Mental illness is a topic a lot of people are uncomfortable with. Though society is getting better at discussing illnesses like depression, anxiety, grief and others, we owe that in part to the entertainers who have bravely come forward to tell of their struggles. Among these you find comedians like Hannah Gadby and Adam Cayton-Holland.

Adam Cayton-Holland’s story is one of moving beyond grief and turning pain into power. He is returning to the Just for Laughs festival after six years away.

The reason for his hiatus is a sad one. Shortly after he played the festival in 2013, his sister died by suicide. Cayton-Holland was the one who discovered her body.

Following her death, he battled grief and depression and underwent therapy which helped him to cope. He eventually came out with a memoir of his struggles, titled Tragedy Plus Time: A Tragi-Comic Memoir. His show, Happy Place, is loosely adapted from that memoir.

I had the opportunity to speak with Cayton-Holland about his experience overcoming grief and his return to Just for Laughs. He was surprisingly cheerful on the phone given the tragedy he’s endured, saying he’s excited to come back and that he loves Montreal.

When I asked him for specifics, he talked about loving the food at Au Pied de Cochon and that he’s looking forward to eating at Joe Beef this time around. When I asked him whether he preferred New York bagels to Montreal bagels, he pointed out that being from Denver, Colorado, he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.

“I’ll take Montreal,” he laughed.

Pleasantries aside, I asked about the tragedy he endured.

“I came to Montreal in 2012, and I came back in 2013. I came home, and two days after that my little sister took her own life.”

I asked if she was ill and he said she was clearly so but that things only became clearer in hindsight, describing how looking at the timeline, the last two years of her life were characterised by mental illness that turned his sister’s brain in on itself.

I asked him if the grief and depression he endured as a result interfered with his ability to do comedy:

“Oh my god yeah. And I sort of stopped doing standup for a while. It was this odd thing where you know, for a comic from Denver, Colorado to be a New Face, it was a big deal, it was a big career moment, and then two days later your sister takes herself out. So it’s like all things you’ve been caring about in your career and comedy and Hollywood and then you’re just quickly reminded: oh none of that matters at ALL and I’m broken and my family’s broken. My friends and I sold our TV show, Those Who Can’t, which had three seasons to TruTV right around that time so we had to make a pilot and I was sort of doing the best I could but I had a couple of breakdowns and I had to have aggressive therapy and it is as awful as you can imagine. It was THAT awful.”

I know some people, when dealing with grief, tend to work harder to try and forget, so I asked Cayton-Holland if this was the case with him. He said that he tried, but everything happened seven years ago and he hasn’t been talking about it in standup on stage.

Writing the book, then, became his way of mourning. Now that he put the book out, he wants to talk about it in a one-man show format, describing said show as:

“Not standup per se, a little more serious.”


For Cayton-Holland, writing was therapeutic and cathartic, helping him process what he was going through, though he went into the writing process with no hyperbole in mind.

“I’d sit at my laptop and sob, but it helped me. There was a normalization of it. I don’t want this to be a dirty secret. I don’t want this to be something I’m ashamed of. I’m not ashamed of her, not ashamed of what she did. I just feel like mental illness took my little sister out and so writing about it helped me kinda come around and get through the normal feelings of grief and anger and shame and guilt. Writing really helped me with that.”

When he mentioned sobbing, I asked if he wanted to fight the stigma about men crying. In response Cayton-Holland pointed out that the stigma is a little dated and feels like there’s something wrong with a man who can’t cry.

“I lost my little sister. You expect me not to cry?”

When I asked about the response to his memoir, he said it’s been amazing:

“If anything it’s shown me how prevalent this stuff is: mental illness, depression, suicide. I cannot tell you the amount of messages I get all the time, sometimes it’s really big overshare. I put myself out there so people relate. I wrote honestly and tried to normalize it and a lot of people are like ‘Thank you because my family went through something similar’ and just share- It’s the power of story, and people seem to really respond to that.”

He said that in some ways the experience made him less lonely, in some ways it made him more so. He says that telling his story has helped nip any shame and awkwardness in the bud.

“It’s 2019 and we still whisper the word ‘suicide’. I’m comfortable with it but I understand the stigma around it.”

His show is called Happy Place because the therapy he underwent to overcome his grief involved retreating to a happy place in his mind when a traumatic memory – in this case finding his sister’s body – became too intense. The show is based on excerpts from his memoir, but Cayton-Holland says you can expect tons of new material as well.

Happy Place is on at Just for Laughs from July 23-25. Check it out.

It’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year. The lights are flashing, the Christmas trees are up and everyone is generally in a great spirit.

Most of us reflect with family and friends about how grateful we are that we have them in our lives. We sing Christmas Carols, drink Eggnog and have a big feast.

However, there something no one wants to talk about that also happens during the holidays. It’s the Christmas Blues.

A lot of people struggle with deep depression and anxiety during this time of year. Whether it’s the stress of Christmas shopping or the sadness of not having loved ones around, Christmas time can be stressful and, sadly, depressing for many people.

