Emma Lee

Singer, Songwriter

Emma Lee is a North Carolina-based American singer/songwriter

Shining a Light on Depression...

Most people who know me fairly well would probably agree that I’m an open book. I’m quick to jump into personal conversations with nearly anyone, because I really can’t stand surface level chitchat. This also might be why (although decidedly an extrovert) I don’t love to be in huge, public groups where I’m expected to partake in quick, distracted, often meaningless exchanges with people who probably don’t genuinely want to be talking any more than I do… but I digress.

 

As a musician & artist, I feel the innate urge to share my thoughts, feelings & experiences more than some, and typically don’t struggle to do that. My Instagram is full of random pictures from my day-to-day life, sporting“clever” captions with the mundane musings of a twenty something, and “witty” hashtags that seek to gain attention from the millions of others just like myself, in a vain attempt to elbow out a space for ourselves in a digital world that simultaneously seems to be getting smaller and more expansive every day.

 

All of this sharing, this “open book” of a lifestyle, and yet, it occurs to me that I haven’t been completely honest or transparent. I’m doing anyone who “follows” me such a disservice by allowing them to believe that what I post on social media equates to my life. That’s why I’m writing…
 

Today as I was walking my sweet dog, living in the moment, enjoying the beautiful day and feeling so grateful for all that I’m blessed with, it occurred to me that I’m finally beginning to feel like myself again after what has been a pretty terrible season for me. Don't get me wrong - I have an amazing family & friends, a boyfriend who loves and supports me, and a lifestyle that I’ve chosen to lead, doing exactly what I want to do. And yet. I have been battling what is easily one of the worst seasons of clinical depression in my life to date.  Bet you couldn’t find that on my Instagram.

 

I will preface the next part of the story with this: Please don’t think this is my attempt to glorify my own struggle. My purpose in sharing this deeply personal journey is quite the opposite; to shine a light on the fact that so many (almost 20% of Americans, actually) are struggling through mental illness right now too. So many people that you know are currently living in their own versions of hell that nobody else can even perceive from the outside. And by the way, mine isn’t over. It may never truly be, but the best I can do is to share what I’ve been through and what I’ve learned so far as I continue to fight for my own happiness, and hopefully, spread some awareness.

 

I told you all I was an open book, so instead of being selfish with something that may help you or someone else, here goes nothing…

 

My parents described me as a “serious” child… calculating, deep thinking and concerned. Make no mistake, I had a really fantastic childhood, had lots of fun, let loose and played & laughed with the best of them, but deep down I don’t believe I was ever completely care-free.  I had severe panic attacks when my parents would leave me to go out of town (I wouldn’t eat, I was terrified that their plane would crash and they wouldn’t come back, etc.) and I worried and worried about so many things, when a child with her health and security shouldn’t be worrying about much at all.

 

This plus probably more that I can’t remember, all led to my first few therapy sessions early on with a guy whose laugh haunted me (and does to this day…) and my poor parents trying to do what they could to “get their Emma back.”

 

Eventually, I grew out of the severe anxiety phase, and leveled off for the most part during my preteen and early teenage years.  I definitely still maintained the serious side of my nature, but found an outlet in the form of plenty of newfound passions that I developed throughout that period. I had lots of energy to channel into horseback riding, soccer, softball, tennis, singing, dancing, theater, lacrosse, cross country… you name it, I’ve done it. (and if you do follow me on social media, you’ll notice that a few of those stuck ;) )

 

Without getting into too much detail about every “season” of depression I’ve gone through, I’ll say there were a few in high school, then college, and even post-college that definitely presented me with some dark days. Calling my mom to cry would always lead to the same broken-record plea: “Emma, you need to schedule and appointment with a therapist- I’m just not equipped to help with what you’re going through as much as I wish I was.” I think I resented that I couldn’t help myself as much as I did admitting that I needed to see a doctor. This went on for years- me denying myself the help that could’ve changed my entire outlook in those difficult times. A large part of denial stemmed from the fear that if I did admit something was wrong, it was weak, and not normal. I wanted to be “strong” and deal with it alone. I didn’t want anyone else to know I was going through something that was so realistically out of my control.

