This photo was taken during one of the saddest, most trying times in my life. But, can you see any of the pain I refer to from the smile in the picture?
There is so much chaos and loss swirling around the planet right now, it is essential that we keep our feet on the ground, our minds informed, and our hearts wide open to what is good and what is true. For at times like these, it is easy to forget. I find my spirit traveling to Gaza, Ferguson, Israel, to James Foley’s final journalistic contributions, to all the magical worlds that Robin Williams created on screen, to Bob Deyan’s side when I said what would be my final words to him last week, to my grandmother’s arms before she passed on to a world where I won’t be able to hug her for a long, long time.
And in the midst of all of this, I find myself yearning to shine a light. To keep my chin up and take in the stars up above me without losing hope. For hope is something we must nurture each and every day and spread like wildfire in the hearts of those who surround us. And lately, with everything going on, it is easy to forget that hope is real. And that life is still beautiful in spite of all of the sadness.
Seven years ago, I went through the aforementioned darkest time in my life. I contemplated suicide frequently and battled a destructive monster called Depression. My heart and mind were at war and my body tried to make sense of it. Everything was broken. Everything felt lost. For a while I tried to hide behind the mask of happiness. I tried to reassure everyone I was fine. But, to those who really knew me, they could see I was falling apart. I soon realized I was a danger to myself, so I reached out for help. I reached out to my friends and family who stood by my side through it all, reminding me of who I truly was, breathing life back into my broken heart. I reached out to a professional therapist who didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. (Well, maybe a few gems that I didn’t truly grasp until many years later). But, he did listen. And he did echo back all the truths I knew deep down and was not able to tell myself. He helped me find my way back to the truth, to the present moment, and to this man I am forever grateful.
Cut to present day. I recently closed my first one woman show, “The Mermaid Who Learned How to Fly,” a title that came to me so naturally…The show itself is inspired by those dark moments in my life; a suffocating time when I felt like I was drowning and dreamt of wings. I did not write the show right after this experience..I took time to heal, to seek help, and to find my way back to my true self. It is only now, all these years later, with distance from the story that inspired it, that I am able to take my most challenging moments and memories and transform them into colors on a palette. Each color is now a tool that I use with a paintbrush called time. A paintbrush I did not find until many years after seeking help.
I have met fellow travelers who have expressed to me that they are dealing with past traumas and still in the swamps of sadness. I always try to listen and offer whatever guidance or inspiration I can to ease the pain. But, I also always recommend seeking professional help; a consistent, objective outsider who is there to listen, free of judgement, and provides a safe space in which to heal. At times, when I have suggested this, people have dismissed it, thinking that the suggestion has been made because I am uncomfortable with their sadness…I have even been told, “You can’t be around sad people. You don’t understand, Kyla. You’re so happy.” But, the irony in that, is that I DO understand. I understand because I am only able to live my life in such a bright and happy way because I once lived in the darkest corners of my mind. And I got out. I fought my way out. I healed my way out. I cast off that lonely island and came back to the world of the living. The world of the present moment. The world of right here in front of you. Of second chances. And starting over. And I only suggest therapy to fellow lost travelers because I know, firsthand, that it takes so much more than one conversation with one friend to travel the road to healing. It takes effort. And Time. And Patience. And I will gladly listen till the end of time to those in need, but at the end of the day, we can only heal ourselves by our own admission to the fact that we need help.
I had a friend named Ryan, who was a handsome, budding actor in New York City. He left everything he knew behind in North Carolina to pursue his dreams of acting and I had the privilege of crossing paths with and getting to know him while bartending at my favorite place in Times Square, Havana Central. Ryan was so full of possibility. He was always dreaming something up! He would come in and tell me how his brother had called a casting director and acted like his agent to pitch him and got him an audition. He always had a story about his exciting, wild adventures. He had no shame and wanted it all. He was always smiling and making jokes. He was super competitive and would try to beat all the other servers in sales. He complimented me every time he saw me and made me feel beautiful on days when he had no clue that I really needed to hear that. He was a unique and wonderful guy with so much to give. And some days, he would get dark. I would see a cloud pass over his eyes. And he would express what was ailing him. Memories from the past, things he was holding on to.. And I could see so clearly, that he needed help. I tried to give it to him in the ways that I could, but I also suggested, ever so gently, that he seek counseling. And Ryan would always say, “I don’t need help. I can do it on my own.”
On September 29th, 2012 I was in Florida at a wedding. In the middle of the dance floor, I got this awful feeling. Something I had never felt before. I can’t explain it, but everything in me knew something was very, very wrong. The next day I got a call from a dear friend telling me that Ryan had taken his life. This amazing guy with his whole future in front of him had cut his precious life short. I just kept thinking of his words. That he could do it on his own. That he was fine.
On Monday August 11th, 2014..before news broke about Robin Williams. I had that same awful feeling. The same exact one. I called my family to make sure they were ok. I kept reaching out to people I knew. And then, I got a text. That Robin had passed. Robin Williams, the complete opposite of Ryan, someone who had grown older, gotten the chance to live their wildest dreams, and still the same tragic end. So many years between them, one with a life of unfulfilled dreams, the other a life full of dreams come true, and yet the same outcome.
I don’t think I’ve ever shared this much about these feelings before. I like to tell stories and disappear into other characters and live their pain and triumphs without sharing my own. Even my one woman show is only partially my story…I found a way to disappear into that too. Because it is what I love to do. Getting to breathe life into the stories of other lost souls makes me feel alive and getting to give it all away to someone else who might be moved in some small way is my greatest joy.
But, with all of this illusion going around…All of these shadows playing on the canvas of our psyches, I thought I’d share the absolute truth.
Depression is real. It almost ended my life at 19 years old. It ended the life of a friend who I believed in with all my heart. It ended the life of a man we all felt we knew and loved. And countless more. (108 other people died by suicide the same day we lost Robin).
Every once in a while, depression rears its misunderstood head again…the hopelessness, the despair. It sneaks up on me when I least expect it, or when I am dealing with loss as I have been of late. But, I no longer run from her. We know each other by name now. It is a choice I make every day to not crumble. To not give up. To rise up and be grateful that I know what it means to truly be awake again after being asleep for so long. To give my dear old friend a hug and tell her, “I’m not afraid of you anymore.”
There are so many ways to seek help and everybody’s path is different. But, being brave enough to tell someone you need it is certainly the first step. We all deserve to find our wings. After all, it’s always sunny above the clouds. Even if your plane takes off in a rainstorm. Nature is telling us something here, I know it in my soul.
If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. It’s never too late to let the people you love know that they are loved and that there is hope. Yes, depression is real. And thankfully for all of us, Hope is too.
Talk about a #ThrowbackThursday..