The last day of April was my first time in the booth. “The Booth” is what my memoir class calls it when it’s your turn to have pages workshopped. You go around the room and one at a time, each one of your classmates gives you feedback on your writing. You’re not allowed to say anything, not allowed to explain or defend your work. You just listen, as though you’re in a soundproof booth. The instructor goes last.

For my first booth, I had written just six pages, the tiniest slice of my life detailing two incidents: one, my father’s near drowning when I was a child, and two, a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle where a stranger asked me some very pointed and very none-of-your-business type questions about my family in general and my mother’s death in particular and I lied, blatantly, to her face.

That experience on the plane was not the first time I’ve told a lie. In fact, I’ve told many, many lies over the last several years. The biggest and most frequent lie I’ve told is that I’m OK. I’ve told it to strangers to make them comfortable. I’ve told it to friends and family to keep them from worrying about me. And I’ve told it to myself because I wanted to believe it. Because I’m so, so tired of not being OK.

As we wrapped up the booth session, my instructor closed her comments by saying, “I just want to tell you how sorry I am. To absorb so much loss at such a young age is painful, and wrong, and I wish it wasn’t so.” And because I wasn’t allowed to say anything, this time I didn’t lie and tell her I was OK. I just listened, and took it in. And then I got on the subway and went home, crawled into bed, and slept until dinner.

It’s not easy to admit that I’m a liar, not easy to admit that the way I want to see myself is different than the way I am. I don’t want to complain, and I don’t want to be sad. I want to be a survivor, rather than a victim.

And in truth, I am a survivor. I have survived a great many things. I have survived my mother looking at me with vacant eyes and telling me she wanted to die. I have survived the knowledge that I was unable to keep her from dying. I have survived the months of constant fear over what would happen to my terminally ill father, living alone in a house he refused to leave. I have survived the guilt over the relief I felt when he died, because it meant I would no longer have to worry about him.

And speaking of guilt, I have survived the wrenching guilt over the fact that I left the person I promised to love forever, because I cared less about his pain than I did about being free. I have survived the guilt that I didn’t grieve for my grandmother as she succumbed to advanced Alzheimer’s disease, because I blamed her years of cruelty and emotional abuse for breaking down my mother’s fragile psyche and leading her to turn to alcohol in the first place.

I have survived the death of the sweetest man I’ve ever known, my Grandpa Gerry, survived the hospice nurses telling me he could bleed out in front of me, or that there might not be enough morphine to keep him from pain. I have survived dark nights of the soul, survived not being able to get up off my apartment floor for days at a time, survived my own broken heart.

But what does all this survival mean? There’s nothing particularly noble or admirable about it. It simply means I stayed alive, because as terrible as staying alive was, it was better than the alternative.

My, “I’m gonna sell all my stuff, move to New York and start over,” move was an act of rebellion against all these years of surviving. I wanted to do more than just survive. I wanted to thrive. I wanted to change my life. No matter how many people told me how hard New York was going to be, I didn’t care. After all I’ve been through, I told myself, this will be easy.

It wasn’t. For the first time I realized the comfort in living in a place where people know you, where they share your history. No one knows me here. And in a city of so many people, so many of whom are suffering, my problems seem small and insignificant. I seem small and insignificant.

The truth is, I’m ashamed of myself. I’ve been given the gift of survival, and what have I done with it? I’ve squandered opportunities and time. I’ve spent money I’ve inherited from my parents foolishly, hoping that “treating myself,” would make me feel better. I’ve been spoiled and selfish, spent far too much time feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been called brave and I haven’t deserved it.

Last Sunday, I woke to the most glorious day. It was cloudy, but not rainy, with a gentle breeze and the slightest chill in the air. I sat in the arm chair of my living room, windows open, curtains parted. And for the first time, I noticed that the formerly barren trees climbing upwards toward my eighth-floor balcony were suddenly full of lush green leaves, and birds were singing. “This is spring,” I told myself. “This is perfect. Hold on to this.”

And in that moment, I made a decision. I will no longer apologize for the fact that I am not OK. I will no longer apologize for the fact that I don’t fit into normal life, or that my journey doesn’t look like everyone else’s. I will accept myself as I am: searching, messy, not as together as I’d like to be, but moving forward anyway. I will try harder to open my palms in gratitude for all I’ve been given. And I will keep writing my story, flawed and sharp-edged as it is, always with an eye toward a quote my teacher ended our last memoir class with, from Abigail Thomas:

“Be honest, dig deep, or don’t bother.”

Until next time, friends.

