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Episode 3: Mike

It's hard because I still feel like I'm still very much suffering and a lot of ways like I actually did at a pretty bad I had a horrible week mentally this week, I'm better now, but I guess so. I guess my advice would be. It's cliche, but don't give up. 


Andrea: Mm hmm. You know, things do things do get better. Mm hmm. [00:55:02][3.0]

Mike: [00:55:02] They really do things. things do turn around.


Andrea: Just a warning - this episode mentions thoughts of suicide. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you just want to talk - you’re not alone. You can call the Sucide prevention hotline any time of day or night at 800-273-8255. Ok - here’s the show.


Andrea: Welcome to Getting Thru - I’m Andrea Sonnenberg. 


Today I am speaking with Mike. He and his twin brother were both raised by their mom. He is a DJ and a music producer and he helps manage an event company, all while working a day job at a clothing boutique.


I felt so grateful that Mike took the time to share his experience as a black man in LA and the culture surrounding mental health that he grew up with.


He hasn’t had much access to treatment and is still in the midst of figuring everything out.  But his network of friends and his love of music help him cultivate the gratitude he relies on to get thru. 


Speaker 1: Why don’t you start by telling me where your from and where you grew up


Mike: [00:00:48] I grew up in the La Cienega neighborhood. West LA kid all my life - grew up skateboarding, playing bass, mostly playing basketball. 

My mom is, my parents are from from Baltimore, Maryland. So my my whole family's from there. My mom moved out here in nineteen eighty four. My mom was a two time Olympian and track and field. [00:01:04][16.3]

Andrea: Oh wow. That's incredible. [00:01:07][1.3]

Mike: [00:01:08] Yeah. She's pretty cool so. Yeah. So my mom moved out here in nineteen eighty four after the Olympics in Los Angeles and she stayed, never left. [00:01:17][9.4]

my mom didn't start running until the twelfth grade, which is kind of insane. [00:07:37][8.4]

Mike [00:07:38] Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So it's always instilled [00:07:41][3.3]

Mike [00:07:43] this confidence in me that I can kind of do anything I want. [00:07:45][2.3]

We were definitely a bit sheltered growing up I want to say my brother and I. We grew up in, like the La Cienega neighborhood was pretty rough when we were growing up. So she, you know, she mostly kept us off the streets tried to keep us in summer camp, try to keep us in. Um, you know, we were we were YMCA kids, so we kept we we stayed in the YMCA, you know, that's where, like most of our friend group from growing up, came [00:03:44]

Mike [00:03:45] and the YMCA daycare and all that stuff. My mom working in Brentwood though kept us more on that side of town than she did in our neighborhood growing up. So a lot of my friends were were Brentwood kids, [00:04:01][14.4]

Andrea: Mike remembers being an anxious and sensitive child, especially when it came to his mom

Mike: [00:09:08] I would always be super, super, super worried whenever my mom left, like to the point where if she didn't come back, come back and like, you know, what I deemed a timely manner, she would I would be obsessively calling her phone and just kind of waiting by the door. So I was always a very, very worried child

Mike: [00:16:19] But I will say in middle school, my depression, that was when my depression first actually hit me, like and I really recognize it as, OK, this is I'm depressed. 

Andrea: And what did that look like what what did your depression look like for a young middle schooler? [00:18:32][3.9]

Mike: [00:18:37] it was it felt very heavy, like I felt very, very heavy and very just just overwhelmingly sad and, [00:18:45]

I do remember very much feeling like I was in a daze and in a haze and feeling very detached and very, very detached from everything. And everyone felt very, very disconnected. It was a really strange feeling that I never felt before. And I just remember I kind of feel like I was just floating [00:19:20]

Andrea: was there any treatment or. how was how are those challenges dealt with at an early age? [00:10:48][8.2]

Mike: [00:10:49] No. No treatment, no therapy. [00:10:50][1.0]

Mike: [00:10:50] Just toughen up. That was that was what I was always told. Tough and not be tough. Don't you know? Don't let people pick on you. And I mean mental health. [00:11:02][11.7]  [00:11:02] And in the 90s, especially in the black, black communities, black families was unheard of. Talk about mental health. You can’t talk about being depressed. You had to be tough and. [00:11:17] You couldn't you couldn't let people punk you. I grew up in rough neighborhoods, so it was if you were weak, you know, you were an easy target to get picked on or to, you know, just not you didn't have it easy. Yeah. You were just told to toughen up and just deal with it and handle it. Be a man. You know, I was kind of house dealt with so. Yeah. There was no treatment. No, no, no talks on that. [00:11:46]

Andrea: Did your family know you were suffering, or?

