Tag Archives: New York

My Pursuit of Happiness: Living with Depression

by Tara Beckett.

I love New York City… because it’s the loudest city on the planet Earth. It’s so loud I never have to listen to any of the shit that’s going on in my own head.

– Lewis Black

Image
Central Park, New York, NY Autumn 2012. Photo by Tara Beckett.

This past July I found myself sitting in a small doctor’s office in Melbourne. There was a  woman not too much older than myself sitting patiently in the chair opposite mine as I stared at the ceiling. I was trying to remember the last time I felt truly happy without the assistance of hallucinogenic drugs. As she waited for my answer, my mind scrolled back to the previous year.

“I think… New York. I was happy in New York,” I said, finally, and she smiled knowingly.

One of my favourite things is Central Park in the autumn. Of course, that’s the only time of year I’ve ever seen Central Park, but I stand by it.

A full year ago I was walking the twisting pathways alone, rugged up in a thick coat, the cool Manhattan air biting my cheeks and nose as my boots crunched through crisp auburn leaves. I was looking for the Bethesda fountain but in no real rush, taking the odd photograph along the way.

I didn’t bring many photos back with me from my month in New York. I preferred to stroll the streets and avenues like a native, stopping as little as possible so as to not paint myself as a tourist. My favourite snaps aren’t on paper (or Facebook); they’re little flashbulb memories, locked up inside my mind and triggered by the simplest things.

Last week, I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower and I was transported back to the first time I saw it. It was nighttime in an old cinema in Lower Manhattan and the film moved me so incredibly that when it ended I hailed a cab and headed for the Empire State Building. I needed to see the city immediately, all of it, and so I found the best view I could think of.

Alone, on top of a building, a world away from my home and all my family and friends, was the last time I could remember feeling happy. I felt so free. It was freedom from any judgment or expectations; freedom from my life.

I often muse about what it would be like if I died. How would people react? Would they go to my funeral? Would they mourn?

My doctor – my psychiatrist – says it’s very common and natural for people to think about their deaths and mortality. It only becomes dangerous when you begin to make plans. I’m inclined to believe her, and I want to make it clear that I don’t make plans. I never did, but I did occasionally wonder what it’d be like if it was all over, to peacefully slip away into nothingness.

When I first started seeing a psychiatrist, I didn’t want anyone to know. I saw it as a weakness, and I was in pretty deep denial about my mental health. I thought it was perfectly normal to sleep days away, and spend an entire weekend in bed. I’d stop eating regularly and I wouldn’t shower for days at a time. My hair started falling out and my nails were brittle. But I still held down a job and paid my rent on time and had a bounty of people I called friends around me so I thought I was fine.

But you can only keep up appearances for so long.

I’d gone from this huge high of living my greatest dream and visiting New York, seeing far too many musicals, meeting incredible people including some I admired, like Matt Doyle. It’s okay, I know you don’t know who he is, but he’s amazing and he said I was sweet so it doesn’t matter.

My return to Melbourne brought with it a crash of reality. I quit my retail job two weeks after landing home because I couldn’t stand it. (I don’t know if you’d heard, but I had just been in New York, you guys).

My plan was to get an office job, work full time and pay off my ridiculous post-holiday credit card debt (maybe the $500 cut and colour at the Warren Tricomi Plaza salon was overkill) and then get straight back to New York for Christmas 2013.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, I wallowed in unemployment for six months, a string of knock-backs and unsuccessful interviews. I was struggling and living week-to-week, too proud and too stubborn to move back in with my parents. Too afraid of what people would say if my postcode slipped back to the decidedly unimpressive outer-eastern suburbs of my upbringing. Too afraid of being a failure. Too busy keeping up appearances to realise I was drowning in debt and despair.

On a friend’s sage advice, I conceded to getting a psych referral from my GP.

I hated it. I cried from shame and defeat, seeing a psychiatrist meant I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it on my own anymore, to hide it from everyone. My psychiatrist quickly diagnosed that I’d been battling depression and anxiety on my own for several years.

Every day is different. Sometimes I have good days where I love my life and I feel wonderful to be here. Some days are bad and I get lost in nostalgia and melancholy of easier times. But I can usually get out of bed now.

I know that therapy is the best thing I have ever done for myself and as I started to talk about it more openly, I realised how many of my friends were in therapy or had been thinking about seeing someone. It’s not something to be ashamed of and I implore just about everyone to try it.

