To quote Steve Furtick, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.” Unfortunately, the real and raw stories are inherently difficult to come by, leading members of everyday society to experience feelings of solitude, and oftentimes, more or less, a permanent state of passive despair. Nevertheless, when a harmonious figure comes out of the shadows to present their true, unedited story, that is when the nuance of solitude can let out a heavy, sigh of relief. Kelsey Darragh, leading lady in entertainment and now a respected author, is among the minority who bravely dives headfirst into the hard and oftentimes, difficult, topics regarding social injustices, mental health, and the LGBTQ+ community on social media platforms, and now in her newest piece of literature, Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Kelsey regarding her newest book, methods she uses to cope with anxiety and depressive episodes, and her thoughts on the common stigmas and stereotypes that surround the mental health community.
Megan Morgante: Did anything/anyone, in particular, inspire you to pursue a career in entertainment and now, as an author?
Kelsey Darragh: I've said this in every interview, but I never thought I would write a book in my life, I think that was a pipe dream. I'm a terrible speller and I don’t know sentence structure. I became a filmmaker because I didn't think I was a very good writer. I've just always had a creative passion and finding which outlet was going to suit my needs the best has been such a fun journey. Being an author has been by far the most rewarding because I'm such a book hoe. I have books everywhere. I love the feeling of books, I love the look of books, I love covers and browsing Barnes & Noble for no goddamn reason. To think that I have one of my own now is absolutely insane and just goes to show if you're passionate enough about something, people will overlook your shitty spelling because you have a deeper message. I think people will really resonate with the book. It's written in a very millennial tone with a lot of Gen Z references and memes, and I happen to use the number 2 instead of writing out the word two, so I think people of our generation are really going to like the tone and style.
MM: You recently just released your book, Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression, congratulations! As this plays as a survival guide to your readers, can you give some insight into where you drew inspiration from while writing your latest masterpiece and who it’s targeted towards?
KD: The inspiration came from years of trauma, mental health, treatment, medication, therapy, and a little stint in rehab. The book has a lot of comedy to it because that's kind of how we survive as people with mental illness, we cope with comedy. But it does get really dark and deep and talks about the things that you won't talk about with your therapist or doctor. The subline of the book is The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression, for a reason, so it does talk about things like, what do you do when you get the anxiety shits after a panic attack or how do I deal with hangover anxiety, the embarrassment and shame of going out and having too much fun, and we talked about suicidal ideology. I tell the story about the time I tried to kill myself and how that doesn't make me a bad or broken person, and that you can live and manage mental illness and still be a successful, happy person. I wrote this book as the book I wish I had when I was a teenager. I really threw everything against the wall in the book and explained that this didn't work for me, but I asked my Twitter followers and this person recommended this, so I'm going to put it in here. I just want everything to be out there and people to know that there are more options than just what Western society gives, which is often medication, therapy, or how we should hike more. I don't want to f*cking hike, I hate hiking, [laughs].
MM: What do hope your readers will take away with them after reading, Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression?
KD: The thing that I realized was my biggest struggle with my anxiety and depression was feeling that lack of control. The feeling of, why is this happening to me? Why did the universe give this shit to me? Why can't I just be normal? Or, why do I have to be this way? What I realized is that it is simply a feeling of lack of control. And so, what I want this book to do is give the readers that sense of control and empowerment. It doesn't mean I'm going to control my life and become you know, a Type-A organizer, everything is going to be perfect and compartmentalized, but understanding what is chemically and physically happening to you in these moments gives you comfort and power. Ultimately, I want the reader to feel like they can take control back of their mental health and ultimately, feel so empowered that they actually share what they learn with people. I don't think we talk about it enough with our friends, and, for me, it's great if you can feel better and then do something with that power.
MM: I completely agree. When I was younger, I was one of the first in my family to really be open about anxiety and depression. Essentially, I'm an open book and I have always been that way, so I would always be telling friends, neighbors, etc, about what I was going through. Some family members would try to shut me down saying that sharing information on our mental health is uncustomary or inappropriate talk. I would always respond with the question of, why? The way I thought about it is, if what I’m saying is helping another individual or making someone feel less alone, then I’m using that power and gaining control of my mental health. It can be a beautiful thing to share that part of ourselves with others, and I’ll always stand by that.
KD: I've said this in a lot of interviews, but I think that's the one positive thing to have come from the pandemic, is this sense of community and self-actualization with mental health. Maybe someone who had never thought about their own depression or symptoms of anxiety is now like, “...Oh sh*t, it exists.”
MM: You are a passionate member and supporter of the LGBTQ+ community as she identifies as queer and bisexual. What are your thoughts on the common stigmas and stereotypes that surround the mental health community, and how can these stigmas be diminished?
