Mental Health & Its Impact on Your Artistic Self Ft. Greta Kleckner
I want to take a moment to chat about mental health because May is (was - happy June!) mental health awareness month and ya’ll know I love to be #ontrend. But in all seriousness, mental health is a really important topic that we need to continue to talk about. In recent years we’ve come a long way to raise awareness around mental health conditions but we still have a long way to go. The past couple of weeks I’ve been busy transcribing a conversation I had with my friend Greta Kleckner (@gretakleckner). We talked about different areas of mental health that don’t always get categorized as being important mental health issues. I think we typically associate mental health with subjects like depression, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, and other diagnosable disorders, but mental health encompasses so much more than a list of illnesses. Mental health is the way we talk about ourselves, the thoughts we think, and how that impacts our day to day.
Greta: I get so ‘everything’s terrible, I have no friends, life is awful, I’m never gonna work again.’ Crazy shit. But that’s what we think about all the fucking time.
Becky: The lacking mindset, yeah...
Greta: And the fixed mindset. There’s a book...called The Growth Mindset. It’s [when we think] ‘if I’m not already immediately good at this I’m not gonna do it.’ It’s like when you’re a kid and somebody says ‘you’re so smart.’ Then when you do something that’s not right it affects your identity versus ‘you worked really hard on that.’ Parents don’t really encourage the work ethic, they encourage the identity thing and that fucks you up. So I’ve really been working on what it looks like to be in a growth mindset and that really encourages me to take those crawling on the ground steps forward. So I threw my back out this summer at the end of a contract and couldn’t walk for weeks. And I got super depressed ‘cause muscle relaxers cause depression and suicidal thoughts and once I sort of healed...I was like I can’t keep throwing my back out. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. I have to do something. And I know this one particular studio and I love it. I know what they stand for and I’m on board with it. I love how they run their classes and what they promote. Like some barre classes are ‘push harder! We’re crazy!’ And I don’t really subscribe or respond well to yelling motivation. I respond really well to ‘push yourself to your edge. And if today that’s squatting in a bar stool versus a beach chair then you need to do that.’ And so it forced me to look at where my edges were and how hard I have to push to get there. In the beginning I could barely do the class and now I’ve been doing it almost three months four days a week. This week was five ‘cause last week was two. So I went every single day this week and I don’t take breaks in the places I used to take breaks. I can do planks un-modified now. If I didn’t have that growth mindset like ‘okay, well you have to start somewhere.’ [Just] ‘cause you’re not already good at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep going and show up.
Becky: Nobody comes out of the womb already at level ten.
Greta: Right! Nobody comes out of the womb with their equity card. Everybody has to work for it.
Becky: You know, it’s so funny that you brought that up. I teach at a performing arts studio once a week and I have little, little ones who are cute and adorable and then I have three teen classes. And they’re good kids. They love theater. And my tap class, they all just wanna do so well. And obviously they all have strengths and weaknesses and the very first class we were doing pullbacks across the floor and this one girl was like ‘I can’t do them. I suck at them.’ And I was like ‘okay, hold on. Everyone stop. Real talk. You are not allowed to say ‘I suck at this. I can’t do this.’ Or anything like that in my class, in any of my classes ever, ever, ever again. You can tell me that something’s hard for you, that you struggle with it, that you don’t get it yet but to say that you’re not good at it or that you suck at it is so definitive that you psyche yourself
out and it doesn’t allow your body to experience the challenges of working on stuff.’ And we don’t realize how impactful words are and how the way we think about ourselves and also the way other people tell us to think about ourselves, which is sort of a different topic, but it can all be really detrimental.
