Im Interview: Becky Fontaine

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that I’ve spent half my life running after the wrong people. People I classified under the heading of friends, but who ultimately did me anything but good and really trampled everything underfoot. A bitter realization that took me what felt like an eternity before it clicked in my head. I began to sort out rigorously, even if it was difficult for me, because I held on to the friendships with all my might, even if they slowly began to rust and crumble. While I was getting lonelier and lonelier on the one hand, at some point I thought about how music helped me find new acquaintances and make new friends, especially in the last few years. Without this blog, without all the concerts I’ve attended, without this huge community, I might not be here today.

It was precisely this community that helped me understand that you can choose your friends, your environment, your FAMILY. That you don’t have to surround yourself with people who burst with envy when something good happens to you. That it’s about treating each other with respect, supporting and inspiring each other, and creating a balance between give and take. Nathan Gray, for example, is someone who gave me an incredible amount of food for thought in this direction and for that I am incredibly grateful to him to this day. What a wonderful and inspiring person on so many different levels. Now we’ve come full circle: When I talk about wonderful, inspiring and strong people, I have to mention Becky Fontaine in the same breath: She has had to go through an incredible amount in her life so far, she writes openly and honestly about her small and big struggles, about her despair and thus helps not only herself but also many other people on their stony paths towards healing. For Becky, there are no half measures: Everything she does, she does with an irrepressible passion that is downright contagious. She has an incredibly big heart, and she would drop everything if someone needed her help. Plus, she’s not just a backup singer for Nathan Gray, she pulls all the strings in the background. I feel like there’s almost nothing she can’t do. As Jake Blochinger said so well, Becky rules. Plain and simple. There’s no better way to put it, is there?

For the book I started writing earlier this year, she answered some questions about Mental Health, Be Well, and The Weight and The Cost, which I’m about to post here. And why? Well, there are actually several good reasons: 1.) Becky is just awesome and really everyone should get to know her and take her to their hearts. 2.) It’s so incredibly important to talk about mental illness and break down the wall of silence. 3.) Becky is going on tour in a few days and she will keep us updated from the road. How awesome is that!!! She is such a talented writer, I can’t wait to see what she has to tell us. Can you guys too? Then be sure to stay tuned! Thanks again to Becky for immediately agreeing to write a tour diary. Before we get started with the interview, here are a few words from her:

I’ve just pulled my suitcase out of the closet and set it aside to begin organizing my life inside of it. In a few days, I will be joining Nathan Gray on the road as Backing Vocalist for a tour that has already been life changing for him. I waved goodbye to Nathan, Phil (guitars) and Michael (bass) just over a week ago as they set out for night one in support of Frank Turner, and no one could have prepared any of us for how intensely special the tour would be for this crazy family, or for the foundation it laid for the future. I’ll be hitting the road with my guys for the last week of this run, and sincerely cannot wait to get on that plane.

7 shows. 7 chances for healing.

Hi! My name is Becky, and I’m an Iron Rose. Let’s go on a little adventure together, shall we?

When and how did you first come into contact with mental health issues? When did you really become aware that you were struggling with mental health issues?

I think the first major depressive episode I can recall was when I was 18 or 19. I just remember that I hadn’t gotten out of bed or showered in days and my mother had asked what was wrong with me – then there was this great breaking of an emotional dam and I couldn’t catch my breath. Shortly after, I visited the first of many mental health professionals who diagnosed me with clinical depression. My father died in a military plane crash when I was just 13, which of course was the catalyst for so much, and the first of many deeply impactful traumatic events in my life. Add in what I believe to be some genetic predispositions, and my life has been a perfect storm for mental health challenges. As I stand today at 42 years old, I am unashamed to share my string of diagnoses – depression, anxiety and panic disorder, OCD, and bulimia.

‚The first of these is from 1992, when I was just 14 years old, which means I’ve been bleeding out onto paper scraps for 29 years.‘– How did writing help you deal with all that was going on inside you? Did you also share your pain with your family and friends when you were young, or did you rather keep it to yourself and turn it into written words?

In 1992 I was 14 – so it was the year after my father died. I remember that even when I was very young, I felt things so intensely – in my early teen years I would cry at the night sky because it was so beautiful that it was painful to me. But I also remember being in my bed at night feeling such consuming emotional pain that I would pray that I would just never wake up. A lot of my first few notebooks were just small bits of feelings, etched into some poetic fashion – two or three lines that would be abandoned by morning.