 

However at 23, I finally had matured to the point of accepting my lifelong on-and-off struggle, and accepting that I could gracefully seek to help myself. I was going through a pretty bad depression phase, and was paralyzed in trying to make the decision to quit my current job in search or something more fulfilling. I consulted a psychiatrist briefly, was prescribed my first “anti-anxiety/anti-depressant” and finally felt empowered to make a series of decisions to move forward with my life. After moving back to Greensboro a few months later and settling into the comfortable routine of going out with friends and picking up another corporate 9-5 job, I decided on my own to go off the medication, because after all, I didn’t feel depressed anymore.

 

Fast forward to 25- (fall of 2015). It had been about one year since fully quitting my corporate job in the pursuit of making & performing music full-time. I was so happy to be doing what I loved, living life on my own terms, and dating the best guy in the world. But steadily, without notice or invitation, in crept the foreboding signs of an all-too-familiar dark cloud. Having been through seasonal depression (or “Seasonal Affective Disorder”) so many times in the past, I knew it was coming on (strong), and not wanting it to have any grip on my otherwise happy life, I decided to be proactive this time.  I sought out a new psychiatrist in Greensboro that would take my insurance, and promptly made an appointment. I was wary at first that only the PA, not the actual psychiatrist, could see me, but didn't think much of it, and after a too-brief interview on my history of mental health, was somewhat hastily prescribed the generic form of Cymbalta. I was out the door, prescription in hand, and took my first dose that same day. I was going to kick depressions ass this time.

 

In retrospect, I should’ve listened to my gut a bit more regarding that initial appointment. I didn’t leave feeling totally ensured he had been thorough enough in getting to know me as a patient or my history and causes of my particular anxiety/depression. As you might imagine, there are many kinds of anti-anxiety, anti-depressant drugs with different classifications, uses, side effects and withdrawal symptoms. Every patient is different – it can take multiple rounds of trial and error for a doctor and patient to find a drug that will be the best fit long-term. I suppose that because I had no adverse side effects (except for a little excessive yawning in the beginning, go figure) with my first drug, I would be good to go on the Cymbalta. This wasn’t really the case.

 

I did my research at home, read up on Cymbalta’s side effects and horror stories (there are always those “extreme” cases that seem unlikely, but I thought I should educate myself nonetheless). However, I pretty much immediately could tell I was going to have a handful of these adverse reactions to the medicine. I figured I’d fight through it though, because it probably still beat being depressed. For reference, some of the things I was going through at first included: excessive yawning (again), lethargy, lack of appetite, sleep deprivation, extremely vivid and frequent nightmares, occasional blurred vision, memory loss, and a generally constant feeling of being in a “fog.” I chalked most of it up to letting it settle into my system and continued to take 60mg/day- what I later learned is no small dose.

 

It wasn't until I started training for my second marathon with my boyfriend, Tyler, that I realized some side effects were more scary and intense than others. One Sunday, about 30 minutes after we finished our 14-mile training run, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly nauseous. I ran to the bathroom and thought I was going to be sick. I suddenly started seeing spots and got to the floor so at least if I passed out I wouldn't fall. I then did get sick, and didn’t feel any better, so I made my way to the bed to lie down until the feeling passed. For the next hour, I was in a terrible cold sweat, my hands tingling, insides hurting badly and terrified that I didn’t know why.  After I recovered, I didn’t quite realize the root cause. I thought maybe just general dehydration, so the next week I made sure I was ultra-hydrated for my long run. To no avail- I had another episode. More research… maybe not enough sodium? Another long run, another episode. Finally after my 16-mile run, and yet another day spent in bed, I had to give in to my body and give up training. It wasn’t really until Tyler suggested it that I thought maybe the medication was behind it.

 

Brief medical note- I have Bradycardia, a condition that basically says my resting heart rate comfortably sits below 60, and once last summer, a heart monitor revealed that it reached the low 30’s while I was sleeping (yikes?). When I did some of my own research on Cymbalta, I read somewhere that it had been prescribed in some cases for Tachycardia, the exact opposite of my condition. Needless to say, I finally deduced that recovery after running, combined with my medicine, was causing me to have dramatic drops in heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in these physical episodes. After discussing this and the other side effects with my GP (not the original psychiatrist) we agreed I needed to taper off of this medicine immediately.

