I’ve been in love with video editing since I can remember. The first thing I would do when I got home from school was go straight to my parents’ office computer to film and edit videos of myself on iMovie. I fell in love with performing because it meant I didn’t need anyone else to create whatever imaginary worlds I wanted to. When I had friends over, I would immediately bring them to my parents' office so we could make videos together. Creating these worlds became our favorite thing to do.
Things took a turn at 9-years-old, when a 3-day stomach bug I picked up on vacation with my family turned into 2 long years of needing lots of psychiatric help and medical attention. The stomach bug had triggered predisposed OCD that turned into an extreme phobia of throwing up. The clinical word for this condition is called, "emetophobia", which you can read more about here. I was absolutely terrified of food, liquids, or anything that could get into my body and potentially make me sick. I lost almost all of my body fat and could not speak or function without thinking constantly about potential threats to my health.
Unless I was creating. The intrusive thoughts would simply dissapear. My most positive memories of that period of my life are being in my parents' office, in front of the computer, filming and editing. This is the first time I experienced the magic of creation and the ability it has to free the mind.
When I am filming, editing or performing, time stops and literally nothing else matters. Many call this our "flow state", which pretty much refers to a state in which we are so absorbed in the task at hand that variables that would typically affect us (stress, hunger, fatigue, pain) are non-existent.
Once I was able to put words to this and discovered its ability to practically generate miracles in my life, I wanted nothing more than to share my findings and help others get to the same place regardless of what they are going through.
THE BREAKING POINT
I still dealt with deeply rooted insecurities as I grew older, mostly surrounding body image and my general sense of worth - all of which eventually lead to eating disorders, self-harm and extremely destructive behavior. My anxiety and OCD grew debilitating for about five years beginning at 15-years-old when I entered my first relationship and faced paralyzing codependency and emotional abuse for the first time.
In 2015, I was accepted at the University of Missouri with a plan to get a degree in broadcast journalism. Deep down I knew this wasn't exactly what I wanted to do, but figured it was close enough. I wanted to help people, I wanted to perform, and I wanted to film. So broadcast journalism certainly seemed like the most logical option. I had produced and directed my high school's morning announcements for three years, so I already had adequate experience doing broadcast. I think I also always had faith I would eventually get to where I belonged. But the wake-up call that brought me there was a lot more extreme than anything I could have ever anticipated. And as difficult as it was, it remains the moment in my life that I am most grateful for.
By the end of my freshman year of college, my anxiety was at its highest and I found it extremely difficult to function without disassociating entirely. I was heavily medicated, on academic probation, and spent most of my time either over-exercising, smoking or drinking. Anything that would get me away from my thoughts. At the same time, however, I was meeting people who were showing me what it meant to be unconditionally loved and accepted for who I was. The first was my best friend, roommate and now sister, Caylin. I do not know what this story would look like without her. My own imagination couldn't come up with a better best friend.
A very toxic 3 1/2-year-long relationship with my then-boyfriend came to an abrupt and unexpected end about two weeks before finals. I experienced my first heartbreak and complete mental breakdown all at once. I'll never forget the day it happened. I was so inconsolable that my friend drove me to the closest field she could find off-campus just so I could break down without anything bad happening to me. I violently hit her car and screamed the entire way there. And as I sat in the middle of that field, ripping grass from the ground and sobbing my eyes out - something started to happen. The best way to describe it is that even as my heart broke, my soul began to repair itself. I felt light start to flood into my being. It was my first day of true freedom.
It would be a long recovery and not necessarily the smoothest one. I went to sleep crying. I woke up in the middle of night crying. I began my day crying. I couldn't eat and my chest hurt constantly. To this day, I cannot recall a pain quite like it. Nor a recovery quite like it.
The best way to describe it, though words will still fail me on some level, is like someone had taken a saw to a million chains on my body and cut through every single one all at once.
I was sure as hell broken, but at least I was broken free.
