On a cold night in the middle of December, I could not sleep. My mind seemed to be wired to a network of sleepless souls across the City of Angels, thousands of bodies not tossing and turning but lying flat in our beds, our boulder-sized hearts pinning us down in a collective grief. It was the day we learned that Stephen “tWitch” Boss, a beloved dancer, DJ, dad, husband and friend, had left us in what authorities ruled a suicide.
I tried to stop checking my phone but could not. Images of Boss’ grinning face flooded all social media feeds. Videos of him dancing — solo or with his wife, Allison Holker — seemed to haunt us. How, people asked over and over in comments rife with confusion and anguish, could someone who seemed so happy, who brought such joy, have willingly taken his own life? Questions like these, though, can be harmful and demonstrate how much work we have yet to do as a culture in understanding mental illness.
My own understanding expanded recently after reading a writing student’s manuscript about her depression and suicide ideation, a burden she’s carried since she was a child and a condition she’s tried to “cure” (unsuccessfully) with more than 22 therapies. Despite her personal struggles, this writer brought such love and depth to our workshop. Her sense of humor was quick and quiet, the kind that takes a moment to catch, but when it does is a sudden flame lighting up a crisscross of campfire logs in a dark forest. Watching her deadpan face break out into a mischievous grin was pure joy. After workshop, we discussed ways to explore writing about mental illness for parents and families — specifically, for you: our L.A. Parent community.
In these times, none of us are completely well. Instead of blame and guilt, what if we try our best to share resources, deepen our understanding of mental illness and connect to each other through sharing our stories?
Elena Epstein, our creative director, remembers interviewing Boss when we featured him and his kids on our cover for our Father’s Day issue in 2017. “He was genuinely so sweet and kind,” she says. “And he absolutely loved being a dad.”
Unless we’re granted a seat inside someone’s brain, we can’t know what internal battles they’re dealing with, what “invisible” illnesses they might have. That they are able to spread joy in the middle of that kind of pain must spring from a bottomless well of generosity.
A dance of gratitude for that. And a pledge to extend compassion toward everyone’s unique health and wellness needs.