The Cottage on Cashio Street.

As the late afternoon sun descends, its rays catch the side of my face – warm, but not too hot. Directly in front of me, a lone, impossibly tall palm tree ascends up, up, up into the cloudless blue sky, stoic and proud, as though she were keeping watch over the entire neighborhood. The same gentle breeze that blows through my hair causes the palm fronds to rustle softly and rhythmically, the music of the trees joining the chirping of tiny birds and the occasional melody of a far-off police siren as this lazy late afternoon slides into evening.

Palm Tree

As I sit on one turquoise mesh folding chair, my feet propped up on a second turquoise mesh folding chair, legs extended, gazing out from a white stucco patio framed by an impeccably-manicured hedge blossoming with pink and yellow flowers, I’m willing to admit that the view from here looks pretty good.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, for much of the year that I’ve lived in this one bedroom cottage bungalow with its near-perfect patio, I didn’t enjoy or embrace my life here. I didn’t relax and I didn’t settle in. But now, as my second spring begins to unfold on Cashio Street, I find myself inching ever closer to something that resembles happiness. It’s a feeling that’s been foreign to me for so long, I’m not quite sure what to do with it. It’s a feeling that, if I’m honest, scares me a little. What if it’s not real? What if it goes away?

When I first moved to the cottage on Cashio Street, it was to seek refuge. My marriage was toxic, my life was a mess, and I was reeling from an overwhelming grief that I hadn’t been able to fully process or accept. I needed to start over. I moved in with some friends, temporarily, until I figured out what to do next. And then it happened: with almost zero effort on my part, this beautiful little bungalow materialized. It fell into my lap so seamlessly, it was almost as if fate had stepped in on my behalf.


At first, the sudden change was exhilarating. Both my home and my life were a blank slate, to be redecorated and refashioned in whatever way I saw fit. I had a new neighborhood to discover and a new life to explore.

But after the novelty wore off, reality set in. I was isolated, living far away from most of my friends in a city where perpetual traffic jams mean that even a separation of a few miles can present a serious impediment to regular social gatherings. The more time I spent alone with myself, the more I realized that I no longer knew who I was. My marriage had defined not only my relationship status, but many of my friendships and associations – both personally and professionally – as well. I felt adrift, homesick, and unsure of where to turn. I missed the places and faces of my past life and wanted to retreat back to the familiar and the known.

But I couldn’t. And I didn’t. Gradually, I began to seek out new ways to fill the empty spaces left in my life by the absence of so many people and things. I used this blog as a tool to write my way through sadness and loss and the changes I felt unfolding within me. Through my writing, I met a community of other writers, both online and in real life. A few months after my move, I went on a writer’s retreat in the San Juan Islands in my home state of Washington and was amazed to find that there were so many other people out there just like me: people who were brave yet broken, people who had profound stories to tell, people who found their solace within the safety of the written word.


The void still gnawing at my insides, I kept going. Along with a close circle of friends, I started a weekly creative workshop for fellow actors and writers. I reconnected with a college friend, joined her theatre company, and began rehearsals for an autobiographical solo performance show that will open this upcoming summer. I became a volunteer for an organization that works to empower teenage girls in L.A.’s underserved communities and I’m now a mentor to a fourteen-year-old girl who has plans to finish her first novel before she graduates from high school. Once again, I picked up an oft-abandoned screenplay loosely (or maybe not so loosely) based on the worst year of my life, but this time with a renewed sense of commitment and enthusiasm. I’m almost done with the first draft, and I’m planning to hold my first table read next month.  And I’m finally – finally – in counseling with a good therapist.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out. I am a work in progress. Change is scary and it’s difficult, and some days are easier than others. But through stubbornness and persistence, I’m starting to find a way out of the darkness. I’m starting to find that this new, ever-evolving me is someone I actually enjoy spending time with. And I’m starting to recognize that caught as I am between impatiently pushing for a “better,” happier future and brooding over memories of a past that I can’t change, the only place I can safely reside, the only place I want to reside, is right here, right now.

One day at a time, as they say.

Until next time, friends.


On depression, and empathy.

Matthew: What are you working on?

Cory: Actually, I’m working on a book about the depression.

Matthew: So, you have an interest in historical material?

Cory: My depression. I’m writing a book about my depression.

Matthew: I see.

Cory: It’s an epic.

