Name: Emily Spadaford
City: Well, I’m a bit of a gypsy at the moment. Right now my city is on the ocean. I live on a cruise ship a good portion of the year and when I am on land it’s either NYC, New Jersey, or the country side of Pennsylvania.
Fav thing about your city: My favorite thing about living on a ship is being surrounded by the ocean. No matter how difficult my day, how much I want to get away from everyone, I know I can always go up to deck 8 forward and see endless water for miles and all my anxieties disappear for a little while.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself: I run my own YouTube channel called “WanderBlush” and it is a celebration of this hot mess that we call life, with all its ups and downs, making lemonade and dancing in the rain. Another cheeky fact: I'm getting married in October! LALALA!
What is your connection to mental illness?
I don’t know why this question is always so difficult for me to answer, I really don’t. I know mental illness. I know mental health. It’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. So many in my family have been waking up next their old pal depression for as long as I can remember. I remember waiting in the car or in various waiting rooms while siblings were at their therapy sessions. I remember prescriptions, I grew up with it around me and never felt it was wrong. Life was just life for us and depression was just part of it. I really thought, “Well if this (therapy, medicine, whatever) will help make them happier, it’s a good thing.” It wasn’t until I became part of the club that stigma started to hinder my life. I started to get it. I got the shame. I got the compulsion to punish myself for having scary thoughts. I think I have always had anxiety be part of my life, but I didn’t show huge signs of depression. I was a teenager, I was in drama,I was sensitive, but I was okay. Whenever there was a slump, I distracted myself with theatre or music. I let my imagination run wild. I fell in love with my passions and let them take me on adventures throughout the country, to the college where I found the love of my life and they led me across the world…but then I hit a wall. I had graduated, completed two difficult national tours with a wonderful children’s theatre company and felt like I was ready to take on the world.
However, the world wasn’t ready for me. Every audition was like feeding time and my anxiety was the shark that smelled blood in the water. I kept hearing no after no after no. At first I brushed them off, because I knew this was how the game was to be played. And then the doubt kicked in. Was I good enough? Was I pretty enough? Was I skinny enough? Was I tough enough? Was I enough? And I started to believe I wasn’t, and that’s when it all started to crumble. I was bitter, angry, sad, so envious of those I loved most, and losing my spark. But even in my worst moments, when it would have been all too easy to give up, I chose to fight.
I made different changes in my life to try to get some of my mojo back. I took care of my body and started becoming a healthier person (the struggle is still real). I went on Accutane to clear up my terribly uncomfortable skin (This TOTALLY heightened my anxiety and depressed state, by the way. I had scary thoughts, dark moments that were amplified by the medicine, but I was determined to clear up my skin. I’m still happy I went through the program because I feel so much more confident going anywhere without makeup, but I still carry those effects with me every day. If I had to continue with the medication any longer, I don’t know where my mind would have gone). I saved up enough money, and finally made the move to NYC. I really started creating my YouTube videos to gain some type of control over my creative passions when I continued to be cut from the cattle call. I was going through all the steps I thought I needed to take. So what the HELL was I missing?!?!?! I know now, it was patience, but you couldn’t tell me in those low moments.
One day I had a conversation with my then boyfriend (now future husband), Gabe, that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. We talked about my Broadway dreams versus trying to make a go with my newly forming YouTube dreams. Gabe said I should choose the one that made me happy. Point blank. Choose. I didn’t choose Broadway. My heart was crushed because I thought that if I stopped going to all the auditions I was told by what felt like everyone that I was failing my dreams. I felt guilty and ashamed talking to my family and telling them I didn’t have the mental strength on my one day off to go to Pearl Studios and wait for 8 hours only to have an anxiety attack over the 16 bars of music I might not even get to sing over a production I didn’t give a f***k about. That’s when I realized, I don’t have to, and won’t give up on my dreams, but I can find it in different ways. Albeit, harder but better for me. I self-submitted videos. I went to the auditions I cared about. I made my own videos. I went to THERAPY. Dammit, I finally went. I wish I had started going so long ago. I’ll be honest, I only went to three or four sessions but it was enough at that point to give me tools on how to find my way out of my mental suffering. I’m going to start going again once I’m home. I found Wear Your Label, and their incredible community. Through them, I started to learn the importance of self-care and how it really isn’t selfish. Because you can’t give to the world if you can’t give to yourself first.
It’s so funny, because I’m thinking now that once I started to love myself more and give myself the opportunity to accept that my life is not a straight path, things started to fall into place. I landed this great gig as a production singer on cruise ships with the love of my life. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I sing everyday. I’m seeing the world. Whenever I can, I breathe in the ocean air. I’m with my fiancé, and he’s learning through me what mental health is to him in his life. No judgements, just lots of questions and unconditional love.