I’ve mentioned my diagnosis before on social media, but deleted a post after a dear friend voiced his concern that others may “take it the wrong way” and think I was looking for attention. The opposite is true. I think it’s important to have a discussion about mental health, not deny like I did. It doesn’t go away by pretending it doesn’t exist, it just gets worse.

I have grown so much as a person over the last five months, and I’m proud of my progress. That doesn’t mean I don’t still think of better days, those New York days I crave so much. This last month hasn’t been easy for me, as it’s the first anniversary of my trip. It’s difficult to explain how much that time, that freedom, meant to me. I have felt happiness since then, but it definitely hasn’t been in the same league as that gorgeous city skyline.

There are people who don’t realise how much I’ve changed this past year. They still expect a litany of wisecracks that I just can’t muster anymore. My life is different now, it’s better, and they don’t really know me anymore. They may roll their eyes and tell me to move on, but how can I move on from happiness? I can’t, I have to savour every drop. I’m tired of putting on a performance for them.

I am a person who lives with depression. I’m not afraid anymore.

Slurs & Suicides: The new Bare musical

by Tara Beckett.

“Tony Perkins and the [Family Research Council] point to the LGBT youth suicide rate as proof that the ‘gay lifestyle’ is dangerous and unhealthy … while at the same time doing everything in their power to drive up that suicide rate. Tony Perkins sits on a pile of dead gay kids.” – Dan Savage.

 

I’ve been obsessed with Bare for quite some time now. Three years, actually which is longer than my love for Book of Mormon and eons more than my recent admiration of Newsies and its incredibly gorgeous star, Corey Cott, the easiest and quickest crush I’ve ever had. I’m a theatre fan, I love musicals, and Broadway is my idea of heaven if it exists.

Bare has never quite gotten to Broadway though; it’s always been Off-Broadway as its content is ever so slightly controversial. If you don’t know the show, it relies heavily on themes from Romeo and Juliet; forbidden love, a secret romance and I’m pretty sure the term ‘star-crossed lovers’ is used in the script. Except it’s more Romeo and Romeo and is set at a Catholic boarding school, which are always conductive places for same-sex love affairs. I’m only being a little facetious. The main plot point centers around the school play, which just happens to be… you guessed it, Romeo and Juliet. It’s a play within a musical!
The original Bare, starring Michael Arden, John Hill and Jenna Leigh Green in 2004.It’s kind of obvious and a little bit trite in the original ‘pop opera’ version of Bare, which premiered in Los Angeles in 2000 and made a brief Off-Broadway debut in. But the production has since been updated and the ‘musical’ version is rife with fresh costumes (complete with smart phones), fleshed out characters, new and altered songs and choreography by Travis Wall, with the same old teenage angst as there ever was in the original.

The integrity of the story hasn’t been lost in all the updating; I was laughing loudly throughout act one and tearing up at the end of act two. It still packs a punch and pulls at your heartstrings and as the music soars with a Spring Awakening-esque rock score you can’t help but want those two crazy kids to work it all out and live happily ever after.

Spoilers: That doesn’t happen. This is a gay love story that borrows from Romeo and Juliet; that’s never going to end well.

Our aforementioned star-crossed lovers are Peter (Taylor Trensch), a sweet, smart, awkward kid coming to terms with his sexuality and Jason (Jason Hite), the closeted, captain of the whatever team with a Letterman jacket and serious issues. Attending a Catholic boarding school exacerbates these issues. He’s gay and he doesn’t want to be, thanks to the people around him; unsupportive and distant parents, a teacher who is of the cloth and righteously so, and homophobic jocks.

Thus, slurs like ‘faggot’ are bandied around freely.

It’s hurled at Jason, who throws it back to Peter, his clandestine boyfriend in a desperate attempt to take the attention away from himself. Using the word ‘faggot’ in this fashion is and always will be the sign of a frightened closet case, which the show highlights accurately.

Taylor Trensch (Peter) and Jason Hite (Jason).
Taylor Trensch (Peter) and Jason Hite (Jason).

At intermission, I overheard two girls next to me complaining about the changes in the show, as were the two men in front of me. I understand this; people inherently don’t like change. Especially change to a show like this that was groundbreaking at its inception. But that was over 10 years ago. We’ve moved on a lot in the past decade in accepting gay people and LGBTIQ rights have progressed steadily in the western world, with several countries legalising same-sex marriage and granting adoption rights to gay couples. New York itself recently legalised same-sex marriages so the overly solemn tone of the original isn’t necessary. It’s not trying to get people on board with supporting Jason and Peter’s relationship; we’re largely okay with it.

