This is a heavy one.
I wrote it primarily because I needed to do it for myself. But, I thought I would embrace some vulnerability and share. In case it could help even one person understand…or feel less alone.
Mom, this will hurt your heart. A gentle, loving head’s up.
Stephen Laurel “tWitch” Boss died this week.
He was a dancer, choreographer, actor, and television producer. He was a husband, brother, son, and father of 3.
His wife Allison Holker said, “Stephen lit up every room he stepped into. He valued family, friends and community above all else and leading with love and light was everything to him.”
I, of course, never met him personally, but this is the impression I’ve always had of him. Positive. Happy. Loving.
Upon learning that he committed suicide, my reaction, visceral and raw, was a cocktail of disbelief and deep sadness.
This was a man who everyone loved. He radiated positivity and love and light.
How could he be hiding so much pain?
Then I saw this post from Glennon Doyle:
And I remembered.
I remembered what the trenches feel like.
What it feels like when the water begins to look like the safer place.
I’ve been there. Deeply.
When thoughts like, “What’s the point? It’s too much to handle. I don’t think I can do this anymore,” are the only thoughts within reach.
Someone commented on Glennon’s post — “If it IS safer or they THINK it’s safer? I’m not sure I totally agree with this quote.”
Tempted to comment back myself, someone said what I don’t know if I’d have been able to articulate: “when mental health is concerned they are the same thing. Our thoughts determine our reality so if we feel like the water is safer than the land, then that becomes a fact in our mind, and we act accordingly.”
The thing about depression is that…it deceives you. It tricks you. It pulls you into thinking that it’s forever.
It’s unique that way.
Meditation teacher Tamara Levitt once explained in a Calm meditation:
“Depression is an extremely isolating condition. It can bring feelings of separation, alienation, and shame. People who haven’t had depression sometimes have a hard time understanding why depressed folks can’t just “shake off” their bad mood. But depression isn’t as simple as a passing sadness. It’s more like a profound and long-lasting numbness or emptiness. It can cause feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and low self-worth.
One of the central themes of depression is a feeling of helplessness to our circumstances. There can be a sense of time standing still. An idea that things will never improve.”
It’s a deep internal turmoil.
And when you’re in it, it feels like it’s permanent.
I want to make it clear that I do understand why people are scratching their heads at this death. Outwardly, he was charismatic, fun, funny, positive, utterly delightful.
And, as a person who is also often viewed as happy, positive, fun, I understand parts of Stephen’s turmoil.
When you’re told that you’re “a breath of fresh air; you radiate positivity; everyone smiles when you walk into a room,”* and you happen to be someone with a lot of inner demons, the self-chastising becomes even greater.
You think, “Well I don’t want to let these people down. No matter how I’m feeling, I need to maintain this smile.”
The cognitive dissonance becomes so great, so uncomfortable…it can break you.
When you’re in a place of depression, the shame and non-existent self-worth whisper that all of those people are lying to you. Your brain literally rejects what they’re saying.
A voice that feels like the objective, undeniable truth says, “Nothing these people are saying is actually true. Trust me — You’re worthless. And this pit of despair you’re in? You’ll never get out.”
*Please know that if you’re someone who shares kind words like this, don’t stop! The world needs more of that.
As someone of privilege who’s had access to many mental health resources, I’ve learned that it’s not only acceptable for me to share how I’m feeling — sharing is what has saved my life.
And even as someone of privilege, it took me a very long time to learn I could and should share.
I will not attempt to speak for anyone else. But what I’ve seen and heard from others, if you’re a person of color, I think the ability to accept and feel and share emotions is a luxury you’ve never been able to afford.
I had the opportunity to speak recently with a behavioral health provider — a Black woman who was born and raised in New Jersey. She said that in Black American households, it’s common to hear two things growing up: What happens in this house stays in this house, and sticks and stones might break your bones but words can’t hurt you.
In The Depression Guidebook, psychologists Diana Hu and Hod Tamir explain, “Depression has become the leading cause of global disability, and some estimate nearly 20% of Americans will deal with major depression at some point in their lives. Moreover, there has been a long standing stigma surrounding mental health, particularly depression. External and internal judgment about how we should feel — as if we’re lazy or entitled — have prevented us from communicating about the burden of pain imposed by feelings of depression.”
The stigma for Black Americans specifically is rooted even deeper and is woven into our culture. Racial and intergenerational trauma are only recently being talked about and addressed — and there is still so, so, so much work to do. I encourage you to read more on the realities of Black mental health — this piece might be a good starting point if it’s new to you.
Back to Stephen. Here was a man who had this public-facing persona of always being positive and the life of the party and maybe was never given permission to say how he was actually feeling underneath it all. He never felt safe.
He was a man who referred to himself as a “SmileSpreader” ****in his Instagram bio, yet was suffering unimaginable pain.
I hope that in my lifetime we see all humans gain access to mental health resources like therapy and coping tools.
I’ve begun some research on organizations dedicated to increasing mental health resources for Black Americans — if you know if any, please please share them in the comments.
Stephen Laurel Boss was a freestyle hip-hop dancer, choreographer, actor, and television producer. He was a husband, brother, son, and father of 3.
He was a human being.
Here’s a compilation of some sweet tributes to Stephen.
Actress Octavia Spencer commented on this tribute from Ellen, “This one hurts in ways that are indescribable.”
Yes. It does.
Our hearts should be hurting right now.
Hold your people extra tight.
Turn to others with compassion and non-judgment.
Allow yourself to open with curiosity to the reality that cultural and systematic oppression and barriers to mental health are still very real.
And, as Glennon said…may this make us gentler.
If you’re reading this, you are seen.
You are a living, breathing thing.
I love you.
Gently, lovingly, and curiously,