knew the moment it happened that I was in trouble. When you feel something inside you go *pop*, reassess all your life decisions.
The pain spread from my rib to my back to my neck. I no longer slept through the night. I woke up at 2 AM and cussed at my TV for hours. I wandered through my days like an angry zombie … but I didn’t eat human brains. I didn’t eat anything, because OH, HELLO DEPRESSION! I WAS WONDERING WHEN YOU’D SHOW UP AGAIN!
As most of you know, I’ve suffered from depression since I was fourteen. This is nothing new. It reached its climax … valley … I don’t know which metaphor to use … when I lived in Phoenix and took some pills and drank some vodka and, oops, emergency trip home to stay with my parents.
Ohio has been a revelation for my mental health, possibly because I’ve come to realize I actually dislike sunshine and love rain and snow. I also love the small town lifestyle. I signed my first book deal here for the Bite Somebody series, and I have my family nearby. All these things put depression in the rearview mirror. But now, thanks to some unfortunate life circumstances and a rib injury, it’s back.
What do I do when my mental health takes a nosedive?
1. Hide in my house.
2. Drink gin.
3. Read Sherlock fan fiction.
4. Stop writing.
5. Stop eating.
6. Stop smiling.
7. Reconsider medication.
I haven’t been on antidepressants in over three years, and weaning off of them last time scared the bejeezus out of me. Am I at the point where it’s time to revisit medication? Well, that’s still up for debate, but as my friend put it last week, “At least you can acknowledge when you need help.” Many people with mental illness seem incapable of reaching out for help. They wander through life in a sort of denial haze telling themselves they’ll get better, they’ll get better, when they actually need support.
Medication isn’t the only answer, of course. There’s therapy and exercise and dietary changes and getting rid of alcohol (a HUGE depressant). There are any number of treatments for mental illness, but so many people don’t even want to admit they have a problem in the first place.
It’s been a long time since I had a “problem,” but that doesn’t mean I’m depression free. Whenever I speak about depression, I make it damn clear that there is no cure. You don’t just get kicked in the head by a horse and feel all better. Depression is a lifelong battle with peaks and valleys (see, I can use metaphors). I’ve been lucky to be on a peak for a long time, but now, I’m visiting the valley … and that’s what this is, a visit. I won’t be building a house here anytime soon.
It has been a month since my unfortunate *popping* incident. Two weeks ago, I wanted to cut for the first time in years. I saw my doctor and promised not to cut myself and spent a week on Effexor before its side effects freaked me out. I went to the gym today for the first time since my injury. I stared at Benedict Cumberbatch giggle gifs on Tumblr and watched the entirety of Yuri On Ice all over again. I’ve been talking again, too, smiling again, and I’m working on eating. Oh, I’m even sleeping again, and nightmares notwithstanding, it’s good. It’s all good.
I’m climbing out of the valley, slowly, but this has been an important and eye-opening reminder that mental illness is indeed the monster under your bed. It waits and it waits, until it grabs you by the ankle one morning and says, “You didn’t think I’d gone, did you?”
We need to take care of ourselves, mental illness or not. We also need to admit when we need help. See doctors. See friends. See God. When your mental health takes a nosedive, know that you are not alone. We all have bad days, weeks, months … Please don’t fight the fight by yourself. When you’re depressed, find the thing that makes you happy and surround yourself with that thing, even if it’s a good book. Even if it’s the sound of rain. Even if it’s ice cream. I’m clawing my way out of the pit. So can you.
There are people out there who would have you believe love cures mental illness. Find the right guy or girl, and your depression will go away. Your monsters will go away. Fact is, no one can heal you but YOU. Be wary of thinking otherwise …
You meet him your second day in Charleston. More so, perhaps, you meet his violin. He’s wearing a suit you imagine cost as much as a car. As he speaks to you, he’s still holding his violin: a red piece of wood with scratch marks and a faded veneer. You wonder at the abuse the instrument has taken but soon think these are not marks of abuse but marks of love—of devotion.