What continues to be highlighted in the new version, perhaps moreso than the original, is the desperate self loathing and fear that comes along with being a gay teenager in an unsupportive environment and the dire consequences that can result in that self-hating isolation.

In the last few years, we’ve seen a spate of suicides, predominantly in the United States of almost exclusively gay teenage and even pre-teen boys. Driven to ending their own lives after relentless bullying and unable to receive support from their parents and teachers, this epidemic has been countered by wonderful initiatives like Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project, Spirit Day and GLSEN’s Day of Silence to commemorate those who were forever silenced, far too soon.

The updated Bare reflects these societal changes, because although we’ve progressed politically, and adult LGBTIQ are being given their rights, we still have these kids killing themselves. It’s despicable that although we’ve never been as inclusive and accepting of gay people as we are now, it’s still not getting through to our youth: it’s okay to be you. It’s okay to be gay.

The most recent is Michigan’s Josh Pacheco. He suicided on November 27, 2012 after suffering bullying inside and out of school, just months after coming out as gay to his mother. He was 17.

Josh Pacheco, 17, commintted suicide on November 27, 2012 due to anti gay bullying. Image originally published by The Advocate.com
Josh Pacheco, 17, suicided on November 27, 2012 due to anti gay bullying. Image originally published by The Advocate.com

Similarly, in Bare, there’s a particularly heart wrenching song in the second act, which takes place after Jason speaks to his father over the phone and ends with Jason surrounded by his peers as they all scream his father’s words at him: “Be a man”.

I felt the grimace as it spread across my face.

It helps that Jason Hite is an incredibly good actor and the desperation and hurt and pain on his face hit me right in the gut. But those three words are just so damaging; be a man- as though he isn’t. As though being gay makes him less of a man. It’s a ridiculous notion, but to a teenager already questioning his identity it’s such a damaging thing to say and to hear. Being at a Catholic school, Jason goes to confession, which again just makes matters worse as the by-the-book priest, Father Mike, has no words of comfort for him, just cold ‘facts’: it’s not okay to be gay and he will go to Hell for loving Peter.

I’m not writing this to blame all religion for cultivating hatred against gay people because it simply wouldn’t be accurate. There are many churches that are gay inclusive and welcoming, but it’s also true that there are many more that are not. I think it’s important to highlight that in New York and most other places that have legalised same-sex marriage, although civil same-sex marriages are legal, churches are not obligated to accept these unions, nor perform marriages for gay people. Which on one hand is deemed acceptable due to free speech, but is it really responsible to uphold this attitude? To linger and grip on to the one mention in the Bible that is possibly anti-gay, in a testament of outdated and downright illegal practices? Is it acceptable to do so in a school?

Luckily for Peter, he speaks to the sympathetic and encouraging Sister Joan, who assures him that what he is, who he loves, is the greatest part of himself and he shouldn’t try to repress it. It’s not so surprising that he survives at the end of the show; Jason doesn’t.

If anything, the new version of Bare is less laboured, preachy, and more accessible to the audience who needs to see it; gay teenagers. Peter isn’t as conflicted as he is in the original. He doesn’t struggle nearly as much as Jason, largely due to the absence of his mother in the new show. He knows he’s gay and he loves Jason and he’s going to be all right.

The updated 2012 version of Bare, starring Taylor Trensch, Jason Hite and Elizabeth Judd.

During the performance of Romeo and Juliet, Jason pleads to Peter to take him back after continually ignoring Peter, not defending him against his homophobic ‘friends’, sleeping with Ivy to ‘cure’ himself and essentially rejecting him. Peter says no, which is the right thing to do. As much as I’m a sucker for a pleasant ending, and for the boys to end up together and happy, it doesn’t speak well to Peter’s character to take someone back who acted in such an abusive manner for most of their relationship. Love is blind, and teenage love is blind and stupid but it’s more important for Peter to hold his head high and be proud of who he is, than to hold on to a damaging love, no matter how great and romantic the notion may be. You cannot compromise your integrity to be someone’s dirty little secret.

On a more aesthetic note, supporting female characters like Ivy, the beautiful not-quite-mean girl with a bad reputation that has her eyes set on Jason and Nadia; Jason’s goth-ish sister who detests Ivy and acts as resident sarcasm generator, are more well rounded and have real personalities and nuances. The songs are a better mix of upbeat numbers, beautiful ballads and high energy pop rock songs.

