It’s April 2011, about 4:00am. I’m lying awake in bed as I have been for the last six hours. I’m breathing heavily, my heart is pounding and it feels like there is a 12-inch knife in my stomach. “Wade?” says my wife Amanda who lies nervously next to me. I turn my head towards her and drowning in fear, I say, “I’m unraveling.”
About 5 months prior to this moment, in the course of one week, I landed the job of my dreams, and Amanda gave birth to our baby boy. Two monumental events in my life that, as it turns out, were diametrically opposed.
By the time I was a three year old boy growing up in Brisbane, Australia, I was absolutely obsessed with Michael Jackson. When I was five-years-old I won a dance competition and the prize was to meet him. My wildest dream had come true. About two years later, when I was seven years old, my mother managed to arrange for us to meet Michael Jackson again during our first visit to the United States in Los Angeles, California. This is when my “friendship” with Michael Jackson began. A dream I could never have imagined, had come true. Very early on, Michael told me that I would be a Film Director of epic proportions. Michael was God to me and therefore everything he said was gospel. So as far as I was concerned, my future had been written and from that moment on, no success would be enough until I fulfilled his prophecy.
When Amanda gave birth to our baby boy, I felt a sense of meaning, purpose and love that I had never experienced before. But my drive to fulfill Michael’s prophecy was still extremely strong as well. So for the next five months, I pushed relentlessly on all cylinders, prepping for that dream job I landed, to Direct my first Hollywood studio feature film, parenting and husbandry. The combination of which, led me to the moment where this document began: The Unraveling.
That moment turned out to be the onset of a complete nervous breakdown, including symptoms of extreme anxiety, depression and insomnia. I had experienced bouts of anxiety and depression on and off for many years but never before had I encounterred anything of this scale. Mentally and emotionally incapacitated, I ended up having to remove myself as the Director of the film as well as from multiple other creative projects I was committed to at the time. One of which, was the position of lead choreographer for Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson show in Las Vegas. I thought removing myself from all of these projects would alleviate some of the pressure but it served only to exaserbate all of my symptoms. Additionally, I was now ravaged by a de-habilitating feeing of shame that I was a complete failure. I felt that my entire life had been building to this opportunity to become a Film Director, it had arrived, I was fulfilling Michaelʻs prophecy, and then I blew it, therefore my entire life, I believed, had been in vein. Thank God I had Amanda and our baby boy because beyond them, I felt no purpose anymore.
In crisis mode, I tried a few therapists and a psychiatrist. The highly recommended and incredibly expensive psychiatrist, with whom I spent 45 minutes, during which he almost never looked me in the eyes, diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and prescribed me two medications for anxiety and depression. I was terrified of medication, therefore I never took the depression medication and only tried the anxiety medication a few times in an attempt to get some desperately needed sleep.
Through it all, my wife Amanda was an absolute rock for both myself and our baby boy. She carried a strength and clarity, the likes of which, I have never experienced elsewhere.
I finally settled on a therapist who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I saw him for about two months, skimmed over my past, learned some mental techniques, stitched myself back up and got back to what I knew best, WORK: my long practiced technique for burying my anxiety, pain and sadness. A technique I learned from my childhood idol and mentor, Michael Jackson.
I was on a high, feeling as though I had done some foundational healing in relation to my work life and I was now bulletproof. I pushed hard again, working around the clock as a Creative Director for Stage and TV while also trying to remain a committed Father and Husband. Amanda had just been put through so much with the combination of my nervous breakdown alongside being a brand new Mother, and was, rightly so, having a hard time trusting that everything was ”just fine” and stable now.
In the meantime, Cirque Du Soleil’s Las Vegas Michael Jackson show had fallen apart and been put back together with a new Director who also wanted me to be the lead choreographer. For reasons I couldn’t quite articulate at the time, I was very reluctant to get involved with the show again. But the Director was persistent and persuasive and I ended up agreeing to take the project back on.
Similar symptoms to the previous nervous breakdown then began to appear such as fear, anxiety, and depression. I tried to stay quiet about them and remain busy, hoping that I could work them away, but the symptoms gradually intensified to the point where I was becoming inoperable. Eventually I had to remove myself again from all of my creative projects, the last of which being the Michael Jackson show. At the time, like the previous nervous breakdown, I could not understand why this was happening. I had been in charge of massive creative projects since I was sixteen years old, so why these projects were seemingly too much for me now, just did not add up.
Then, something began to occur which had never before. I began to have visual flashes of my son experiencing something that I had experienced as a child. Something that I had never spoken about to anyone in my life, had actually passionately denied over and over and had always tried to just not think about. My emotional reactions to the visuals of my son experiencing what I had as a child were visceral encounters with pain, disgust, and anger. Yet when I recalled myself in these childhood experiences, I still felt completely numb. For the first time in my life, I began to question if there was something wrong with that.
I found a new therapist and began going twice a week for two hours per session. About three weeks in, on my way to a session, I listened to a TED talk that my therapist had suggested by Brené Brown entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” I found the entire talk riveting but particularly the part where Brené spoke about how we all have aspects of our lives that we try to numb. But the problem is, that as much as we would like to, we cannot selectively numb. When we try to numb our pain, we also numb our joy. This really resonated with me because I had felt for so long that it was hard for me to ever feel excitement, joy, or happiness to a strong degree, even momentarily. In the face of seemingly great moments, I often just felt numb or even melancholy. Apparently this insight inspired me because that day, in that therapy session, I finally worked up the courage to speak a particular truth for the first time in my life, "Michael Jackson molested me."
And thus, the healing process began: a profound emotional, mental, physiological and spiritual upheaval, 22 years in the making, that changed absolutely everything for myself and my family.
To be continued in BREAK TO HEAL, Part II.
Love, Wade Robson.
November 17th, 2017