You’re in a place called the Charleston Grill. Waiters scurry like albino beetles in white shirts and dark slacks. The restaurant smells of butter and fish but mostly butter.
After the jazz quintet finishes their last set, you find out his name is Graydon Kelly and he would like to take you to dinner. At first, you think you should say no. He has that look about him: the thorn on the rose, the sugared rim of a poisoned glass.
When he shows up to your date, though, you reassess. He’s in a pastel linen button-down and torn jeans. He has on boat shoes, and his curly black hair is a mess. He smells like pine.
“Rosin,” he explains. Something to do with his violin.
He takes your hand and leads you to a table in the courtyard. His left hand is callused against yours. Outside, winding, wrestling fig vines grow up the exterior wall, illuminated by white twinkle lights that mimic the stars. He pulls out your chair and sighs into his seat.
He must notice you looking at him, because he smiles. “I look different when I’m not on stage.”
You fall into conversation, and it’s not the usual, polite, getting to know you babble. Graydon Kelly says odd, irresponsible things like, “You seem like you’re running from something” or “You have an amazing mouth” or the worst, “What do you think of me exactly?”
You only respond to the last comment: a terse, “I’m not sure.”
He walks you home in a rainstorm, leaving you both soaked on the crooked front porch of the yellow plantation house you rent. He smells like rain and marinara sauce with the lingering touch of pine. He tastes like tiramisu.
Later, in your bed, you find him conversational. He makes himself at home. He is comfortable with pillow talk, even with an almost stranger. Again, you doubt your assessments.
He seemed so dangerous in his dark suit at Charleston Grill but so playful in his boat shoes with his messy hair: almost innocent. His comfort in your bed, though, is his tell, his admission. He does this all the time. He makes love to women he doesn’t know because they ask him to, because of his violin and his face and the strange questions he spouts over champagne.
When you ask about a white scar on his rib cage, he tells you his father used to beat him. One day, his father broke his ribs. One poked through the skin. In Graydon’s words, the bone looked like “a stick dipped in marmalade.”
His honesty makes you awkward. You feel a need to share something, too, so you tell him you’ve been diagnosed schizophrenic. He doesn’t know what this means, not really, so you explain to him that you see things sometimes—children in white light on sidewalks; grown men covered in red scales. You tell him things have been better since the medication …
In her book, Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson writes about something called The Spoon Theory. She says that each day, we’re given a certain number of spoons. Each spoon represents something you have to do, whether that’s shower or work or eat. Every time you accomplish something, you give away a spoon.
Well, I have run out of spoons, no matter what my dishwasher says.
For instance, when I realized my swanky dress I’d bought for the event still had the “you stole this” thingy attached, I lost my mind. Actually going to the store to have the evil magnet removed felt like climbing a mountain. In heels. With an elephant on my back. An extra fat elephant. An extra fat elephant eating chicken wings. You get the idea.
I still had a few spoons left, true, but they were relegated to:
Watch the BBC
Every other task? No spoons for you!
The spoon shortage included my writing. I quit working on my new novel because I realized my brain was too fried to plot or develop or care. Every bit of creativity I have right now is going toward prepping and promoting Bite Somebody Else. Even sending We Still Live to new agents is on hold. Okay, yeah, I wrote some Sherlock fan fiction yesterday, so assign a spoon to Smut. (I always apparently have a spoon for Smut. I think one is actually labeled “Smut.”)
At first, I battled with my lack of spoons, but if my mental health speech in Tucson last week taught me anything, it taught me that it’s okay to crash, especially if you’ve been working hard. Too hard, in fact.
In the weeks leading up to Tucson, I would wake in the middle of the night sweating and in the midst of a panic attack. My neck and jaw pain was so bad I started making weird stretchy faces in public to try to lessen the pain. (Picture Jim Carrey in … anything.) My brain was fuzzy to the point of forgetting things, all sorts of things.
The word we’re looking for? Burnout, baby.
Author burnout is bad. You awkwardly apply alliteration in all assignments. Your paragraphs closely resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. You accidentally use the phrase “heaving bosom” and don’t even blink. Which is when you just need to STOP. Not forever, but for a little while.
