I loved Pete Davidson first. Before Ariana, before Kate, before Kim, there was me. An elementary school teacher from Queens with a brand new baby who couldn't move from the same spot on her nubby brown couch (knees pulled up, head tucked in, left-hand corner) because any other position caused her to hyperventilate with anxiety. A new mom who couldn't fix her baby's bottles because she was terrified of the fluorescent overhead lights in the kitchen that left her exposed and raw. A woman who used to love leaning over the bathroom sink to stare into the medicine cabinet mirror, mouth parted, tapping creamy highlighter onto cheekbone points. A pleasure that didn't belong to her anymore.
I couldn't look in the mirror because I didn't recognize myself and I was terrified. Not a metaphor for becoming a new mom - I actually could not recognize myself because I had a brand new rare and severe psychiatric condition called depersonalization derealization disorder where recognizing yourself in the mirror is no longer an option.
I slipped through the days like an apparition. I only could tell if it was Monday or Thursday or Saturday because I had a seven-day weekly pill organizer that contained all my new medications.
During my daughter's naps, I tried to fill the empty spaces with TV but it was impossible to watch. I kept wanting all the characters to be mentally ill like me. I couldn't handle the jealousy I felt over their sanity, their happiness, the ease with which they moved through the world.
Some nights I slept too much or ate too much or drank too much from the box of red wine on our kitchen counter. Some nights I couldn't sleep at all. On those nights I watched Saturday Night Live reruns on Hulu. SNL I could sort of handle. My mind skimmed over the episodes and it felt safe, inconsequential. I even laughed a little bit - something I used to do all the time but rarely managed anymore.
In real time, it was Season 43, the season Pete Davidson begins while still in his pre-tattoo, pre-veneers, pre-abs era. He was the cast cutie, or "resident young person" like Jimmy Fallon had once been and what they are trying to get Andrew Dismukes to be. Pete was all flared nostrils and teeth and floppy limbs but he already had his can't-take-your-eyes-off charisma. This was pre-BDE but I already liked him.
The second episode of the season, Pete appears on Weekend Update to announce he's been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a form of depression. BPD is mysterious and hard to diagnose and gets misdiagnosed often. It was the same diagnosis given to my roommate from the psych ward where I spent the fifth through eighth weeks of my daughter's new life. I loved my roommate from the psych ward. Like Pete, she was hilarious, her magnetism so palpable, she could set a room on fire. Yet no one knew that behind her bright facade, a seductive whisper of suicide constantly beckoned her into the darkness.
During the Weekend Update segment, Pete riffs with Colin Jost on his diagnosis, joking that maybe if his sketches got more airtime, it might help him feel better. He pulls out a “doctor’s note” where the doctor recommends SNL “use more of his rap videos, which are actually really good.”
But he also talks about how over sixteen-million people in the US alone suffer from some form of depression and although there is no "cure" per se, there are ways to treat it through medication, therapy, diet, exercise. I couldn't believe it. My mental illness had caused me a sick, black, soul-rotting shame for almost a year (if anyone had to know, I told them I had postpartum depression which seemed way more normal than the bizarre dissociative disorder I was living with), and now here was this charming, oddly sexy kid on my favorite TV show telling the world it was okay to wear the label of "mentally ill" loosely, with acceptance. That I didn't have to stay locked inside the shame closet.
I fell in love, of course. I watched the Weekend Update clip a lot. I followed Pete on Instagram. I did Pete deep dives on Google and learned the now famous story of how he developed PTSD because he lost his dad in 9/11 when he was six years old. I found the Marc Maron podcast that was released a few weeks before the Weekend Update clip, where Pete talks about learning he has BPD and how he treats it day to day. Here, he's not funny at all. He talks about daily therapy and medication and practicing DBT and waking up wanting to die sometimes. He talks about how he's afraid of everyone he loves abandoning him. I listened to the Marc Maron podcast a lot too.
The fall of Season 43, I went back to work. My daughter went to daycare. I took my medication, saw my psychiatrist twice a week. I practiced DBT and exposure therapy. There was a loosening of my depression, and my dissociation remitted slightly too. I was able to enjoy time with my daughter. She smiled and laughed when I entered the room, she napped for hours on my chest. She found ways to let me know she belonged to me, that I wasn't going to be abandoned. I started to tell close friends the truth about my disorder. It wasn't part of my identity yet, but it was a start.
My psychiatrist wanted to talk about my love for Pete, wanted to know if my husband was jealous. He wasn't. He bought us tickets to see Pete do standup in Brooklyn. Back then, tickets to see Pete were only twenty-five dollars and my husband was happy to pay. If I had found comfort in Jesus, he would have paid fifty bucks to see him perform at the Brooklyn Bellhouse too. He just wanted me to get well.