The final lines of Bare take place at Jason’s funeral. Peter addresses the mourners and says: “You should know who I am”. This goes back to visibility and Harvey Milk’s eternal message: come out; let your friends and family know who you are and what you are. When straight people realise that they know a gay person that begins the bridge to acceptance and equality.

As I left the theatre with a tear in my eye and my heart in my throat, the sadness I felt at the thought of leaving New York City was intensified, because I probably won’t get another chance to see this show as it is, with this cast ever again. It’s touching and powerful, and if anything deserves a Broadway run, it’s Bare.

I’m not so optimistic that ‘faggot’ will leave our vernacular any time soon. But if we can add the sentiment that being gay is okay, it’s a start to all the kids out there struggling with themselves.

It’s okay to fall in love.

It’s okay to be gay.

You’re okay.

The Epiphany: Why I Won’t Shut Up About Lena Dunham’s Girls.

by Tara Beckett.

“Okay I don’t wanna split hairs here, but it’s not a journal, it’s a notebook. It’s notes for a book. I think journal implies a 13 year old girl who rides horses, and is obsessed with her mom and it’s not what I’m doing.” – Hannah Horvath, Girls.

Very occasionally, I can feel myself getting too invested in a fictional world. Actually, this has happened more often than I’d like it to, but I guess that’s a sad by-product of having been raised by television. I become drawn to a well written, smart piece of television or cinema and I dig my nails in so deep so that I can escape and pretend that their lives are my own. The latest of these longings is directed towards HBO’s Girls. Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow have brought me the missing link between the teenage bickering and backstabbing of Gossip Girl and the 30-somethings with marriage and babies on the mind in Sex and the City. And I am so annoyingly in love. Girls is also the thing that made me sort my life out. A few months ago I was pretty close to breaking down. I wasn’t progressing with my course, I hated where I lived, I longed for more life experiences, but I was too broke to achieve them. Enter, Girls. The truth of it is, I was in a serious rut and quite depressed. Getting out of bed was hard most days. But Girls allowed me an epiphany of sorts; I was going to get to New York if it killed me.

Being born in 1990, I sort of missed the whole Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek thing, the original teen girl obsessions of the ’90s. During their heydays I was trying to avoid dying of embarrassment when my mother picked me up from primary school with Bosnian folk music blaring out of her Hyundai XL Sprint. Instead, I picked up Buffy, the Vampire Slayer from age 12. The girls I related to were not the boy-chasing, moon-eyed, indecisive Katie Holmeses or Jennifer Love Hewitts. They were lame. My girls were arse-kicking, barbed-witted, funny, overtly feminist-subtexty Joss Whedon creations. And I’m not talking about Buffy Summers herself here. Sure, maybe she was those things for the first 3 seasons, but my hero was Cordelia Chase. She was self centred, acid tongued, opinionated and downright mean. But she softened over the years and became a beloved character and a strong woman. Well, half-demon woman, but nevertheless, this was the girl that I liked and I’ll never quite forgive Joss Whedon for destroying her as he did. She deserved better.

When I hit 13 or 14, my focus shifted to the 1999 film Cruel Intentions. Thus begun my descent into wearing some seriously age inappropriate clothes. No, not boob tubes, halter necks and low rise flare jeans, (gotta love the early 2000s). It was an entirely more dangerous sort of inappropriate for an over-imaginative adolescent. I would wear nothing but black pinstriped trousers, fitted dark coloured blouses with deep vees, and this long trench style pin striped blazer jacket with shoulder pads I bought from Christopher Ari. It was my power suit and I loved it. What can I say, I was a weird kid. I had an array of high heels ranging from pointed kitten heeled Jane Debsters, to platform stiletto heeled knee high leather boots given to me by a 35 year old family friend. I topped this off with my mother’s jewelry and most shockingly, chopped my long straight waist length hair to my shoulders, complete with layers and a side fringe.

I was 14 going on 30 and it was all due to a film. I wanted to be Kathryn Merteuil and I altered my appearance and personality to do so. She was beautiful and sly and had power and money. It was everything I wanted and could only pretend to have. At this point, I was painfully shy at school. Mercilessly bullied in cruel ways that only girls can do to each other. At the end of year 7, my small group of 6 friends told me they no longer wanted to be friends with me. I couldn’t hang around with them anymore because I didn’t fit in. A few years later, one of my former friends re-befriended me. I reminded her that we once friends before and how it had ended, but she didn’t recall it at all. How funny, I had spent the last 3 weeks of my first year at high school, the whole summer and then beginning of year 8 in utter misery because according to 6 other girls, I didn’t ‘fit in’. And this girl who caused my despair, couldn’t remember it. I can never forget it.

