Dumped By The Big City
People always ask me what it was like living in Chicago. I never know what to say. I typically do my best to be positive when anyone asks me about other people or things in my life, but there are times where I slip out a truth that can be too critical or harsh and I always regret it. I hate harsh words.
With that being said, I tried my best to love Chicago. I truly did. I believed in my heart I was moving there for the right intentions: to pursue my dream, to become a better comic, to grow as a young woman. Chicago was such a struggle for me. Sometimes friends of mine will point out to me it is interesting to them I never talk about the two years I lived there. In fact, I think I have talked more on this podcast about my brief time in The Windy City than I probably have in a year. I never have much to say about the time I lived there other than I had fun and I made great friends, but the reality is I was entering the darkest period of my life while I was in this city.
I have to be honest with myself, I didn’t just move to Chicago. I ran away to it... because after all, I had just gotten dumped.
It’s 2013. The year of Miley Cyrus. Wrecking Ball blares from every passing car on the road. Jennifer Lawrence falls at the Oscars and reminds us all it’s okay to be human. Somehow we let gladiator sandals become a thing.
Before I runaway to Chicago, I am living in Nashville where I have been performing stand up for three years. It’s going okay. I’m three years in and covered in insecurity. I am getting gigs, but I am too afraid to produce my own show. I am always comparing myself to other comedians around me and I always feel inferior. After all, these guys in the scene have been at this for years while I’ve been serving chicken wings and Bud Light to guys on the north side of town. The most entertaining I have ever done is flirting with my regulars. I have always loved to flirt. I have probably skated through most of my life flirting. I don’t flirt in comedy though. I want to be taken seriously. Everyone expects me to talk about my period and my boobs onstage. I want to show them I am different. I am smart and I am serious about this.
I become close friends with some of the comics. One in particular takes a pretty big interest in me. I am not interested in him. I just want for the two of us to be friends. Some of my friends are encouraging me to give him a chance. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should let him out of the friend zone. I’m always dating guys who are wrong for me. I might as well date someone I wouldn’t pick for myself.
He kisses me one night at a Halloween Party at The East Room in East Nashville. After that, our friendship becomes more than just a friendship. We spend more time together. We drink a lot together and we get serious with each other, but the truth is he annoys me. He’s on the quiet side and I’m attention starved. We aren’t getting along as well anymore and then he calls me.
“Can we just go back to the way things used to be,” he asks me. “You mean when we were just FRIENDS”, I feel that burn in my gut I get when I sense rejection. “Yeah.” “So, you don’t want to be TOGETHER anymore?” Why do I feel like I am pulling teeth to get him to break up with me? “No, I don’t think so.” “Fine!” I hang up like the mature adult I am.
I am beyond disappointed. Here I am giving my friend a chance and he goes and dumps me. The nerve of this guy and now I have to face him not only in the same circles, but I have to perform standup in front of him?! That’s always been the hardest thing for me when it comes to being romantically involved with comedians. I can’t stand them seeing me perform once we have become involved and especially after a breakup. I don’t particularly care for someone who sees me so intimately and vulnerable offstage to see me vulnerable onstage especially if I am working on new material and if I just got dumped, I’m definitely working on new material. It’s a kind of hang up I have. I can only describe it as feeling double naked.
I must move. It’s the only solution. Ok, maybe I’m just a tad dramatic.
“Nashville isn’t working out. Let’s face it, Ashley. You’ve lived here your whole life. You go from guy to guy and no one stays. You’re in this comedy scene now but you’ve probably hit a plateau. Maybe you can move to Chicago and get a real career going for yourself and meet you a big city guy. Big city guys probably love a small town girl. What about The Second City? Everyone from your favorite cast of SNL went there. Just go there and move on with your life. Make something of yourself. Then maybe someone will want you. Someone will surely take you seriously then.”
My mind is made up. Chicago it is. Have I ever been there? Nope. Do I know anyone there? Not a soul. It’s perfect. I can start over in a city where no one knows my jokes or my messy past.