I’m actually super private about my writing. There’s something deeply uncomfortable to me to think about inviting people to see me fully. It’s like splitting my stomach and letting strangers see how I look on the inside. As far as sharing my pain, I think it took me a quite long time to be so open about my mental health. I remember when I first started posting openly about my mental state with intention and that was after my second son was born and I was experiencing a devastating case of postpartum depression. I needed to say out loud how scared I was, posting about it on social media, because I needed to know I wasn’t alone and that someone heard me. I didn’t feel heard at home. Conversely, I was ridiculed there, hearing that I was using PPD to get attention. My doctor at the time made me feel ashamed, as if I were a danger. So I sort of gave up on talking about it with others for a while and just shut down.

How do you feel when you look through all those notebooks today? If you had to make comparisons, what progress have you made over the years?

Some of them are actually incredibly difficult for me to read back through. There are two notebooks from a period my life where I was partying way too much and my head was just absolutely chaotic. I even spent a night in a psychiatric lockdown during this phase, shut into a padded room where I spent many hysterical hours completely alone. I never ate in those days; it was a game to me to see how many days I could go living on drugs alone. I drank, bartended, went to shows, performed in shows, and was just out of my mind. I was in a horribly co-dependent relationship with someone who later died, and the writings from those times are the hardest for me to stomach. A lot of them are on napkins or the backs of receipts…whatever was closest to me when I was suffocating with words. As painful as those journals are, I will never get rid of them. They are monuments to the lives I have lived and survived.

What would you say to your 14-year-old self/younger self if you had the chance?

I don’t know that I have any advice for her – but I would want her to know that she is going to survive more than she could ever have imagined – the death of a parent, addiction, a 12 year long abusive relationship/marriage, sexual assault, the loss of a child, and a life-long eating disorder. She will learn to be resilient and she will be stronger than she could have ever dreamed.

How would you describe yourself when you are in a depressive episode and what symptoms bother you the most?

When I am incredibly anxious, I often go silent. It becomes difficult for me to speak because my whole body starts buzzing and the constant ringing in my ear gets overwhelmingly loud. I drop things a lot, because for some strange reason my hands just stop working. When I am depressed and overwhelmed, I am in bed very early. It becomes hard to eat, hard to move, and I feel hopeless. I want to wear clothes that are too big, and I have to have this one specific blanket and one specific stuffed animal with me constantly. Nights are typically very difficult for me, even now.

What gives you hope? Who or what helps you to cope better with depressive phases?

I actually skipped over this question and saved it for last because I am in one of those places where I don’t honestly know the feeling of hope. I just feel robotic most of the time, and wish so badly that I could remove my brain and put it on the nightstand to just.get.some.rest.. I know what answers I am SUPPOSED to give, but I guess the fact that it’s not natural for me to list off those things is my illness speaking loudly. I know this seems like a horrible answer but it’s honest.

What is your opinion about medication and/or therapy? What helped you the most?

I am an advocate for both – during my darkest time, I was on meds and in therapy about 15 hours a WEEK. Those two things literally saved my life. The meds were necessary to get my brain’s chemistry to a stabilized place so that I was CAPABLE of doing the work in therapy. When my breakdown hit in 2019, I was so deep in crisis that I needed to be sedated for a few weeks while we waited for the other medications to begin to work to give me a fighting chance at survival. I remember my first day in the Intensive Outpatient Program, I was only about 30 minutes into the 3 hour long group session when I had to be walked out of the room with a therapist because I was caught in a panic attack so big that I was completely hysteric. She let me work though it with her in a room with just the two of us, and the next day, I made it a little longer before breaking down. By the end of the 6 weeks, I felt so proud of the work I did in that program to survive. I have been in EMDR and CBT therapy non-stop since October of 2019, and this is the longest I’ve ever “stuck with it”. Without the combination or medication and therapy, I would, without a doubt, have taken my own life.

You’ve been completely off alcohol two years now (congratulations!!): what exactly prompted you to take this step? What role did alcohol play in your life?

Alcohol was a way to punish my body and turn off my feelings. It had always been what I would turn to build a wall around something. In January of 2016, I began drinking to put myself to sleep at night to avoid nightmares and panic attacks in the evening as I was moving through some big life changes and dealing with the aftershocks of getting out of a very toxic marriage. Eventually, as these things do, one drink wasn’t enough, then 4 wasn’t enough. It got to a point where I would lie to people I cared about about how much I was drinking because I was embarrassed. I was that person who had “2” drinks in public, but had a stash of mini vodka bottles in my suitcase or purse. I tried to quit once, and it only lasted a couple of weeks. I thought I could go back to “just one drink” after that, but I was incapable of doing so, and so I had to go cold turkey.

At 752 days alcohol-free as I write this, I can say it’s definitely been a positive factor in my overall wellness and healing.

When did suicidal thoughts first enter your life? How did you deal with them and what scared you the most?