Late in Season 43, Pete appears on Weekend Update to talk about mental health again. "I love being mentally ill," he says, "I'm so relieved that everybody knows that. Now I don't have to hide anything." He doesn't show his tattoos yet but he's more filled out. He has new veneers. It was only a few weeks before he and Ariana fell in love.
It was the summer of BDE and God is a Woman and the picture of Ariana wearing mouse ears and white Filas, sitting on Pete's knee in her kitchen. Their love felt so real and I was sad for anyone who's never had a love like that. The kind that burns so bright at the start, there's no way it's going to last. It was over by fall, punctuated with a late December Instagram suicide note where Pete wrote that he really didn't want to be on this earth anymore, to remember he told us so.
I took my medication, saw my psychiatrist twice a week. I practiced DBT and exposure therapy. There were longer stretches when I could almost see the world clearly. I could talk to more people outside my tight circle. I never thought about not wanting to be on this earth anymore. I wanted to stay here with my husband and daughter. I slowly let my illness become a part of my identity. I started writing about it. Maybe I could help someone, too
Pete emerged from the ashes later that winter, six-pack and tattoos. Icon status. Movie deals. Model and celebrity girlfriends. SNL started to put him in sketches and people watched each week just to see if he'd appear on Weekend Update. He belonged to the world now, not just to me. Still, he continued to share openly about BPD and depression and his addiction to weed. He wrote Instagram posts that ended with the words "I see you. I love you."
I began to pay attention to how the dialogue around mental illness was slowly shifting. People seemed to share more openly about their own struggles and how they were working to advocate for change. Terms like “holding space” and “making yourself vulnerable” started to appear in the conversation. Platitudes in pastel boxes on social media, sure, but it made me feel less isolated, less alone.
I had recurring Pete dreams. Not sex dreams, but dreams where I’d run into Pete with my daughter, almost three then, and he’d be happy to see how well we were doing, how connected we had become. By this point, my loving Pete had become as much a part of my identity as my mental illness, as being a mom.
For Valentine's Day that year, my husband got me a Pete Davidson devotional prayer saint candle.
Right before the pandemic, Pete did an interview with Charlamagne tha God. It was on the heels of another stay in rehab (still confused on why Pete’s people insist on calling his inpatient stays rehab – Pete has said repeatedly that he has only ever used weed. Is rehab just a more palatable term than inpatient or hospitalization PR-wise?). Kaia Gerber had just broken up with Pete and he didn’t take it well, the core wound of abandonment wreaking havoc in his brain.
I watched the interview at my during my lunch break at work. In the interview, Pete tells Charlamagne tha God that he can’t have mirrors in his house because he couldn’t bear to look and I cried into my Tupperware desk salad.
The pandemic happened. I turned the bits and pieces of writing I had done on my years of living with a postpartum dissociative disorder into a book. Pete lived in his mother’s basement and made too many jokes about masturbating in his mom’s bathroom. King of Staten Island came out and it was okay. As we emerged from the pandemic, Pete started dating Kim. I complained that he needed a new publicist, that he was way too overexposed now. He was all drip and awkward designer clothes like flower-covered pants and overalls. SNL finally played his rap videos. I started getting bored.
Pete didn’t really talk about mental illness anymore. Neither did I. It was as though I had spent years trapped within a wall of sound, turned up to the highest decibel. And then the reverberations, and finally, silence. Without even realizing it, I had started to lean over the bathroom sink, looking in the mirror to brush on eyeshadow, trim my bangs. It was like all those years of not being able to recognize myself had never happened. I was here the whole time.
Maybe he didn’t need BPD to be part of his identity anymore because he was better now. Maybe I was better now too.
We lost track of Pete a little bit. He was off SNL and had a new show but we couldn’t figure out how to download the Peacock app. Our family tried out new celebrity crushes – Nicholas Braun, Jeremy Allen White – but it wasn’t the same. They have devotional prayer saint candles too but we never bought them.
Last week though, I received a text from my husband. OH SHIT, PETE! it read. I’d drifted so far from Pete by now, that I hadn’t even heard the news first. He was back in “rehab”, although I think it is another inpatient stay. His dog had just died, he had a public argument with PETA, a new girlfriend, a new TV show that had mixed reviews.
I always forget that mental illness is like cancer. It remits, but it doesn’t ever go away. You need to stay vigilant. You’re still so fragile that the slightest shift in the atmosphere can cause you to shatter. We’re paying attention again, of course. The love is still there. Our daughter is six and a half now, getting ready for first grade. Pete’s been part of our story for a long time.