But I know this feeling. It’s a cocoon. I feel safe, but I also feel like I need more creatively. I’m learning everyday that this is just life. It’s ok. I don’t have to have it all figured out right now. I don’t forget those moments when I was curled up in a ball inside my New York City closet, sobbing about needing to go to therapy fearing my terrible roommate would hear me and laugh. I don’t forget that because I could be there again but with those tears over something different-and it is ok. I’m sitting here on the floor of my ship cabin judging every word on this page because I know so many suffer from so much more. My fellow Brand Ambassadors are warriors. They have survived. They have literally come back to life when it was all over, and tell me that it’s ok to not be ok. I feel like I don’t have the right to be here with Wear Your Label sometimes. Maybe that’s why I am here, because there are so many others who think they aren’t allowed to feel because so much is happening. That what they have to feel, isn’t enough. You are! Dammit, you are so enough. You are more than enough. I still don’t think I am some nights when I can’t sleep, but I am learning to believe it. It’s a process that never ends. It’s exhausting, but I wouldn’t change anything because I really love who I am because of what my anxiety and depression have made me learn.
What does your everyday look like?
Right now, every day is pretty scheduled out. The day consists of trying to find whatever WIFI I can find in port to connect with my family, the WanderBlush Tribe, and the world in general (because internet pretty much sucks on ships). I chat with maybe 30 of the 60 or so different nationalities represented on our ship, which becomes routine but is actually so cool when I stop and think about it. We have such a weird little ecosystem right now and everyone has their own story to tell and I probably will never know. I try to go to the gym as often as I can because even though I really hate going to gym, I love how strong it has made me. Sometimes I’ll just hit the stationary bike and read for an hour. Sometimes I’ll box with Gabe. I’m getting my mile time on the treadmill closer and closer to 10 minutes which is so empowering. I’ve never felt so strong and sexy as I do at this point in my life. Then I perform my shows 2 times a night with a really great group of people that make me laugh and sometimes scream. After that I eat some snacks, maybe have a cheeky night cap, kiss my love goodnight and fall asleep being rocked by the ocean in my dark cabin. My vacation is coming really soon, and I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to waking up to sunlight and fresh air!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Younger Emily, LISTEN UP!
• It’s Ok to not be Ok.
• You are not your rivals or your limitations.
• Competition is great and all but there is room for everyone at the table. Bottom line, support your fellow sisters
• Start taking care of your body now. Drink more water please. Please.
• Don’t wear goucho pants. They aren’t are cute as you think they are.
• Your dreams will change, but so will you. That doesn’t mean the original dreams disappear. Many paths up the same mountain.
• You will experience some serious heartbreak, but it will build your character into the cool chick you are today.
• Humility is key to lasting relationships.
• Perfection is boring. Flaws make you interesting, lovable, and connect you with so many good people in your life.
• Girl, do not wait until senior year of college to start filling in your eyebrows. Brows are essential.
• Fear makes you stronger than you would expect if you face it head on.
• Celebrate your mistakes. Because you will make a lot of them.
Who is your role model?
My sister Mary Pat. In the past few years my sister and I have really connected and I truly admire her. My sister has her own relationship with mental health which is not my story to tell but I have always admired her perseverance even in life's darkest moments. I have watched her grow from a shy girl in a house of big brothers and me, the attention-grabbing little sister, into this incredible strong willed, take-no-bull mama bear. She is finding her voice every day and deciding who she wants to be along the way.
My sister is a beautiful human being, with the graces and flaws that we all bear. No matter the situation my sister turns to her faith and spiritually to guide her way. I love her deeply and I'm so proud to be her little sister and even more proud to call her my friend.
How do you spend your Self-Care Sunday?
In my job, I'm sad to say I really never know what day of the week it is. Cruise ship life will do that to you. However, when I do have a few hours to spare or the glorious day off, I'll spend it one of a few ways. It always involves sleeping in a little. Sometimes with my job I won't get to sleep until 1:30/2:00 am. So sleep is NECESSARY! Not only for my voice but for my overall health and wellness. I'm writing this at 9:10 am, and my eyelids are dropping as we speak.
Then if it's a self-care type of day, I will spend the day in bed in my PJs watching a favorite show like New Girl, or Modern Family. I'll try to go to the gym, get some fresh air, maybe go out to port for some food or wifi. Then I'll come back to my cabin a continue where I left off in my show or movie.
I'm a person who is always on the go and needing to DO something. So when I take a really self care Sunday (no matter what day it actually is) it's all about letting my brain turn off and chilling out.
If I'm home (on land) my self-care days are very similar, except there’s actually sunlight is my room, I have a puppy to cuddle, an iced coffee and Netflix and YouTube to binge.
Photos by Gabe Martinez