“You need to change your voicemail.” My brother Blake texted me yesterday morning.
I had a mild hangover and was laying in Dayna and Vanessa’s bed in the North Fork of Long Island. The night before Dayna and I each had two dirty Martinis and three glasses of wine at dinner. A dinner in which we only ordered oysters and escargot because we weren’t “hungry” — which always bites you in the ass in the end. We wound up dunking organic cheese puffs directly into yellow plastic tubs of “vegan” butter at 2 AM.
Anywhoo, I was literally sandwiched between the two of them in last night’s eye makeup (yes, I wrote a book called GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP, and yes I still pass out in my makeup and yes you can kindly f*ck off, honey) ice-rolling my face, bra-less and gamey because I have no boundaries.
Like usual a shot of anxiety zapped through my body when the dreaded text DING sounded off. Digital communication is one of my most acutely-distressing phobias and text messages fill me with so much panic, I find myself dry heaving several times a day.
My cortisol levels beautifully dropped when I saw it was my darling and charismatic (and equally mentally ill brother) Blake who had messaged me. And then those pesky stress hormones spiked right back up when I came to the realization that he was texting me about My Voicemail.™
I stared into the static glare of my phone with cold eyes. (A trauma response).
“I have notes on your voicemail.”
A shiver ran down my spine.
DING! The text alert sound penetrated my frail ears yet again.
It sounded like a gun-shot.
“Call me when you can and change your outgoing message. I can’t go through listening to it again, it’s traumatic.”
The wild train that is my heart came to an abrupt stop. In that moment so many of the fears that I bury deep inside my bones sprouted to the surface.
Let me explain.
Just last Tuesday I had a phone appointment with my psychiatrist. My psychiatrist is a rare breed of doctor. An unusual choice for the prescriptive pharmaceutical arts. He’s a classically-trained opera singer and has dabbled in stand-up comedy. We gossip about things like the rising rents in Montclair, New Jersey, and what kind of social disorders we think Trump has. I recommend workouts to his girlfriend and he jots them down in a Kelly green notebook. He says he’s not gay but I think he’s too pretty to be straight. But maybe that’s just my heterophobia talking.
I had made an appointment with my possibly homosexual psychiatrist because this new medication I’m on, TRINTELLIX (an SSRI) has not been working. It’s not just not working, it was making me feel like I was body-slammed down a flight of stairs, had cracked every rib and broken every bone, thus am deeply fatigued and traumatized from the unexpected crash of terror.
And I’ve done many things since I started taking TRINTELLIX: I released an audiobook, I collaborated with a painter on a killer project, I switched to a paler foundation shade, I read Andy Cohen’s memoir, I turned the Vitamix on without the cap and ended up with ghee butter in my hair on the ceiling in my pet’s fur, I bled through a new ice-blue lace thong, I spent $14.99 on a toothpaste from France that Cat Marnell recommended on her Patreon column “BEAUTY SHAMBLES,” I subscribed to Patreon for the first time, I broke our expensive electric tea kettle, I shivered and dined outside in the West Village, I got called a “STUPID FUCKING CUNT” by a homeless gentleman on the corner of 42nd and 9th, I devoured an entire tray of lasagna the day after thanksgiving with my mom, I got Botox injected into my forehead and in the outer corners of my eyes, I started wearing red lipstick (Chanel Pirate Red), I watched the movie “Happiest Season” on Hulu and wept, I dreamt about writing for The L Word Reboot, I went to see master colorist Kaitlin at The Sanctuary Salon and left with blue-black hair that shines like the top of the Chrysler building.
But you know what I didn’t do since taking Trintellix? Get shoved down a flight of stairs.
So clearly the meds were fucking with my head. I didn’t even want to get out of bed.
Two days before Thanksgiving I emailed my psychiatrist’s assistant telling her that my mind felt like the inside of a cave. Like proverbial blackout curtains had been drawn in my brain and everything was pitch dark. Which is particularly jarring because I’m afraid of the dark on top of being depressed, obsessive, and anxious.
“This is the darkest I’ve felt in a long time.” I ended the email, dramatically.
“The doctor will call you right away” the assistant responded immediately, which was very warm for her. She’s a cold fish, but I guess one has to be when dealing with mentally ill patients.