 

This is unfortunately not quite where the story ends. I noticed there was a lot of information out there on what the FDA affectionately named “Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome” and ways that desperate sufferers were experimenting with to taper off. My doctor suggested taking half my dose of mg’s of the drug every day for a week, then trying that same dose (30mg) every other day for a few weeks and seeing how I did. Again, maybe naïve to the reality of it, I believed I wouldn’t have these awful withdrawal symptoms I read about.

 

Wrong again. If it wasn’t the constant headache, jitteriness, “brain zaps” (when you experience the feeling of a literal electric volt running through your body/head), exhaustion, forgetfulness and continued sleep deprivation & nightmares, it was the terrible depressive mood swings.

 

In all of the times I’ve been depressed, I’ve never experienced the like of the episodes I had in Cymbalta withdrawal. With little warning and hardly a trigger, sudden, terrible feelings of incompetence, hopelessness, and dare I say nearly suicidal thoughts would come over me. I was inconsolable. The worst of this only happened two or three times, but it was enough to scare the daylights out of me- I’d never felt such extreme bouts of emotion before.

 

More research on my own. It’s not recommended to take it every other day because of the inconsistent amount in and out of your system. It’s practically taboo (in the world of co-suffers’ and secret Facebook support groups I’ve found) to go “cold turkey”- it’s actually referred to as completely dangerous and even reckless. I discovered the method most suggested for coming down off of this drug was the “bead” method. You literally open the capsule, count the number of beads, and methodically, strategically decrease your own milligrams according to the number you’re tapering to, until you can come all the way off.

 

This brings us to today. Right now, I’m on 10mg daily of Cymbalta, (down from my original 60) which I now know is about 62 beads in a capsule, which I count out every morning over coffee. I’m finally not feeling much in the way of dramatic symptoms or withdrawals, but I am told that when I completely go off I will feel them again for a few weeks. Here’s to hoping they’re not as bad.

 

I struggled with whether or not to include all of the weird and extreme details of my experience with this drug, which for me, was awful, but ultimately decided that a) if someone else has experienced this or is currently, now they know they aren’t alone and b) to reiterate the realities in the struggle of someone dealing with mental illness. I am not the only one who has had to come down off of a medication that didn’t work for them, and I probably didn't even have it as bad as some.  I also don’t want to imply that medication to treat these illnesses is a negative. Sometimes I think it’s the only way, and for some, Cymbalta may be the answer, who knows. I simply want to share everything I’ve been through for whoever it may help, and whatever benefit may come of it- good, bad and ugly.

 

I’m certainly not the first to say it, but I will anyway: it is imperative that we as a society make a concerted effort to lift the stigma of mental disease. The reality is that lives are lost every day to mental illnesses more treatable than cancer or heart disease. In fact, suicide is within the top 10 leading causes of death in the US (CDC.gov). People are tortured from within on a daily basis and feel like they can’t tell anyone or are scared to seek help. Even those who are trying to fight it with medicine and therapy are in many cases STILL obscured from their friends and family by a veil of shame and fear. Cancer patients and their families meet in support groups and hold fundraisers and speak on TV and fight brave battles in the public eye with oceans of emotional and financial support for their journey, but those of us who struggle with mental illness are crippled in fear, isolation and misunderstanding. Why aren’t we as a society in the 21st century doing better to solve this? Why are those of us (one in five Americans) suffering not holding hands and at least supporting each other?

 

That in essence, is my purpose for this post. I want to extend my hand to those of you who might need it. I want you to feel empowered to seek help for yourself. I urge you to ask for that help, and I implore the friends and family of those affected to make yourselves anchors of support, love and encouragement. I’m so lucky and so blessed with the support I have, but I don’t for one instant take it for granted, knowing how much effort and time it has taken to get to my own personal place of acceptance for this journey. It’s still not easy, and I have bad days, but I continue onward and upward in understanding and grace for myself and for my demons.

