Friday, March 17, 2017

A Shoulder to Cry On: I Wish I'd Known Tommy Page

Many celebrities who I have been a fan of have passed away too soon; increasingly so in the last few years. None have hit me so hard as the death of River Phoenix in 1993 – when I was 15-years-old, and Michael Jackson in 2009. I fully mourned both, even though I had never met either of them.

After I lost my Dad suddenly last February, two days after his 65th birthday, I thought that the passing of a celebrity may not affect me ever again. As much as I cried when River Phoenix and Michael Jackson died, it didn't come close to the pain of losing my father.

Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by all of the celebrity deaths in 2016. I was a big fan of both Prince and George Michael. Carrie Fisher was a fantastic woman who I'd met just three months before she passed away. But I had distanced myself from the grief. Every time I saw someone post about how much 2016 sucks for taking all of these great celebrities from us, all I could think was, “Worst of all, it took my Dad,” who I still grieve for and probably always will.

Last week when I saw Tommy Page's name trending on the side of my Facebook feed, I felt my heart drop. I don't know why, but I knew that when I clicked on his name it would tell me that he'd passed away.

I hadn't been an active fan for some time, but his Paintings in My Mind had been one of the all-time most listened to albums in my music collection. I always found it to be very calming and beautiful, his angelic voice so soothing.

In the days since he's passed I've been reading about his post-nineties life and appreciating his music with tears in my eyes, wishing I had spent more time listening to it beyond my teen years while he was still alive. The more I learned about Tommy, the more heartbroken I became over this tragic loss.

By all accounts of those who knew him well, or even had the pleasure of meeting him once or twice, he was a beautiful person. He was gentle and kind and very giving of what mattered most – his time and heart. A Shoulder to Cry On wasn't just a random song he wrote; it was a song that spoke about his true character. In all of the interviews and live performances I've watched, his amazing personality shines through.

After Tommy's success in the early nineties with his #1 hit, I'll Be Your Everything, and a memorable appearance on Full House, he completed his Bachelor at NYU Stern School of Business. He went on to hold executive positions at Warner Brothers Records, Billboard, Pandora, Cumulus Media and Village Voice. Meanwhile, he recorded a total of seven studio albums and his music remained popular in Asia, where he often returned to perform concerts.

Tommy also had a family. He had a husband who he'd been with for twenty-three years, and three children – two sons and a daughter – between the ages of eight and thirteen. In a concert from 2013 I watched online he gushed about “the most special thing in [his] life” – his children. With a lovely photo of the three of them on the screen behind him, he told the audience about his children, and then he dedicated a song to them.

With all of this knowledge, something inside me keeps asking, “Why would someone with all of this want to take his life?” Even though I am fully aware that depression is an awful disease that does not discriminate. Depression is not a mere feeling or series of thoughts; it is a chemical imbalance, an illness as real and as physical as cancer or diabetes.

It breaks my heart to know that this person with such a sincere smile and gentle spirit, a person who encouraged others to never give up on their dreams, had so much pain inside of himself.

If you have never been suicidal, I'm not sure I could adequately put into words what it is like, but I will try. It is not just an idea; it consumes you. It is dark, painful, and unbelievably strong. Although death takes over your mind (you see yourself dying over and over again), it is more than just thoughts – it's like a physical force pulling at you. Just writing about it now, I vividly remember how it took over my entire body, not just my mind. I remember how strong it was, and how weak and helpless I felt. I remember trying to escape myself, like I was clawing from the inside trying to get out. I remember consciously not wanting to die, but not being able to fight the feeling that I had to die.

I wish I'd known Tommy Page. Not because he was a famous singer, but because my life would have been enriched by his positive energy, which is evident in every video I see of him. And because in my grief I illogically think that because I've lived through depression I could have somehow helped him. I keep feeling like I failed him as a fan. But then I snap back to reality and realize how absurd it is to think that I, of all of the people in the world, could have saved him. Still, I wish I'd known him.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams: The Death of a Funnyman | Why Suicide Prevention Hotlines Aren't Enough

Everybody is talking about Robin Williams.  He took his own life three days ago, and it shook the world.  We find it difficult to understand how someone who made all of us laugh so hard could have had so much despair in his own life.

As a person who has suffered with Depression for over two decades, I feel compelled to answer some of the questions and respond to some of the comments I've read and heard in the past couple of days.

I think something that people are beginning to understand from this tragedy is that Depression does not discriminate.  It doesn't matter how much money a person has, how successful a person is or how many admirers they have, Depression is a clinical illness that can affect anyone.  Unfortunately there are still those with the uneducated opinion that Robin Williams was "selfish" and that there are people worse off than he was.  To those people I say: It's just not that easy.  I will elaborate further in this entry.

In the past few days there have been many people with their hearts in the right place tweeting, Facebooking and blogging the advice to talk to someone, call a suicide prevention hotline, reach out if you're depressed.  That is really good advice for those who can take it.  The problem with severe Depression is that it changes our way of thinking and feeling.  When we are going through a bout of Depression, we hate the way that we are.  We feel burdened by ourselves.  We don't want to burden anyone else with what we are experiencing.  We believe the lies in our heads that we are unlovable, unworthy and we don't belong.  We tend to feel that others with Depression are more worthy of help than we are ourselves.  This creates a barrier which makes it incredibly difficult to reach out.

Many people have said things along the lines of, "If only Robin Williams had known how many people loved him," or "If only he could have had the joy in his life that he gave to all of us."  Depression is a strange beast.  A person can have much love and joy in their life, but when a bout takes over all of that love and joy is unreachable.  We don't forget it, we just don't believe it.  It doesn't fit in our state of being.  It's incomprehensible to us that such things could have ever existed or could ever again exist for us.  So, even though we have the memories of happy times, we do not believe that they were real.

