Connecting with Taylor Fraser on "Foreward"- Uncovering the Unspoken


This week we shared a particularly vulnerable conversation with Taylor Fraser, the writer, producer, and director of the Foreward Podcast - a narrative exploration of her family's true experience surviving a school shooting and aftermath in the years since. Exploring healing from trauma through the power of sharing experiences, Taylor has been able to connect her community and others who have similar stories, and she shares the power of telling unspoken stories.   You can find more information on the Foreward podcast at https://www.forewardpodcast.com/.

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

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Transcript

EPISODE 41

[PREVIEW]

Alex: This week on Uncover the Human, we are joined by Taylor Fraser, the Director, Creator and Producer of the Foreward Podcast. The Foreward Podcast is a narrative retelling of Taylor's experiences surviving a school shooting at 15, and the ensuing years for herself, her family and her community. This is an incredible and intense conversation about trauma, community, grieving and more, so please listen to it at your own discretion.

I personally am in awe of Taylor's vulnerability and her frank nature and I'm very grateful for her insights and her generosity in sharing everything with us. I hope you get the same feeling.

[INTRODUCTION]

Alex: Welcome to Uncover the Human, where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives.

Cristina: Whether that’s with our families, co-workers, or even ourselves.

Alex: When we can be our authentic selves, magic happens.

Cristina: This is Cristina Amigoni.

Alex: And this is Alex Cullimore.

HOSTS: Let's dive in.

Authenticity means freedom.

Authenticity means going with your gut.

Authenticity is bringing a 100% of yourself. Not just the parts you think people want to see, but all of you.

Being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself.

It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep-rooted and true.

Authenticity is when you truly know yourself. You remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be.

It's transparency, relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.

[INTERVIEW]

Alex: Hello, and welcome back to this episode of Uncover the Human. We are joined this week by our guest, Taylor Fraser, who is the Producer and Director of the Foreward Podcast. Welcome to the podcast, Taylor.

Taylor: Hey. Thank you both very much for having me.

Cristina: Thank you for joining us.

Alex: We're super excited to have you on. If you could just give the audience a little context about what the Foreward Podcast is, and a little bit about the whole project.

Taylor: Sure. I guess, right when COVID was rearing its ugly head for the first time, I decided that it was time for me to start on a personal project that I've been thinking about for many years. I decided to make a podcast. The subject of the podcast was the school shooting that I survived when I was 15-years-old.

Not only did I want to tell the story of what happened, but I wanted to tell the story of what happens after. We see the stuff on the news and we're like, “Oh, that's so sad.” Then we just move on and we forget that this sticks with people. This trauma is something that stays with you for the next decade, for the next two decades, for the next three. It's something that will affect every piece of my life for the rest of my life.

I interviewed each member of my family. It was the first time in 15 years that we talked about “where were you that day?” I took their stories, and I turned it into a form of narrative storytelling. It's not like this podcast, where it's a question and answer setting. You're actually listening to actors perform the parts in taking you through the journey of what happened before, during and after. It's an audio drama, is the idea. It was like the main form of radio, back in the early days of radio, but it's not such a thing in contemporary podcasting. It was very successful. It hopped into the top 2.5% of all podcasts globally within, I want to say, a month. I think it is a story worth being told. It’s a story that people are interested in. It was a really powerful experience for me to create the project and it's called the Foreward Podcast.

Alex: I'm curious, how the title came about. Because I love the idea of exploring the aftermath, especially since it is such a powerful portion of people's lives ongoing forever. Why Foreward?

Taylor: Sure. Well, it's a play on words. It's actually a made-up word. There is no word that is F-O-R-E-W-A-R-D. It’s a combination of the word foreword, like the foreword of a book, because it's just chapter one in a long series of stories. I plan for there to be many more seasons of this. I'm writing, currently, the script for television. The idea is that I don't want to just explore the day and the thing that – A lot of people are like, “Oh, that's exciting. I want to hear that story.”

For me, what happened after was in some ways, more interesting and more important in terms of how people heal and how they cope, or don't. Then obviously, foreward is also the idea of moving for, and what does that look like for people? It's both iterations of the word and we put them into one.

Cristina: That's a great title.

Taylor: Thank you. My brother came up with it. He’s a smart guy.

Cristina: In the family, storytelling.

Taylor: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Alex: It's really interesting that you said you hadn't talked about it really for about 15 years with your family. It's definitely, obviously, something that continues and lingers. How was it just even introducing the topic after so long?

Taylor: I was nervous about it. I didn't know what my family would say, or if they would be open to the idea of me sharing our story so publicly. Pieces of the story have been fictionalized, of course, because I'm not inside of the heads of my mother, my father, my brother, so I had to make up pieces and to make it all fit together.