Mike: [00:12:05] I don’t think they thought of it as suffering. They just thought of me as a sensitive kid that was too worried. That was too worried all the time. [00:12:09]

Yeah. I don't think they even thought anything was wrong with me. I was always really you know, everyone always taught me how smart I was growing up also just so you know, because I was so sensitive, I guess, and very attuned to what was happening around me. So they just yeah. They just thought that this is who I was and that I needed to grow tougher skin. Um. But I understand what they were trying to do. It's not easy growing up black in America. It just isn't. You know, my mom would always tell me I was an endangered species growing up, being a black man, which was a very harsh truth, you know. So I. I had to be tough. I really did, because I could have been handled with more care and could have definitely, you know, gotten some help while still being told, like, OK, you know, you're getting this help. But maybe, you know, this is how the world is for you. So this is how you're going to have to be. I think that would have been more productive. But I do I do understand it. And I'm not I'm not I'm not necessarily mad at it. I just wish that I kind of it was handled differently. 

Andrea: Mike was able to see a school psychologist in middle school, but his feelings of not fitting in - as well as anxiety and depression - persisted.  

Mike: [00:20:06] I went to uni high. A lot of my friends ended up going to the Palisades High because, like I said, my mom kind of kept us in Brentwood where she worked a lot of my friends. 

Andrea: Mike was straddling two neighborhoods - he had friends near his home, at Uni and also in Brentwood and the Palisades which are affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods. 

Mike: So being black, I had a lot of white friends, also had a lot of black friends. I had a very diverse group growing up with the kids that I kind of hung out with were more my Brentwood friends. And I just was by design by chance. It wasn't, you know, just was what it was. [00:20:27][20.6]

Mike [00:20:28] So Uni was more mixed, more diverse. [00:20:31][1.0] But I remember wanting to be with my, quote unquote, more white friends, because that was just who I was friends with. And I feel like culturally, I'm like I didn't mess with the kids at uni, but I just kind of felt lost 

and I would get depressed you know, I'd really get depressed. I'd be really sad because I just felt like I wasn't with the people that understood me but really knew me. And yeah, it was just this weird. I felt culturally off like I was like, you know, I felt very that. Yeah. What's the word I'm looking for. Yeah, just kind of too white for the black kids, too black for the white kids. I couldn't figure out what my identity was. I just feel like I was never fully myself and I could never fully be who I truly wanted to I wanted to be and, uh. since I was playing basketball. [00:22:02][0.6]

Mike: I kind of always got pegged into, like, the jock kid.

Andrea: But you weren't necessarily that because you were a musician, too, right? [00:22:13][3.7]

Mike: [00:22:15] I was very, very, very into music. But I wasn't officially a musician. But yeah I guess like an artsy music kid [00:22:32][5.0]

Mike: Yeah but by that point I had definitely started expressing. Hey I’m depressed. Even the first episode in middle school I definitely said Hey I’m depressed, But by then, yeah, I definitely was way more vocal about it. But even even still, my mom didn't necessarily even know what it meant. You know, it wasn't even like she tried to not get me help. She just she genuinely just didn't know what it was. And it wasn't like now where we had all these resources and you could just a quick Google search anything. She just didn't know. We didn't know. that was just wasn't the era she grew up in, and that wasn't how she grew up. And so she didn't really know what to do. And even still, you know, if I express to her as a 31 year old adult that I'm not feeling 100 percent, she's she's definitely way more empathetic now. But even still, she's not fully all the way there. She just I don't think she ever will fully understand. It's just not how she grew up. So but yeah. So by then I definitely started expressing that something was that I didn't feel great, that something was wrong with me

Andrea: After high school Mike went to Santa Barbara City College, where he studied visual arts. At school he was able to see the school psychiatrist once a month 

Mike: I was happy there for a time. 

Andrea: But at school he also began partying - partially as a way to cope. 

Mike: [00:25:23] Trying to treat my depression trying to escape you know, I had my fun. I'll just say I definitely I had my fun, 

Andrea: His grades suffered and two years in, Mike left school. As he remembered this time in his life, I could tell he was still processing everything. 

Mike: [00:28:13] talking about this is kind of, it's kind of hard because I just didn't really understand how bad off I was, even though I was pretty bad off I remember that summer, I got back home and I knew something wasn't right, like I just did not feel good at all. And I was still kind of trying to hide the fact that my mom, my mom wasn't sure if I was going back. But and I think her in her mind, she was like, he's going to go back at some point. But I was wrong. I think I kept trying to hide the fact that I was not going back at all and that my grades were my grades sucked. [00:29:49][22.3] And I'd say as that year progressed, that's when things got really, really bad. And that was probably the worst of it. And that was when my mom finally got me to see an actual psychiatrist. So I was like twenty, twenty one years old. [00:30:27][14.3]

Andrea: What happened?

