Visiting Ghosts

By Katy Vernon


Editor’s Note: This is the third dispatch from Katy during her 2017 tour of the United Kingdom. Most of this was written on a train in Wales, where both of her parents were born and raised. The picture above is Katy at her mother’s favorite beach, in the precise spot where, according to relatives, her family had many picnics when she was a child. If you haven’t already, please make sure to also read her first post, The H.A.LT. Tour, and second post, Not Today.


I think I've gotten so used to feeling disconnected that I lost track of the connections I have.

After I lost my parents in my teens, I decided to make my own family, married very young, and became a homebody creating a safe little nest. I realized somewhere along the way that I wasn't a risk taker. Although I had left my home in the United Kingdom and travelled halfway around the world to live in the United States, I was a very anxious and unadventurous person in many ways. I had anxiety about getting on the wrong bus, saying the wrong thing, failing. It became easier to just stay on track and try to do all of the right things.

I tried to control everything and everyone in my life.

That doesn't work. Not for me anyway.

Once I finally admitted to myself that I was struggling, I started to learn the process of letting go.

A year ago, I would have agonized about playing a concert overseas. The sheer amount of things that might go wrong would have overwhelmed me.

The idea of taking time away from home would have also trapped me. Not due to any lack of backing from those I love, though. It was all self-inflicted.

So this year -- in a healthier place personally, and with the encouragement of friends and family -- I dove in.

Six weeks of travel and shows. All over the UK. Almost every few days, I have taken trains, buses, and tubes to all areas of Britain.

The kindness and generosity of strangers has been overwhelming. People literally opening their homes and hearts to me.

I have also walked the routes of my past and visited my ghosts.

The home I grew up in, the  schools I attended, the park where I walked my dogs. So much has changed, and yet most of it is the same. I was scared about how that might make me feel.

I recently stood outside my childhood house, and for the first time in years it just looked like a building. Windows, a door, a little garden. Most of it the same as it was, but just a house, not my home.

As part of this tour, I also was invited to play at the hospice where my mum spent her final days. My last memory of her is there. I rode my bike to see her that day, on my own after school. She had asked me to bring strawberries, and I sat in her bed and ate them. She had just had her 47th birthday, and there were cards in her room. I was so nervous making my way there alone, but I'm so grateful today. I didn't know at the time that it would be the last visit, but my Dad didn’t want me to see her once she went into a coma.

It felt so huge to even think about going back. I knew that meant I had to do it. I went back with my ukulele to sing for people there. I didn't say what my connection was to the place. My reason for being there was to use my voice to bring some beauty and happiness to people's day. I have finally learned that I have that to give. Yes, I have experienced tremendous grief. But it helps me to help others, and I can now see that, as much sadness as I carry in my heart, I have equal, if not more, joy to give.

With that deeply meaningful performance at the hospice behind me, I boarded the train to Wales -- making my way, in less than 24 hours -- from the place where my mum passed away to the house where she grew up. My cousin wrote me a family tree (something I have never had) for the occasion, showed me around the old place and and shared her memories of my mum. As it turns out, my mum was her favorite aunt. And to hear her talk about how much she loved my mum was amazingly touching.

This house, too, was just a building, with windows and a door, and a little garden. It was a perfect full-circle moment.

I don't need to visit ghosts because they already live on inside of me, my cousin and my daughters.


Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.


Reality Sets In

By David T. Lewis


"I'm an adult." It's such a weird thing to say out loud. I’m currently repeating it in the dusty, smudged mirror of a portable toilet in Helsinki, Finland. A film crew outside is waiting for me to emerge so we can continue taping an episode of a reality TV show my wife and I have landed on.  

I moved my family from Roseville, Minnesota to Helsinki last year for a job as a Communications Manager at the newly formed Aalto University. I wasn't fleeing anything. My wife and I both had stable jobs, a great house, happy kids. The move was, rather, a leap of faith: a romantic idea of adventure and the unknown.  

But, if I’m honest with myself, the move was also something of a midlife crisis. My father had recently died, and I’d been in a dark place ever since. He was the person I looked to for clarity or guidance. I was nearing 40, with a loving family, and yet I had become rudderless and felt I was drifting off-course.  

I had been trying to come to terms with all this yet no matter how profound I wanted to be, it felt so trivial. When talking about death, never in my life had something felt so un-containable, so massive, and so universal - yet so isolating. Maybe, unlike other major life events (marriage, parenthood, or masturbation), death is a secret. It's a late night step into a dark room; unable to find the language to ask for help, we are unbalanced and alone. I know this is normal. I know it ebbs and flows. I just wasn't ready for the awful and empty echo.

