Already this year, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Mary Lambert has voiced a character in Arlo the Alligator Boy, an animated Netflix film (soon to be a series) about outsiders who form a family together. Known for songs including “Secrets” and “She Keeps Me Warm", the hook for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s 2012 smash LGBTQ+ anthem “Same Love,” Lambert also recently composed the music for the documentary 1946, named for the year the word “homosexual” first appeared in the Bible. While Lambert is stretching and expanding her career in new ways this year, she’s also keenly aware of the toolbox that exists to help keep her grounded and to manage her mental health. And the most critical tool she’s discovered and honed over the years is “radical [self]-kindness.”
“I started songwriting when I was like five years old. It was a form of survival,” Lambert says in the Love, Me series for Pride Media (The Advocate’s parent company). “I remember the first song I ever wrote — just saying, ‘You're gonna be okay, you're gonna be okay.’”
“I didn't realize that at the time, but I was self-soothing. It was a way I could process what was happening,” she says of recognizing she practiced a form of self-love before she had the vocabulary to even name it.
Lambert is one of the prominent voices in Love, Me, a new editorial, video, and social media campaign from Pride Media that shares stories of how folks are overcoming treatment-resistant depression. In addition to Lambert, the series also highlights the stories of Daniel Henson, designer and founder of Leisure Lab; and Dizz, a Canadian musician and member of the band rlVerse, and DeMarco Majors, a former basketball star and life coach.
A native Washingtonian, Lambert, who came out as a teen, shares that she grew up in an abusive household where she thought that feeling the way she did was just something everyone endured.
“I remember crying every day on the way to school and feeling really lonely. I had this awareness that not every kid experienced what I experienced,” Lambert says. “Because up to that point, before you're socialized, you just think everything that you experienced is really normal. But I didn't get a formal diagnosis until I was 15.”
Lambert’s rise in the music industry began when she appeared on “Same Love.” Soon after in 2014, she appeared at the Grammy Awards with Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Madonna, who sang “She Keeps Me Warm” with Lambert, while Queen Latifah officiated the marriages of 33 same-sex couples on national TV. Her recordings include the albums Heart on My Sleeve and Grief Creature and the EP Bold. In 2018, she released a book of poems entitled Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across.
In the Love, Me series, she explains that although she’d been diagnosed with a mental health issue at 15, “I didn't really believe it, because I thought I was just like a hormonal teenager, and I was just being dramatic.”
“I came out when I was 17. And that was the same year that I attempted suicide,” Lambert says. “That was kind of the moment I was like, I need help, I need something beyond therapy.”
Depression is an issue that disproportionately impacts the LGBTQ+ community. According to research from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, LGBTQ+ adults are three times more likely than straight adults to experience a mental health disorder. In fact, 40 percent of LGBTQ+ adults reported having a mental illness in the last year versus 18 percent of straight adults.
“I think there are a lot of people in the LGBTQ community that deal with mental illness. There are these parallels of being othered. In the larger community and culture, it is exponentially difficult to come out and also admit that you have a mental issue,” Lambert says.
“Every representation of my identity communicates to me that I am not worthy. I'm not sexy, I’m to be othered. My self-talk was kind of poisonous. Once I realized that I could reframe the way that I perceived the world, I felt empowered,” she adds. “Joy for me didn't necessarily look like not having mental illness or not being fat. Like I realized that I could love myself radically now.”
For Lambert, practicing self-love began with the first song she wrote at 8-years-old. But her chronic forgetfulness and continual and expensive habit of locking her keys in the car became the inciting factor in Lambert’s journey to “unabashed, radical self-love,” which she says she wouldn’t have been able to access if she weren’t also “present in my grief and my pain.”
“Part of my mental disorder is that I'm extremely forgetful. Ever since I could drive, I would lock my keys in the car. I decided to open a credit card specifically for the purpose of paying a locksmith to come and open my car for me,” she explains. “I maxed out that credit card, I was incredibly in debt, I decided that I was going to try something different.
“I decided to make copies of my car keys, I gave one to my roommate. I gave one to my mom, I hid one at school,” she says. “I have not locked my keys in the car since then. It's because I was gentle and fair to myself. I offered radical kindness to my own brain.”
Lambert changed the trajectory of one piece of her day-to-day life by reexamining how she was treated herself. And she hopes her story will help others to look within for a bit of self-empathy.
“I get choked up when I think about it because it was such a transformative small act that really changed my perception of what I was capable of and what I deserved,” she says. “You deserve to move through life in a way that's easy for you encourage imagination because there are solutions there. We just have to find them.”
If you have or are contemplating suicide, please know there is a well of support out there to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 can be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities. If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, the Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The Trevor Project is the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger). Trained counselors at the Trevor Project Lifeline can be reached 24/7 at (866) 488-7386, by texting START to 678678, or via the TrevorChat instant messaging service at TheTrevorProject.org/Help.