And he did call me.
Except I was in the middle of a meeting, a work meeting at that, and couldn’t exactly pick up and wax poetic over how forlorn I am and how meaningless my existence has become. And I couldn’t call him back because he has a restricted number, understandably. When you’re treating whack jobs for a living you really don’t want them to have to access to you 24/7. I can’t imagine the surplus of Upper East Side moms that would be manically drunk texting him for Adderall refills at 2 AM if he gave out his personal phone number.
But here’s where I got into trouble. He couldn’t leave me a voicemail telling me how to reach him.
Why Zara, is he too stupid to leave a voicemail?
No, silly goose! I’m too anxious to have a voicemail set up!
I should be strapped to a gurney and sent away to an anxiety rehab center somewhere in Malibu. But those clinics are expensive babe and also I’m not that bad? Or maybe I’m just in denial? Either way, I’d rather be anxious in my high rise apartment in Hell’s Kitchen than in a prayer circle with a bunch of nut jobs in a California looney bin.
Here’s the truth: I’ve been in a place where I can’t emotionally handle voicemails. If text messages fill me with paralyzing panic and all-consuming fear, voicemails send me into cardiac arrest! Seriously. My arms go numb, I tingle from head to toe and my vision gets blurry. (Those are more stroke-like symptoms now that I think about it, but you get the point).
When people have reached out to me, informing me that they are unable to leave me a message because my voicemail box isn’t set up yet, I lie. Lying comes easily to me, it always has.
“I know! There’s something wrong with my phone! I’m working on it!” I’ll chirp, feigning normalcy.
But when I finally got on the phone with the psychiatrist he chewed me out.
“I need to give you some advice. YOU NEED A VOICEMAIL. I KNOW YOUR GENERATION HATES VOICEMAILS, BUT THIS WAS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY AND I COULDN’T REACH YOU.”
I would’ve told him the truth — perhaps — but I went straight into fight or flight mode and a lie flew out of my mouth faster than a cheetah killing her prey in the dead of a Saharan night.
“I know, I know! It’s a new phone and I’m really struggling to figure out how to set up the voicemail!” I belted like a Broadway star.
He wasn’t buying my Judy Garland impression.
“So you don’t have it because you’re having trouble setting it up? I see.” He said suspiciously.
I imagined him writing “pathological liar” in my file. An awkward moment of silence passed between us. It was such a long moment of dense silence a mentally ill angel got her wings. I guess my lie wasn’t exactly believable as I work on the internet and am pretty tech-savvy and even an imbecile with a low IQ who believes Fox News is indeed “fair and balanced” can figure out how to set up a fucking voicemail. It’s not exactly rocket science, sluts!
Regardless he left me off the hook. We decided it was time I go back on Lexapro since it was the first antidepressant I ever took and it transformed my life from a trash bag into an embellished clutch. Made it so I was able to keep my closet clean and shower regularly and do normal activities depressed people find so harrowing.
And then I went off it because I thought it was making me fat.
It wasn’t making me fat.
I had just googled “Lexapro Weight Gain” one night on a whim and found a million message boards full of mentally ill people complaining about how Lexapro had made them blow up like balloons. Because, I too, am mentally ill I got it in my head that Lexapro was making me pork out too, and I quickly stopped taking it. (Dumb I know! I was 25! Plus this culture made me fucked up about food, it’s not my fault. Don’t victim blame me).
FYI: stay away from those message boards, kids. It’s full of crazy people putting crazy shit into other crazy people’s crazy heads. Seeking psychiatric advice on a message board run by over-medicated clinically insane internet trolls is akin to asking a color blind person if you look good in red.
But anyway, I was starting to feel much better toward the end of our call. I’m going to reclaim my life on Lexapro I thought to myself. I was sitting in the bathroom because I take all my calls in the bathroom these days (not on the toilet, don’t worry. I just like to sit on the cold tile floor and clutch my knees as I stare into the waterless shower). A tiny beam of light burst through the blackout curtains of my mind. I suddenly felt hopeful for the future. I thought I was in the clear. New meds, new me, you know?
And then right as I was about to hang up the phone and skip into the serotonin sunshine Mr. Psychiatrist was all: “Have you ever been screened for bipolar disorder? SSRIs don’t seem to be working for you lately, so um, let’s get you screened if the Lexapro doesn’t work out, okay? BYE!” Click.
