My earliest childhood memory is a joke I told to my sleeping father when I was three. The joke went something like this:
AMY: Dad . . . psssst . . . DAD!
DAD: Wha! Amy? Are you okay? Did you have a bad dream?
AMY: No *cough* I don't feel well . . . I feel bad.
DAD: Oh no, well do you want . . .
AMY: BAD TO THE BONE!!! Baa baaa baaa baa baa (classic guitar riff followed by manic laughter ensues).
Sure it was silly and, let's be honest, I probably said "good" instead of “well" (I'm a clown, not a GENIUS), but the extreme joy I got mixed with the look of incredulity from my dad sealed the deal: All I want to do in this lifetime is make myself and others laugh.
Fast-forward eighteen years, and you'll find “adult" Amy moving to Chicago to pursue a life in comedy. Since the classic ABC Family favorite, Whose Line is it Anyway? I had been hooked on improv Comedy. When I actually got to do it in college, it was a dream come true. When I got to do it for six months at The Second City in Chicago, it was a life changer. The Second City (The largest improv/Sketch/Theatre/School/Monster in the world) has a program in Chicago called The Comedy Studies Program. Here you get to essentially live and breathe comedy in the birthplace and mecca of improv. It was truly a dream. I got to spend every day doing what I love with people just as obsessed with comedy as I was. I remember looking at the people on The Second City Main Stage and thinking “That'll be me one day.” It was cold as balls (I'm from California . . . Cold. As. BALLS.), but I didn't care because the fire within was burning so bright! I felt whole. I felt right. I felt like the world was a bouncy ball in my hands and I was ready to play.
Fast-forward again two more years. I am depressed. I am unhealthy. I am self-pitying, self-hating and apathetic back in Chicago. I had gone back to California for my last year of undergraduate studies and returned, jaded, sad, and lost. My friend group, a super tight-knit support system all throughout college, had dispersed, first divided by all of our various coping mechanisms and eventually divided geographically. There's no easy way to remove a safety net; all you can do is prepare yourself for the fall. I didn't do that. What I did was use various vices to distract myself and pretend like it wasn't happening (I believe they call it "drug abuse"). Anything I could find to do to alter my state of mind or numb my feelings, was what I did. Constantly. So, of course, when it came time for me to cash in on my previous plan of Move Back to Chicago to Pick Up Where I Left Off on My Dreams, well . . . that didn't go exactly how I planned either.
Despite being sick, despite being sad, despite hating myself and every thought I had, I moved to The Windy City. Did I think it would solve all of my problems? Not exactly. Did I really give it any thought at all? Not in the slightest. All I knew was that I needed to be anywhere but where I was.
So there I am, sick, sad, hating myself and every thought . . . and now I was also far away from my family, far away from everything I had ever known, and cold as fuck (truly, it has to be some of the nastiest weather in America). I felt completely swallowed by the city with no one to pull me out. Sure, I had friends, but it was 2013, and seemingly EVERYONE was going through SOMETHING (weird how the world works sometimes). That could have comforted me, but I was past that point. I was drowning. I spent a year trying to be positive, trying to be funny, but everything that came out of me sounded weak, fake, and contrived. I didn't feel like me; I felt like an alien version of myself, and that alien was a TERRIBLE actor.
I lived there for a year, each day feeling farther away from my friends, my family, and myself back home. That would have been okay had I liked the person I was becoming, but the outlook was not favorable. I was judgmental, I was bitter, and I had no resolve. I made so many promises to myself to stop drinking, to never snort anything again, and to replace hookups with yoga. I broke them every time.
Now this is the part of the story where it's supposed to get inspirational. I find some hidden strength and stay in Chicago just a few months longer and suddenly I find, "Hey! It's not so bad!" Year two is easier, and year three is downright enjoyable. By year four I'm doing what I love, and who knows, come year five maybe I actually make it to The Main Stage; but that's not what happened. Here's what happened instead:
(On the phone with Mom after seeing on Facebook that I shaved part of my head, and not in a cool way)
MOM: Are you okay?
ALIEN AMY: Yeah.
MOM: Are you sure?
ALIEN AMY/ALMOST AMY: Well . . . no, actually.
MOM: What's the matter?
ALIEN AMY: Nothing . . . it's just . . .
MOM: It's just what?
AMY/ALIEN AMY: (Silence.)
MOM: Do you want to come home?