Mike: [00:30:33] He was great. [00:30:33][0.3] I, I got prescribed medication and I you know, I got a formal diagnosis of general anxiety, having generalized anxiety and major depressive disorder. And I started taking can't remember what medication it was, but it was I saw him once a week and he was, he was great. [00:30:59][0.3]

Andrea: The medication and treatment were helpful- but Mike was unable to make new appointments when the psychiatrist’s office moved. Currently he wants to be in therapy. But cost is a huge barrier and it’s difficult for him to know where to start - especially since he’s still in the midst of dealing with so much. 

Mike: [01:00:55] Because I do have mood swings, I have pretty severe mood swings, actually. [01:00:58][1.9]

[01:03:04] A big thing too is anger. I feel a lot of anger often, especially this year, like, I'll ruminate on thoughts and I'll just anger myself, um, and and I'll think about people that have wronged me in situations where I've been wronged, where I feel like I’ve been used. And, uh, and that often happens in those states where I'm feeling manic, like I feel very fiery and very just like like I just want to, like, hit something or punch someone or or or like just. Yeah, I just if you say the wrong thing to me, I will snap. and I know where a lot of that stems from to. So it's like and I think that when I feel like kind of when I'm in these manic states, it really gets brought out. So as much as I can be jovial and happy and like, you know, fun. It, it can quickly turn into like feeling angry or feeling irritable and feeling you know, it's been kind of building up to the past, you know, four or five years. But really, really last year when the Black Lives Matter movement happened, um, I just feel very angry about, like race in this country. And I've been doing a lot of work diving deeper into racial issues and you know, just race in America and what that what it's like being black and just kind of diving more into the black experience. And just I think one thing that's really, you know, cause a lot of my depression and anger this year are just you know, I've just seen a lot of reflecting this year, obviously, and a lot of times. So I just reflected back on a lot and just seeing all the micro aggressions that have been around me my entire life, seeing how the system has been rigged against me literally my entire life. Like even this morning when I woke up and I was in a really weird place.. 

And it’s like a weird time for this thought. And I kept telling myself you’re doing the best with what you have you’re doing the best with what you’ve been given.. But I keep telling myself that based on, like, race because like like, you know, like because I know how I've learned how rigged the system is against me just being a black man, especially growing up in Los Angeles. I mean. Right. Like LA is, you know, it's supposed to be this free, progressive place, and if you look into the history of it, it isn't at all. It's a very racist city and it's very covert racism [01:06:22][8.3]

Andrea: One example of this is the pervasive redlining that has left a lingering impact of segregation on many neighborhoods - segregation that impacted Mike’s middle school and high school a lot of, you know, a lot of African-Americans moved here from the south in the 40s and were shunned out of owning homes and renting, even renting property and in certain in certain neighborhoods. That's why you see most of black people in South L.A. that’s the part that they could live in , and they were exclusively zoned to that. and also the neighborhood I grew up in.  I remember you know, I remember when the BLM started happening, everyone was talking about redlining as if it was some, like, past thing that had happened. And I'm like, no, like I grew up in that like this person that, you know, is a as a as a victim of of systemic redlining. [00:49:16] And now when you self reflect and go back through the history you realize how difficult it was.  


Andrea: When you're in a dark moment, what do you - what do you think about. 

I have suicidal thoughts, a lot. And that's kind of that kind of takes over and. And also, I ruminate on a lot of past, uh, things that I've done that that I've kind of done out of, I guess, you know, I'm just not feeling great, not feeling, you know, well, I'm being mentally there. Mm hmm. Um, I feel a lot of guilt. A lot of regret about certain things, like how I've acted in certain situations or things I've said to people or I just always feel this guilty, like weird like I should have decided to do that. Oh, my God, I can't believe I did that. Like, I cringing to myself, like just like crawling on my own skin sometimes. But just so that, you know, we all do that [00:50:41][2.0] and, you know, [00:50:43][0.4]

[00:50:44] we all do that and we all feel that way. but yeah but but it did leads me to really dark places and it leads me to I don't think I handle it well because I'm so sensitive when you're in those moments. 

