The need to win—NOW!—is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters. Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

Let the Light In

I want to talk about depression.

I want to talk about the ways depression has pulled my body toward the ground. It has left dark circles under my eyes and sloped my shoulders forward.

I attempted to write something clever here. After half a dozen drafts, I decided I’d rather just be honest.

My name is Cole Farrell, and I am a person who lives with mental illness.

Let me put it all out on the table: I have, at different times and to varying degrees of severity, experienced deep depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, intrusive thoughts, and hyperactivity marked by obsessive-compulsive behavior. These things started to find me when I was very young and they haven’t lost me yet.

At its best, my quirky brain really works. I am capable of wild creativity and expansive empathy—things I really value. At its worst, my brain works against me.

I write here in hopes that coming out about the darkness can help me emerge from it. I’ve come out before, and what I want now is to be out out out out out all the way out. I want to live.

I have so many reasons to live. I have stories to tell. Those stories are impossible until I’m able to tell this one.

I have reasons to be afraid, too. That exposing my struggles might lead me to be seen as weak or ineffectual. That I’ll be judged in the same way I’ve judged other people. That my oversharing could one day be the reason Aric and I are turned down by a polite adoption agency employee with a clipboard.

But the darkness lies. It kicks me to the floor and presses a boot into my back. It tricks me into believing that silence is noble, that suffering is a virtue. I’m done with that lie. So I’m going to start writing the truth here. This is how it starts: with a confession.

Let’s start a conversation. I want to reject shame and mark a milestone in my life. So many of us suffer in silence and think we’re doing something heroic. I am hoping—no, I am confident that I can find a tribe of people, however small, who say “I’m so thankful to not be alone in this anymore.”

We’ll find some levity, too. It won’t be all doom and gloom. An earlier draft of this post had references to Amy Schumer, Matilda the Musical, Wet Hot American Summer and Bill Nye. But, like they have for much of my life, jokes were keeping me from doing the hard work that has to come first.

I believe YOU deserve light and life. I believe I do too.

Say it with Flowers

We bought flowers too far from Stonewall. We were lost. Duane Reed, CVS, Duane Reed, a different CVS? Aric’s internal compass is unflappable in the Midwest, but two hours after our arrival in midtown Manhattan, we were fully stuck.

So we bought flowers. Two little bunches of them. These flowers are important; we told the man with our eyes. These are grief flowers, for a very deep grief. Aric fumbled with his wallet. The man wrapped the flowers in heavy paper (SAY IT WITH FLOWERS!) and Aric and I took turns cradling the bouquet like a child for the remaining blocks; two dumb bunches of flowers, lighter and heavier than you can imagine.

Outside Stonewall—we found our way, finally—barricades from the previous night’s vigil had been pushed into bunches. Tonight there were 40 people outside. No barricades necessary. Maybe a few, to keep people from stepping into the street. Police officers in bulletproof vests with very big guns made us feel more protected and more aware of the possibility of danger.

People in the small crowd were taking turns introducing themselves or saying a few words. Name, Borough, tears. Hugs from strangers. The deep joy of being a queer person suddenly surrounded by other queer people. Shame for being joyful, here. That kind of joy comes to an end faster than a life can, or 49 lives.

A boy named Daniel announced that he was from Long Island. He was very drunk. I’ll never, never, never forget the names of the victims, he said. I’ll never say another mean thing about anybody, ever. He was shouting. Everybody wanted to believe him. Everybody wanted him to stop shouting. Cops. Guns. This is a peaceful place tonight.

More introductions. More hugs. A pop-up community fluent in the new vocabulary of trauma. We will never forget, everybody says in turn. Their names, their lives. We are angry and hurt and heartsick with grief. We don’t know where to turn. All of life has become the moment from the Amy Hempel short story where, after an earthquake, a teacher encourages her first grade class to yell “BAD earth!” at a broken playground, “because anger is stronger than fear.”

Before we leave Stonewall, before I toss our flowers onto the pile, Aric gently removes the thick outer paper from the bouquet, rolls it up, and puts it in his backpack.

Say It With Flowers paper

That flower paper sparked something in me. I decided to spin the pattern of that paper into 49 little pieces of art, each one dedicated to one of the victims in Orlando. It was something to do with my hands when my hands felt so powerless.

As a visual artist, I am an infant, still learning to crawl. Most of these pieces were traced, but I can see my hands becoming more steady. I see smudges and smears and full-blown fingerprints, none intentional. I can see the little moments where I let go of control and was better for it.

I’m excited to share it with you.

Say It With Flowers Title Card







“An infant is a pucker of the earth’s thin skin; so are we. We arise like budding yeasts and break off; we forget our beginnings. A mammal swells and circles and lays him down. You and I have finished swelling; our circling periods are playing out, but we can still leave footprints in a trail whose end we do not know.

Buddhism notes that it is always a mistake to think your soul can go it alone.” Annie Dillard, For the Time Being

Four Years!

Today Aric and I celebrate our fourth anniversary. This means he’s put up with my particular brand of insanity for the length of a presidential term. The same length of time you wait for the Winter Olympics to come back around again!

In those four years, he’s shown me what a person can accomplish with gentleness. He’s deliberate, kind, and curious. He’s a patient teacher who has taught me how to fly a drone, light a grill, tell north from south, occasionally admit when I’m wrong, balance a checkbook, steer a kayak, polish a countertop until I can see my reflection in it, and line dance, poorly.

His tolerance for showtunes is higher than it was four years ago, or his resistance has been worn down. Either way, I’m a lucky guy.