In general, I tried to represent the true stories as much as possible. I was really surprised when I sat down to have these conversations. This was, like I said, early days of COVID. We sat outside on the front porch, and we sat six feet away from each other. I said, “Can you tell me about what happened that day?” What they actually told me was what happened the next 15 years.

They sat there, I think, I want to say, my dad sat there for six hours. Then he showed up the next day and talked for another few hours. It was something that we needed to talk about, and we had never discussed. He wasn't in the building that day. What does it feel like to be an adult man who's supposed to be strong, and your children and wife are inside a building where a hostage situation is taking place? What does that do to his psyche? No one had ever asked him, and no one had ever unpacked, well, how did that affect your life for the next decade?

When I asked him, he wanted to tell me. Something similar happened with my mother and my brother. It's not just the story of that one day, and that one day is important, but there's so much interesting stuff that follows that we each healed in different ways. We've each experienced PTSD in different ways. Then that changed every year. It just manifested differently for each of us. It was really interesting to hear what parts of our story were the same and what parts were really different.

Cristina: It's very fascinating to think about that, because as you said, at the beginning, it's something that people easily forget. It's the event, and then the event is over. Just because it's off the news, or we move on – some of us move on to the next event, it doesn't go away. It doesn't go away for the people that were in the building, and the people that were outside of the building.

Taylor: Exactly. It's become such, unfortunately, a commonplace event that a lot of people have experienced hostage situations with active shooters. There's a huge percentage of our population who's walking around having witnessed this horrible thing that will affect them indefinitely. We're acting like that's not a part of our culture, part of our society in the United States.

Alex: Yeah. It's especially difficult. A lot of the more traditional ideas on PTSD tend to go around like, combat and people who have been in combat, which is not a different situation. It's also not the only situation in which traumas can come up. Like you said, it's the same and having to be in the building. There's so many people around that just get affected in the community. That sticks with you. Everything will change your brain chemistry, with something as significant as that. I love the idea of just diving into all of the other aspects of it that aren't the sensationalized pieces, the ones that really affects people's lives ongoing.

Taylor: I think, I told you guys this explanation. A therapist once explained to me the different types of PTSD. There's one type, if you have a traumatic events, and then you're able to remove yourself from that and never go back and that type, people tend to eventually heal from. Then there's the type that you're talking about, that veterans have, when they go into battle, but then they're forced to keep going back in.

A lot of times, psychologists think that school shooting survivors have that type, because they have to keep going back into the building, where the murder happened, over and over and over and over again. The way it was explained to me that is that PTSD in the brain, your memory should be metaphorically in black and white. They should go into long-term memory storage. A person who has PTSD, the memories don't go into long-term memory storage, and therefore, they feel like it happened yesterday.

For many years, I'd hear a firework and be like, “Ah.” And duck for cover. Because my brain didn't understand that it wasn't the same thing, that it didn't just happen, and that's not what's happening to me now. It takes a long time and a lot of therapy to program, or reprogram your brain, I guess, to not do that. For some people that probably doesn't ever go away. Yeah, it's just interesting to know that, like you said, it literally changes how your brain works.

Alex: Absolutely. I feel like the rest of your family and everything, how have they – Was it helpful to get to talk about these things, to process that some of these responses are still automatic, are still trained in there? What was that experience like for them? Was it cathartic? Was it helpful, hard to do?

Taylor: Both. I think, in some ways, it is probably re-traumatizing to think about that stuff that you've chosen not to think about for a really long time. There's a good reason we haven't thought about that stuff, because it's awful. It's awful. Nobody wants to think about that. It's also, it's opening a can of worms, but I think, for me and hopefully, for my family, it can be a healthy thing to explore that, because ignoring your trauma is not a solution.

I think that's what a lot of people in my community did. I grew up in a really small town in Colorado. It was pretty conservative-minded. The idea of talking to a therapist would have been pretty taboo. Most people just went like, “We're so strong. Let's move on.” That's not the reality, because it's just not how the brain works.

I think, in some ways, I've had a lot of people reach out to me about podcasts from my town, that said, “Oh, my God. I can't believe that that was happening in your household, too. It was happening in mine, and I had no idea.” You don't want to be the only person who says, “I'm not okay,” when your whole community is like, “We're so strong.” You don't. You assume that everybody else is okay and you're messed up. When really, we were all suffering in probably similar ways, and we didn't know that we weren't alone.

Alex: Particularly, I love about this project. I mean, you had incredible vulnerability on your part to jump in and be the one to basically, raise the hand and be like, “Look, I'd like to talk about this and just go through some of the ways this was.” Then, it has created as you're saying, a platform where the community you were in gets to respond to this. It's incredible how large the story can become when you just give that initial permission.

Taylor: Yeah. I mean, not everyone is comfortable with the idea, or wants to explore that, and that's okay. I've had people reach out to me and say, “I don't think that's a healthy choice for me to listen.” I'm like, “Absolutely.” Don't do that. Please don't do that, if it's not going to be a healthy choice for you. For me, it was extremely useful, and probably, the best therapy that I've ever done. There were a lot of moments in creating Foreward that were really profound and disturbing and upsetting and cool all at the same time.