I think this applies to life, too, not just work. (Nobody wants to start literally looking like a Jackson Pollock painting.) Sometimes, you need to step back. Make a vague excuse about “spoons,” and no one will want to ask any questions. Have a martini. Stand on your head. Stare at pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch laughing. Whatever it takes to slow down the ever-churning engine that is your mind and just stop for a little while.
Perhaps collect additional spoons.
Saturday, I leave for the famed Bite Somebody Pilgrimage to Longboat Key, Florida, and I’m not working a lick. My spoons will be labeled:
Get a tan
Drink rum punch
Laugh your ass off
Swim in the moonlight
Read some smut (See, there’s always a spoon for Smut.)
When I get home, I won’t be quite so burnt out anymore. Maybe I’ll even do a little tinkering on We Still Live or the as-yet-untitled Witch Project. Or maybe I’ll coast on a Bite Somebody Else wave for a while. Who knows? It’s hard to plan my spoons that far in advance.
For now, I’m on a break. I deserve a break. Do you?
For the past month, I’ve been weaning off my anxiety meds—little blue pills that have been my crutch for six years. Meanwhile, University of Arizona called and asked me to fly to Tucson to be their featured speaker at Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the reasons I started taking anxiety pills was due to my fear of being in public. The irony is not lost on me.
So why on Earth did I agree to speak in front of God knows how many complete strangers in the Arizona desert? Honestly, I was pleased as punch with the theme. My contact at the university informed me that they want my speech to be funny, happy, and cheerful. Instead of bemoaning my depression and PTSD, they want me to talk about not just surviving mental illness but thriving despite it.
Apparently, I’m the poster child for this thriving thing, which is surprising to me as I currently battle drug withdrawal, insomnia, and depression. I don’t feel like I’m thriving right now. I feel like I’m drowning. Despite my head being underwater this week, however, I sort of see what Arizona means.
Despite my social anxiety, I attend book conferences and speak on panels. (People actually consider me charming and funny at these things. I find this shocking.)
Despite my depression, I continue to write and work. I go to the gym and beat up weight machines. I cook dinner for my husband even when my appetite is gone, and I laugh at ridiculous things even when my heart hurts.
Despite my PTSD triggers (never walk up behind me when I’m sitting at my desk), I create. One of my friends recently called me the most prolific writer she’s ever seen—probably because I write to combat my mental illness.
I now have a speech to write. I need to talk about what it feels like to have a mental illness. I need to discuss treatments and techniques to manage. I need to put a positive spin on all the bad stuff, and even though it’s hard to be positive when you’re not sleeping, it’s possible. Anything’s possible.
On March 30, I will stand at the high tide of University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week, completely terrified to be the center of attention. I will share my story, though, which is something I’ve never been scared of. I’ve always been open about my illnesses, because demystifying a taboo steals its power. I will be funny, I hope. I will be honest. I’ll also be free of anxiety pills for the first time in several years.
Part of thriving is acknowledging our problems. We can’t hide behind mental illness. We can admit to it and move on. As I told a friend recently, “Slay the day.” Even if you’re terribly sad. Even if you’re scared to leave the house (or fly to Tucson, for that matter). Even if you’re just too tired. Don’t just survive … but thrive.
1. Do invite me to parties filled with strangers because I need a reason to shower. When you do, give me a week’s notice so I can practice smiling without wincing. I will also make up a dozen intelligent phrases to sprinkle into the conversation. For instance, “Funyuns are actually pig intestine.” And, for the love of God, don’t leave me alone.
2. Do invite me to parties filled with people I actually know because friends are good. In this situation, understand I really have to be on point because I will see these people again, and sometimes, that’s nice because they know I’m weird from previous encounters. Other times, it’s worse because I just get weirder every time they see me.
3. Do send me random gifs of Benedict Cumberbatch. This man’s ridiculous giggle is quite soothing.
4. Do make sure all the pictures in your house are straight. If your pictures are crooked when I come over, I’ll walk around fixing them for a half hour before realizing you’re still in the room.