Greta: Oh yeah, I am definitely a product of negative self-talk. My career is a product of negative self-talk and a lot of lucky breaks and it’s amazing to me how long it took to get to a place where I didn’t...self deprecating humor is funny and I pride myself on being funny. So cutting that kind of humor out of my vocabulary is detrimental to my identity as a funny person. Do you know who Tig Notaro is? She’s a comedienne... I just read her book about her life and she gets to the part about meeting Stephanie [her wife] and she says ‘she [Stephanie] just doesn’t talk badly about herself and so I just couldn’t stop thinking about how awesome she is all the time because there was nothing in the world telling me she was bad’ and she said to her ‘you never talk badly about yourself.’ And she was like ‘well, I know I have things to work on but what good does it do to—’ That wrecked me... I know what I have to work on but if I keep telling myself I’m bad or untalented or not successful, it’s garbage. I read that maybe about a month ago and I was like ‘I’m never allowed to say anything bad about myself ever again!’ And it’s really hard.
Becky: And it can be very empowering too. Because then suddenly you’re not a bad person for whatever it is that you’re working on. It’s just not your strength yet.
Greta: Well and I think the things that I’m good at, when I get compliments or whatever, I just have to take them. I can’t be like ‘well, you know...’ some comedic, self-deprecating thing. I have to be like, ‘thanks.’ That silence after ‘thanks’ is the most uncomfortable thing. But it’s been a really hard season. After I got my equity card I booked a couple of jobs but I’ve turned down so many wonderful non-union things. People will call me and be like ‘Greta, can you do this?’ And no I can’t. I wouldn’t even have to audition. I get the phone call and I can’t do it. So I really struggle with thinking that equity was success to me and realizing creativity is success to me and now I’m not working nearly as much.
Becky: I think a lot of us are experiencing that too. I got my card, I was offered an equity contract literally ten days before the whole EMC thing came out. I was like ‘finally! I made it!’ And I have to admit, I felt like I was on a pedestal because I sort of had the same idea. Equity was on my list of goals. You know, Broadway’s at the top and equity was on that list of things and I was like ‘great! I can check that off. Success.’ [But] someone was asking me if I regretted taking my card even though it’s been a year since I got it and I have not worked at all. Paid work at least. And I said no because yes, there was about four months of walking through shit, of feeling like ‘what am I doing? Nobody cares about what I have to say.’ But that’s where the idea for this blog came about, which is very cool. And now that I’m on the other side of that, I still have moments of feeling small and insignificant, obviously that never goes away but now I feel like the door has opened for me to do the type of self-reflection work that I think is even more important in this industry and also just in life in general to be a grounded, typically happy human being. And so I don’t regret taking it. It’s been very challenging and I’ve had to value different things. I’ve had to value kicking ass in class more than I used to. I’ve had to value going through a really difficult, demanding, challenging callback process and feeling like I did really good work. I used to not... like that stuff... I was like ‘whatever. I was in final callbacks for x, y, and z, I don’t care.’ But now I’m like ‘I was in callbacks for this and that and that’s cool!’ You know? And so it’s nice for the first time in my life to actually, I guess, be proud of myself.
Greta: I think you’re right, I don’t regret taking my card either. I see the loss and I think I need to grieve the loss of the different kinds of jobs I could’ve had, the different creative dreams I could’ve had. Like there were a couple offers of shows I really wanted to do that didn’t pay very well but who cares when I could get to do that kind of art. And then there was another job that paid really, really well and was a dream role for my resume but I had to turn it down. That shit’s hard. But I think you’re right. I don’t know if I would’ve realized... when there is a thing like your equity card that is the attainable thing, the winning the lottery, the measure of success, that always stands in the way of you owning your own shit. ‘I don’t have that so I’m not...whatever...’ Well, I have it now and I still don’t have my shit together. It forces you to look at why you’re here, what you’re doing, who you are and man, when I had to take a long, hard look at that I didn’t like what I saw. And I said all these horrible things about myself and it wasn’t helpful at the end of the day...I went to an audition last week and it was probably one of my worst days. And I saw a friend and he was like ‘hey, how are you?’ And he looked me in the eye and I started sobbing... And I was sobbing right before I went in the room and I was all gross, my makeup was gone. And I walked in the room and the casting director was like ‘hey, how are you?’ And I was like ‘all things considered I’m pretty lucky.’ Sobbing...It was awful. It was terrible. And I picked the wrong song for that moment and I couldn’t think straight. And I sang and it sounded fine and he was like ‘you sound great!’ I’m confident when I walk into singer calls. I know exactly what I’m doing. I don’t ever do badly. I’ve done the work on that side of things. But there are gonna be some auditions, walking in sounding amazing, like Elphaba level shit, but it doesn’t matter if I’m sobbing at an EPA...But that situation forced me to look at who I am outside of the room and what that brings into the room. Like who I was outside of that room was fucking nuts. I was going through it with people who claimed to be friends but I didn’t trust and shit all hit the fan that day and I brought that into the room and it made me realize every single thing I have as a human being I bring into the room, good or bad, which is what makes me a human worthy of connection, what makes any human worthy of connection. But it makes me think that the person I wanna be walking into the room should be the person I wanna be outside!
