Happy Birthday, Dad

In November 2017, I was at my friend’s wedding. She looked beautiful, and happy, and when the music slowed and she took the floor with her father for their dance, I turned away and burst into tears.

“My father will never dance with me at my wedding.”

The words flew into my mind unbidden, but it wasn’t the first time they’d come. I tried to calm myself as I had in the past; of course he would be there to dance with me. Of course he would make it. He wasn’t that old after all. I could call him right now and hear his voice and he’d make me laugh and I could stop worrying.

But I couldn’t calm down. As one of my best friends danced with her dad, I stayed firmly facing the wall, shaking with the effort of keeping silent and trying to pull it together at least enough that I could sneak out to the bathroom and wait until the anxiety, and the horrible certainty faded. Eventually, the song ended, I leaned into my boyfriend for support, and chalked it all up to a bad mental health day.

I had less than three months left.

The day my dad died was the strangest day of my life. I was at a wedding with my boyfriend in New Hampshire and suddenly my mom was there and time became very, very still.

Over the past month, I have mourned my father more deeply than I can ever explain, even if I wished to. This will continue. Some days it will consume me and leave me shrieking into my mattress, or gasping silently in the bathroom at work. Some days it will be so bad that I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep breathing, much less be happy again.

And some days, like today, I will laugh and smile and cry and feel peace.

Joseph O’Dell Barney was the brightest person I’ve ever known. He sang loudly and often, and he played the guitar every day.

I can describe him, how he had crystal clear blue-green eyes, preferred his hair short, and had a perpetual moustache, usually with a beard (except for those times he tried to trim it and accidentally shaved his entire face).

I can explain how much he loved sweets, and Cosmos, and cigars, and annoying my mother, and really all manner of things that were bad for him.

I can try to convey just how much people liked him. Whenever we’d walk the dog throughout the years there was inevitably someone to say hello to, or talk with. When he married my mom so many people crashed their reception that the owner eventually had to shut it down for putting the entire building over capacity. There were over 600 people at his wake, most of whom waited outside in below-freezing temperatures for over an hour.

I can tell you how awesome he helped make my childhood, how he’d dance with me around the living room and swing me over his shoulder when I was too tired (or lazy) to walk upstairs to bed. We’d go on walks in the woods, and snug watching movies, we’d go sledding and swimming in the ocean, and in the summer, we would lay out in the driveway and look at the stars.

I can explain how much he loved being a Pepe. I remember how excited he was when my sister told us she was pregnant with her first baby. He loved taking the girls out for McDonalds, and picking them up from school. He went to Disney World, and soccer games, and dance recitals and everything in between.

I can talk about how much he loved his family, how often we visited my Meme and Pepe, how he worked three or more jobs to be able to raise my sister and brother, how many times I came home to one of his sisters or brothers with him on the couch.

I can tell stories, like the time when I was a little kid and we pranked my mom by having me run out yelling as she walked through the door so my dad could run out in his Superman costume and swoop me to safety. Or how he kept asking my mom to marry him for years before he finally did.

I could talk for hours, days, weeks, months, years about my dad and I still couldn’t capture what it was like to know him. And if you knew him, you know that too.

I had the best dad in the world. Hell, I still have the best dad in the world. I always will.

Love you, Daddy. Happy Birthday.

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Next to Normal

If you’ve being reading for a while, you’ll know that I’m into theater, particularly musical theater.

I love singing, try my best to dance, and overall love the atmosphere of performing in musicals.

I also adore listening to soundtracks of different shows. On repeat. For weeks at a time.

Next to Normal is one of my favourite shows. The music is haunting, powerful, and absolutely beautiful. The characters are raw, flawed, real, and live close to my heart. The story hurts and heals in equal measure.

It’s beautiful and important, and deeply, deeply problematic.

Musical theater deals with stories of love, heartbreak, race, poverty, religion – pretty much anything you could imagine, controversial or trite as you may think.