5. Do learn to recognize my “Get Me The Hell Out Of Here” face. When things start going south (usually about two hours into any social situation), I start looking like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. When this happens, kindly usher me to the nearest exit.
6. Do not hand me a small child without asking first. If you honestly think throwing a baby at me is a good idea, may the consequences be on your head. It’s not that I’m scared of children. It’s just that I think I’ll drop them and I’m scared of children.
7. Do forget when I say awkward things. Sometimes, I might text you after we’ve hung out to say, “OMG, I can’t believe I said THAT. Please forgive me.” You probably won’t remember I said THAT, but I’ll have been obsessing over THAT for the past three hours.
8. Do expect me to cancel plans without a viable excuse. Some days, I can’t leave the house. Admitting this to you is way better than me breaking a finger on purpose just so I can say, “Hey, broke my finger. Rain check?”
9. Do not talk to me at the gym. The gym is a very safe place where I am in the zone. If you break that zone, I might notice I’m in public, surrounded by sweaty strangers. Don’t let me notice.
10. Do laugh when I immediately assume everyone hates me. Basically, every day, I think someone hates me. Realistically, I don’t think people hate me, but my anxiety does, so laugh. I might just laugh with you.
A week ago, I finished writing my third novel of the year. “Hambden” (working title) was the most difficult novel I’ve ever written. It took me a little over two months to write, but the short birthing period says very little about the emotional toil it took for me to reach The End.
The plot evolved from watching news coverage of the Paris attacks last year. Then, the attacks didn’t stop. The shootings increased. Living in Chardon, Ohio–a small town that suffered its own school shooting in 2012–kept me surrounded by red, cardboard hearts, silently commanding all of us to “Remember.”
I suppose my husband is the only person who can speak from experience about my consistent emotional breakdowns whenever I heard about some other psycho with a gun. Although he perhaps didn’t understand my hysteria, people with anxiety disorder surely do. When you’re already afraid to leave your house just because, multiply that with the fear of getting murdered by some asshole teenager with “Killer” written on his cheap, white t-shirt.
Buried beneath my anxiety and depression, an idea bloomed. Instead of ignoring what was going on in the world, I would write about it–namely, I would write about a shooting at an Ohio college, only I would write about the aftermath of the tragedy instead of the tragedy itself. How does a community rebuild? How are individuals affected?
My “individuals” (we writers call ’em “characters”) soon echoed in my head like gunshots. Meet Isaac Twain: emergency English Department hire who’s new to Hambden University and knows very little about the shooting that stole six lives the prior June. Meet John Conlon: hero teacher who stopped the shooting and desperately tries to hide how fucked up he is by being charismatic, funny, and brave.
I’m not giving anything away when I tell you surviving the school shooting messed John up big time, and, as I wrote my novel, I found it alarmingly easy to slip into his shoes day after day as he battled depression, PTSD, anxiety, and night terrors. However, what surprised me was how hard it was to take those shoes off at the end of the day.
In my past and present, I’ve battled the same demons as John Conlon. No one’s ever put a gun in my face, but depression is in my genes. A hellish job shoved me into PTSD and anxiety. My colorful imagination makes me a writer by day and sufferer of vivid, bloody dreams at night. Immersing myself in “Hambden,” in John and Isaac’s world of broken pieces, was more destructive than I’d expected.
I would never suggest we only write about happy things. I would never suggest we stop writing about mental illness. I’ve found that sharing my own mental health problems has helped my readers be open about their own–and that’s important, having that open dialogue. The more we talk about mental illness, the better we can deal with it. The more likely we are to heal. And yet, writer beware. There must be a strict delineation between the fiction you create and the life you live.
Halfway through “Hambden,” I came to the realization that writing is my job. It’s not my life (no matter what the passionate cliches on Pinterest want you to think). It is necessary for all of us to keep our work and our lives separate. Once I came to terms with that–once I made an agreement with Isaac and John that they had my mornings and life had my afternoons–I stopped feeling so comfortable in John’s sad, cold shoes. I could escape and stop thinking about the book as soon as I hit “Save” every morning.
