Lately, I’ve been thinking so, so much about the laundry list of mistakes I’ve made throughout the last decade. I’m not talking about the tiny mistakes like an unpaid parking ticket or wearing the sheer dress with the black underwear to the event or the drinking of the expired milk.
I’m talking about f*ck-ups. Screw-ups! The kind of mistakes that change the entire direction of your life. The kind of mistakes that set you back half a decade. The kind of mistakes that keep you up all night wondering “what if, I hadn’t done that?”
When I find myself circling back to the same dark ole’ memories, manically fixating on the failures of my haphazard past, I usually attempt to anesthetize the painful sting of regret. Sometimes I do this with booze. I used to do this with girls. I’m still tempted to do it with drugs (Xanax).
But I’m too old for that bullshit, babe. I now know that when anxiety wraps itself around your waist, what you really need to do is look directly into your feelings. Break em’ down.
Because when you break shit down, you usually find that all the things you’ve deemed a fatal mistake — were actually goddamn miracles. Each f*ck up, each embarrassing fall into the pavement — really puts our egos in check. It tosses our soft bodies outside the oh-so-safe margins of our comfort zone. It knocks the wind out of us.
And we are only able to truly grow when the wind has been knocked out of us and we’re left on our knees, gasping for air.
So here are five mistakes I’ve made in the past ten years. And in this piece, we’re going to look the demon of failure right in the eye. And decide whether he’s a demon or just a sneaky angel with a beautiful, complicated agenda we’ll only ever understand in hindsight…
I never took prescription speed, even when I was expected to churn out three articles a day in a high-pressure media job. In fact, the pressure of being on such intense deadlines was like a sturdy fishing rod that reeled my wild ADHD in.
Two years ago I made the choice to go ~freelance~ in my career. And holy-shit did life as I know it, shift.
At my job, I had been used to walking into a buzzy, young environment and I thrived off everyone’s creative energy. I walked to work (4 miles! In heels!) every single morning despite the harrowing New York weather. I was very much alive when I worked at that company. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t move. Or socialize. Or adorn my body in clothes.
And then suddenly I was working from home. I went from rocking fabulous outfits, to spending my days hovered beneath a blanket in dirty pajamas, pounding away at the keyboard completely alone. I would get sucked into projects and not even leave my house for several days at a time. The isolation and the lack of human-interaction was a surefire recipe for depression.
In fact, it was like shooting steroids right into the belly of my depression.
So I did what any Manhattan millennial in professional crisis would do — I medicated the problem. I traipsed into Dr. Feel Good’s office with a check for $300 and traipsed out with a pretty little script for Vyvanse! (Which Cat Marnell once described as a “designer Adderall” in an essay for Vice and you know me. Label whore Barrie!)
Did the drugs make me start pumping out articles like a media machine? Actually, No. For whatever reason stimulants stunt my work-ethic rather than propel me into productivity. They make me all twitchy and meth-y and I’ll fixate on one single word for three whole hours.
The speed also made me sexless. And I’m wildly sexual at my core. Not even antidepressants can quell this superstar libido. My girlfriend went from having sex with me every single night to maybe once a week.
I began to DRINK way too much, as well. I’d crave something to take the edge off the razor-sharp edges of my artificially stimulated existence and start chugging wine around 6 PM. And since I likely hadn’t eaten anything that day I would get hammered. Fast. And when I was a slurring mess, I would realize how hungry I was (the speed had deleted my appetite). In a drunken stupor, I would march up to the fridge and devour whatever was inside of it. Even if it was just condiments.
In short: Stimulants made me puffy. Stimulants turned me into a red-faced, angry lush. Stimulants stripped me of my sexuality. And stimulants made my writing suck for a few months there, which most definitely halted my freelance career.
So yes, indeed, strutting over to Dr. Feelgood was a mistake. But I learned a vital life lesson while crawling out of the consequences of that mistake: You can’t medicate yourself in order to adapt to a situation that isn’t you. When you screw with your body’s natural rhythms on a daily basis you block yourself from manifesting your dreams. I didn’t get the gifts that Vyvanse promised me. In fact, Vyvanse robbed me of my natural gifts. And without my natural gifts, I have nothing.
2. Makeup School.
Right after I graduated from acting school (the New York Conservatory For Dramatic Arts) I scored a job as a “shot girl.” I fed grown men sugary shots of “sex on the beach” out of a plastic syringe and said nothing when they grabbed my ass.
I was terrified, terrified that my future was going to be in nightlife culture. With a theatre degree, it’s hard to get a job outside of nightlife or retail, and acting is rough, man.
So I panicked. I took out a loan for $10,000 and enrolled in makeup artist school. The first day I knew in the deepest pit of my heart — I was in the wrong place. I knew I didn’t belong there — I knew that I didn’t have the passion or the talent to thrive in this particular world. I could see the passion in the other girl’s eyes when they steadily adhered false lashes to fluttering eyeballs, and it reminded me of the passion I harbored for theatre.
I had made the choice to go to makeup school out of fear, not out of love. And I don’t know much but I know this: Nothing beautiful grows out of fear.
Rather than listen to my gut and get my money back and continue to pursue my theatrical dreams despite my fear of rejection — I shut down and went through the motions. I was ashamed to tell my friends and family that I had made a mistake. So I lied to everyone and made a big show of convincing the masses I loved my new career direction.