Andrea: Instead of focusing on this dark place, Mike often tries to find other ways to occupy his attention

Mike:I just end up distracting myself and not in a good way, you know, like I just like I don't do anything productive. I just feel like get lost in like, YouTube videos.I've started meditating which has been really helpful. I've, I've always meditated. But that really, really gotten into meditating. [00:51:39][7.4]

Andrea: [00:51:40] Oh that's great. That is great. [00:51:41][1.7]

Mike: [00:51:42] Yeah. Because I, I felt because yeah. I just, I was like this is getting too much. I need, I need to figure something out. And that's one thing I've always been very aware of my issues and I've always I'll end up in this, I'll end up in these really, really, really bad places that I always kind of find myself picking myself back up and say, OK, look, this cannot happen anymore because I bring myself down so much to the point of, like, almost no return. And I know that I don't want that for myself. And so I always kind of taking myself back to center. [00:52:17]

Andrea: Part of what helps and inspires Mike are the stories and history behind the music he loves

Mike: My depression and my mental illness is what led me to dance music [00:45:24][2.0]

I think what's so great about it and that's why it's so popular, is that it's a it's music for the Misfits. 

and it's and it's like that at its roots, you know, it's founded by gay black men in New York, in Chicago in the seventies who were shunned out of society being gay and black at that time so that them finding space on the dance floor and listening to dance. Really danceable RB music, which became disco. That was really emotional, really heavy, really soulful music. That was from the church basically. that was their was their liberation. That was their escape. That was 

what you know, what they thought was why, you know, what made them feel whole [00:46:56][7.0] and complete and that they could find solace in each other on these dance floor clubs, club spaces. 

It's a it's a really it's a really beautiful history. And and it's and it's and it started here in America. Most people think it's European, but it started here in America with gay black men

Andrea: [00:41:14] And would you say that sort of getting into music has always been now or has now been a way for you to get through? As we say, [00:41:23][8.8]

Mike [00:41:24] absolutely, 100 percent. I mean, I have my my songs that I listen to when I need a family really down and when I'm feeling really depressed and when I'm feeling lonely, it's the best. I don't know what I would do without music. It definitely. It helps cause there are stories in all of these songs that we listen to, whether it be a really kind of dumb song that's just about dancing or whether it's a very whether or really deep, you know, deep song. It needs to be dissected and digested multiple times. There's always stories and they're always very relatable. And, it lets you know that there's someone else that is going through something similar to what you went through or that that has experienced something similar to what you went through 

Andrea: When you when you picture success for yourself, what does it look like? [00:47:42]

Mike: I just want to be able to make my music and do my art and just live comfortably. I don't. Used to be like the richest person in the world. I don't need to possibly even be married or have family. I just want to be able to kind of be free and make my art And it's like that's why I tell myself you're doing the best of what you have. You're doing the best of what you've been given. And I have done well for myself in music industry. I've definitely built my own platform for myself and I've definitely built my own kind of little thing that I have going for myself. And I'm very proud of that. 

Andrea: What advice do you have for others who are struggling in similar ways? 

Mike: It's hard because I still feel like I'm still very much suffering and a lot of ways like I actually did at a pretty bad I had a horrible week mentally this week, so I'm sorry. That's OK. Thank you. I'm better now, but I guess so. I guess my advice would be. It's cliche, but don't give up. [00:54:58][20.6]

Andrea: Mm hmm. You know, things do things do get better. Mm hmm. [00:55:02][3.0]

Mike: They really do things. It just takes some time. I mean, it takes time to turn things around. I can't say that's the case for everyone, but things do turn around like it's you know, it seems endless when you're in it and it feels like things are never going to get better. But they do. Something happens in life. One thing I'll do is I'll take a look around my room, sit right here in this chair that I'm sitting around and take a look around. And I have two laptops. I have music gear. I live in a really I live in a pretty cool house with some really great guys. I have DJ equipment right here. Um, I have a closet full of clothes, really nice clothes. And I have you know, I have a lot of friends, I really do. Mm hmm. And so I think just taking stock in what you have is really big is a really, really big thing. It's like I have so many things, like I sit there and I'm looking I have two laptops like nobody. I don't have just two laptops that they can just use. You know, it's like I'm definitely blessed a lot of ways. And yeah, it’s those little perspective moments are really really big.


According to NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness - millions of Americans with mental illness struggle to find care. And of the almost 60 million adults and children living with mental health conditions in the USA, over half of them go without any treatment. With limited options and long wait times finding care is difficult. And can be costly because it’s not always covered by insurance. This means more people pay for mental health care out of pocket than for other types of care. 


Fortunately there are organizations working to change this. Some offer care on a sliding scale or remotely, there are mental health care apps and crisis hotlines available 24/7. Be sure to check out links to resources that might be helpful in the show notes


Getting Thru is made possible with the support of USC Hillel through the Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative.


It is produced by me, Andrea Sonnenberg, Micah Smith and Hannah Beal. Original music by Micah Smith. 


Thank you for listening.

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