We also filmed a version for JNF-Jewish National Fund where I got to talk about how wonderful it is to use your professional skills to make a difference in the world around a cause that is so dear to my heart. Stay tuned for more on the new Arts & Entertainment Taskforce from JNF!
Chester. Chris. Layne. Scott. Kurt.
The list goes on….
These were some of the names and the voices that helped shape me and shape my taste and appreciation for music. They’re all gone way before their time. Why? Because of depression, addiction and mental illness in one form or another. These are silent killers. We can’t be silent anymore.
When news hit of Chester Bennington’s death by suicide, I was in shock. I can’t quite explain what made it hit me so hard in a way that others before hadn’t. The news about Chris hit just as hard, but this was a little different. I was in my car on my way to see my therapist (thank G-d for that) and a special breaking news announcement came in on Alt Nation on Sirius XM. I screamed out loud in my car “WTF??!!!” and had to pull over and text my friend and former co-worker who is connected to Linkin Park’s management to confirm. I just couldn’t believe it was true. I’m not sure why this one was such a trigger for me. Maybe it was the build up of all of them. Maybe it was the timing of some things I’m going through in my personal life with myself and my family that made it hit really close to home. Whatever the reason, my reaction was intense and visceral. In a way I feel numb. But I’m also so so sad. And scared. And perhaps most importantly, I’m motivated. I’m motivated to STOP THE SILENCE.
So many people are suffering in silence. Why are we so scared to talk about mental health and mental illness? Why should it be any different than any other illness or disease? Mental health issues do not make us weak. It makes us real. This is true for everyone, but I speak especially to the music and entertainment industry because the fact is, we are a community at risk. Musicians, artists, creatives, and those of us who are surrounded by them in our professional and daily lives are especially at risk. Many of us are sensitive people who are deeply affected by the energy of the people around us. We have a responsibility to each other and to ourselves to break the stigma around mental health issues and say “It’s ok. You’re not alone.” Especially those of us in management and artist relations who sometimes have to be “stand-in therapists” for our clients. We can’t brush away or minimize the signs of suffering. We have to hold each other accountable.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. But, we can start to change the conversation around the issues. We can start to create an environment of more love and less hate. More acceptance and less judgement. More understanding and less silence. We can start to let people know that suffering is universal and there is no shame in it.
I’m going to start by revealing the story of my own struggle. This is something that is very hard for a generally private and introverted person - but I believe that we can no longer treat suffering as some dirty secret that we need to hide.
I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety in one form or another since I was a young child. At different stages in my life I’ve tried various medications and seen many therapists. For the most part, my depression was chronic. It was like a quiet shadow that followed me wherever I went. It wasn’t so severe that it always interfered with my daily life, but it was just always there and was always whispering in my ear. There were a few times where the depression got louder and did start to interrupt my life. In those times of crisis, I somehow got through them with the help of therapy, but never really addressed the underlying issues.
As an adult, I’ve done a relatively good job of hiding it. Sure, those very close to me know bits and pieces of it, but the really dark parts I keep just for myself. About 5 years ago, a few months after I moved to LA, I hit another really dark, low place. At that point in my life, I had been through enough to recognize the signs and knew that I needed to do something. I found an amazing therapist who after a couple of months of seeing me recognized that I needed to be back on medication in order for her to be most effective. I was quite resistant for a while. I had been on medication before and thought I was now “strong” enough to do it on my own and “naturally.” At one point, things got so bad that my therapist told me she wouldn’t be able to continue seeing me unless I went to a doctor and started medication. She recognized that there was a chemical imbalance that caused the neurotransmitters in my brain to go all out of whack and misfire. This caused me to have a constant barrage of negative thoughts and chatter that I just could not turn off. There was no way for us to work through the issues that were bothering me when I couldn’t even quiet my brain enough to think clearly.
I listened to her and got myself to a doctor and back on medication. It wasn’t an immediate or automatic fix. It took a while to find the right medication, the right dosage, and to allow my body to get used to it. But, eventually it did, and my thoughts started to quiet down. And that’s when the REAL work began. The medication was not my cure. It was just a tool that allowed me to really do the work on myself that I needed to do.
I now accept that for whatever reason (genetics, environment, past trauma, and probably a combination of many factors), my brain chemistry is off and needs some correction with the help of medication. It may be something I need for the rest of my life, and it may not be. But I have no reason to be ashamed of it. If I’m deficient in Vitamin D or Iron, I take supplements. This shouldn’t be viewed with any harsher judgement than those. I’ve been on medication and working with my therapist ever since - over 5 years now. I say working, because it is WORK. It’s not comfortable and it’s not easy. I’ve had to confront many things about myself and my life that were painful and difficult to confront. There are times where it’s been downright miserable. But I can honestly say that I am healthier now than I’ve ever been in my life.
That’s not to say that I don’t still struggle. In fact, I’ve recently been going through an especially tough time with things in my personal life and family. But I now have more tools and skills to get me through it and to grow from it. Perhaps even more importantly, I know that if ever get to a place that is so dark that I think I can’t get out - there’s always help, and there’s always hope. And it doesn’t make me weak, it doesn’t make me less than or incapable of being successful and doing great things. It just makes me human.
Now, my story is mine alone. Medication is not the answer for everybody (and I believe that it’s never the only answer for anybody). Each person’s struggle is unique and so their solution and recovery has to be unique to them as well. Help can come in many different forms- a good therapist, a rehab program, medication, even a good friend. But one thing that’s not unique - is that no person can do it completely alone. They have to be able to seek the help they need without the fear of ridicule or judgement. We wouldn’t allow someone with cancer to suffer alone and not receive treatment because they’re too scared. We can’t allow someone with mental illness to either.
That’s where we ALL come in.
People are scared to make a bigger deal of something that may not warrant it. Nobody wants to sound the alarm and be the overreacting drama queen when their friend is just a little sad over a breakup. But why not? Educate yourselves and know the signs. Hold each other accountable. Make agreements with your friends and family that you will tell each other if things are ever feeling overwhelming. Sometimes it’s ok to “over-react.” Under-reacting has much more dire consequences. We need to create a safe, loving, and accepting environment. We need to be aware of the people around us and look for the signs that they may be suffering more than normal.
To those in pain - know that you’re not alone and don’t hide it. I’m not saying to walk around with your pain on your sleeve and tell everyone you meet, but don’t hide it away from everybody either. Confide in the people you love and trust. Don’t be scared or ashamed to seek professional help. Hell, even the healthiest and strongest among us could benefit from some professional help once in a while! There are so many resources out there and so many people willing to help - if only they new where the help is needed.
I don’t have all of the answers. We need to change the culture we live in. We need to get rid of a stigma that’s been around for centuries. It’s not an easy task, but I’m hoping that just by speaking about it, we can start the process together.
There is so much pain in the world. So many people suffering. But there’s also a lot of love. Let’s allow the love to be louder than the “sound of silence.”