Mental Health: Stories about having crises of the mind- Part 1

This week we present two stories about people’s struggles with their own mental health.

Part 1: After passing out on the NYC subway, comedian Mike Brown is forced to take a deeper look at his mental health.

Mike Brown is a New York comic who travels the country and still doesn’t know how to drive. He currently hosts "You Good? with Mike Brown: A Mental Health Podcast" on Loud Speakers Network. He has appeared on NBC, MTV, TBS, Adult Swim, E!, SIRIUS XM and has been a guest on popular podcasts such as Keith and the Girl, The Black Guy Who Tips and The Hilarious World of Depression. Mike has performed in multiple festivals including the New York Comedy Festival and San Francisco SketchFest where he was named one of Rooftop’s Comics to Watch. He has written for Decoded with Franchesca Ramsey (MTV), written/created/starred in critically-acclaimed web series "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," along with costarring in numerous viral videos amassing over 10,000,000+ views. Mike is really good at talking and tweeting. On socials: @yomikebrown and @yougoodpod // Online:

Part 2: Emily Yarrison survives her suicide attempt and has to ask herself a whole new set of questions.

Emily is a high school English teacher in Alexandria, VA. She works with newly arrived immigrants and now knows bad words in many languages. She is a Moth StorySLAM winner and will be competing in the Washington DC GrandSLAM in November.  Emily spends her free time volunteering at Camp Quest Chesapeake as well as traveling internationally by herself because she would apparently like to worry her mother to death. You can find her online at @emilyyarrison.


Episode Transcript

Part 1: Mike Brown

This is the last time I’m going to tell this.  This is the second time I’m going to attempt to talk about this on stage, so I hope this goes good.  If it doesn’t, okay.

November 2017, I had a mental breakdown.  I know what triggered it.  I don’t want to talk about what triggered it but, at that time, my younger brother, who’s 21, he had a mental breakdown years ago and he happened to check himself into a hospital right when I had my mental breakdown. 

The only reason I kind of survived is because I called the number, you know the suicide hotline number.  I don't know the number by heart but I know a rapper had a song about it so I went on Spotify and found the song and I was like, “Oh, that’s the number,” then I called it. 

Also, there's like a time limit.  I was talking to this guy for 30 minutes and he's like, “So, are you okay?” 

Then I start laughing.  I was like, “Oh, you’ve got lunch break.  It’s fine.” 

So I checked myself in for 24 hours and it was weird because, while I was there, it was like, man, unlike everybody else here who’s going through their problems, I got kind of a better handle on my own problems and I need to not be at this place again because I felt like I was using resources that shouldn’t be allocated for me, if that makes any sense to anybody.  I was like, “I’m going to go get help.” 

So I went and got help, got medication, yada-yada-yada. 

A year goes by.  Now we’re in 2018, November.  I’m doing this storytelling show.  It’s a great storytelling show.  It’s called The Liar Show.  It’s amazing.  It’s really great.  It’s like four storytellers tell a story, three people are telling the truth, one person is lying.  Check it out.  It’s great. 

So I do that show and I’m coming home on the train and I’m just happy.  You know, I just told a great lie and no one knew it was, whatever.  So it was a good show.  I’m on the train and I’m thinking about where I was in November 2017.  I’m thinking about how far I came in that year of just not having suicidal thoughts again, not thinking about some of the deepest, darkest things that I've ever thought, and performing and how I love to perform and how I love life and how things are, my career starting to look really good and how I was able to start creating a lot of things that I wanted to create by being much more honest and helpful. 

I’m just on the A train.  I’m just standing up and I’m just so excited.  I open my eyes and there's four people looking at me saying, “Are you okay?  Are you okay?” 

Mike Brown shares his story with The Story Collider at Caveat in NYC in February 2019. Photo by Zhen Qin.

Mike Brown shares his story with The Story Collider at Caveat in NYC in February 2019. Photo by Zhen Qin.

I’m like, “Yeah, I’m fine.  What’s up?” 

They were like, “Oh, I think you just had a seizure.”  

