Every Heard = Ev Reheard
Since February I have been having this conversation: This is MY Brave is this wonderful show where individuals talk about their experiences with mental health, attempt to eliminate stigma- a kind of vagina monologues for crazy people.
But I am afraid the founders might not like this description. Is it disrespectful? Maybe I am not the candidate they want representing mental illness… Maybe I should just sing the song I wrote while I was depressed and keep my opinions to myself. Really- that’s why I auditioned: a chance to perform for 400 people. Let them be the spokeswomen for western psychology. I don’t really believe in the stuff…
It is difficult for me to keep my opinions to myself; so most days I either try to avoid people or make a game of finding creative ways to sound pleasant. (It is exhausting, I cannot do it all the time.)
I do not know how to say this nicely. I feel like I am cheating- Being honored to perform for a large crowd because I am “special” and not because of talent, skill, or any other desirable quality; “special” like the Special Olympics… Like the system was modified for me because I cannot do it the “normal” way.
Perhaps I could already be performing for larger audiences if I had followed my heart from the start- to be an artist, rather than giving into the busy mind chatter and external influences that led me to study speech therapy for over seven years. However, “normal” was never in the cards for me. I accept who I am, and I am glad I studied communication and neuroscience for the incredible insights my education helped me comprehend… and am now able to share:
Speech Therapy & Autism
…As I finished graduate school, only friends with one out of the 35 students with whom I had spent two years of classes, it occurred to me… I had a similar number of remaining friends from high school and college. It turned out, I had more in common with my autistic clients than other “normal” people.
I found ways to teach them, “Yes, there are a lot of strange rules, and there seem to be a lot of exceptions when the majority says so. Let’s just try to learn the formalities and work on being flexible. I know it doesn’t feel natural, but it works- sort of. (And when it doesn’t, freaking out hardly ever helps.)”
In a nutshell, that was my message. In reality, it meant hugging children so they could not hurt themselves during a tantrum, bargaining with them to touch and taste new foods over weeks and months, even using the same behavioral psychology methods that are part of animal training; schedules of reinforcement, pairing stimuli… It was work that required consistency among caregivers, and while my communication skills were adequate for the abnormal children, they rarely were for the normal parents.
Feeling impotent, I tried several other settings and variations on speech therapy; hospitals, rehab, nursing homes. I worked with clients with swallowing, vocal, and cognitive dysfunctions. I frequently was part of a team that started the heavy conversations about hospice and quality of life… and after a couple years of dying, I began to really re-evaluate how I was living.
While I had accumulated over $70,000 in student loans, I had also never allowed myself to take risks…
I’ve longed to learn to fly,
but I’ve been too afraid I’d fall
-and I’ve feared I might die
So I haven’t lived at all
It felt like I might end up squandering the remainder of my twenties and a good part of my thirties eliminating my debt…
Life is a tall drink of water,
and I’ll try to choke it down
I’ve been dying of thirst
-for fear that I may slowly drown
…and for the first time in my life, I chose to be irresponsible. I chose to be like those autistic kids and ignore what I was supposed to do. I realized I had been faking it for so long, just trying to keep myself together, but falling apart periodically into long spells of depression. By then, I had learned so many bad habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and I was just beginning to acknowledge that I could make conscious decisions to change my own behavior as well.
It was love that saved me from life alone in my head; hiding, dissociating… Falling for someone I had no Earthly reason to find compatible, someone who just made me feel at home. He was the catalyst that made the inner me want to live aloud and start the process of turning inside-out.
As we got to know one another, he told me his internal struggles were similar. I listened to the songs he wrote to cope… and before I could think of trying or learning to play a guitar, songs were spilling out of me as well.
I recall confiding in him that I worried I was having auditory hallucinations initially, afraid to even admit it to anyone else. He reassured it was a perfectly normal part of the process- so I could start opening up to other musicians...
Although I fought it, everything else began falling away, including HIM. I found myself drawn into the world of Reiki and yoga and spiritual practices, trying to find reasons and dissipate the pain.
He was the one that came along and made me care, made me feel like the connection I so badly wanted was possible. I wanted to learn how to do it right, and if I could not mend the situation with him, learn to move on and find another with whom I felt that connection.
I tried to find a home among the musicians, among the spiritual practitioners. Even then, surrounded by a new network of friends, I found myself feeling so isolated and suicidal that I checked myself into a hospital. Thereafter, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I began to realize the extent of how different I am from “normal”. In fact, autism is much more common than BPD! -and I share with them similar afflictions for inflexible thinking and hypersensitivity- that continue to challenge my friendships and relationships.
