By Role Model Emily Spadaford
Is that even how I start this?
Hi, my name is Emily, and I am a performer with an innate ability to self sabotage, procrastinate, spiral, laugh at myself, cry at myself, and fall into a tub of chocolate.
Hi, my name is Emily, and I am going through a quarter life crisis.
Hi, my name is Emily, and I don’t know where to start.
Tammy Novak Photography
Mental health has never been alien or taboo to me. I grew up with an incredible family whom I love dearly. Many of them, siblings, parents, grandparents, miscellaneous, have lived with, worked through, and/or covered up their struggles with depression my entire life. Depression reared its ugly head early and often throughout my childhood, but my parents did their damnedest to keep me from it. And I thought I was free from its grip because I never “showed the signs.” I was that kid that lit up the room. I was the little girl that entertained everyone and made everyone smile. Sure, I had my down days, the compulsory rough patches of any normal childhood: the deaths of my grandparents, bullying, all manner of friend drama, but I always sprang back without a second look. I was strong. I was the life of the party. Happy. I continued that cycle into my college years, getting bogged down in my studies, getting dumped, doing the dumping, genuinely just pushing through life the best way I knew how. My outlet was musical theatre. I could sing my blues away like nobody’s business.
"I never “showed the signs.” I was that kid that lit up the room. I was the little girl that entertained everyone and made everyone smile."
If you couldn’t already tell, my dream since I was a wee babe was to be a star on Broadway. Live the dream, be a working artist in NYC, you know, just generally slay the game. I knew it would be diﬃcult. I knew I would experience tons of rejection, but there would come a day when I would hear that ﬁrst shining, beautiful "yes" (read: YAASS). And my life would be set. Life being set. I would soon realize that "life being set" for someone in the creative industry is not a thing. After studying theatre in college, I was fortunate enough to book two consecutive children’s tours in which a small team of seven would travel the entire country and perform for children. Two years of my life after graduation were “set” and wonderful. I was doing what I had always wanted to, and getting paid for it. Of course Broadway would want me next! Sadly, dat NY lyfe hit me like a ton of brinks when I ﬁnally got out there and started auditioning. Dance call, singing call, 32 bars of music, 16 bars, 8. “Thank you, NEXT.” But this is what I signed up for right? So I persevered, I kept going. I kept auditioning for the things I didn’t even care about because what if? WHAT IF?
It didn’t take long for my spirit to dim. Oh, I put on my smile, played the game, wore the blue dress and the red lip, but the light behind my eyes was starting to ﬂicker in and out. How could I stop? This is the only thing I know how to do. I went to school for this.
Hours and months and years of work. This is the only thing I have ever wanted. Isn’t it? Cut to no call backs, not even getting typed in anymore. It was hard, to say the least.
My boyfriend (now ﬁancé) booked. My friends booked. And there I was, unwanted.
It was and is a terrible feeling. I wanted to feel nothing but complete and utter happiness for them, but I couldn’t help but envy the journey they were on. I didn’t want this one, full of rejection and self pity. What wasn’t I doing right? Were the songs not sung well? Was my makeup imperfect? Was I too fat for the part, the mold I needed to ﬁt into today? Did I not wear the right thing, say the right thing, did I smile too much, not smile enough? Why am I not enough? I didn’t (and at the moment, still don’t) have the money for all the dance classes, voice lessons, acting lessons, that everyone else seems to have. And have a social life? And live in NYC? Like, what!?!? I wanted to create, and do, and be more, but where was I supposed to do this?
During this time I started to make YouTube videos. I looked to other, more well-established YouTube personalities for inspiration and support. I became ENGROSSED in these lives of people I didn’t even know. Why? Three years later, I'm still trying to ﬁgure it out. I think it was because they seemed so relatable, like they were my friends letting me in on a little secret. They were so normal but also seemed to have everything together. Everything that I didn’t have. Companies sent them new products to test, review, comment on and I thought how cool it would be have that be a job. I decided to give it a try. That question popped up into my head again, why not me? So I started to create my own work. But nothing I made seemed good enough. My videos didn't get enough views. They didn’t feel trendy enough. I felt too old. I felt like I was behind, like I had missed my shot, like everyone else had gotten in on the ground ﬂoor and I was too late.
I ﬁnally saved up enough money and moved to New York. Thinking this would save my relationship with the arts, with my dreams, my passions. And although I learned a lot about life and being a semi-adult, it was the worst 6 months of my life so far. Such a crowded city, and yet I have never felt so alone. My living situation did not help, and I spiraled. Crying ﬁts daily. I missed everything. I missed my partner, I missed my parents, but most of all I missed my dreams. I missed being cast, being wanted. There's this really messed-up sensibility that is so strong in the US that if you aren’t working on what you have always wanted to do, if you're not totally fulﬁlled every day, something is wrong. You’re not living the American Dream! I thought when you graduated college, at the very least by the time you turned 25, you were supposed to have it all ﬁgured out. Well, SURPRISE! Two years later, I’m still lost.