 

It goes without saying, but I’ll give you a gentle reminder anyway- treat everyone you meet with kindness, empathy and love; you never know what’s going on just below the surface.

 

Thank you for reading & happy spring,

 

xoxo-

 

Emma Lee

e.vogelsinger@yahoo.com

May Your Days be Merry & Bright...

(^^Feel free to listen to a Christmas tune I recorded as you read!)

Today was one of those days when I felt like I woke up with tons to do, ran around all day, and still didn't get half of those things accomplished!! Ahh the holiday season :)

But I did want to make posting this entry a priority, so here I sit in the glow of my first, very own "big" Christmas tree, reflecting on this past year and excited for the year to come. 

My initial feeling is one of incredible gratitude. I'm so blessed in so many ways, and I couldn't be more thankful in my life than right now, surrounded by the most supportive friends, family & fans that have been with me this year as I've embarked on my music journey. 

Lately, my focus has been on singing and playing live as much as possible (nothing new) as well as writing/co-writing and networking in general. Some friends have started a local weekly Writer's Round at the Local House Bar downtown- I've met some excellent local songwriters there, and it's a great way to stay inspired and motivated to keep coming up with new material.

I've been collaborating a ton with Tyler Millard (find his band's page here- and buy their newest album Carolina Blues- I promise it's AWESOME!) Ty and I have started doing a lot of duo stuff- writing, singing, playing together and I'm really excited about some of the things we're working on- so stay tuned!!

I LOVE this time of year- for the same reasons most people do, but also because I'm lucky enough to have my birthday three days before Christmas, at arguably the happiest time of the year :) I can't wait to spend some quality time with my family and friends this season- and bring in my first quarter century (yes I'll be 25...) with some holiday cheer (and possibly "cheers") ;)

One of the things I'll cherish the most about this holiday season was the opportunity to be the vocalist for the 30th annual "Light Up a Life" ceremony that the Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro puts on each year. It was a truly touching opportunity- being able to share hopefully some light and joy for a large audience of people who over the past year or years have been faced with the loss of a loved one. Moments like that remind me why it is I chose to be a singer- there may be many struggles and hard times in this business, but I don't know what could be more rewarding than sharing my passion with others for a greater purpose.

I've got a lot of exciting shows coming up- so keep checking out the "Live Dates" tab of this site as well as my Facebook page, Instagram and YouTube sites!!

I truly hope each of you can find and have gratitude for that which brings you joy this season- you all are certainly one of those things for me :) 

From the bottom of my full heart-

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

xoxo,

emma lee 

Emmitt, my love that I rescued a little over a year ago <3

Ready, Set...

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do...
— Twain

So I have some pretty {very} big news... but first- let me say I'm slightly embarrassed to acknowledge the amount of time that I allowed to lapse between my last update and now... yikes... BUT I will say it isn't because I've been lazy- I've been the busiest and most driven in the past 6 months than I have ever been in my whole life.

The big news is that as of yesterday, October 10, 2014- I officially left the corporate world and my great position with Ralph Lauren as a business analyst, and I am now a self-employed, full-time MUSICIAN. Wow. Here goes nothing...

It's been a long time coming for me; something that I've always known in the deepest parts of my being that I would pursue one day. There were times throughout my life {more often than not} that I would've told you I had given up taking music seriously, or that I could never picture myself having the guts to follow such a calling. I was classically trained as a Soprano I from the time I was  11 until I graduated high school. I think somewhere in those years it became more of a job to me than anything- hours spent on Saturdays and up late on school nights practicing the trills and runs in complicated Italian arias while giving up social time and "normal kid" things with friends more than I care to remember.

By the time I got to college, I chose Broadcast Journalism as my major and didn't think twice about leaving music behind. But I still found myself playing my guitar & singing late at night. I still came home over school breaks and sat down at the piano to run through some old vocal exercises I had done too many times before. I still couldn't stop singing during EVERY part of my day... (seriously, ask any of my friends, ex-roommates or family members- I don't stop). It became clear to me, slowly but surely, that my singing was such an inextricable part of my soul- I finally realized that nothing gave me more internal peace in times of turmoil, stress or change than music, and practicing music. Now it was just up to me to embrace my gift.