I’m like, “No, I didn’t.  I’m having a great day.  I don't know.  I had The Liar Show before.  I don't know if you were there.  It’s like four performers they tell a story.  One lies.  I was the liar.  It was great.” 

They're like, “Are you sure?”

I’m like, “I’m doing all right.” 

Also, I am a native New Yorker.  If you've never been on a New York City train, you really haven't been on one until you've been lying on the floor of a train.  It’s amazing.  I don't know if you ever tried it.  It’s the best seat in the house. 

But everyone is just like, “Man, are you okay?” 

I don't know if it was a New York City Pride thing.  I don't know if it was like heterosexual, black machismo, chauvinistic, original, classic flavor male, I don't know what the fuck, but you know what I mean.  I don't know if it was that but I was like, “Man, I’m fine.  I’m fine.” 

They're like, “Let me help you up.”

I was like, “I'll help myself up.”  You know what I mean?  Black power. 

So I get up and I stand up again where I was.  It’s weird because they all said I had a seizure.  I don't remember it.  It’s the only time in my life where I kind of don’t remember what happened.  I remembered everything that was going on around me in my mind, everything, and then the next thing, I just see these faces.  Now, I start thinking about that, like that was really, really crazy.  I've never had that experience before.  I know I’m never going to have that experience again and that’s just so crazy to just…

“Are you okay?”  I had another seizure.  And people were like, “Hey, man, you need to sit down.” 

At that point, the train had stopped and that’s when I know it’s real.  As a native New Yorker, you don’t want to be the sick passenger.  I mean, like who cares about the seizure shit?  People got places to go.  I've been on trains and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a sick passenger.  He must be really… Is he going to die because I've got things to do, you know.”  But I am that guy now on the bottom of the train. 

And another thing, if you ever do get the privilege of just blacking out on a train, what’s really fun is you just see the irony that you're the sick passenger, not tell these people, and just wildly start laughing because of how funny this moment is to you.  And then look at the faces on everybody else who are just looking like, “Why is this guy just laughing?  He just fainted twice and he just woke up laughing, ‘ha-ha-ha, I’m fine’.” 

So this black woman comes up to me and is like, “Hey, you should sit down.” 

I start talking to her because she had an uncle who would have seizures.  I think the medical term might be syncope or something.  Is that it?  Syncop?  Whatever.  You guys are smart so one of those things.

She's just trying to talk me through it because she's like, “Hey, your mind just needs to be engaged until you get home.  Where are you going?  I’m going to make sure that you get to your train.” 

I’m like, “Well, I’m taking this.  I’m transferring to the L.” 

She's like, “Okay, we’re going all the way.  I’m going to take you home.  So I’m going and I’m doing this.”

And while we’re talking, it’s like I’m also thinking about these different traumas that I've had in my life.  One of the reasons I had my mental breakdown was because of all these random traumas.  What I'll say is my best friend was murdered April 4, 2010, outside of his apartment with his fiancé after coming home from their engagement party, by three teenagers in Jersey City.  They found the guy and the two girls who did it.  They're in jail.  Whatever. 

But I think about life in this weird way.  Like he was the last person to stop my suicidal urges and this is a weird thing.  I tell this to people all the time because I think this is something that the medical profession has not thought of as a way to stop suicide.  Just get that person’s best friend to tell them, in all honesty, that if that person kills themselves, they will not be their friend anymore. 

Mike Brown shares his story with The Story Collider at Caveat in NYC in February 2019. Photo by Zhen Qin.

Mike Brown shares his story with The Story Collider at Caveat in NYC in February 2019. Photo by Zhen Qin.

I don't know why that shit worked.  I don't know.  It shouldn’t work, but it did.  You know what I mean?  Like, “If you think I’m going to be crying, it would be like no.” 

I was like, “Oh, no.  I think I got to stay around.”  So it worked.

But it’s a weird thing when that person is murdered and now you're kind of like stuck with the burden of life and not breaking that promise.  It’s like every day I still go through that.  I don’t have the suicidal urges and thoughts anymore.  Thank you, Zoloft.  You're great.  But it’s a weird thing. 

Anyway, I got home, tell my lady.  She was happy that it was just a syncope and I wasn’t out there cheating.  You know where her priorities lie. 

