It was about 9:30 p.m.
I was sitting in my car, in the parking lot of Target, having an odd conversation with a producer for the TD Jakes Show.
Sweat was gathering in the folds of my belly and dripping down my back. My car AC is out – again.
I’m trying not to freak out that I have nothing appropriate to wear on a TV show, or that I’ll be on a flight the next day to Los Angeles.
Earlier in the day, I had to actually block my mom’s calls. She was on a rampage, calling me dozens of times in her angry hysteria.
Everything feels weird in the light of the dark parking lot.
The lady on the phone is so nice, and kind, and explains that this is a survey they do with all guests. Some of the questions are quite personal, she explains, and I can almost hear the apology in her voice.
“I understand, no biggie! I’m an open book!” I say cheerfully, and I mean it.
She also told me I don’t have to answer the questions if I’m not comfortable with it.
No problem, I think.
We get through the household income, what I do for a living, do I have kids? How old are they? What are their names? Am I married? How do I rate the happiness of my marriage?
So far, so good. I’m getting through this, feeling curious about the process and amused at how odd some of the questions are. I think to myself “this is the weird side of show biz.”
Then she asks “Are you taking any medications?”
It came out really fast – “Nope!”
The lie I told. I didn’t even have a moment to consider this.
The answer was like a bullet.
But if I had said “yes,” then I would have to explain.
If I had said “Yes, Zoloft,” my composure would have crumpled.
If I had said, “Yes, I’m taking a prescription to help with my anxiety and depression right now,” I would have also been tempted to add “But I”m TOTALLY FINE! I swear! I’m NOT crazy.”
My easy laugh, my way of smoothly answering questions would suddenly have given way to stumbling and over-explaining and nervous laughter if I had said “Yes, I’m taking Zoloft.”
That part of the interview glided by quickly, but I felt the fire of the lie spreading shame on my shoulders and the nape of my neck.
Everything I stand for – authenticity, fighting stigma, standing up against the shame of having mental illness – was suddenly covered in ambiguity after that moment for me.
Why had I lied? I was not brave. I was ashamed. I still am.
Many more questions… I can’t remember them all – but this one, “What is your greatest fear?”
Without hesitation and all the honesty in my heart, I said “That I’ll never accomplish anything amazing before I die.”
I did the show. I said my part and talked easily about what I care about and believe in.
I explained how I want people to understand about mental illness by seeing my mother.
I want them to see how beautiful she is, and understand more about schizophrenia.
It went fast.
Everyone on the set was incredible.
Every person who took care of me was warm, authentic, and passionate.
I got back to my room after it was all over and looked at myself in the mirror.
Snapped a selfie to remember this.
I didn’t really look like me. There was more make-up on my face than I’ve ever worn in my entire life.
The glued on eyelashes were weird, and funny.
I peeled them off and mused about how different they look in my hand.
What they look like when they are what they really are – a slightly gross-looking collection of fakery.
Those who have been following my project loyally have wondered where I went suddenly. My voice went quiet. The stories and images weren’t posted so much anymore.
The truth? I had a freak out.
My summer was HARD, man.
So here’s the truth – the letters, the messages, the emails crushed me.
Every day the stories and sadness from everyone. I felt every. single. one.
Worse? I could not reply. I could not keep up. I HATE having an auto-reply on my FB messenger.
I HATE knowing that someone felt moved enough to write me and I didn’t have the strength or time to reply with a personal note.
Suddenly I had oddly created a situation where people wanted to connect, and reached out, and got silence. From me.
I never wanted it to be this way. A community formed and I was not a good leader.
And so the anxiety began to build in the pit of my stomach and not go away.
I would wake up and feel like I was on the top of a roller coaster about to drop.
I would read the messages and then want to go back to sleep.
It became difficult to do basic things like make lunch for my kids, or reply to texts from friends.
Lying is so awful, so I hid out, instead.
Hiding is the safer but lonelier alternative, it turns out.
It’s been about two months since the Big Darkness loomed over me, and I’m stronger now.
Meds WORK, people.
You know how I know? Because I’m BACK.
I’m doing what I do. Being honest. Truth telling. And fighting.
You know what else? From this experience came the epiphany of my mission here.
My job isn’t to be the only voice.
My job is to connect people through their stories.
I can’t answer all the emails and letters. But I can help people find each other.
And I will.
I’m moving forward on getting a non-profit established so I can pursue this goal.
I’ll be focused on creating a web platform that can help people connect directly and be stronger together.
It’s in the beginning stages, but I have so much faith in this idea. There will be many more details to come.
I’ll be using funding from the gofundme to work on this, and also helping my mom with some much-needed essentials, too.
We are not even close to the amount of money it will require to build her the home I dreamed of, but I don’t want to let that stop me from helping other people while we still hope for a better life for her, too.
Thank you to every person who reads, comments, shares, emails, messages me and supports me and us.
I cannot always reply. But I hear you and see you and care about you.
Thank you for making my mom’s struggles meaningful in this world.