It wasn't like a light switch went off in my head, and I suddenly thought "Gee, this is my passion and my purpose, I'm going to give up everything else, throw caution to the wind, and just do it!" No! One thing I know about myself is that I don't make quick, rash decisions, especially when they mean big change- I actually used to be terrified of too much change. The decision to follow my passion began so small. The difference was, that I changed my outlook and my approach to how I wanted to live my life. I realized more than ever after holding 2 different jobs out of college, that life is nothing more than a series of decisions we make for ourselves that cut a unique path that is, eventually, the sum of our life. I simply decided that I was going to take mine into my own hands and do exactly what I wanted to do with it.

It has been an exercise in willpower, drive, planning, commitment, hard work, patience, time, sacrifice and so much energy. For the last 9 months, I have been working days, nights, most weekends, and every moment in between getting myself ramped up to be able to take on this next step. I have begun making incredible connections that have opened up some exciting doors already. I have played my heart and lungs out for willing audiences all over this town and some others for hundreds of hours. I have sat up late and gotten up early to practice, write, network, update social media, you name it- all while having a full-time job (with a net 1 hour daily commute). If you had talked to me a year ago and told me I would've spent the next year of my life that way, I would've absolutely not believed it. I was having trouble keeping myself from falling asleep as soon as I got home from the office, much less building the foundation for another career on the side! BUT all of this is to say- where there is passion, love and willpower, there will always be enough time and energy to get it done. It sounds cliche, but when you have that thing that keeps you going and makes you tick, it doesn't "feel" like work... it truly doesn't.

Some people have reacted to this news by saying "Wow- I can't believe you have the guts to do this, you don't hear of many people gathering up the courage to actually follow their dreams." My response is always the same- it eventually didn't even feel like a difficult choice I had to make. It honestly became my own sort of manifest destiny, and I was just obediently following and tripping along in the direction of the strongest pull I've ever felt in my life.

So it all starts here... I will be devoting myself to music now every day, finally able to give it my all. I can't wait to update you all on what my day to day life is going to start looking like, the upcoming events/shows I have planned and where this journey is going to go - and you can trust that I will be MUCH more active with posting blog/vlog updates, music videos, original songs, etc.! I'm so excited to develop a closer relationship with those who have been following me (in person and on the web)- your attention and support of my endeavors has been one of the most amazing things to be able to experience through these beginning stages, so thank you. 

Lastly I want to give some recognition to my closest friends and family. Your absolute faith in me and unwavering support has been maybe the most vital thing keeping me afloat through it all. I will never be able to fully express how much you mean to me. 

Well I think I've said enough for now... I'm now off to get ready for a private house party I'm playing tonight :) So goodbye for now- I'll be back very soon with more to share!

xoxo, 

EL

...so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
— Twain
  Packed up and left the cube for good. Great cube, great company, great people... but you just can't write a hit song under the glow of fluorescent lights ;)

Packed up and left the cube for good. Great cube, great company, great people... but you just can't write a hit song under the glow of fluorescent lights ;)

  Toasting to the unknown!! Some of my bests came out to help me kick-off my new life in usual 20 something fashion... Let's just say we did it right- I'll spare the details!

Toasting to the unknown!! Some of my bests came out to help me kick-off my new life in usual 20 something fashion... Let's just say we did it right- I'll spare the details!

  First time I ever performed on stage... Cater Elementary in Temple, Texas circa 1996... Who knew? Let's hope this little cowgirl would be proud

First time I ever performed on stage... Cater Elementary in Temple, Texas circa 1996... Who knew? Let's hope this little cowgirl would be proud


q & a

 

For Climb 365, we were given the following questions to answer about ourselves as a way for the followers to get to know us a little better... so here goes!

NICKNAME

Em mostly, but Skemma or Skemma Lee by my family

FUTURE TITLE

I simply want to be known as myself! And who knows how many different titles I could take on between now and the "future"...

BY 2016 I WILL...