So I went to a brain doctor for the first time and she was very excited to meet with me because I’m just talking super freely.  I’m a performer.  I’m a full-time comedian so I just say whatever is on my mind.  She's loving it and she's like, “You know, we have to see what happens.” 

So I did a dream thing.  You sleep and they go into your brainwaves.  I did that.  I did an EEG where it’s just basically 20 minutes of techno music then you get a picture at the end.  I did that. 

Turns out, it wasn’t a seizure because there weren’t any black spots on the brain.  She said my brain was very, very, very, very wrinkly and so that made my brain sexy.  Which is the medical term of a wrinkly brain, sexy. 

And it was wrinkly on both sides which is a weird thing, in my opinion, because I’m left-handed and also, aside, any left-handed people in the house can clap, please.  Left-handed people are the real oppressed people.  We've been living in this right-handed world for too long.  We can’t write.  We have to write like this.  It’s… whatever.  It’s our struggle. 

I did that and I’m going to go see a cardiologist.  I have an appointment in two weeks because that’s the last step and then I go back to the brain doctor.  It’s a whole thing.  The reason I didn’t want to tell this story, but I would do it for this.  I was like this is the last time I’m going to do it, the second time, last time, whatever, is because I don't know how the story ends yet.  It’s like this is a story of me passing out on the train and I guess living to tell about it. 

But like I don't know what’s going to happen November 2019, you know.  So that is the weird ending, I guess, to whatever this was.  Everybody was being so profound.  I’m tearing up hearing about students, I’m hearing about fathers, I’m just, “I’m just going to talk about me falling on the train.” 

So any questions?  Thank you.

Part 2: Emily Yarrison

It’s 2:00 a.m.  I've just spent the past eight hours in the ER.  And two-ambulance ride later, I’m sitting in the intake office at a psychiatric facility.  I’m also super fucking high.  I had swallowed enough hydrocodone to tranquilize a horse but not, apparently, enough to kill me.  It turns out that they don’t post the lethal dosage of that medication on the internet so I survived. That’s great.  What now? 

That wasn’t the plan.  I am, in this moment, trying not to fall out of my chair and too out of it to process exactly how I feel.  Underneath it all, I’m pissed.  I am supposed to be dead.  My lifeless body is supposed to be lying in my bed.  I spent the days before this researching the most painless ways to go, planning how to steal the pills I needed from my mom’s house, where I could leave my dog so that she would be cared for.  I threw away everything in my apartment that I didn’t want my family to find. 

I’m supposed to be at peace, instead I’m ushered into the ward where I’m greeted by a patient who’s sitting on the floor.  She says, “Welcome.  We’re so happy you made it through.”  To which I did not respond because it was very jarring at 3:00 a.m.

I found out later that this patient had stopped taking her medication or sleeping in the days before she got to the ward so she was getting messages from the CIA through the TV, so she knew I was coming. 

Now, I’m a middle-class, white lady without any majorly traumatic events in my childhood.  I’m just a very sad middle-class, white lady.  Unfortunately, this hospital doesn’t have a ward for sad ladies, which naively was my expectation, so it’s a complete mixed bag. 

Out of 50 people on the ward, roughly half of them are in some kind of deep psychosis that leads sometimes to violent outbursts.  Because of this, the ward had two ‘quiet rooms’ which are akin to padded cells.  They tell you that these are rooms where you can go and relax if you're feeling anxious and you need a quiet place to calm down.  In reality, that’s where you go if you're out of control or threatening violence, relaxation added by a shot of Ativan in the ass. 

Now, I’m not the type to square up against a 300-pound, six-four psych tech so I didn’t spend any time relaxing in those rooms.  The toilet in my room, however, was broken so that is where I had to use the bathroom the entire length of my stay.  It was not a therapeutic nor transformative experience. 

Emily Yarrison shares her story with The Story Collider at the Bier Baron Tavern in Washington DC in February 2019. Photo by Lauren Lipuma.

Emily Yarrison shares her story with The Story Collider at the Bier Baron Tavern in Washington DC in February 2019. Photo by Lauren Lipuma.