AMY: YeEaaaAhh!!! (Sobs for DAYS)
To be clear, people "make it" in Chicago. There is a system that has worked for some, and so others believe in it, so much so that they're willing to pay thousands of dollars for classes and teacher fees and workshops and intensives in the hopes that one day they'll make it onto that stage, or SNL, or whatever the dream. That's what I was doing, and it was sucking the life out of me. All of it was sucking the damn life out of me. I was so confused; I was going for my dreams, wasn't I? Sure I was, but I wasn't doing it my way, I was doing it someone else's way.
About a month and a half after talking to my mom I moved home to San Jose. I went on a meditation retreat. I started exercising. I stopped drinking and my hair grew back (slooooooooowly). I had a mini-Renaissance.
It's been about 2 and a half years since I moved back to The Bay and I feel like I can finally look at the experience with a little clarity. Here are a few things I took from it:
1. Listen to yourself. All of yourself.
Your actions, your emotions, your health, and your body are all indicators of where you're at when your brain's not so sure. Most people THINK they know what's best for them because it's the logical choice; because it worked before, or maybe someone else told you it was a good idea. The only thing that's going to make you happy is doing what you truly want to do. Don't know what that is? Totally fine. There's no harm in trying things out so long as you pay attention to EVERY part of you. That way the minute one part realizes it's not right for you, you can close that book and move on instead of wasting your time reading something that's putting you to sleep.
2. Your "brain" is not always your friend.
Our brains are incredible. They're the most impressive and complex machines in the world by far. In fact, I have no qualm with the brain; it's thoughts that I find dangerous. I think we fall into a trap where we confuse our thoughts for our brain, but remember, the brain is sending messages to the WHOLE body. If you're not in a great place emotionally, your brain might go into survival mode and encourage you to make decisions out of fear. "I can't quit my job that I hate because I need the benefits." “I can't break up with so and so, I'll never meet someone else at this age." “I can't move back home, what if my big break is just around the corner?” I find it's much better to be a little terrified and happy than secure and miserable because eventually your denial of your true wants and needs will come out in other bodily ways: mental and physical illness, apathy towards everything, especially self, physical ticks and neuroses; you can deny that any of those things are linked, but in the end, it'll catch up with you; it always does.
3. The better you understand your dreams, the more likely you are to achieve them.
It took me about a year before I realized I was chasing other people's dreams. I had allowed myself so far down the rabbit hole that I no longer knew what my dreams were. That's when I began to doubt myself, and when doubt creeps in, that could be the beginning of the end. Without my dreams who was I? What did I matter? What did anything matter? One day I wanted to be a Second City star, the other own a dance company, sometimes I thought I'd be a clown. It took me some soul searching, but I finally remembered the little girl and her joke. Oh right, I wanted to make myself and other people laugh. How simple that was, and yet it had become near impossible because of my depression. I had ignored myself for so long I temporarily lost the ability to do the only thing I ever cared about doing. Do me a favor: think about your dream job and then ask yourself “Why?” When you find out the “why" you allow yourself something much more attainable in your day-to-day life. I love making people laugh because it allows me human connection. It lets me relate to everyone I come into contact with. Why does Joe want to be an engineer? Because Joe wants a family and that will allow him time with them. I can connect with humans right now. Joe can focus on family now. You can follow your dreams now and in doing so, you'll only make your dream JOB more possible. The happier you are in your day-to-day life, the less likely you are to miss an opportunity.
4. It's only failure if you say so.
Giving up my life in Chicago was the best thing I could have done for myself, and it has nothing to do with the weather, or the people, or the improv; it has everything to do with me. I could have stuck it out and maybe had minor “success," but I wasn't happy. It didn't feel right. I felt I had work to do on myself, and I felt that work had to be done at home. I didn't know that at the time, but I felt it. When I left Chicago, I didn't leave feeling defeated because things didn't go “according to plan," I felt proud that I was choosing myself over anything else. I chose my happiness, my sanity over my “dreams” and my friends. Do not ever be ashamed to walk away from something that isn't working. Give it your best try, and if you're still miserable, just leave. It takes so much more courage to admit you were wrong than to try and prove to yourself that you weren't. So long as you're choosing yourself, you're succeeding.
5. There is no plan. Ever.
You can plan, plan, plan all you want but please always leave room for change. If you're someone who needs things to go “according to plan” do yourself a favor and ease up on that need ASAP because life is only going to continue to piss you off and freak you out. Try to look at every curve ball and every snafu as an opportunity to learn, or to do something different. Don't be a victim of it. Embrace it, maybe it'll turn out better than you ever planned it would.