I’m not bipolar shaming at all, but that’s a heavy mic drop to end a conversation. I suddenly felt very afraid and out of control and worried that Lexapro would fail me and I would need a complex cocktail of psychotropic drugs in order to function.
So I decided, right there in my small New York bathroom, that I would set up my voicemail box. If I can’t control my mental health I can control my phone! If I can handle setting up a voicemail box, surely, everything will be Beautiful and Nothing Will Hurt.
With the shaking hands of a midtown junkie, I managed to record a voicemail greeting.
I tried to sound cheerful but I really just wanted to swallow a handful of Xanax and take a nap from life for awhile. I don’t even remember what I said. I completely disassociated.
And I swear to Lana Del Rey, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to what I had just recorded either. At that particular moment I’d sooner take a bubble bath with Rudy Giuliani than listen to the sound of my own voice.
Within a few days I began to wean off the Trintellex and started to feel a little less like I had been tossed down a flight of stairs. More like I’d tripped on the sidewalk and was a little banged up but going to be okay! In fact, I forgot all about the voicemail incident.
Instead I hopped on the Hampton Jitney (the most glamorous mode of public transportation) and traveled to see Dayna and Vanessa in the North Fork. I was too distracted by their gorgeous Christmas decorations and Dayna’s collection of Valentino bags (purr!) to think about how sad I’ve been, or how disenchanted the failure of Trintellex has rendered me, or dark voicemail greetings and all the rest of the sad girl bullshit that plagues me so.
But Blake quickly reminded me of how sour things had truly become in that sweet brotherly text he sent me on a Sunday morning. I called him right away.
“Blake, is my voicemail really that bad? I asked. I felt desperate. I needed big brother to assure me all was fine in my mind and life.
“It’s so bad it makes me uncomfortable.”
Nothing makes Blake uncomfortable. He once wrote me a long-form letter detailing all the times he has defecated his pants as an adult. He’s been near nude on camera. His favorite movie is “Happiness” a wildly-uncomfortable, deeply twisted “comedy” about a pedophile who is a therapist.
Blake continued. “It sounds like someone who is suicidal trying to rebrand their life.”
Dayna began hysterically laughing in the background. She looked like a movie star freshly off her meds in a royal blue satin nightgown with a broken strap. I looked like an influencer who’s just decided to ruin her life and career after discovering Ketamine, in my dirty tie-dye sweatsuit and swollen eyes.
“I have to hear this voicemail,” Dayna wickedly purred. She pulled out her phone and called me. I held my breath, which is something I do when I don’t want to feel. (Shit works).
Dayna pumped the volume up on her phone and put it on speaker because she knew I needed to face the darkness of the voicemail that had rendered my sick and twisted brother traumatized. She did this because she’s a real friend.
And here’s the actual Voicemail I was forced to reckon with. Listen for yourself if you want to feel uncomfortable in your core.
So. This lil’ voicemail greeting is officially the darkest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. There’s dead air, like as if I spaced out mid-sentence. I even tell the listener to have a “beautiful day.” If someone signs an email or ends a voicemail greeting with “have a beautiful day” something is severely wrong with them. They need help immediately. They are on the verge of showing up to work sobbing wearing Hello Kitty attire in their thirties.
“This literally sounds like a voicemail someone would leave right before they get sent to rehab or jump out of a window,” I said. I know that sounds like a cheap shot joke, but I’m not kidding. That’s what it sounds like. The truth can be fucking dark, babe.
I envisioned people nodding in collective understanding when they heard I was going away for “30 days” due to “exhaustion.”
“There was something off about her voicemail message.” I could hear them say in hushed tones to one another over the phone.
I felt the cold sweat of embarrassment creep its way across my whole body.
I had thought maybe I had convinced people I was DOING JUST GREAT by setting up an enthusiastic voicemail! I just wanted everyone to have a beautiful day, guys.
But really I don’t sound like someone who wants you to have a beautiful day. I sound like someone who is tracing a knife across her pale flesh as she rocks back and forth repeating “have a beautiful day. have a beautiful day. have a beautiful day. have a beautiful day” whilst chugging rubbing alcohol.
