Back from the brink
Playwright dives into darkest part of her life to find healing

Back from the brink

Molly Carden performing in New York City

Jonathan Romeo - 06/22/2023

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, causing many people to go into self-imposed isolation, Molly Carden took the newfound time alone to dive into the darkest period of her life, a time she had long buried and distanced herself from.

Carden, 35, a New York actress and playwright, would begin to unpack her life from ages 17-18, when she would make two suicide attempts and subsequently have a series of stays at psychiatric hospitals.

Though bringing up past demons and hardships was no easy task, the effort would eventually lead Carden to write her first-ever play, which was not only crucial to her own healing, but now also may help other people suffering from mental health issues.

Carden will perform her play, “I Came Back for Molly,” as part of this year’s Durango Playfest at 7:30 p.m. June 28 at the Durango Arts Center.

“I never thought I’d write a full-length play, let alone a play about my own mental illness, only performed by me,” Carden said. “But here we are.”

Carden, who grew up in NYC and has struggled with depression and anxiety, said her mental health crisis began her senior year of high school as she was getting ready to graduate and go to college and out into the world for the first time as an adult.

“I was afraid that growing up was something I wasn’t able to do,” she said. “As a result, I became obsessed with childhood and death, because those were ways to stop the process of growing up. That mentality, in different ways, resulted in two suicide attempts when I was 17.”

Afterwards, Carden spent months in different psychiatric hospitals.

“I tried very hard to make it to college and to be OK and not be depressed,” she said. “Because I did have dreams and goals and things I wanted to do. But at the same time, I had this death wish that kept getting bigger and bigger.”

Carden’s turning point, a moment she only identified when writing the play in 2021, came out of a feeling of anger that she wanted to continue her life and at a time when she was told she needed to be in a supervised environment.

“In the final institution I was in, I realized all the things I wanted for myself,” she said.

Carden eventually attended the University of North Carolina School of Arts for acting. As anyone who struggles with mental health conditions, it never goes away, Carden said, yet she was able to fully immerse herself in school and her new career goals.

At the same time, however, she distanced herself from that period in her life. “I tried to push (those memories) down for a long time, because I was afraid of it coming back and ruining my life again,” she said.

Fast forward to 2020, when many people had nothing to do but think. During the pandemic, Carden said it was the first time she revisited her past. It wasn’t easy. But slowly, she started to write down her thoughts, eventually forming them into a play. “I Came Back for Molly”‘ is a one-person, one-act play in which Carden holds a conversation between three different versions of herself through different times in her life.

“Writing it was very difficult; I had to go back to that time in order to write it,” she said. “It was something I needed to do, but it was very painful at times.”

Ultimately, the entire effort was a journey of self-acceptance, she said, especially about the parts of yourself you’re embarrassed, ashamed or disgusted by.

“When Molly first read it to me, it was fascinating to hear her journey and also the way in which she was able to speak about it so candidly and with so much humor, grace and vulnerability,” Abigail Zealey Bess, Carden’s friend and the play’s director, said. “And she’s not alone. (Suicidal thoughts) are very prevalent in those teen years when you’re going through a lot of feelings, and you don’t know what to do about it.”

According to a report recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three in five – or 57% – of teenage girls reported “feeling persistently sad or hopeless” in 2021. This is up from 36% from 2011 and the highest levels seen in the past decade. By comparison, teen boys saw a more modest increase, from 21% in 2011 to 29% in 2021.

“America’s teen girls are engulfed in a growing wave of sadness, violence and trauma,” Dr. Debra Houry, the CDC’s chief medical officer and deputy director for program and science, said in a media briefing. “Over the past decade, teens, especially girls, have experienced dramatic increases in experiences of violence and poor mental health and suicide risk.”

These days, Carden hopes she can take her play around the United States, especially to schools, universities and psychiatric hospitals, where people are going through a similar experience.

“At the time, I thought I was the only person who ever thought or felt this way, and in some ways, I think I created my own mental prison over time,” she said. “I went further and further into myself, and away from the world. I think severe anxiety and depression is when the world in your head is a lot louder than the world outside, and that’s very isolating.

“But it’s amazing to take the time in which I felt the most alienated and use it to connect with people. I want them to feel less alone; I certainly feel less alone.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call or text the national Suicide Crisis Lifeline at 988.