KD: I've been pretty open about my political views and this morning even went on a bit of a Twitter rant, throwing my hands in the air about the murder of Walter Wallace Jr. in Philadelphia. Realistically, of course, defund the police, allocate those resources to mental health services, but realistically, until we can get that pendulum swing, what are tangible things that we can do to deescalate these situations? I just put it out there on Twitter, like I know this sounds crazy, but do we get like blow darts so we can shoot from far away for people that need to be tranquilized in manic states? I was going through it this morning, and I just thought, what kind of conversation can I spark about this shit? Because, I'm fine. I am a white woman, cis-gendered, with mental health resources. I feel like it's my f*cking duty to make waves and conversation about this. As far as the LGBTQ+ community, I identify as bisexual and am very open about my sexuality and fluidity. A quote that stuck with me for a long time that I always think about is, “If it doesn’t bother you, why the f*ck do you care so much? If it doesn't directly affect you, why do you care so much?” Why do you care if a woman gets an abortion? Because her life will be more manageable and better? For me, when I think about the LGBTQ+ community, I'm like, if it's not directly affecting you, get the f*ck out of my way. On the other hand, if it is directly affecting you, then come with love. And, unfortunately, our government is not really focused on love first. It's shoot first, safety second.
MM: It's one of those conversations that needs to be talked about, no matter how uncomfortable. It’s also equally important to have these conversations with loved ones who may have grown up with closed-off perceptions of the world.
KD: I live in California and my family lives in Florida. I’m very close with a person in my family, but for the past five years, politics has always been a thorn in our relationship. I reminded this person that my entire view of who they are is going to be tainted, and all of those memories that I grew up with are from this person who taught me how to love, be a strong woman, and be independent. And all of that is going to be completely f*cking tainted and that's the memory I'm going to have of them. At that moment, that person realized that family was more important than politics and I was like d*mn, I think we've forgotten that.
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
KD: Wow, I love this question because I actually have an exercise in the book based on this. It's an exercise that I talked about that made me cry the hardest I've ever cried in therapy, and it was when my therapist introduced me to the idea of taking care of my little self. At first, I was like, “...What the f*ck is my little self?” He wanted me to imagine a little me in a time where I can understand words and relationships, and talk to them the way that I've been talking to myself. It was so cruel, mean, and self-punishing, that I just broke down. I saw myself looking at like six-year-old Kelsey, and I lost my f*cking sh*t. I was like, oh, he got me. What he's trying to do here is teaching how to talk to yourself in a kinder, more gentle way. Doing this does not make you lose all the powerful, strong things about you. You can still self-empower and motivate, without being cruel. So that's something I'm actually still working on, so to say, what would I say to my former self? I'm like, I don't know if I'm ready yet. I'm still working on it [laughs], but I would say you need to stay on this Earth, because having a bad day, week, or month does not mean you have a bad life. There is so much good ahead of you and I need you to stay. That's what I would tell her.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career?
KD: I've always been my own biggest fan, and I think the hardest part has been getting higher-ups and authority figures to see that my point of view in life is valuable. I had someone at BuzzFeed that was a very important figure say, “...I don't understand her work, but it's important for the world to see it.” I was like, that's cool. You don't have to agree with everything I say, but there are people out there in the world that need my story and my point of view. So, a challenge was making the people in charge understand that my struggles can help people and that we didn't have to tie everything up in a f*cking bow at the end of every video. Then, of course, learning how to negotiate salary and deal points has been the scariest thing. I had a higher up in a very important meeting once say out loud, in the middle of the meeting. He said, “...You know, if there's something that you get out of working here Kelsey, it's that you learn how to negotiate better.” He said that out loud, in front of everyone, and I have never forgotten that moment. That guy is white and successful at a huge company, one of the biggest in the world, and seeing him succeed so much makes me often question, was he right?
MM: What would you say your biggest achievement has been, either in your career or personal life?
KD: Wow, biggest achievement. I feel like there are so many, [laughs]. I write about this in the book, about making what I call a dope jar, or a good things jar. Where anytime anything good happens in your life, I don't care if it's that you landed the promotion, you sold out the show, or you nailed your winged liner that day, write it down and put it in this jar. You keep the jar on your shelf and anytime you're having a depressive episode or you're feeling down, you go over there and pick one good thing. You read it, mentalize being exactly in that moment how you were feeling, and try to shift your mental narrative. That's an exercise that I have in the book, it's like that jar represents so much of my life and achievements. Obviously, writing a book, like hello, never in my life! But, this is pretty awesome. It's like all of the fucked-up shit that I was afraid of for thirty years and the things I hated most about myself to the point of suicide, I have now wrapped up, flipped, and presented as a book for people to get help from.
MM: Do you feel you have a social responsibility with your growing platform?
KD: Literally, this morning I sent an Instagram story to my close friends, this was after I saw the Walter Wallace Jr. footage, and I said to them, does it ever feel like this isn’t enough? Yes, I'm grateful to have a platform. Yes, I think it's important to talk about this stuff. But, sometimes I feel like I'm not physically doing enough. Retweeting and reposting is great for visibility, but I'm really looking for more action. Even this morning I was like, should I quit and go back to grad school to become a crisis counselor? Try to be the next AOC? My friends came back saying you're doing the best you can with what you have and just knowing that you want to grow and do more is exactly where I should be right now. I think that's a dope way of looking at it. It's like, okay, now I've got this fire and what can I do with it. Leading into that, I started directing a documentary about juvenile mental health, and about how we're jailing kids with mental health issues, instead of giving them help. We've got a couple of really incredible stories that will just make the world feel something. It's really really important and exciting.
Photography by: Steph Baer