The one that comes to mind is when I directed the actor who was playing a part of the shooter. I can't even explain. It was so weird. It was so weird. It was during COVID, so I had a room that was at my recording studio. I was in a different room than him. When he arrived, we rehearsed for a little bit in the backyard, six feet apart. We had this conversation, and I said that it was really important to me that when people listen, that they don't just go, “This person is a villain and they’re bad. I want them to understand that we need to have empathy for this person, because he was very troubled. To be a man who is an adult man, who is a smart man, who his whole life has had his mind working, and now he's hallucinating. He literally doesn't know what is real and what isn't. He's homeless, and he doesn't have anyone to go to. That would feel so horrible. I want that to be communicated through your performance.”

He said, “Yeah, yeah. I want to do that. I want to do this to honor the victims of the crime and the family of the perpetrator.” I was like, “Whoa. That's never even crossed my mind that that man had a family. They're probably still in Colorado.” It was just already weird. Then, he goes into his room to perform his part. I'm trying to coach him through this horrible scene, and tell him, “I need you to say these words. It's the last words that ever came out of you that you've been depressed your whole life, and it never got better. What would that feel like in your body?” It just comes out, this horrible way of like, “You should have just left me alone.” He's shaking, and I'm shaking.

Then he's done recording his part, and he goes out on the front porch. This is COVID times, mind you, so I'm staying far away from people. He just wraps me up in a hug. I'm just like, my brain can't handle this, because I'm associating him with this horrible person. Yet, I know that this is a person who's a sweet person, who's an actor, who's not the real person, and I'm hugging him. I don't even know how to explain how weird it was for me and how just strange.

For the first time ever in my life, I felt some sense of forgiveness for what he did was very, very wrong, obviously, but I don't have to let it control me for the rest of my life. I never got that, until that moment. I don't know, the whole thing was just some huge life lessons for me, of forgiveness is not a thing that I didn't really do.

For me to even consider the idea of feeling that emotion towards someone who really profoundly affected me and my family's lives, it was like, “Whoa. This is a sign that work has been done.”

Cristina: That's incredible. So many things that you just described, like the learning about empathy, true, full empathy. Not just empathy for, I guess, easier, or on the surface empathy, but something like, he was a human too, and he was suffering and he had a family and he was alone. Having that level of empathy is incredible and experiencing that.

Also, and you mentioned that a couple of times, with the community, as well as him, this aloneness and what it does, and how it just truly destroys people from the inside. When you think about the pandemic, or even when you think about a lot of what's happening in the world now in the recent years, how many people feel alone, and how many people are shamed for that. Even in the workplace, we see it all the time.

Taylor: Absolutely.

Cristina: It's like, just go in your corner and do your job. You don’t need to talk to people. The impact of that behavior is destructive.

Taylor: Totally. It's interesting to think that for the three of us, we have a certain amount of privilege that if we feel very lonely, or we feel depressed, then we probably have resources at our disposal of people who can help us, or we can take time off work, if we need to. Not everybody's in that position. I can't imagine what that would feel like to go, I am not at liberty, even to take care of myself in this situation, when I feel that level of bad.

Cristina: Yeah, it's incredible. I mean, and there's definitely statistics, actually, I try not to read too much of the news, or listen to much of the news, because it's just not too healthy, I guess, when we get sucked into them. Even just a headline, I was reading headlines just in passing, looking for something else. It said how the pressure on youth is increasing even more, which has already been increasing an astronomical amount. A lot of it is the loneliness, the feeling of being alone. Even though we have the resources, not knowing how to turn to them.

Taylor: Sure. Definitely.

Alex: I think it's incredible that you've got this platform that people can do that. You even got that for yourself. I mean, you talked about in trauma processing, there's slowly exposing pieces, or similar situations, where you understand, there's more control over it, where you can slowly reprogram. It sounds like you've had many of those moments in that. It's cool that you created a whole storyline around this. Now, people have their own platform to interact with this, even if they don't have the resources, or don't feel comfortable reaching out to somebody, you can still find some catharsis, find some shared story, just that exists out there. That's very potent.

Taylor: Absolutely. It's been so far-reaching. I mean, it's just blown my mind. I think it's streaming in 40 countries. It's been a while since it's released. It was released on New Year's Day. Climbing the charts right now in Saudi Arabia. When I released this, I thought, a lot of people aren't going to be able to relate to this. I was so wrong, because everyone has experienced something very difficult, where they had to figure out their way through it.

Honestly, I have been really shocked to see that most people have a trauma, involving either some mental illness for themselves, or someone that they love, or a shooting situation, or almost every actor was like, “Oh, well. I had a child who was in a lockdown situation. I didn't know if it was real or not.” Or, “I was a doctor in the blood bank when the Arapahoe shooting happened, and that was my experience. Or, I just checked my brother out of his program for schizophrenia, and we've been dealing with that as a family.”