Due to editing deadlines for next year’s Bite Somebody Else, “Hambden” will not be touched again until December. Then, I will revisit that world of violence and tragedy. Yet, even in that world, there are laughs and there is love. Writing might not be life, but sometimes, it sure does imitate it.
Under the influence of a few beers Sunday night, Jake and I watched Bo Burnham’s most recent comedy show, Make Happy. The majority of the show is Bo being his ridiculous musical self, so I laughed. Then, he reached the big finale. I stopped laughing as Burnham, quite noticeably, stopped being a comedian.
It started innocently enough with a joke about Kanye West and Auto-Tune, the follow up being Burnham himself using Auto-Tune for a final musical number that opened with, “I have problems.”
So begins a rant about the preposterously small size of Pringles cans and the danger of over-stuffing Chipotle burritos. But then …
“I can sit here and pretend my biggest problems are Pringle cans and burritos. The truth is my biggest problem’s you. I wanna please you, but I wanna stay true to myself. I wanna give you the night out that you deserve. But I wanna sing what I think and not care what you think about it. A part of me loves you. A part of me hates you. A part of me needs you. A part of me fears you. And I don’t think that I can handle this right now. Look at them, they’re just staring at me, like ‘Come and watch the skinny kid with a steadily declining mental health and laugh as he attempts to give you what he cannot give himself.’”
The monologue didn’t smack Jake in the face the way it did me, maybe because Jake isn’t an artist and I am.
Just last week, following the death of my cousin, I wrote a very personal essay on grief. On a conference call with my college advisor, she asked about the piece. She said, “Didn’t it make you feel vulnerable?” I thought about it. I thought some more. Then, I said, “No. My work never makes me feel vulnerable at all.”
My brother has asked similar questions, especially following a harrowing magazine essay I penned about my “cry for help” suicide attempt (which was later reiterated in Phoenix Magazine). He didn’t understand how I could put myself out there like that—metaphorically going to confession in front of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people.
Are artists allowed to be vulnerable, or should we hide behind a fictional veneer? As opposed to non-fiction, should I have made one of my fictional characters take a bunch of Klonopin and drink a bottle of vodka? Instead of opening a vein for his audience, should Burnham have gone on making jokes about race, drugs, and politics?
The hard truth (for some artists) is that being vulnerable is part of what makes us interesting. I spent years of my life pretending I was totally okay. Very few people knew about my depression and anxiety issues. In fact, if asked, most people thought I was the happiest, most sociable person they knew. Then, Robin Williams went and committed suicide, and I wrote an essay for SheKnows.com about how I like to cut myself.
I believe it’s the artist’s choice whether or not to be vulnerable. I choose to be honest about my demons; others channel their demons into fiction; still others refuse to admit their demons even exist. But let’s be honest: audiences like demons, because everyone has ‘em—some people are just better at hiding.
“A part of me loves you. A part of me hates you.
A part of me needs you.
A part of me fears you.”
Yes, this is how every actor/comedian/writer/painter/name-your-artistic-vocation feels every time we create anything. We love the good reviews. We cower from the bad. Sometimes, we need applause; other times, we just want to create in peace. We put ourselves out there because we have something to say. (If an artist falls alone in the woods, do they make a sound?) We are vulnerable every time we put ourselves out there, and we must be prepared for the repercussions whether we get called boring, racist, sexist, label, label, label.
As artists, we are not only allowed to be vulnerable. I think we need to be. Because of my essay about cutting—my openness about my mental health problems—I’ve gotten countless emails saying, “Thank you.” One of the responses I’ll never forget: “Your essay made my husband understand his wife.”
Burnham, despite his silliness, showed vulnerability to every person in the audience at Make Happy and to everyone who’s watched the show since. I don’t remember all the jokes, but I remember the moment the mask slipped and “the skinny kid with a steadily declining mental health” made his cameo to enthusiastic applause.