A couple of years after I had moved to New York City to pursue a career in entertainment, Murphy’s Law decided to do whatever it could to make me quit. It wasn’t enough that I was living in a basement surviving on ramen, bagels and pizza (which, yes, I’m thankful I at least had that), but shit just had to hit the fan all at once. Eh, when it rains it pours, right?
Anyway, I was getting incredibly worn down. I kept meeting shady person after shady person, day after day after day, and I began to feel like maybe the entire industry was tainted with people who just wanted to steal your pennies and your dignity and leave you in the gutter for dead. I was having trouble keeping my head above water, and unbeknown to me, I was having panic attacks at night, leaving me gasping for breath. My poor boyfriend at the time was left wondering whether I was asthmatic or just crazy. I had no health insurance. New York was expensive; I was working 9 to 5 and then recording in the studio at night, and hitting auditions whenever and wherever I could. I was burned out — burned to a crisp.
My boyfriend at the time was supportive, but with everything that was going on, it was difficult to connect on any level whatsoever. The exhaustion was too much and I literally lost myself. My mind-set was in a different place entirely, being torn in every direction possible. And between trying to make it in NYC and worrying about my family back home that was perpetually never doing well, I was wrecked.
And to top things off, my boyfriend had just asked me to marry him.
Cue my complete meltdown.
Yep. Meltdown. Self-destructive rampage-of-doom kind of meltdown.
I think most people have a time in their life when they’ve messed up so badly that it either triggers a much-needed wake-up call, or a downward spiral that drags on into years of self-hatred (or worse, suicide). Perhaps not everyone experiences it on an extreme scale, but many do, and hopefully the outcome results in many lessons learned about how not to destroy your life.
I really loved my boyfriend, but my heart told me I couldn’t settle down. Everything just felt wrong. And most of all, I felt there was something wrong with me that perhaps couldn’t be fixed. I felt like a horrible person, saying no to someone who had supported my dream for years when so many people around me counted on my failure. I know now that I made the right decision, as our inevitable breakup prevented me from dragging him further through the mud, but back then I was at my lowest point.
I remember after I moved out into another NYC apartment, before my boyfriend moved back to Ohio, he had borrowed a key to get into my apartment to check on me because no one had heard from me in a few days. I woke up to see him standing over me, and he said, “I didn’t know if you were even going to wake up.”
I had been asleep for days after a free clinic doctor prescribed me something far too strong for me to be taking in the first place.
We may have been broken up during the shitstorm that was my meltdown, but I will never forget the look of worry on his face at that moment. Despite all of my f***ups, he still cared enough to want to know if I was OK. And the fact that he cared enough reset something in my brain, telling me I needed to get back up out of the hole I’d dug for myself and wake the hell up.
Being able to admit the mistakes you’ve made, and actually learning from those mistakes and taking steps to never repeat them again is one of the best qualities you can acquire. I needed to take a good hard look at myself and what I was doing. I had to remind myself of the journey I was on, and the reason I had crumbled into that downward spiral in the first place: Because although it felt horrible to break away from everything I knew and loved, I knew it was the only way I was going to make it. If I stayed where I was — broken, penniless and confused — how would I ever be able to take care of anyone else? I wanted to take care of my loved ones, my friends, my family. I wanted to someday inspire people, put smiles on their faces, encourage those who needed it not to give up. There was no way I’d be able to accomplish that by staying the course I was on. And I could not possibly subject anyone else to the trial and error of my attempts to climb to the top from the very bottom of the barrel.
It hurt me so much that I hurt myself in the process, and although I made a ton of stupid mistakes, I am thankful for them. Life was difficult enough for me growing up (you’d think I was a glutton for punishment or something), but it took me those several months of despair to realize that I had to do better — not just for myself but for everyone I cared about. There were no other options, and I refused to look back, unless it was to humble myself with a reminder of where I’d been and how far I’d come.
We are all human, and we can all be better. Just because you feel you’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole doesn’t mean you’re never going to be able to see the sun again, and I hope that by writing this, more people will realize that. Additionally, although I was unable (and unwilling, for various reasons) to seek help at the time, there is help out there. There are resources, hotlines, forums and support for those who are having a difficult time. But most importantly, you have to believe that you can overcome the obstacles you face, and you must do everything you possibly can to rise above them.
I look back on it all now, and it’s like an entirely different life. Who was that person? Was that really me? What the hell — really? I don’t have panic attacks anymore (and haven’t since that time in NYC). Nothing fazes me now. The worst thing could happen (and many awful things have happened), but now I can just roll with the punches and get right back up again. I had some crazy moments growing up, many that I had blocked out of my memory entirely, but those few months in NYC were the very last of my inner demons making their appearance. I often mention martial arts as being one reason for my dedication and calm demeanor despite any circumstances, but during my “dark time” (sure, we’ll call it that, why not?), I wasn’t training. I wasn’t taking time for myself, or examining my actions on an introspective level. I was losing sight of who I was, forgetting how much I truly loved people, and I allowed the darkness of the unfortunate people I had encountered to envelop me.
I was lost; I let myself down, and admitting that fact was the first step to finding my way back to the journey I call home. I learned that I must do better, day after day, even if the struggle tried to rip me to pieces.
After a while, that struggle transformed into an adventure that I’m still enjoying to this very day. And now I’m stronger than ever.