Senior year of high school morning announcements / 2015
Freshman year at Mizzou. Caylin on right / 2015
First day freshman year at Mizzou / 2015
The years following consisted of me making up for all the parts of myself I had abandoned. There was lots of catching up to do. And I wasn't going to compromise for anyone. Ever again.
I applied to Mizzou's documentary journalism program, which would put me back an extra year but ultimately was far more aligned with my love for filmmaking and storytelling. It also allowed me the creative freedom that broadcast journalism simply did not. Given my academic performance the previous year, the chances I would get into the documentary program were slim to none. My GPA did not meet the prerequisite standard and I had to appeal. I wrote the journalism school a long letter explaining the state of my mental health and the reasoning behind my GPA. After lots of e-mail refreshing, some very understanding professors, and a little help from the Universe and University, I was accepted into the program. I cried my eyes out. I was getting my first chance at my true dreams. I promised them I would not disappoint.
And I surely did not.
I got my life together, put my all into the program, and decided to also pursue minors in theatre and film. I almost never said no to an opportunity to be on a set, whether or not I was performing. "Say yes. Just say yes." That was my mindset. Forward movement. The mentors I had during this time were also imperative to the progress I made as both a filmmaker and performer.
By the end of my senior year, I had finished my first documentary, studied in Spain for 6 months on a video scholarship at the University of Navarra, played the lead in an on-campus web series, performed in plays, was doing red-carpet interviews at a film festival back home and wrote and produced my own spoof reality series on YouTube. Safe to say, I kept my word.
NOT QUITE DONE...
Remained were two things I knew deep down I wanted to do, but also terrified me. Vlogging and singing. I didn't want to just do these things either. I wanted to make them a huge part of my life. I had a lot to say, and I had a lot to sing. But both required a level of vulnerability and exposing parts of myself that I had yet to fully embrace. I figured however, that if I could do these things, then maybe I could get over all of it. All my insecurities. It was extreme of course, but I couldn't hide who I was anymore. I had an acting teacher and mentor who had told me that shutting down who we truly are at our core can only lead to three things: anxiety, physical disease, or suicide. The day she said that my life was changed.
I figured the worst case scenario was that someone doesn't like me or doesn't think I'm "good" (what a funny word we use to measure talent) and I'm forced to get over some insecurities and accept myself anyway. Best case scenario is that someone else sees me living my truth and is inspired to do the same. The tradeoff was well worth it.
Although I had been filming myself for a couple of years, I hadn't started posting anything yet. Until the pandemic. It felt as though I had a duty to fulfill. People were stuck inside, they were scared, and many were mourning. I knew I needed to use my gifts to help and felt I could provide three things: comfort, insight and laughter.
I was Grubhubbing at the time and would make videos on Snapchat in between deliveries. I'd tell stories, do skits, or just talk about what helps me get through my anxiety. By that point, I was off all medication and through much research on the mind and spirituality, learned to deal with my mental health at a capacity I never would've imagined I'd ever get to. I couldn't solve everyone's problems, but knew that I could at least help some people who had similar experiences to my own.
After many requests from my friends on Snapchat to download TikTok, I finally did it. I was so scared to at first. Snapchat was my private corner and I could control who did and didn't see me. I didn't have that same control with TikTok. But I knew that if I could help just a few people on Snapchat, maybe I could help even more on TikTok. I remember posting a Snapchat story that day that said, "I'm going to be a viral TikToker." Within four months, I had over 100,000 followers. This is by no means meant to come off as boastful and it sure as heck is not to tell you that external validation will get rid of all your insecurities. That is work you have to do on your own. This is merely a testament to the fact that what you believe is what you will experience. As long as it's for the right reasons. My platform remains to operate with the same intentions it began with. To make people feel comforted, joyful, and like they have a place in this world. I've never once strayed from that. The community I have found on TikTok has made every initial fear or temporary moment of discomfort well worth it.