In my experience, Next to Normal lies in a category of its own.

In case you aren’t familiar with the show, Next to Normal focuses on the Goodman family. The mother, Diana, suffers from delusions, depression, and bipolar disorder exacerbated by a personal tragedy, which I won’t spoil but which drives a lot of motion in the show even though it happened years before the show’s timeline. She and her family try to live their lives dealing with her illness and their own issues independent and in relation to it.

Next to Normal succeeds in a lot of ways. Dan is unable to deal with his wife’s illness, constantly expecting quick fixes and insisting in spite of everything that “it’s gonna be good” even as his manic optimism becomes increasingly unrealistic and detrimental.

Natalie is angry at her mother for the way she has treated her throughout her childhood and grapples with her own mental health issues and fears of becoming her mother and hurting her loved ones in the same ways.

Henry tries his best to love Natalie in relation to her complicated familial situation and doesn’t know how to deal with her mental issues – but makes his best effort to learn and support her anyway.

Diana – well Diana deals with losing control, losing her agency, and losing herself, along with all the terror and anger that her experiences entail.

The characters in Next to Normal are well written and heart-breakingly real, particularly in relation to their flaws and problems.

My main problem with Next to Normal is its portrayal of medication for the treatment of mental illness. In the song “Who’s Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I” Diana goes through a flurry of different medications that each have their own benefits and side effects until the song’s final lines:

“I don’t feel like myself. I- I don’t feel anything.”

“Patient stable.”

For a long time, I fought against using medication to treat my anxiety and depression. I thought it was for other people, people who were in much worse places than me. It was a cop out and if I just tried harder I wouldn’t need medication. And as much as I hate to admit it, that song was one of the big reasons I fought against medication for so long.

Frankly, I was terrified of what medication would do to me. I was so scared of becoming numb and emotionless that I was willing to put up with the panic attacks and the increasingly severe anxiety until I could barely function. I wasn’t willing to give it a try until I had thoroughly given up on ever getting better, and even then I hated myself for being “weak”.

When I think back on this, I’m more than a little grossed out by myself. The thing is, I would never have said any of this to anyone I knew who took medication for depression or anxiety. I would have been horrified to hear anyone say needing medication made you weak. It was just so easy to say so to myself.

Medication is not a magic fix for mental illness. Nothing is. It’s tough to fight and a number of strategies need to be used tailored to each individual and even then you can’t always win.

For me, a mix of talk therapy, yoga, and medication is the current plan. So far, it’s been going well for me. It took a bit to get here and I’m proud of where I am, and looking forward to – well – moving forward.

I think that Next to Normal is an incredibly important musical. It faces mental illness head on in a way that most people aren’t used to and can give some insight into dealing with mental illness in a society where the general practice is to look away.

But the people in Next to Normal are one (fictionalized) example of how mental illness can affect individuals and their families. Their stories don’t apply to everyone.

As a disclaimer, I do not claim to be any kind of authority on musical theater any more than I’m one on mental illness. I’m only familiar with a fraction of shows and can’t comment on the structural quality of any musical.

That said, musicals have always been important to me. Next to Normal was one of the first shows that I really loved, and for a long time, it was the thing that resonated most deeply with my perception of mental health.

While it’s a beautiful, important musical that makes mental illness more accessible, it also has its problems, and like any beautiful important thing, those problems shouldn’t be ignored.

The vulnerability necessary to love

You can’t make someone stay.

Sometimes, you love someone with all your heart and want nothing more in return than them, pure and simple.

Sometimes you imagine someone in your future, as far as you can see, and the thought of having them in your life almost makes you giddy with joy.

But sometimes, you’re wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, love is not always enough.

A romantic relationship cannot function without love, but that does not mean that love is all it needs to function.

Sometimes people can love one another deeply, but there are so many reasons that a relationship can fall apart that has nothing to do with love.

Love might even end up being the reason things fall apart.