Be touring and playing music and singing all over the place- I will be meeting tons of new people and making my life an adventure

WHEN I AM ALONE I...

THINK!! I think way too much- I always say I'm never bored when I'm alone because I always have my thoughts to keep me occupied.

But usually I can be found singing, playing & recording, going for a run, or doing something outside

THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE WOULD BE...

The sooner you are comfortable with who you are and what you want out of life, the better. And once you figure out what that is- don't let anyone or anything get in your way of pursuing it!! It's YOUR life, so don't apologize for going after what you want. You only have this one chance.

I WISH I MADE MORE TIME TO...

Write music, travel and spend quality time with people I can't see often

WHAT IS THE THING YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?

I'm most proud of my courage. I'm not afraid of very much, and I believe that it comes down to mind over matter more than anything else- in a given situation, decision making, etc. I try to make sure I think affirmative thoughts versus negative. I also have come to a place in life where I truly don't care what other people think (in the nicest way possible). It's useless to allow someone else's thoughts, opinions or perceptions in any way change, hurt or affect you.

WHERE CAN WE FIND YOU ON A FRIDAY NIGHT?

There are a number of equally likely answers to this... The first one being that I would be singing somewhere if I'm booked that night. Secondly, If I'm tired and feeling low-key, you can find me hanging out with my family, probably having dinner on our back deck and going to a movie. Lastly, if I have some energy left to burn from the work week, I'll be at a karaoke bar with friends, drinking whatever beer is on special and singing a number of Rock n Roll songs at the top of my lungs.

WHO IS THE MOST INSPIRATIONAL WOMAN YOU KNOW?

That's not hard- my mom. I have wanted to be like her since I can't remember- she is strong, confident, funny, caring and smart (and totally artistic). She fought and beat breast cancer, and now runs an entire non-profit organization that benefits local breast cancer patients, while mentoring so many newly diagnosed women at the same time. I guarantee I'm not the only person who would name her as the most inspirational woman they know.

IF YOU WERE GIVEN MONEY TO SPEND AT ONE STORE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I would take it to the music store buy myself a new acoustic guitar (mine is NOT that great, and I could definitely benefit from a better one!) And if the sky's the limit, I'd get a baby grand piano and state of the art equipment for an in-home recording studio... why not?

It's me... Emma Lee

Well hello there, friends- if you've found yourself here, then you are reading the first in what will be a long succession of writings, videos, songs, and tidbits of my life as a singer/songwriter trying to be heard.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that most of this content is written and developed in my "free" time, haha- {is there really such a thing?} In other words, as I update this blog, it will be after an 8+ hour work day and 30 minute commute home. I will have probably have tried to squeeze in going to the gym and creating something for myself to eat for dinner. I will have overlooked loads of dirty laundry, passed through a bedroom with an unmade bed and shaken my head at the dishes left in the sink from three days worth of food. I will most likely be sitting on my couch with this laptop in front of me, thoughts going 100mph and TV on low in the background to "keep me company" until I finally shut down my computer and my mind around 2am. Rinse and repeat. Such is the life of a non-stop, 20 something with a full-time job and a passion to pursue, eh?

"But guess what- Emma, WHO CARES? You're a big girl now and the world keeps turning. The laundry won't wash and fold itself, the dishes won't magically be clean when you wake up, and most definitely, your dream to sing your songs for the world will NOT happen unless YOU make it happen!" Hmm, tough love, girl. Thanks for the reality check.

So this blog is basically the manifestation of my lifetime's worth of an innate desire and drive to sing and to share my voice with people. It's not an easy road- and it certainly isn't the "safe" direction. But- it's my dream and my passion- and frankly, I can't think of anything more disappointing in this life than knowing I didn't give it everything I had.

Follow me through my ups and downs, my peaks and valleys, my laughter, tears and tantrums. I want you to be a part of my journey- and mostly, I want you to pick up and join the struggle and beauty of following your dream too! Oh and don't worry- I'll make it as entertaining as I can- what's life without humor??

I'll end with this- my favorite quote in the whole world, by one of my most beloved authors, Mark Twain: 

20 years from now, you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. 

Xoxo, 

Emma Lee