“I have to re-record my voicemail,” I said to Dayna who was now rolling around on the ground, laughing her ass off at my suicidal-sounding voicemail message. Vanessa was howling too. I swear even her cat “Bad Girl Ri Ri” was chuckling softly.
“Whatever, you shit in a litter box.” I sneered at Ri Ri under my breath. Cat’s can be very condescending for creatures that defecate in open plastic boxes.
“But you know what? I really can’t re-record my voicemail until the Lexapro kicks in. I won’t get a sane message until I’m sane.” I said to no one in particular.
Dayna just looked at me and popped a Wellbutrin into her mouth. I looked her back and realized we’re all just crazy bitches doing our fucking best, desperately trying to do whatever the hell we can to keep those mentally ill fucking demons at bay. <3
My debut book GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP: THE BAD GIRL’S GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR SH*T TOGETHER is available NOW on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and BAM! If you send me a screenshot of your order, I’ll send you swag!
Praises for GIRL, STOP PASSING OUT IN YOUR MAKEUP
“Zara has the rare talent of marching into the deepest, darkest moments of life—the mascara-teared and alcohol-soaked—scooping them up, and thrusting them into the light with amazing clarity, forgiveness, and compassion. As her editor at Elite Daily, I had the honor of watching Zara blossom into the emotionally raw and poetic writer she is now. Her gripping first-person narratives help every woman (including me) come to terms with her own demons or insecurities in a refreshingly comfortable way. There’s a reason she’s built up an army of ‘babes’ who are empowered by the words of their dear big sister, Z: Her candid honesty and no bullshit advice are simply addicting.”
– Faye Brennan, Sex & Relationships Director, Cosmopolitan
“Reading Zara is like reading your own thoughts—only sexier and much more brilliantly written.”
– Kaitlyn Cawley, former Editor-At-Large, Bustle Media Group and former Editor-in-Chief, Elite Daily
“Reading Zara’s writing will make you feel like you’re at your cool-as-hell big sister’s sleepover party. You will be transfixed by her unflinching honesty and words of wisdom, and she’ll successfully convince you to not only ditch the shame you feel about the raw and messy parts of yourself, but to dare to see them as beautiful.”
– Alexia LaFata, Editor, New York Magazine
“If Cat Marnell and F. Scott Fitzgerald had a literary baby it would be Zara Barrie. She’s got Marnell’s casual, dark, downright hilarious tone of an irreverent party girl. But then she also has Fitzgerald’s talent for making words literally feel like they sparkle on the page. You instantly feel more glamorous after reading a page of Zara’s writing, even when the page is talking about getting into a screaming match with her girlfriend outside of a bar on a Sarasota street corner while high on benzos. I’ve always been a fan of Zara’s writing, but Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup takes it to the next level. With shimmery words that make her dark stories sparkle, she seamlessly manages to inspire even the most coked-out girl at the party to get her shit together.”
– Candice Jalili, Senior Sex & Dating Writer, Elite Daily
“Self-help meets memoir. Party girl meets wise sage. Beauty meets reality. Zara Barrie is the cool older sister you wish you had. The one that lets you borrow her designer dresses and ripped up fishnets, buys you champagne (she loves you too much to let you drink beer), and colors your lips with bright pink lipstick. She’ll take you to the coolest parties, and will stick by your side and she guides you through the glitter, pain, danger, laughter, and what it means to be a f*cked up girl in this f*cked up world (both of which are beautiful despite the darkness). Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup is for the girls that are too much of a beautiful contradiction to be contained. Zara is a gifted writer—one second she’ll have you laughing over rich girls agonizing over which Birkin bag to buy, the next second she’ll shatter your heart in one sentence about losing one’s innocence. Zara is the nuanced girl she writes for—light, irreverent, snarky, bitchy, funny; and aching, perceptive, deep, flawed, wise, poised, honest—all at once. Perhaps the only thing that can match Zara’s unparalleled wit and big sister advice is her candid humor and undeniable talent for the written word. Zara is one of the most prolific and entertaining honest voices on the internet—and her talent is only multiplied in book form. Girl, Stop Passing Out in Your Makeup is for the bad girls, honey.”
– Danya Troisi, Executive Editor, GO Magazine