Everyone says that breaking up is hard to do. Whether you’re able to reconstruct a friendship out of the pieces, or you move on separate courses away from each other, in some way you always end up losing someone who you once wanted more than anything.

There isn’t any hard and fast way to deal with that.

Sometimes it feels like there isn’t any way at all.

Losing someone you love is pains in your chest that don’t ever seem like they’ll go away, it’s waking up in the wrong bed, it’s crying more than you ever thought possible, and it’s breaking down so completely that you don’t ever think you’ll recover.

But you will. You always do.

You keep waking up in the wrong bed and you keep getting out of it. You keep moving and breathing until your chest feels lighter, and you keep living until you begin to notice that you are still alive.

I don’t think there’s any use in diminishing the pain that comes from a breakup. Whether you’re 13 and have just been through a breakup with someone you dated for 3 weeks and you feel like you’ll never, ever love anything or anyone again, or you’ve fallen out of a relationship you’d been in for years and everything is quieter and more empty and you’re not sure anything will feel normal again, your pain is real. It matters.

It matters because for a moment, or a lifetime of moments, you cared deeply and fully about someone. In so many cases, love ends with heartbreak, and yet, you allowed yourself the vulnerability necessary to love.

And someday, in spite of it all, you’re going to do it again.

Sometimes you fall asleep drunk and wake up Little Red Riding Hood

So, this is a bit off from the general theme of this blog, but it’s the most important thing that’s happened to me in a long while.

I. Love. Musicals. I love acting, singing, dancing (poorly), the whole shebang. That said, I haven’t actually been in a musical since my senior year of high school.

However, last year I found out that one of the theater groups on campus was doing Into the Woods this fall. Obviously, I spent the next 4 months stressing out about what to audition with.

Into the Woods is one of my top 5 Favourite Musicals of All Time. I have wanted to be in it ever since I saw it eight years ago, and to find out that I would finally get the opportunity, at the start of my senior year no less, was huge.

I’ve spent the majority of the past few months weeks trying to figure out what to audition with, what part I would be gunning for, and most importantly, forcing myself not to get my hopes up.

See, I have this absolutely lovely habit of completely choking whenever I have a singing audition. I get all sweaty and dizzy and dry throated and my voice cracks or barely comes out and as soon as I finish I barely have time to pitch myself into a bathroom to cry.

It’s super cute.

As much as I try never to get my hopes up about auditions, as soon as I finished, I knew that this was the best singing audition I had ever given. I got called back for one of my favourite parts of all time and decided that I was going to walk out with it.

And I did.

Callbacks ended and I felt good but could not shake the feeling that I might jinx myself so I went out for a drink or several with one of my best friends Pam. I decided not to wait up for the cast list and fell asleep around an hour before it was posted.

I woke up at 2 am to a voicemail from the music director, listened to the first three words she said and almost started crying.

“Hey Little Red!”

It took me over an hour to fall back asleep and I spent the next day screaming and dancing around my apartment by myself until our read through.

We’ve got 5 weeks to put this show together, which means rehearsal almost every single day. I’m already exhausted and stressed and completely, blissfully, happy.

Here we go!

An Introduction

Hey friends.

While I assume only a few of my friends will ever read this, I hope they won’t mind my giving an introduction on the off chance that a stranger wanders in.

I’m Cameron.

Here are some facts about me.

I lived in the same town in Connecticut from birth to 18, when I moved to Boston for college. I would like to say I never looked back, but looking back is what I do best. I’m currently 21 years old and for the second time in my life, am making changes to help myself live.

I thrive off of relationships, connection, and people in general. I don’t do too well on my own.
I love to talk. And even more than that I love to write. Writing helps me bring order to my thoughts and feelings and fears, and helps me see the patterns in what I believe.

So.

This is going to be my place to do that.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make some sense out of my brainspace, explain my opinions and feelings about mental health and anxiety, and of course, share my boundless wisdom about the thing I know best: crying in public.