It's like, the themes are a lot more relatable, when I guess, I thought they were going to be. People very, very far and wide have reached out and said that there's some part of the story that they can relate to, and that's been really cool.

Alex: It's a great example of just how tied up everything is. Everything is so connected, so much farther than we see. I mean, you see the building of the story, that one day, every piece of the community is impacted. Like that story about the doctor. You tend to hear about these stories and rarely even think about all of the different ways that something is connected. I remember, there was some exercise they wanted kindergarteners to do, where they would take their box of crayons, and then figure out what went into making that, so you had to think about all the people that made the wax, that made the ink, that made the printing machines, etc. I mean, how wide just this thing that we take for granted is and on something that’s major and easily, obviously logged into memory as a traumatic event. The impact is just so much wider than, I think, we can comfortably comprehend.

Taylor: Absolutely. It's extremely exponential, and the degrees of separation are much smaller than you think. A student at my school, obviously, they're going to be affected one way, but it also affects their coach, their boss, their sibling, their grandmother. When something like that happens to someone that you care about, it affects you too. Yeah. I feel you.

Alex: Well, then adding complexity, given two people experiencing the exact same situation, even if they're in the same area, totally different reactions. Totally different –

Taylor: Absolutely.

Oh, that's been some really peculiar conversations, because some of the things I depicted in the podcast, like one of the stories that pops into my head is, after the shooting, there was a group of volunteers who were handing out teddy bears to the high schoolers as they were going back into the building for the first time. For me, that was just like, “This doesn't make sense.” Contextually, why are you giving me this? I felt like I was an adult, because I grew up overnight. It was not a positive experience for me. It just felt bad.

Then, another woman who I went to school with reached out to me and she was like, that was the kindest thing anyone's ever done for me, and that made me feel safe. She said, “I reverted to feeling more child-like after the shooting, because that's how I coped. For me, it was really helpful to have that experience.” I'm like, “Oh, I didn't ask anybody else about what that felt like for them.” Some of the stories are different people's perspectives, so you do see different people respond very differently to different things. In that particular one, I was like, “I hadn't even considered that maybe for someone, that was a really great experience.” Yeah, you're right. It's not consistent across the board, because we're human and we're all different.

Cristina: It's another example of how empathy really works, just because I feel this way, that doesn't mean somebody else is going to feel this way. The only way to find out is to ask.

Alex: It shows the tremendous value in creating space for that thing, because you don't know who's going to react or how they're going to react. I think that's one of the reasons that we end up doing things like, well, we're a community, we're strong, we're basically moving past this. Trying to interact like, there's no one size fits all help out there. Everybody's interpreting this differently. We have trillions of neurons going on, and everybody's got a different reaction, and this one that was informed by our previous experiences, etc.

I think it's something we end up avoiding. There's that simple solution, creating a lot more space around that. I love that you said about that, Cristina, because that empathy really does, I think, create a little bit more like, I don't know if this is helpful for you. It's like being near somebody who's grieving. You want them to have the space and just know, “I'm here. I don't know what will help and not. I don't know if you want to just wait. That's fine.” It's very important, I think, and very difficult, because even in just typical conversation, we're not super comfortable with silence, a pause. Even then, and then to add in more heavy context, it becomes, I think, that much more difficult to go create that space, but so much more important.

Cristina: Yeah, it reminds me a little bit of not the whole situation, but just talking about the empathy and creating space. With my kids, I'm trying to do that and it's really hard as a parent, because you want to solve problems. You want to make them feel better. You don't want to see them go through pain. I've learned that when they fall, or they cry, or they're upset. Instead of jumping into the, “Here, let's do this to make you feel better, or have a treat, or whatever I think they need,” I’ll just ask them. I just sit and ask, “What would help you right now? Do you want me to stay? Do you want me to go?”

Taylor: Have you read the book, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. There was a chapter in that book that just knocked the wind out of me. She was saying, she was telling the story of when something traumatic happens, she compared it to the job of a flight attendant. She says, a flight attendant’s job when there's turbulence is to say, “I'm here with you. We're going to get through this together.” Flight attendant can't fix it if that plane’s going to crash, but they can be present and they can show up and they can say, “Okay, whatever happens, here we go. We're in this together.”

I was like, what a cool thought exercise for any of us when we're going through something difficult with another person to say something like, “I don't know what to do, but I'm going to do it with you.” A lot of the time, we don't. We don't know what the answer is. Just bearing witness and showing up and being present, that's a lot.

Alex: I think we've put so much pressure on ourselves to come up with a solution, as if we're supposed to either know the answer, or count on the other person to have the answer and not get in their way, I think, exactly what you said, is a very powerful statement. Just yeah, I don't know what we're going to do here, but we're here. We're in this one together. We're going to have to keep moving forward together. I'm going to just acknowledge right upfront, I don't know what to do.