So why are people so depressed at Christmas? Well, the answer is there is no straight answer. For some people it can be a mood disorder brought on by the changing seasons, for others, it’s the pressures of financial hardship and expectations that are brought on by the holidays.

Seasonal depression is a very real disorder. In fact, there is a name for it: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This can be so serious that it can cripple people’s quality of life. Some spend long hours in bed, overeat and have other serious symptoms.

However, if you or someone you know suffers from this, there are a number of treatments that can help overcome this depression, such as artificial exposure to sunlight, counselling with a psychiatrist and medication.

If your depression is brought on due to financial hardship, you are not alone. Christmas is the season where consumers rack up more debt on their credit cards than any other time of the year. It’s easy to see how people can fall down the rabbit hole of debt.

It’s important to remember that it’s the thought that counts. Putting yourself in debt is not worth the long-term financial stress over one day.

If you are depressed because you can’t see your family or you’re not able to be with them for any number of reasons, try and keep your self busy by volunteering at your local food kitchens or helping others less fortunate than you. There are studies that show that keeping busy can help you get out of a potential depression.

So, this holiday season try and keep your head up and try not to let the Christmas Blues get you down. Featured image by Randi Hausken, via WikiMedia Commons

* Featured image by Randi Hausken, via WikiMedia Commons

I need to take my place in the revolution.

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me and I’m Feelin Good”

-Miss Nina Simone

I feel like shit to be honest. What does it matter? The world is about to end. All of the post apocalyptic sci-fi movies are coming to fruition. The evil dictator is in place and the people will rise after the world burns and society as we know it is overthrown.

My heart is overgrown, split ends, over bleached, and arid dry. Like the acid sky, what does it matter if I cry? Again I choose the path of positivity, moving forward, crossing things off the bucket list. I need to do me, right? NO!

It’s Black History month in the darkest time of our current social climate. I want to be there to fight for freedom and acknowledgement of hate, I want to stop the white power bullshit that raised this country to the open levels of bigotry we see today. I can’t even stop my best friend from being racist.

America the beautiful was built on the destruction of Indigenous people and slavery. Immigrants came next, but it started with human bondage, then it was a safe haven, and not much has changed.

It has just gotten worse. Strange fruit and hate fueled power struggles and world poverty. More people care about celebrities and gossip than real world issues or the idea that people and animals are suffering while we live posh lives on the internet.

My people are all Gay, they are Transgender, they are non conforming, they are Native American, they are Black, they are Muslim, they are atheist, they are butch, they are femme, they are anarchists, they are addicted, they are homeless, they are vegan, they are white people who are trying to break the cycle. They are all ages, they are sex workers, they are on food stamps, they pay rent, they don’t get paid enough and work too many hours, and they are all slaves to the system built to fail us.

I sit here with EAT THE RICH written in eye liner on my belly, dreaming of gas masks and pink tear gas. I once painted a version of Marie Antoinette with a gas mask. This is it, our reality is that we have a war to fight, we can’t just let them eat cake! I assure you, nothing about me is fake.

Or is it? I am only human. Human means flawed by nature, and not in a catholic guilt original sin way either. Imperfections make us beautiful. That also means there is a dark to every light. There is a good happening to suppress evil as we sit here contemplating the existence of both.

From this moment, our numbness from over stimulation mass sensory overload outnumbers us. It closes in on us. It interrupts us like shitty commercials. I always knew twitter was creepy. We want a leader not a creepy tweeter was one of my favorite women’s march chants.

I yearn for a silence echoing inside the roots of my strange deepness, a vacant soul on a transient descent. The train has left the yard, next stop salvation.

Why can’t adults just take naps? For me it’s not a nap. I will spend the whole day in bed and waste the light, then go out and party all night. I may not even drink, but usually do.

It’s just a craving for company. Not even in a miserable way, just in more of a we are stronger together way. I need collaboration. I know that I cannot change this world without you.

I should relish in my singledom. I can pick up and go to Mardi Gras if I want, only a 24 hour drive away. I’ve been a temptress for so long, just floating through life without a care in the world. Now it crumbles and I need to stand up.

I tend to zone out and get disconnected from reality for a moment. I watch porn when I should be watching the Young Turks. I scan Facebook when I should be out on the street protesting or having a conversation with the human next to me.

Is it weird that I have dinner with my folks twice a week at age 30? Going to a hockey game with my dad tonight, now tainted because I know the owner of the Buffalo Sabres (Terry Pegula) got his money from FRACKING.

Our Earth and water are more important than any money or sports team. I just want to spend some quality time with my dad. Having a conscience means being conscious about where your money goes.

I want to only be ethical. Other people are having children. I will get a dog. I would have to move, get a new place, buy my own house.

I would love to live in the country. No wifi. No connection to the outside world. I would feel so much more connected to nature and not the devices that rule us all.

I need my furry family, I need a solace, someone to help me fight back but not lose myself in the battle. I want to date a vegan. Musician/artist necessary. Gender/race does not matter.

Think happy thoughts. Painting, riding my tricycle, doing my hair and makeup, dressing in drag, vegan cuisine, letting my friends borrow clothes, smoking bongs, things made out of recycled things, going on adventures with the most down people, nature and natural wonders, waterfalls, art, music, musicians.