From the play, Private Eyes, by Steven Dietz


I have an embarrassing admission to make. For most of my life, I didn’t believe that depression was a real, legitimate thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have always known that it exists, but as someone, who, for the most part, always found it pretty easy to be happy, I took it for granted that other people could do the same. I dismissed those who were frequently sad – including my own mother – as negative, or simply not trying hard enough. Like most people, I would get an occasional case of the blues – the result of a tough day or receiving some bad news – but I found that if I just went for a run, or watched a funny movie, or played some upbeat music, I could chase away the doldrums pretty easily. This too shall pass.  Because it always did.

And then, in an instant, everything changed. My dad got sick. My mom went crazy. They both died. On the heels of my mother’s death, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Suddenly, she too, was gone. And in the midst of it all, a close friend from college dropped dead in the gym of his apartment building, less than two weeks after his 31st birthday. A life full of promise cut abruptly short. Just like that.

All of this happened in the space of less than a year. For a while, I was in shock, moving from one tragedy to the next. But eventually, I was forced to confront the person left standing: me. A series of impossible events held a mirror up to my own life and what it reflected back was soul-searing. I was lost, unfulfilled, unhappy, but it was worse than that: I had given up. Given up on my dreams, given up on the idea that I deserved to be happy, given up on the person I had always wanted to be. I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and it was terrifying. Confronted with the choice of change or die, I chose to change. And that’s when things got really scary.

I suddenly found myself alone, trying to build a new life from scratch, with no idea what to do or how to start. I was 33, feeling utterly adrift while everyone around me seemed to have their lives figured out – relationships, kids, fulfilling careers.

And that’s when the sadness shifted into something more: the big D. Depression. For the first time in my life, it was no longer easy to get out of bed. I found social events with even the closest of friends exhausting, and anything that involved meeting strangers nearly unthinkable. My everyday worries and anxieties became worse; an above average fear of heights turned crippling. My motivation to tackle even the most basic of tasks was utterly nonexistent. I (once again) took up smoking, and continued to smoke even though it made me feel sick, taking some sort of perverse pleasure in how destructive it was. I hated myself.


But I also found something else in my spiral into sadness, something that I didn’t expect: empathy. As a former ‘ happy girl,’ I never understood the monumental effort it could take someone with depression just to get dressed, to leave the house, to plaster on a smile, to make the requisite small talk that fills life’s daily interactions. But now I did. I understood all too well.

I’m pretty sure that depressed people – or at least this depressed person – don’t want to be depressed. If given the chance, they’d prefer to be joyful rather than sorrowful, prefer to find it easy to be with people rather than difficult, prefer to be up, rather than down. Who wouldn’t?

But the thing I never understood until I started wrestling with my own depression was that in the face of all of my friends’ well-meaning advice about focusing on the positive, about choosing to be happy, about the fact that our thoughts make our worlds, for some people, the pursuit of happiness is a constant, ongoing battle. I am tough, and relentlessly stubborn. I don’t give up easily, and throughout this dark period I’ve fought. I’ve worked really damn hard: forcing myself to be social when I didn’t feel like it, exercising regularly, practicing gratitude, joining organizations, going on trips, getting involved in my community, and doing all the things you’re supposed to do to shift your outlook. But the key words here are hard and work. I never could have imagined that a simple quest to feel lighter could be so damn heavy. That the most basic tasks could spend me as though I’d just run miles through beach sand. That sometimes in spite of my best efforts, there wouldn’t be one single solitary thing that would make any of it better.

But here’s the flip side of sitting with this darkness, of living in it, of trying to learn from it: gratitude. I’m grateful for what my struggle has taught me. Being incapable of walking through this phase of my life as anything other than a broken person has stripped away all pretense and artifice. It has attracted people into my life that the old me never would have met, and it has caused me to chase new, different experiences, things the old me never would have done. In my battle to get better, I’ve met some truly beautiful souls – both in person and online through writing this blog – that have known profound pain, pain deeper than anything I’ve experienced. And like me, they too, are doing the best they can.

We all have our particular prejudices, our long-held beliefs, our wealth of experiences that form the framework through which we view the world. Sometimes – as in my case – they can cause us to be too judgmental toward other people, to feel self righteous about their choices. Human beings are naturally curious and though we want to understand each other, sometimes we don’t, we can’t. What the last couple of years have taught me is that there is always more to the story than meets the eye, that no one has it easy, and that, while some of us are better at dealing with hardship, none of us are left unscathed by the joys and sorrows that make up this beautiful, difficult, complicated life.

As a former happy girl currently engaged in the battle to get better, I have learned patience, gained self-awareness, and discovered the true value of gratitude. But empathy, above all, is the gift that my depression has given me.

Until next time, friends.


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