I knew the moment that I set foot in there that I needed to get out of this crazy jail as fast as possible.  That lady from the beginning was getting a lot of messages from the CIA about me and I was not ready to take on my responsibilities as a spy. 

I was still so livid that I was alive.  I’m facing a life where none of my problems are solved.  Every malignant feeling that my major-depressive disorder has conjured up before I tried to kill myself is still there.  But I looked those doctors in the eyes and I lied and said I understood now that my life meant something.  And, gee, I just can’t wait to go out there and live it. 

After four very bizarre days, including my 31st birthday, I was released.  Getting out of the hospital didn’t solve it.  I wasn’t literally under lock and key anymore but my family decided that I wasn’t allowed to be alone.  Ever.  My parents had said that I had given up the right to make my decisions for the time being because I was not being rational.  I said they could shove it. 

I came home, my knives were gone and my mom or dad was glued to my couch.  I yelled and I cried and I said, “Get the hell out of my house!”  They did not. 

I knew deep down that they were scared and they thought maybe they were going to have to bury their baby, but every time I looked at their faces I felt seething anger.  I had these uninvited guests that would not leave and I had no idea what to do.  Where do you even begin to put your life back together when you don’t plan to live through it? 

I ached for an escape from my family because I felt smothered, but when I started to see my friends again after about a week, nobody was mentioning where I had been or what I had done.  It was like walking around with two broken arms and nobody was acknowledging it.  I hadn’t told anyone that I was going to kill myself.  I always felt like talking about my depression was a burden to those around me and I think that everyone has had a bad experience with someone who is mentally ill and I didn’t want to be that person.  Given that fear, I rarely let anything out. 

My friends were trying to love me the best they could by giving me what they thought was the right thing, space.  In their efforts not to crowd me, they were leaving me with too much room for my own thoughts and in that space I put, “You are inconsequential.  You have not made an impact on anyone or anything and if you are gone it would not matter.” 

Emily Yarrison shares her story with The Story Collider at the Bier Baron Tavern in Washington DC in February 2019. Photo by Lauren Lipuma.

Emily Yarrison shares her story with The Story Collider at the Bier Baron Tavern in Washington DC in February 2019. Photo by Lauren Lipuma.

My self-hatred had been on a constant loop in my mind and now it was screaming at me.  So figuring that I had blown my unmitigated access to potentially lethal opiates, I thought I need to find a way to wake up every day until I can try again. 

About a month after I was released, impulsively, I bought a ticket to the cheapest tropical destination I could find, Belize.  I thought if I’m going to go through this alone, I might as well be at a beach. 

There are two problems with this.  One, my skin is basically made from the paper-thin tears of doves and, two, I deeply fear the ocean out of respect. 

My loved ones were not so thrilled with this choice given that Central America is not exactly known for its safety.  “Emily, I don't know about this?  Don’t you feel scared going by yourself?  Something might happen and no one will know.”

“Nah,” I said, “I'll be fine.  Don’t you worry.” 

It turns out, when I stopped having anything to lose, I didn’t have any fear anymore.  So I decided I was going to do all the things.  For example, snorkeling. 

Now, snorkeling, for me, has always been more of an exercise of trying not to lose my shit underwater than admiring the beauty of nature.  I've been snorkeling before but I can’t usually make it five minutes without producing a muffled scream into my mouthpiece.  My new lack of giving shit led me to bursting into a wooden shack, money in hand, and booking a tour to snorkel with sharks and stingrays. 

The next day, I’m in the water and these huge stingrays are gliding by me as if I’m not there.  And I’m peaceful.  And I reach out and I touch one, which you are super not supposed to do.  That millisecond was it.  While I regret that it came at the expense of disrespecting the rules of human-wildlife interaction, I felt blissful.  I felt I am free to do whatever I want, to be selfish, to talk about my depression to those I love without feeling like a burden, to do more things that are not touching notoriously deadly wildlife, but are equally as exhilarating.  And I could do none of this if I were dead. 

I haven't figured it all out.  I have this curse and it’s not going away.  But the one thing that I am 100% sure about the way to wake up every day is that I am still here.