Cristina: The storytelling that you've done in the podcast from your personal experience, but that's part of, a lot of what we talked about when we met earlier, how that's what you have been focusing on in your life is just getting the stories, understanding the stories, understanding people through their stories. What drives you to that? What draws you to the story part of people's lives?

Taylor: Well, I guess I've just always been interested in human psychology in general, and just intrigued by what is it that makes us tick? Why do we do the things that we do? I studied film in school. I've worked in the film industry most of my career. It's interesting to me that the same stories keep getting told. Often, they're just dumb stories. Then, they make 15 versions of the same dumb story.

It seems to be that there's all these really interesting stories out there that aren't being told. Then this one seems like, well duh. It's such a common story in our culture. I assume it hasn't been told, because it's controversial. Or perhaps, because survivors aren't telling the story, and it would be inappropriate for someone to tell the story who wasn't a survivor. I'm not sure. I feel there's just so many stories that need to be told that aren't.

It was really exciting and empowering to say, “I don't need someone to hire me and tell me to tell this story. I can just make it on my own.” Which is why I chose the format of podcasting is, like I said, my background is film, but it might cost me 10 million dollars to make the TV version of this, which hopefully, will eventually be created. It was feasible for me to hire 70 different actors. We recorded each of them individually in that little room, separate from me during COVID. It was crazy.

Anyway, I was able to do that with a very small team of my actors, and I hired two editors to help me put it into its final form. We just did it. It is exciting to realize that I don't know if there's a story you want to tell that you don't have to have anyone's permission to tell it. You can just tell it.

Alex: It is your story.

Taylor: Yeah, and we all have one, right? I mean, I think, if you really take the time to have a deep conversation with somebody, everybody has an interesting story. Everybody does. Maybe it's a good thing to write it down. If you're really wild and crazy, then make a podcast out of it.

Cristina: Yeah. We definitely all have stories, that we may not think are interesting, if they're not big, newsworthy.

Alex: Have you thought about storytelling in other aspects of your life? Just as this came up, I mean, it's such an incredible experience, especially for this large experience. In any other stories of your life, or witnessing other people's stories, how do you find yourself interacting differently now?

Taylor: I guess, the thing that pops into my head, which is probably not a good thing to say, but now, everything horrible that happens in my life, I'm like, “This is going to make a great episode.”

I go, “Oh, no. Something awful just happened. This is going to be great storytelling.” Yeah. I mean, when you're telling your own story, you start to see your own events in your life, like, “Oh, that's very climactic, or that's ironic that that happened in this order.” Yeah. I mean, we'll see where all of this goes and where it takes me. I have a bunch of seasons of this draft of the same story as it continues throughout time.

You're right, it has inspired me to pay attention to other people's stories in a different way. I never knew I had a love for script writing, until this project. Now that I know that that's something that interests me, I am sure there's lots of projects on the horizon with lots of different people's stories, I hope.

Alex: I love that answer. Actually, it was David Sedaris, the humorist, his quote on it was something like, “I feel really bad for people who aren't writers, because if something bad happens to them, they just have to live with it.” If you're writing, you're like, “Oh, well. This will make a good story.” Yeah. I get to write about this. I do love that answer. I think that's a perfect summation. I think it's great. It's a good way. They say, listening to your podcast on the guy who helped develop the five stages of grief, he came back later and they were thinking about coming up with a sixth one, which is really beyond acceptance.

You start to find meaning. I think that this is a good, unique way to really start to feel meaning and it helps you understand something in a larger narrative very quickly, which is a lot easier for a human brain to process, I think, than just trying to sit with it, or compartmentalize it and leave it alone and not have it tied to the rest of our lives.

Taylor: You remember what that podcast was called? Someone just sent me something similar, that I haven't listened to yet. That sounds really interesting.

Alex: This, I think, it was one of Brene’ Brown’s podcast.

Cristina: Yeah. I was going to say, it sounds like one of the first Brene’ Brown podcast I listened to.

Taylor: Okay. She's so smart.

Cristina: She is a storyteller.

Taylor: Maybe, someone just sent me a radio lab on the same – whatever it is, it's on the five stages of grief, but then they realized that they needed to talk to people who were grieving, not just people who were dying. That's originally, apparently, how they formed it. I don't know if it's the same thing or not. Anyway, yeah, I have some podcast to listen to.

Cristina: Yeah, it sounds familiar.

Alex: It's David Kessler. He was on Daring Greatly. It's on grief and finding meaning.

Taylor: Cool. Cool, I’ll listen to that.