I remember being very young and wishing to go to sleep and never wake up – middle school maybe? Early high school? Those were more about wanting the pain to stop and less about dying. Then the time I was scared enough to spend that night in lockdown. The ideation never got too out of control until my breakdown in 2019, and at that time, it was DEFINITELY about making the pain stop through dying. I was terrified being inside my body because I couldn’t trust myself WITH myself. It was a very out of control feeling.

Have there already been moments when you almost gave in to these thoughts? If so, how were you able to get out of that situation?

I got so bad in 2019 that I was terrified to drive because I would cross this large bridge on the way to and from work, and every time, I found myself planning and thinking how easy it would be to crash through the short wall into the river below. I had convinced myself that I could kill myself in that way and it would look like an accident, which meant the people I love wouldn’t have to carry the pain of my having taken my OWN life. One morning, while crossing that very bridge, I felt my hands making the wheel turn towards the water, swerving at the last second before bouncing off the concrete, and I ended up pulling over, mid-panic, and deciding right then and there to get to an Emergency Room and beg for help. I was miserable, and I have never been in so much emotional pain in my life. That was the event that led me to the healing path I am on now.

What prompted you to reveal more about your inner self, and in what ways was Nathan Gray an inspiration to you? What was the most difficult hurdle for you to open up?

It has definitely become more important and more necessary than ever for me to be open within the last 5 years. I had to bury so much during my marriage, that once I was out of it, I had this desperate need for people to see me and understand me. Around the same time, I was witnessing firsthand the relief it gave Nathan to speak his own truths, and how it drew others to him who shared similar experiences which created a sense of community. It made me feel less “weird” for sharing my own struggles. I now live under the motto that “our secrets keep us sick,” so part of my healing process includes being public about what I am going through.

Acceptance of this disease is still difficult for me today: How do you get closer to acceptance?

I don’t have much of a choice, honestly. If I had cancer, I wouldn’t be able to deny that, would I? Depression and Anxiety are no different in that they are biological/chemical afflictions that we must treat.

How and when did you first stumble upon Be Well?

I saw them at I think their second show? It was when they opened for boysetsfire in New Jersey in November of 2019, and I remember being immediately overcome with emotion during their set. I stood in the center of the room, right in the middle of the crowd, and when Brian spoke about being a parent and what it is like to not only be a mental basket case, but worrying about passing that down, I honestly started to silently cry. It was amazing, and one of those times in life where you feel reflected in something, and subsequently makes you feel seen and understood. It also just occurred to me that that show was right during my big breakdown, so maybe it was a little bit of magic that the universe made sure I was there to experience that evening.

To what extent is it important to anchor mental illness more in music? Why is music a perfect mouthpiece for this?

I am honestly stoked that more people are being open about mental health in music and creating space for humans to experience ALL emotions. For me, when I first entered the music scene, it was amazing to go into a space and be “allowed” to exercise an emotion that I, as a woman, was supposed to hold in – like anger and frustration. Music allowed me to process my feelings in a safe place. Females are supposed to smile, serve, and be pretty, and when we show emotion, we are viewed as dramatic. Not that I don’t LOVE to smile, serve and be pretty, but that is not all of who and what I am. Similarly, in my experience, many men who suppress things that they believe will make them be perceived as weak, end up taking those stuffed emotions out on the people around them.

Music is so powerful. It is inescapable, and can be felt across age, race, orientation or nation. It has healing powers that cannot be replicated in any other way. There are albums that I listened to NON-STOP for months that gave me life and hope during my darkest times. I know you wanna know what they are but I’m going to keep that to myself.

What do you like about The Weight and The Cost? Why should people definitely listen to it?

I want people to listen to this album for its raw, unapologetic emotional backbone.

Which song is your favorite and why is it this one?

Aperture – hands down. That chorus had me bawling my eyes out the first time I heard it…it was one of those moments when you hear a song that makes you feel seen and you just go to pieces because someone is saying aloud the words caught in your own throat.. Even now when I listen to it, it gives me chills. It hurts in the best kind of way.

Some claim that it has nothing to do with hardcore anymore. What do you think about it?

So many purists have this thought that everything needs to fit perfectly inside of a box, but honestly, I could give a fuck if you call BE WELL classical pop rock with polka undertones written in swing-time. The Weight and The Cost makes me FEEL things, and anyone who can’t put aside the scene in them long enough to experience this album doesn’t deserve to hear it.

How would you describe Brian McTernan to someone who hasn’t met him before?

Brain is this tall, warm, unapologetically genuine man. He is wildly talented on so many levels, and I feel incredibly lucky to have met and recorded with him. Anyone who hasn’t met him before should know that he will start telling a story and then get sidetracked by something completely different in the middle of it. You may never hear the end of the damn thing, and it’s endearing as hell.

What makes Be Well so special?

Be Well is the sum of its parts – insanely talented musicians who came together for a purpose that may have started out as their own personal catharsis, but ended up healsing every single one of us who listens.