I often wonder what would’ve happened if I had honored my instincts and not let my ego dictate the entire direction of my 20s. However. Here’s the beauty that was birthed out of makeup school. Right after makeup school, I booked a killer gig working for “bare minerals.” I alongside six other women was chosen to travel around the country for nine months and talk to women about their beauty routines. I ventured everywhere from San Francisco to Boston to Atlanta to Chicago and became family-level close with my team.
Even though applying makeup wasn’t my passion, talking to women from all over the country was a mindblowing experience. And one should never undermine the power of beauty. Women reveal all when getting their makeup done. Getting your makeup done is vulnerable. A stranger is touching your face. It’s no surprise that whoever is sitting your chair inevitably ends up opening up to you about their lives. And hearing the dynamic, heartbreaking, inspiring stories of so many women from so many different places has made me the writer I am today.
3. Totally giving up on my dream career of acting.
To this day I don’t think I should’ve given up. Not so soon. I loved acting so viscerally, I still get weepy when I think about it. Acting was my first love. And I left her because I was so terrified of choking on the dust of her inevitable rejection. How cowardly.
Giving up on acting got me into directing. And directing allowed me to channel my energy into something outside of myself, entirely. I didn’t have to worry anymore about all the vapid, toxic shit that comes along being a professional actress (diets, aggressive skin-care, hair-extensions, flirting/f*cking your way to the top).
Suddenly I was all about the art of it, again. And when I focused on the pure artistry of the craft I loved so damn much, the creative doors of my brain swung wide open and I fell face first into an unexpected writing career. I see now, in retrospect that writing is what I am meant to do. I see now that I am not tough enough to constantly be told I need to lose weight, clear up my skin and accept the abuse of egomaniacal directors. I’m not saying I’m weak — I’m sensitive. And the industry would’ve stripped away my sensitivity. Which would have gnawed away my creative energy. Sensitivity is so vitally important when it comes to the creative process and when your protective walls are up — you can’t see all the nuances and colors and goddamn poetry that looms in the distance.
4. Sleeping with the girl who massively insulted me on the first date.
We met on Tinder and were on our first date in New York City. I was instantly overcome with a bad vibe. There was something lecherous about her blinkless stare. I felt like she could crawl into my head and snatch my soul out of my skull. Everything inside of my body told me to leave.
Right as I was about to muster up an excuse to leave, she looked me up and down and purred: “You’re really insecure and I think you wear such trendy shit so other people won’t see how insecure you are.”
She was wrong.
At least about the fashion part.
I was insecure, but I’ve always had style. I was so shocked I didn’t even bite back. I sought solace in the bathroom to collect my thoughts. I looked in the dirty mirror. “GET OUT. IF YOU DON’T LEAVE RIGHT NOW SOME BAD SHIT IS GOING TO GO DOWN.” The wise woman who lives deep inside of me urged, her voice low and steady.
I went back to the table.
I knocked back a martini in order to silence my guardian angels who had flown into the scene and were also telling me to GO, GO, GO. I didn’t go.
I slept with her that night.
Which lead to a six-month relationship in which I lost my identity, alienated my friends, watered down my personal style and lived my life in fear. For the first time, I allowed someone to have total control over me. I lost my spirit. Left my spirit starving and alone in the bathroom of that restaurant on her first date. Took me a year to find her and nurse her back to health.
I knew my relationship was deeply toxic but I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of it. It was as if she had some kind of spiritual ownership over me.
My therapist told me right off the bat that being in this relationship was like willingly walking into a house that was on fire. “Eventually you’ll get burned and you’ll leave.” She said faithfully. And she was right. Eventually, my skin began to scorch and I walked out of the prison of flames.
Not listening to my instincts about this woman was a mistake. Sleeping with someone who insulted me was a mistake. Giving my power away was a mistake. But this massive mistake inspired me to do the deepest work I’d ever done on myself. Me allowing someone to treat me with such disrespect let me know that there was a bevy of deep-rooted issues lingering beneath the soil that I had yet to unearth.
Eventually, my burns healed. But I had to undergo the arduous process of peeling the layers of burnt skin off my body, first. I had to examine my raw insides before new skin could grow back. It was f*cking scary. But I thank my higher-power Lana Del Rey that I did it. I faced my real, naked self. And if I hadn’t faced myself, I would’ve never have been ready to meet the love of my life, Meghan.
So I guess I should cherish that toxic relationship. It brought me to her.
5. Blacking out at the skeezy bar all by myself.
One night when in the thick of a relentless depression I blacked out at a bar alone in London. I knew better than to binge drink alone.
But that night I felt so depressed I was numb. Numbness is the most intolerable feeling. Numbness equals soulless. So I attempted to drink my soul back.
I’m not going to get into the details of what went down that night (have to save some shit for my book!) but let’s just say I was left severely traumatized. I began to get regular panic attacks and self-destructed like my life was going out of style.
So I decided to leave London and move to Florida and live with my parents for a while. I was no longer safe on my own.
I felt like a total failure moving back home at 25 after living in New York, Los Angeles and London. But that shameful reset ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. I got a meaningful, beautiful job in a youth theatre, was mentored by the greatest artist I’ve ever known, and I fell in love with an awesome person I’m still close with to this day.
And I got my first little mini writing gig while in Florida (that would never have happened in England)! Which lead to a big, fulltime writing gig in New York City, and I always longed to go back to New York City. And living in New York City led to my marriage, my insane career, my fabulous pets, my life.
It’s not a perfect life. But it’s my life. And I own the f*ck out of my life. And I’d rather be steering the ship in these f*cked up, dangerous waters, than sitting in the pretty, perfect- looking cabin, totally helpless. Totally trapped.