So, I shook my old self away and acquired the wardrobe and attitude to match Kathryn’s. Every Sunday night, I’d watch Cruel Intentions and after an extensively pretentious ‘beauty’ routine, paint my nails the colour I’d mixed especially to match Kathryn’s. I was refreshing my character for the coming week. I was a serious bitch during that year of school, trying my best to emulate the manipulating seductress who bet her own body to her step brother in the hopes of winning his car and hurting a virginal Reese Witherspoon. Fortunately, I matured and found that after a some time my confidence had grown so much that I didn’t need my Kathryn persona anymore. Next came the goth phase, but I’ll spare you the account of that cliché. I did look a bit hot in black lipstick though so it wasn’t all bad.

During my later teens, after I’d mellowed a bit and began dressing my age, I jumped to the other side of the pond and found myself utterly and unequivocally obsessed with the British series, Skins. I was 17 when Skins debuted. It was raucous and raunchy, filled with sex, drugs and electro ska pop. I loved it. The first generation were my Skins, every other cast pales in comparison to Tony and Sid, Michelle and Jal and Effy, Chris and Maxxie and Anwar. And Cassie. Brilliant, airy, anorexic, aloof Cassie. I could watch her episodes again and again and still connect to that pain of being ignored, the way she can be happy and free as a teenager should be in fantasy to desolate and depressed as they so often are in reality. That first series of Skins is something I can watch on loop, and remember my final year of school and feel nothing but melancholy and nostalgia for the simplicities of my youth. For the trip to Bondi we took for Schoolies. For the incredible parties and underaged hangovers we nursed throughout our year 12 studies. For that beautiful, hot three month long summer between graduating high school until our first O Week of university. The final summer of seeing all my school friends together, as it turned out. Needless to say, I was desolate when Tony and his gang of Bristolian misfits moved on to college and the cast was replaced.

But Skins is in my past now and at 22 I’ve found my new love. Girls is about simply that. It’s the lives of four girls, who are not quite yet women. They are Hannah Horvath, who I definitely am, Marnie Michaels, who I definitely am not but who my parents would like me to be, Jessa Johansson, who I desperately wish I was but know I’ll never quite be, and Shoshanna Shapiro, who I could have been once if my parents were richer and sheltered me more. The series is about that time in our lives that’s never been covered so well on television. Felicity came close, but Girls is for that time after college or university. Those tricky in-between years after graduating from tertiary studies, but before landing that dream job you thought you always wanted. The bit when you’re trying to find your feet but you don’t know what you really want out of life yet; what you should or could or even want to become. It’s before the self assuredness I can only imagine that womanhood brings. It reminds me that I’m still just a girl, no matter what the law says I may be.

It’s no wonder I was depressed, really. I had such a desperate longing for New York and someone else’s life that I scared a few friends into thinking I might off myself. A note for all of you; don’t read Sylvia Plath if you’re having doubts about your life and definitely don’t drink a bottle of wine at 2am and then hit up Twitter and Facebook with your thoughts. You’ll get a lot of texts the next day.

The transition from Girl to Woman isn’t quite there yet. I’m still a little too disorganised, but I doubt that will change anytime soon. In terms of sorting my life out, I’m pretty close. One thing I know for sure is that I’m on my way to better things. Gone are the times that I would change myself to become some other girl, another Kathryn Merteuil. Gone are the frivolous days of my teens when the summer is what we lived for. But now I’ve entered the best of times, the game changing 20s. The time that will shape the rest of my life as a woman, the time I bid girlhood a fond goodbye and look forward instead of back. The first of my many solo travels abroad, to New York City. Perhaps my first romantic love. Sex without a side of nonchalance and indifference. There’s so much to look forward to and I almost can’t believe that my epiphany is due to the influence of a television series.

My advice to you, dear reader, is to never stop questioning yourself or what you are doing with your life. If you do, there’s the danger of becoming mediocre. Avoid that at all costs.

I am a writer, that’s what I do; but who I am is not yet fully determined, not even close.

I cannot wait to see who I become.