Unsure of how to recover, I started grappling with all those things the middle-aged do: I got hair loss pills to try to reclaim some kind of hipster man bun (I failed); I bought a skateboard and showed up at the local skate park to try to impress teenagers (more failure); I ate an entire chocolate bar of edible weed in Denver and locked myself in a hotel room for 12 hours (success?). Sadly, but not surprisingly, none of it was able to jar me from what was really an all-consuming sadness, a blanket of grey. I was, almost certainly, depressed.  

Weirdly enough, this is our second time on a reality show. The first was for a basement fix-up in 2012. We had a cool mid-century house and it was a sunnier time. I still dry-heaved between takes, but back then, it was just due to performance anxiety. Now all those TV questions seem to have taken on a new existential heft. "How do you like the living room space?" and "Are you happy with your move?" have begun to sound like "What does it all mean?" and "What legacy will you leave behind when you die?”

This is hardly the first time I've struggled with my mental health. As a teenager I had awful panic attacks. In college, on the first date with my wife, I vomited on her feet. She thought it was cute; I assured her it wasn't. I once hid in a bathroom at a New Jersey Dunkin' Donuts, unable to decide between jelly or cream-filled, whimpering, "I can't." It sounds ridiculous, but it happened. I know I can be profoundly sensitive and brittle.

Along the way, I've had success, too. I've worked at all those things you read when you Google self-care: therapy, medication, meditation. Now, no longer nearing 40 but actually there, I have coping skills and a better sense of humor. I'm less serious. At least I was until I wound up with two cameras staring me down as I do multiple takes of, "Yeah, but the cabinets are just too dark."

The irony is not lost on me: I’m pulling myself together so I can talk about how many bedrooms we'd like in our new apartment. It couldn't be more banal. Still, my alternating depression and anxiety don't seem to care as our cabinets become the focus. With so little at stake, it feels as if I have so much to lose: my composure, my purpose, my sanity.

My brain’s on a loop as I leave the bathroom and step in front of the cameras. The director asks, "So what do you think of the kitchen?" I choke back the tears and tell her, "I think it's great." She smiles and I start to wonder if I should apply to be on Survivor next year.


David T. Lewis is a Dissonance Board Member.


We All Need Help Sometimes

By Katy Vernon


On Twitter, I call myself "a singer of sad songs on a happy instrument."

I've realized lately that this is more than a cutesy tag about my singing and ukulele playing. It also says a lot about who I am and how I've tried to cope in my ongoing battle with depression.

I have always felt like the "sad girl." My early life was rocked by the deaths of both my mother and father, and grief is still overwhelmingly present in my life. I also had the crappy luck to develop a condition called endometriosis, which means I live with chronic pain as well. (My heart goes out to anyone dealing with daily pain. It makes you crazy!)

This dangerous mix of emotional and physical pain led me to self-medicate with alcohol, which only made things worse in the long run. I drank because I was in pain. I drank when I was sad. I drank when I was lonely, angry or nervous. I drank because it allowed me to manipulate how I felt. And that was the key. It wasn’t necessarily about how much I drank, but why. I needed to feel better. And alcohol helped, until it didn’t anymore. Eventually, it stopped making me feel good, and with all of my other health issues, my body couldn't tolerate it any longer.

I have always wanted to be the happy little instrument in this world. But sad songs kept coming out. And they still do, perhaps because I have struggled so much. Not just with mental health and substance use disorders, but with even thinking about them as disorders or diseases. When something is inside your own head (i.e. part of the brain is functioning improperly), it is so difficult to separate disordered feelings from our own character. The mind lies to you, and tells you it's your fault. Even asking for help or acknowledging a problem feels negative, like it’s attention-seeking.

But, with the help of others, I have learned the truth about these health conditions, and I am taking steps to get well. It started with sobering up and realizing that I was merely numbing myself. And it continues today as I look closer at my mental pain, which has come more into focus as I’ve gotten further removed from drinking.

The truth is that on my worst days, I can't imagine the future and don't want to face another day. That hurts so much, but also makes me realize that it isn't me, that it isn't real—and that I need to do something to change. It hurts so much. I just have to hug my kids and take it one day at a time. For them. For the little voice inside of me that tells me I'll get better.

I met someone new recently at a meeting that I attend to support my sobriety. She immediately said I seemed really sad. I never hear that. People usually say I'm funny or sweet or they like my accent. But she somehow got right to heart of it and told me to get help for my depression. (No one will tell you the truth like people in recovery, which is one reason I’m so grateful for recovery support groups.)

Not long ago, with the encouragement of my new friend and mentor, I sat in a doctor’s room and told my truth.

I have a long way to go in my journey to be well, but now I'm sharing my truth here for anyone who thinks they are alone in such struggles. For anyone who thinks life is rosy, fine and fun for everyone else. It’s not. We all need help sometimes.

Peace. xxx


Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.