Alex: Super interesting. He also has a bunch of – has a lot of interesting stories of his own, but that one is, I think, a cool context of remembering, it doesn't mean you're happy with anything that's happened, as when you suddenly have good feelings or something. It's just that you find meaning. You find where this plug in, and you tie it in and it doesn't feel this isolated piece of your life anymore. It doesn't have to be this thing you don't want to touch, because you've tried your hardest to leave it separated.

Cristina: Yeah. Sometimes we do realize that when we're in the middle of something, usually when it's lighter, maybe still hard, but lighter, and we do acknowledge, “Oh, one day this will make for a funny story.” Because we know that once we're past the stages of grieving, it'll come up as a funny story.

Taylor: Yeah. That's a fair note, that it's like, when things are lighter, because I'm not trying to make light of the story I told, because it isn't. I hate it when people say that thing about like, “Well, everything happens for a reason.” School shootings do not happen for a reason. That’s a messed up thing to say. It doesn't happen for a reason. Sometimes horrible things happen. Unfortunately, that's how it goes sometimes. That's one that bugs me when people say that. Or they'll come up with the silver linings. It's like, there is not a silver lining. Come on now. None of this situation.

I had a therapist ask me that. I went to therapy one time as a young person, and I didn't go back until 15 years later. She said something to the effect of like, write down the silver linings and I’m like, “Free therapy? What? That's a dumb question to ask a 15-year-old who just went through the worst day of their life. It's just silly.” I’m like, “What?” Anyway, I just want to clarify that I don't mean that that's – the shooting is a funny story. It’s not a funny story. Not what I meant.

Cristina: It's never going to be light.

Taylor: No. Not that one. Not that one.

Cristina: Well, and that sounds a lot like toxic positivity that is coming out lately as a hot topic, as in – It's always existed. Now, we're actually acknowledging that it may not be all that helpful. Everything has a meaning and look at the silver lining, or just get past it and move on. It was another podcast that I heard, and I can't remember who it was. I'm sure it was Brene Brown. They talked about how, when something traumatizing happens, there is no such thing as moving on. There's moving forward, which comes back to the title of your podcast, because you're taking it with you. It never goes away. Moving on means you just pack it in a suitcase, put it in a closet, change houses, change states, and you're done. It doesn't happen.

Taylor: Totally. My friend Jenny told me one time, she said, Americans are really bad at grieving. It made me think. I was like, “Well, what does that mean to be bad at grieving? What does it mean to be good at grieving?” As a culture, we don't try to move through things. We tend to move around them and sideways and do everything in our power to distract ourselves for as many years as possible until we hit a wall. That's not being good at grieving. It isn't.

Cristina: Yeah. Grieving is a whole other topic for sure. Because it's that, and then there's a lot of numbing to avoid the grieving. Then there's the numbing whether it's working all the time, substance abuse.

Taylor: That was me, I was worrying all the time. I became absolutely obsessed with my career and just ran myself ragged, doing so. That'll be the next season of the podcast is how each of us coped. That's how I dealt with distracting myself like crazy, and working till 3 a.m. every single night. You can only do that for so many years before you're sick, and you're tired, and you ruined all your relationships. It's not a long-term solution. It’s not sustainable. 

Cristina: It's not at all. I actually went through some grieving coaching, for something much lighter, like leaving a job a couple of years ago. It always turns out to be a lot like therapy and coaching. It turns out to be that what you hire somebody for the help that you think you need has nothing to do with what you actually need to grieve, that you never have. I remember my grieving coaching telling me that. I'm like, “Okay. Well, grieve, the fact that you left your job and community and friendships and whatever else happened in that period.” Very quickly, you realize that that's not what you need to grieve.

It may be, but there's deeper traumas. There's deeper things from your past that you haven't grieved, because we don't get taught how to grieve, like you mentioned. We get taught how to move it aside.

Taylor: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I totally agree with that. Yeah. Yeah, it's weird. You’d think we would have a course in school, or something. Three years ago, is when my grief finally caught up with me. I ignored it for that long and it finally caught up with me such a long time later. I did go find a therapist, and I said, “Help me. This feels bad and I don't like it, and how do I fix it?” Not only did we do therapy, but she taught me how to grieve and said like, “Every day, you're going to come home from work and you're going to go on a walk for 30 minutes, whether you like it or not, because you need to move. You're feeling depressed right now, so you need to eat a specific diet that is healthy, and it’s Mediterranean, so it’s colorful foods, like salmon and berries and vegetables and whatever. Whether you like it or not, you will go stare at the stars for 30 minutes, so that you can find something that's larger than yourself, because you need to find meaning.”

Whether or not I thought what she was saying was dumb or cool, I just did it. It did work eventually. It helped me actually go through the process of sorting through some of the stuff that I had ignored for my whole life. It worked. Nobody taught me how to do that, up until that point. I didn't know that was what you're supposed to do. How I've come up with like, “Oh, you're depressed, so eat salmon.” I'm not going to know that willy-nilly for my brain.