I love my kittens. There is a reason why the Egyptians worshipped cats. So cute, cuddly, and protective. I do love life, I know I come from a privilege not known to everyone, and that means I need to step up and stop being greedy.

Things I hate: Coughing so hard from hitting the bong that you pee a little. Getting up to pee and somebody is in the bathroom. When people throw out/waste food. The fact that women make less than men for the same job. The fact that donald trump has been in office for a week and the world burns, pipelines, oil, greed, orange tans.

Sometimes I cry because I have psoriasis or because I am fat. I feel unlovable, like I am hiding behind my smile, head in the clouds, not what I seem, much more deviant, but not sure how.

I am a sensitive artist. What good do my pictures really do? Do my performances matter? Yes! Even if people hate, they can relate. I can be the worst version of humanity (trump drag/Cock Sinclair) or a vision of pure loveliness veiled in makeup and fishnet, bound by a corset and all of society’s expectations, ruled by old men in suits and misguided evil rich women.

I really wanted to write something non political this week but it is all consuming. The ban on immigrants is immoral and disgusting. Pushing forward the Dakota Pipeline is also inhumane and disrespecting mother earth and the indigenous people’s land.

Water IS Life. Not in Flint Michigan or the Buffalo Public Schools, it’s second rate there. This is like the movie/comic Tank Girl. Buffalo’s freshwater is so important for the apocalypse. Great lakes, great spot, like the wet spot on the sheets that Trump had a Russian hooker piss on in the name of freedom.

Dripping in gold or rust you must wake up and shake off the nonsense. Every voice counts. Be heard.

I will start this by saying I know I am lucky, loved, healthy, and have the world by a string. I wake up most days with a huge smile on my face, knowing that I can accomplish anything. I am young and my face is symmetrical. When I look at my life I see a whole lot of goodness and bliss. My family, friends, and cats are incredible and I even love all of my jobs. My glass is half full.

Then there are those rare days where the sun just refuses to shine. You feel suddenly old and ugly, flawed and hopeless – completely unlovable. The demons you try so hard to help others fight off creep into your own thoughts. Those stupid fucking bad days seem to be longer than every good one combined. Today I am having one of those god awful days. The glass is still half full, just now it’s full of shit.

I think it is partially due to the seasonal affective disorder: I crave sunshine. I need my long dresses, bare legs and feet, no underwear or bra, just long flowery flowing freedom. I’ve been aching, slightly1926223_10102348672233968_6553281700865224625_o sick for months. My skin is dry and awful. I just don’t feel sexy when it’s gloomy. There is a happiness solar panel on my head that needs to be charged ASAP.

 

I also think the forthcoming spring is a little intimidating. It makes me think of love in the air and people having picnics with their lovers in the park. I am single by choice, but I still miss the simple joy of waking up next to someone. Having kisses and a cup of coffee waiting for you when you wake up is lovely. If I truly wanted a lover, I know there are at least a few people waiting to be mine. Sadly it’s not that easy. We never love the ones who openly profess their undying love for us. It’s the ones who are hard to get, the ones who show distance, the ones who challenge us: those are the ones we really want.

I try not to dwell on the things that make me sad. I know that I do hold things inside and communicating my feelings is not my strong suite. I do a lot for others. I aim to be the person that you know will always have your back no matter what and be the voice of the voiceless and fight the good fight. I think everyone is good at the core. I root for the misguided; I forgive people without question; and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. In my quest to give others happiness, I often forget to leave some of that passion and happiness behind for myself.

I was really taken aback when comedian Robin Williams took his own life. He was someone who exuded confidence and caused so much laughter. Being funny doesn’t mean you are happy. It is unfortunately common for comedians to suffer from depression. It makes sense to me, people who are funny do it as a defense. I think about all of the celebrities who died before their time due to drug addiction or self affliction and it’s horribly sad. What’s the point of making it, if it’s so lonely at the top? Minds that create astounding beauty are also capable of making tragic darkness. You can accomplish all of your dreams and still feel emptiness, what’s left to strive for if you have everything?

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I am a performer. We make the world laugh instead of being the butt of jokes ourselves. I know that I have always laughed to hold back tears. You get really good at hiding the sadness and the rest of the world only sees the bright light you choose to exude. Mental illness runs in my family – I often wonder if I have multiple personalities that just get a chance to exist on stage, then they can’t haunt me in my everyday life.

When I am on stage the sad thoughts melt away, nothing hurts, I own the crowd’s attention, and I feel true success for the 3 minutes I am up there. I pour my dark thoughts into my art and it makes me more approachable and relatable. All the time girls tell me I inspire them, I am up there flaunting my imperfections. People think I really have my shit together, that is the furthest from the truth.

I’m doing my best to keep it together and keep on waking up with that smile forward. I will never stop trying to help others deal with this harsh cold world. It’s important to remember that even the happy people get sad sometimes. Nobody is immune to sadness, we just have to keep doing the best we can do to not let it consume our psyche. Never ever take people for granted. Love them fully, hug them often, use your gifts to empower others and remember to leave a little bit of love left for yourself.