CUE THE MUSIC
I'd done it. I decided I was going to do it and it worked. I could officially call myself a vlogger. Not because of the size of my platform, but because it was something I could finally say I was doing almost every single day. And when people ask me what I do... I was answering with "vlogger". That was huge for me and such a key ingredient to success. It doesn't matter how successful you consider yourself to be in the area of work you're in, you better own that shit. How we identify ourselves as to others influences every single one of our decisions. So if you really want to build the reality of your dreams, step into that reality right now. Wait on no one else's validation or approval to identify as who you truly know you are.
That left one more aspect of myself to fully embrace. Music. The one thing that made up the very fabric of this journey all together. It carried me through each step of this journey and there's no way I'd believe in myself in the way that I do without it. Big shoutout to Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Dermot Kennedy, and Jessie Reyez.
But I wanted to provide the same thing for others through my own music. Now that, was the true dream. That would be the coolest f*cking thing in the entire world.
AM I EVEN GOOD ENOUGH?
I chose it. Again, and again, and again. I chose it throughout the course of four different moves. From Missouri, to Los Angeles, to Maryland, to Long Island and back to Missouri again. I decided to start teaching myself how to play guitar. And no matter how long I put it down for, I always picked it back up again. I got better every time. And pretty soon I was writing my own songs.
The more vocal (pun intended) I was about my passion for singing, the more resources and people I found who made me even better. Moving to Kansas City was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The music scene here is insane. And although it was extremely intimidating given the level of expertise that some of these musicians have, it was exactly what I needed to get better. It was humbling, it was f*cking difficult, it was terrifying at times and some nights were even absolutely devastating. But it came with a high so invigorating, so rewarding - I wouldn't trade this process for the world.
I got a job as a server at a locally renowned jazz bar. I figured I didn't need to be in a studio tomorrow, but as long as I was close to music I would eventually get to where I needed to be. Within a couple months of working there, I was also doing their social media and video work. And not much longer after that, they asked me to start performing at the club.
Holy f*cking shit. I had really done it. Not too long before then, no one had even heard me sing nor did I know a single chord on the guitar. And as exciting as the opportunity was, the fears surrounding whether or not I would be good enough were absolutely debilitating.
If it was the fear that lead to this next event, or simply divine intervention - I will never know. But after plenty of rehearsals and lots of poor sleep spent worrying about if I was even worthy of such an opportunity - the entire thing was scratched. They didn't think I was ready. The scenario I had been ruminating over potentially happening, did. And I was broken.
But not broken enough to stop.
"What do you want to do? Cause I'm sure as hell ready to keep going," my friend, music mentor and incredible jazz musician asked me after I received the news.
"I want to sing." I responded.
"Then we are going to sing." He said, calmly, and began playing some chords on the piano.
I wasn't even three words into a verse before I broke down sobbing. I was inconsolable. I told him I couldn't practice, and we went to a movie instead.
December 2020, living at home in Connecticut
October 2022, Kansas City MO
Photo by @grizz_photo
MAYBE THEY'RE RIGHT...
I woke up the next day with two voices.
"Give up, this is so embarrassing. Why did you think you could do this? Just stop and do what you know you're good at."
"This is an inevitable part of the process of taking risks. So they said you're not ready. Big whoop. Maybe they're right. Maybe you're not. But this is what you know you want to do. So why don't you just get ready then?"
Can you guess which voice I listened to?
Since that day, I have done over twenty live performances at open mics, headlined three official shows, recorded in a studio, and written over ten songs. It wasn't that I wasn't good enough to sing. I just wasn't the right fit for that place in particular. And I most definitely did have more practicing to do. And that is okay. I realized I was trying to be someone I wasn't. And instead of conforming to fit anyone else's idea of what sounds good, I decided to lean into my way, my sound, and just own it. People really have no other choice but to listen. And eventually, the right people will relate to your specific way and love it. This is when I realized that there truly is room for everyone.
You have a place in this world to do what you love, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Regardless of where you're at right now. Regardless of how much you think you need to do before it can truly be your reality. It is so much closer than you realize. All you have to do is take that first step, and you'll begin to find all the resources you need to keep walking. And when you need a rest, we have a place for you to sit.