Now, I do need to take a short break from victimizing myself to say that, yeah, a lot of good happened too. I did in fact do more than just wallow. But I also think that this is truly where we as a generation are experiencing the quarter life crisis. We tend to remember the diﬃcult and brush over the best moments. What were mine? I moved out on my own. I learned how to cook (kind of). I went on adventures. I mastered the subway system. I walked in fashion week (with WYL!). I put myself out there and met people. I made awesome, kickass, lifelong friends. I made funny videos. I learned countless invaluable lessons, but it never seemed to be enough.
"we as a generation are experiencing the quarter life crisis. We tend to remember the diﬃcult and brush over the best moments."
Tammy Novak Photography
Are we sensing a pattern? Not good enough. Not perfect. Not worth the time. No worth. We should have everything we have ever wanted. Our parents told us we can do ANYTHING we set our minds to, but what happens when we realize there's more to it than that? That rising costs of education and health care have made our parents' version of the American Dream all but impossible. Where's all the happiness and fulﬁllment we were promised? Even as I write this, I am feeling this is not good enough. What makes my story worth writing? No wonder I put oﬀ writing this for literally A YEAR because I didn’t want to go through this feeling on paper. I didn't want to make it tangible, something you could touch and look at. Bearing my deepest most jumbled self. I’m supposed to be the one that has it together. I’m the one who's supposed to make everyone smile, and I love that responsibility and I hate it. I’m a walking contradiction. I’m a human being. Nice to meet you.
"I put oﬀ writing this for literally A YEAR because I didn’t want to go through this feeling on paper."
I've been feeling these anxieties for a long time, but it wasn’t until I reached out for help that I started to put words to the tears that wouldn't stop pouring, and that are pouring out of my eyes right now. I started seeing a therapist, just a few sessions here and there, and I started to truly unpack what was going on in my head. She told me so many things that “made sense” but which were much harder to apply in real life. She would tell me that my life is not determined by a job, but by the journey. My limited experience with therapy really has done wonders and I wish I started years ago. But I still felt stuck, felt like I had been suﬀering so much for so long, even though I knew that others suﬀered so much worse for so much longer. I felt like I had broken through when I ﬁnally booked an incredible job with my ﬁancé. I felt secure. I was performing daily, and I was with him. Now the contract is complete and once again, the phone isn’t ringing, the emails aren't coming, and the cycle continues. The bills add up. And I feel stuck again. Anxieties are building, and my self worth is being called into question all over again.
But I got out of it once, and I am determined to do it again. I will not go back to the Dark Days. I’m starting to learn and understand that my experience is not unique, though my ego says otherwise (see above). So many people have struggles so much bigger than my own, but my journey is mine. As yours is yours. I think therapy would be a great thing for me to go back to, and I think I will in the coming weeks.
"So many people have struggles so much bigger than my own, but my journey is mine. As yours is yours."
So how does Wear Your Label come into this? I found them in the Dark Days and wondered at how amazing and brave they were. What a feat to be able to acknowledge that "the struggle is real” no matter what it is, and it’s OK to feel less than great. That doesn’t take anything away from who we are as people, doesn't make the gifts we have to share with the world any less amazing and special. If anything, it makes what we have to share even more important. Our world is hurting because we aren’t connecting with each other and telling our stories. We all have a purpose, and that should not be qualiﬁed or lessened by the labels society puts on us. These words, “depressed”, “anxious”, "troubled", "hurt", may continue to deﬁne us, but on our own terms. To be honest, I’m not in the best place right now, and I don’t know if I’m being inspirational or a good role model or whatever, but I know what I am feeling is real, and it’s ok to not be ok. I am strong, even when I cry. And I think that this is the mission of Wear Your Label: If you have also felt this feeling of worthlessness, and if I have connected with you and helped you to feel maybe not quite so alone, then I’ve done something good. I never knew this feeling before, and I couldn’t seem to ﬁnd someone that also felt it. Many have shown me support, and some have even shown me pity without necessarily understanding what that meant, but I don't take it personally. So if I can bear that cross until we ﬁnd others that feel this way, if I can be that voice for you, then I’m cool with that.
I swear I’m more fun than this.
Tammy Novak Photography
That’s what my channel is for. Making light of this mess we call life. If anything, it’s my therapy now. Yes, I want it to be so much more. I want that empire, but I want it to be for me. I want to take ownership of my life, my struggles, my weaknesses, my passions, and share it with you. Because that makes me more than worthwhile. It makes me one of a kind….kind of. I’m a quarter life warrior, one mistake at a time. I can do a lot in this life, and so can you, even when the the sun seems to be hidden in the clouds. Everyone deserves a beautiful life, but beauty isn’t pretty. It comes with bruises, dirt, disappointment, getting lost, ﬁnding yourself, ﬁnding others, laughter, so much laughter, and faith that things can always get better. Time is ﬂeeting no matter how long it feels. So we can’t waste these moments. These moments, the ones that utterly suck and devour us and make us want to quit, are the moments where we ﬁnd our truest strength. So fall. I've fallen twice already today! But get back up, because I, or someone you trust can be there to help you dust oﬀ the dirt. And we can take another step. No matter where it goes. That’s kind of exciting, right?
Check out Emily's Youtube Channel here.