I get to Chicago. I get booked on my first show at my first open mic! I get to open for “Pimprov” with Marz Timms and Gregory Holliman. I love Gregory Holliman. I used to watch him on, “Strangers with Candy”. Wow! Maybe I made the right choice after all!
The classes at The Second City are fun, but man...are they expensive. My savings is dwindling FAST. I won’t be able to stick with this. Great...another thing I can’t commit to again.I am struggling financially as I jump from job to job. I’m a waitress but I need nights off and the lunch shifts are slow.
I fear I am drinking too much and I’m taking these stupid pills again. Maybe I’ll get sober. I can commit to that. Maybe if I straighten my life up on the inside, things will go better on the outside. And hey, who knows? Maybe the love of my life will be sitting across from me in an NA meeting kicking a heroin addiction. Anything can happen!
What a plan. Move to a big city by myself and decide to quit drinking and drugging and get the mental healthcare I’ve been putting off for years? How could this go wrong for me? I go to a meeting and get my white chip on October 8, 2013. I start trauma therapy shortly thereafter and then all hell breaks loose. I tell my therapist I’m not sleeping. She says this is normal for newly sober people. Months are going by now and I am still not sleeping. Sometimes for days at a time. I am having a hard time keeping up with my thoughts. They seem to always be racing and as soon as I catch up with one, another two or three fly by that need my attention. I can’t keep up with my own mind. I am getting scared of my own mind.
My therapist sends me to a psychiatrist now. She prescribes me medication. I am having crazy side effects to all of it. My insomnia intensifies. My racing thoughts intensify. On one medication, I wake up to hearing voices and sounds that aren’t there.
I am keeping my mental health battle a secret as I come home from my office job overwhelmed with anxiety and dread. The medication I am on is causing me weight gain. A coworker asks me if I’m pregnant. I cry sometimes for no reason. I am so, so exhausted. I am told this is all typical of trauma therapy and I will get through it. I am diagnosed with PTSD. I am also told that because my reactions to antidepressants seem to be inducing a type of mania, I need to be treated for bipolar.
I am forcing myself to perform now. I can’t give up on comedy. Sometimes it’s our dreams that are the only things we can find hope in when we are lost.
Cindy at Zanies Rosemont likes me and wants me to come back and showcase again. I want to follow up with her and go back but I’m so exhausted from the anxiety and the lack of sleep. In fact, it is getting harder for me to leave my apartment. I am told I have some agoraphobia-the fear of leaving the house. My God, is there anything that isn’t wrong with me? I feel myself spiraling deeper and deeper into mental illness the more treatment I get and the more days I spend sober. I am being told this is normal. I keep my faith that eventually this will all end. Surely, I can’t spend the rest of my life afraid I won’t sleep, spending each day walking through my life in some kind of sleep deprived drugged zombie state.
“Lord, please help me. I just want to sleep, “ I would cry. And then in a strange way He did help me. God is always helping me in peculiar ways. “Ashley, I’m going to have to let you go,” says my boss.
My world is spinning. Ugh. The rejection. Again. What is it with my life that I keep getting rejected over and over? And when I think I am getting accepted, something happens to knock me down again. What is happening to me?
“Ashley, it’s time you come home. Let your father and I move you home.” “Ok, mom. I think you’re right.”
I wish my dark night of the soul ended here, but it didn’t. It continued for me until 2018. I struggled with my mental and eventually my physical health for five long, hard years. I kept my mental health battle a secret from most of the people in my life as far as my coworkers, my bosses, the other comedians. I had some amazing friends while I was in Chicago who knew what I was going through and they held me up especially my friends Raisa and Janine who is now a licensed therapist and of course, my best friend Jayme and you, Hannah, and my friend Peter once I got back to Nashville. I know God put some of these women and men in my life at specific times because they had gifts I desperately needed. I couldn’t see it at the time but the Lord wasn’t delivering me just out of Chicago, He was delivering me out of a spiritual war I did not know I was in and I was not equipped to fight.
I tried to runaway to Chicago. I tried to runaway from my problems, but for me my problems only got bigger the further I ran from them. I thought sobriety and therapy would be enough for me to heal, but it wasn’t. I needed Jesus. I needed to come home.