However, the difference is that individuals on the autistic spectrum have difficulty empathizing, whereas I tend to be a "psychic sponge" for other people’s emotions… To complicate matters further, I feel the emotions people may chose to avoid acknowledging, as people often feel one thing but say another. There is nothing necessarily mystical about being a psychic sponge. People's intentions are evident in their expressions, inflections, and actions; even when their words are contradictory.
In order to evaluate what is actually happening, I developed a nasty habit of testing people’s boundaries. One good friend affectionately called it “mind-fucking”. I prefered “figuring out what makes you tick”.
For instance, some people will do almost anything to avoid saying “no”. This makes them unreliable sources of information. Therefore, I used to probe them with questions, offers, and invitations until I could elicit a “no”. Whether it was for a glass of water they did not drink or a favor that would impose upon them, my subconscious would usually find a way… Or find a person became less available to reach. In the latter case, I learned to consider this person one less worry in my attempt to control for unreliable variables.
Now I make an effort to utilize NVC (Non-Violent Communication) to keep my language focused on expressing my needs and acknowledging the needs of others... Again, it continues to require effort and practice.
I have learned to write these old habits down as I increase my self-awareness, retrain my brain- Because before it barely occurred to me that other people did not think the way I do. I assumed everyone should analyze every interaction from multiple points of view, choose their words in a calculated manner, and aim for efficiency.
However, this line of thought only led to accusations of being manipulative, disappointment, feeling misunderstood- and therefore, not cared about. “Fear of abandonment” is one of the hallmarks of BPD, as are feelings of invalidation. I felt like I was trying for everyone, and no one was reciprocating for me…
I cared immensely, wanted appreciation and devotion as deeply as I wanted to give it. But no one could feel the intensity with which my little amygdala (the primitive "fight or flight" part of the brain) was firing my emotions into every organ and limb of my body.
As a musician, I began to find it easier to express myself, both in song and on the page. It is where I began to find friends, like the boy I fell for, using music to express the frustrations that the limitations of words cannot. Even before my diagnosis, many of them disclosed they were raised by parents suffering from mental illness or suffered themselves.
After my diagnosis, I became paranoid about whispers- So, I used social media to out myself. If anyone was going to talk about me, I figured it may as well come straight from the source.
It never ceases to amaze me how many individuals, even strangers, are eager to contact me and tell me how brave I am. They frequently share their own stories with me, adding how they could never do so publicly… and I am left feeling alone still, knowing that these struggles are not uncommon, but finding myself in a minority burdened by the desire to broadcast our experiences.
Social Media Avatar
Non-performers question how someone as outspoken as myself can consider herself an introvert, shy, have stage-fright. I explain, there were many years when I hid in the privacy of computer role playing games, with hundreds and thousands of other socially awkward nerds. However, when I started using Facebook to document my experiences, it became a real life role-playing game!
The quests were images, recordings, connections; and with each new level unlocked, I was able to book more gigs and play for more people... People who told me there was someone special about the timbre of my voice. People who told me my songs spoke to them. People who confirmed for me- Music was a purpose that made life worth living.
I resolved to eliminate my suicidal thoughts and replace them with this mission. And a strange consequence resulted, my avatar became better known than me...
Ev Reheard became EVERY HEARD. She is the voice, a woman whose potential always seems to exceed my own. A woman who hands out business cards constantly and demands a steady stream of new content for her social media pages... maintains an artist collective (throwing free exclusively female networking parties), pursues nonprofit work to encourage music outreach... A compulsive promoter, writer, and performer... She dates men I wouldn't, breaks my heart, and leaves me to do all the rehearsing- So I can feel confident playing the guitar while she sings.
For almost thirty years, she resided beneath the surface, bubbling with impulses I worked hard to suppress- an exhausting effort that built up stress in my joints and muscles, gave me headaches, and anxiety attacks. But the music... The music makes her emerge, exposes and stretches every part of me. The voice demands to be heard... and from inside, the former me watches and tries to enjoy the ride without getting motion sick, pregnant, or addicted to anything or anyone.
To Be Continued...
For the Rest of My Life
I recently had a friend and mother ask me what to do for her autistic child… My answer explains why I left giving therapy and hope to find work making music to unite people and communities; Worry less about how to fix your child and more about how you can prepare the world to be a place ready to receive her.
So... While being the documentarian of my unique perspective of being a half-Korean, half-Caucasian woman with BPD may not have been the mantle I would have chosen, it is a responsibility which I accept and will devote my life to capturing. If it means I can take pride in my insecurities and help others see the strength which can emerge from theirs, I will happily continue... singing, writing, breathing... and being me.
I am thankful to be have been chosen of the many who auditioned- to be granted this opportunity to spread my message, share my story, and continue reminding others- It is okay to live aloud ^^