Cristina: Yeah. Or don't work all the time.

Taylor: Yeah. She had me schedule blocks on my calendar like, “You will do nothing, or you will not work, or you whatever.” I had to remind myself, “Don't do that.” Yeah, it's a real thing.

Alex: I think, back to what you're saying about some of the toxic positivity things about people saying, “Well, find the meaning, or yeah, everything happens for a reason.” Those are definitely triggering and unhelpful, I think, personally. Also, because of that, that's the societal messaging you get into, you end up feeling you should be moving towards that, and which is a dangerous word all in itself. You start to feel like you should do anything, as opposed to what you are feeling.

That ends up trapping you in exactly like, it's much easier. Then you just start to numb as a reason to try and get to what especially, I think, in American culture, and probably larger as well, just we have the tendency to be like, “Well, we've heard we shouldn't be focusing on this for too long. We should be focusing on the positive.” All these are very dismissive and very like, well, let's just put it away.

Taylor: Yeah. Cristina earlier was saying, there's a lot of ways that people numb themselves up. That's part of what the podcast was talking about is that, afterward, things got really bad. There’s a lot of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, teenagers having sex before they really were ready or wanted to. There were car accidents and suicide attempts and successful suicides. People find whatever their drug of choice is, to distract themselves, or to create an altered state for their minds. It looks different for all of us. No matter how it manifests, it’s the same thing. It's numbing. It's distracting, whatever it is.

Cristina: It's not always obvious. I remember, going through the process with the grieving coach to figure out what she calls STERBS. I can't remember what the acronym stands for, but it's what I tend to do when I'm grieving. First, I answered the question.“Oh, yeah. I watched tons of movies, fictional movies, superhero movies to take me away from reality, or I go window shopping, or some of those things.” Then she was like, “Okay. They're common.” Then she was like, “Okay, so what did you do after you'd left your job?” It was right before Christmas. “Until Christmas, what did you do every day?”

“Oh, I cleaned out my whole basement.” She was like, “And there it is.” That's what you do to grieve. You spend 10 hours in the basement to go through every single box. Clean it out, look at pictures, do whatever. That's how you grieve. Now, it's like, I know. When I started cleaning obsessively, and I have to reorganize a whole entire room, I'm like, “Okay, what am I grieving?” What loss just happened, that is driving me to do this for two days?

Taylor: Totally. Yeah, that's an interesting thing you say, because I had a therapist who said, when you do things compulsively, then it's something that's worth paying attention to, because I would be like, “I'm relaxed. I'm gardening,” but I garden till my hands bleed. It's like, that’s not relaxation. That’s doing a behavior in a way that's compulsive, and that isn't healthy, no matter what it is.

Alex: That's a really good point. I definitely can recognize just in myself random compulsive behaviors that always end up stacking up when I'm just avoiding some stress. It's been shocking to me rethinking about this. I really love your entire idea of the podcast and the many seasons to come on this, because of this. If we don't start to listen to those and get the help and try to understand what the stressors are, this isn't just something that will play you for a little bit, and then it comes up. Ihis can be decades. This can be years. I mean, this can take long, long amounts of time. You can find lots of different expressions to keep it down. It's pretty shocking sometimes, to think about how long you can let that go. It's not as easy as you think, just to know about it, or to have it suddenly come to a head.

It sounds like you eventually reached that headroom when you went to the therapist. I got to say, it's relieving to know that walking, watching the stars and the Mediterranean diet are all part of the healing plan, because that sounds awesome.

Taylor: It was awful. What the therapist was explaining is that a lot of people believe that your gut and your brain are actually very interconnected. I don't totally understand how this works, but what she was saying is if the bacteria in your gut are weird, then they might be doing something, causing an imbalance in your brain. I don't know. I don't know. Maybe. I don't know, but it helped. Something helped. I don't know which of those things helped. Maybe all of them helped. Maybe two of them helped. I don’t know. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, something in that process got me out of my funk and that I can appreciate.

Cristina: Yeah. The power of storytelling, something that happened personally. then revisiting it in the way that you did.

Taylor: Yeah, that was certainly the – I mean, I don't know. It's hard to explain, because it was such a weird process. It's one thing when you meet a new person, as a school shooting survivor, it's just part of my history that if I don't disclose, it's weird. You have to learn how to give a cliff notes version of the story to be like, “Oh, yeah. This happened to me, and now let's not talk about it. Let's move on.”

Or, when an employer goes, “Oh, is that where you're from? Did that happen to you?” Then you'd give the cliff notes story, then you're like, “I don't want to talk about it.” In making the podcast, it wasn't the cliff notes version. I had to wrack my brain to remember every single detail and additional details that I did not know from reading police reports, from talking to my family, from interviewing other people in my community.

It's literally, like the writing is the stuff of my nightmares. It's not things that I usually would share. It's extremely vulnerable. To look those stories in the eye head on was a lot. It was a lot. It was also important, because if not for the podcast, I would not have revisited that stuff. Probably not. At least, not to the extent that I did.