Scientifically, Depression is caused by misfiring of chemicals within the brain.  When going through a bout we are physically incapable of experiencing emotion the way the average person would.  Saying that someone is selfish for the way that Depression took their life is akin to blaming a person for dying of cancer.  Do I condone suicide?  Absolutely not.  Do I understand suicide?  Absolutely.  Just as a severe bout of Depression strips one of the ability to experience positive emotion, those moments before one commits or attempts suicide are void of anything aside from pain and desperation.  Nothing else exists in those moments.  A person who is in those depths of Depression is enveloped in despair, fear and hopelessness.  There is no light at the end of the tunnel in sight.  It is as though the person is already dead, but it is up to the person to stop their own heart from beating.  When I look back at those deepest depths of my Depression I can literally see nothing but darkness.  There is no light in those memories because nothing outside of the despair existed.

So, what advice can I give to someone with Depression?  The most important thing is to establish a support system.  Talk to your friends and family when you are not going through a bout (or before a bout takes such a hold on you that you are not able to reach out).  Find out who you can count on and turn to when you do need support.  Not everyone is going to be someone to turn to, and that's okay.  It is essential to know this ahead of time.  Remember that when you need people the most is when it will be the most difficult to reach out to them.  No matter what your Depression is telling you, go to your support system -- that is what they are there for.  It can be hard to put into words what you are feeling when going through a bout, but even if you tell someone in your support system that you are feeling confused, they can help you through it.  If you are experiencing Depression for the first time you may not recognize it as such.  If you feel hopeless, worthless or begin to not recognize your own emotions, please see a doctor.

If someone you care about begins to act differently -- withdrawn, overly pessimistic, change in appetite and/or sleeping pattern, sad often, difficulty making decisions -- reach out to them.  Let them know that you are there for them.  It may be easier for someone who is Depressed to accept an invitation to talk than it is for them to take that leap on their own.  If someone you know is Depressed, don't wait for them to "snap out of it."  Urge them to see a doctor, remind them that you are there for them and let them cry on your shoulder.  If you think that someone you know is suicidal, don't ignore it.  Call an ambulance and don't leave them alone.  Depression is a serious illness.  Compassion and understanding can save lives.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Michael

A lovely lady named Willa has created a wonderful tribute for the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing.  She has put together a Hope Chest full of letters, cards, photos, etc. from fans.  Today she brought the tribute to Neverland, where security keeps tributes for a while before passing it along to Michael's family.  I'd like to share with you the letter that I sent for inclusion in the Hope Chest.

This is not the first letter I’ve written to you.  The first was about twenty-eight years ago when I was eight-years-old.  I know that it never made its way to you, because I didn’t put a stamp on it and I simply wrote “Michael Jackson” on the envelope.  I wrote to you about how I was bullied in school and I felt lonely.  I’m not sure why, at such an early time in my life, I felt I should write to you about this.  At that time I mainly knew you for the music that I loved. 

As I got older, I began to learn and understand more about you.  By the time I was in my early teens I knew about your giving, caring and loving nature.  And I also saw that you were bullied by the media, despite all of the good that you did.  I couldn’t understand why people wanted to treat you so badly when you’d done nothing to deserve it, and I also empathized with you.  I knew the same pain, and I knew that you had to have felt it on a much greater scale than I did. 

I will never forget the first time I saw you perform Will You Be There.  It was on the MTV 10th Anniversary special.  Your emotion was raw and honest.  Your vulnerability was on display, and I melted as I saw a tear creep from your eye and slip down your cheek. 

When I was fifteen, I was shocked to hear the allegations against you.  I had friends who—although they didn’t believe the allegations—said that they weren’t really surprised by them, because of the time that you spent with children.  Nothing had ever entered my mind other than childlike innocence.  It pained me that something so innocent, pure and selfless on your part was turned around on you in such a cruel way.  I felt (and still feel) the need to defend you, because those lies were terribly unfair. 

I’ve suffered with pain.  Bullied throughout school, I always felt lonely, like an outsider, and that I didn’t belong.  Coming home was never better, as there wasn’t love in my family.  When people were yelling at each other, I would hide in my bedroom and listen to your music.  Your music could always help me escape.  A lot of people don’t really understand why my heart is so full of you, but for me it’s easy.  Although you could have never known, you were there for me when no one else was.  I saw your beauty and all of the love that shone from you.  I couldn’t understand how so many were so blind to it. 

You were an amazing person in so many ways.  As time went on all of the hurt and betrayal against you began to take its toll; your sadness showed, but you never stopped giving and you never stopped loving.  You took every ounce of what God gave you and you gave it to us. 

My heart broke when you left us.  I cried that day and for many days afterward.  Your presence in this world was gone, and it was so hard to accept that.  You left us far too soon, but as a whole, we didn’t deserve you.  Your heart was far too kind, and we broke it.  Your love and kindness were of a magnitude that most people could not understand, and so you were so deeply misunderstood. 

Although you tried so hard you couldn’t fix the world, but you left an undeniable mark on it.  You have inspired positive change in thousands and thousands of people, whether it be by giving, environmental awareness, kindness toward animals, inspiration to work our hardest, or simply doing things with love.  The world is far from perfect, but it is a better place because you were in it.  You were God’s glow.

I also sent a photo from Patience:

Another lovely lady named Rita went to Holly Terrace at Forest Lawn, where Michael is interred, and she brought a tribute that I made for Michael.