**At this point the remainder of today’s blog will be solely my own opinions, feelings, and experiences...with some Brené Brown wisdom thrown in ;-) **
Hearing Greta talk about who she wants to be in the room in relation to who she is outside the room reminded me of a switch that went off in my own head about nine months ago. I had just gotten back into acting class, was auditioning a fair amount, and feeling fine about my work. I wasn’t doing bad work, but it wasn’t spectacular and I knew I was capable of leveling up. I was guilty of what I lovingly call “being a good musical theater auditioner.” I was always prepared for auditions, I was nice and friendly in the room, I smiled and made eye contact with the creative team behind the table, I knew my acting choices, what I wanted out of my scene partner, blah, blah, blah, etc. But what I wasn’t allowing myself to do was open up and be a true human being having a true human experience. I was functioning on a very surface level and after a while it became unsatisfying. I felt like I was holding back because I was. I wanted more for myself and my growth as an artist. So I decided to stop being a good musical theater auditioner and to start working towards being a real human being in the room.
Now this type of work doesn’t just happen over night. I can’t snap my fingers and suddenly be all open and vulnerable in a matter of seconds in front of people who may or may not offer me a job without putting the work in outside of the audition room. When I decided that I wanted to be more human in auditions I simultaneously committed myself to being more human outside of auditions as well. But Becky, you’re already human. How could you be more human than you already are? What I mean is I wanted to get more in touch with my humanity, my ability to feel a broad range of emotions, to be vulnerable and strong. I wanted to learn to live more wholeheartedly. If you aren’t familiar with Brené Brown and her work let me give you her definition of what it means to live wholeheartedly. “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.” (Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brené Brown)
On page nine of her book, Brené offers ten guideposts for wholeheartedly living. They are as follows:
1. “Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think 2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism 3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness 4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison 7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and
Productivity as Self-Worth 8. Cultivating Calm and Still: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle 9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and ‘Supposed To’ 10. Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and ‘Always in
My deep desire to plunge into this type of work caused me to finally have the courage and seek out a therapist, an idea I’ve been marinating in and choosing to avoid for about six years. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma around therapy in our society. Yes, that stigma is slowly being erased as mental health gets talked about more and more but it’s still there. There’s a misunderstanding that people who go to therapy have something wrong with them. This message is one of the reasons I avoided going to therapy for so long in addition to not wanting to pay for it (my previous health insurance had a $60 co-pay compared to my current $20 co-pay under my new insurance) and not wanting to talk about subjects that are difficult to talk about. (Why would I want to put myself through the pain of working through difficult shit when I can avoid it and just be happy all the time, am I right?!) But the truth is, we don’t grow by staying comfortable and I knew that if I wanted to level up as an artist, I’d also have to grow as a person.
So I went outside my comfort zone and got myself into therapy. I’ve only had four sessions so far but I get the feeling that this journey I’m on is going to be a real game changer. I can’t wait to see where it takes me. And now, at risk of this blog sounding like every speech being made at graduations across America this spring, I’ll end with a quote.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy - the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Dr. Brené Brown