I think that in some ways, it was important for me to go back and re-experience that and put some of it into context. There's a lot of things that I thought in my brain, I was like, “Oh, yeah. That's how that went down.” Then to have someone confirm like, yes, that is how it went down, or no, I remember it differently. That was a really interesting experience. The whole thing was just bizarre, but it turned out neat, I think.

Cristina: Necessary.

Taylor: Yeah, necessary, for sure.

Alex: I mean, from sitting across the Zoom table here, there's a lot of incredible hope in your story, and incredible, just vulnerability to it. Truly, thank you so much for jumping in and sharing this with us. It's very moving. It is really cool to see how much you've done and how much you continue to do. It's very fun to witness.

Taylor: Thanks. Thanks for being up for the conversation. I think that these kinds of conversations are what's going to break our culture out of feeling like, you have to be okay all the time. For me, one of the primary issues that I tried to explore in this story is that sometimes, we're not okay. You should be able to say that. I think that exploring these sorts of topics is really important. I think our culture is shifting in that direction right now, which is very exciting. I think these sorts of platforms are going to keep it moving, that direction. I think, yeah. That's really something. Thanks for being up for the conversation.

Cristina: No, thank you. It's definitely not an easy one, and to have to keep talking about it. It's a continuous revisiting of some parts of it.

Alex: This may be a somewhat heavier answer, than sometimes we go for, but we'd love to just ask people to come on what authenticity means to them, and I'd love to get your thoughts on that.

Taylor: Authenticity. What authenticity means to me. I have a really neat circle of friends at this point in my life, and it took a long time to find them. I'm not the person who was in high school, but I had my crew that's still my best friends. That didn't happen. I found my friends midway through college and then continued to collect various oddballs over the years that mesh with my oddballness. Now, we are this cool group of unusual and interesting people.

I think that that is something that all of my friend circle has in common. They're all different from each other, but they are all extremely authentic, genuine people who show up and they don't pretend to be somebody else. They just are who they are. We all honor that in each other. Yeah, I think to be called an authentic person is probably the biggest compliment you can give somebody, right?

We live in a culture where a lot of people make it their goal to be like, “I'm cooler than I am, or I want to look different than I am.” I don’t know. There's just not enough hours in the day. Life is short. Why are you doing that? Maybe, it’s a side effect of having been through some heavy stuff that it's like, what are you doing? This may end tomorrow, or we may have a day, or we may have 20 years and we don't know. Don't know. I don't know. I think being authentic is extremely important. I don't know. Is that what you're asking?

Alex: Yeah.

Cristina: Yeah. Definitely.

Taylor: It takes courage to be authentic, in a world where a lot of people aren't. I think it's important.

Cristina: It gives life meaning.

Taylor: That’s a really good point.

Cristina: It’s like, what are you doing in your life? Well, you don't have to ask that question, if you're being authentic.

Taylor: That's true. That's a good aha moment for me. Yeah. Totally. That's cool.

Alex: I really love the phrase unique oddballness. I think that really encapsulates it. I think that’s perfect.

Cristina: Definitely. Yes. I like, the thought is very close to my definition of authenticity, where it's not just about me being authentic, but it's about the group allowing and making the space for everybody to be authentic and be fully accepted as that.

Taylor: Yeah. I think that's what I'm most proud of in my friends circle, that nobody's afraid to show up and be exactly who they are. Because we know everybody else in the group is going to lift that up. Yeah. It's a really cool feeling to be at a point in my life, where I'm surrounded by people who are all like that. You get to choose who you surround yourself with. I feel lucky that I'm at a point in my life where I get to pick. If someone's not being that, they don't get to be in my circle.

Cristina: It becomes like a duck the goose game. And you're out.

Taylor: Yeah. Life is too short.

Cristina: Yeah. It is. It should be fairly easy for everybody to find your podcast, but where can people find you and your stories?

Taylor: Sure. Well, like I said, Foreward is spelled funny. I will remind you one more time. If you go to forewardpodcast.com, you can find it at F-O-R-E-W-A-R-D. It's also on iTunes and Spotify and Apple Music and all the places. anywhere you want to find it, you can find it. It’s on Instagram. It’s on Facebook. It's in all the places. Anywhere you want to find Foreward Podcast. My name is Taylor Fraser. Hopefully, there's more things to come with my name on it in the future. We’ll see.

Cristina: Yeah. We look forward to the Netflix special.

Taylor: I know. Yeah.

Cristina: Movies and TV shows and podcasts.

Taylor: It's in the works. Yeah. Well, yeah, I'll keep you posted on that.

Cristina: Please do.

Alex: You definitely have two more fans here. Thank you so much, again, for joining us. This is truly great to be able to share this with you.

Taylor: Oh. It's great to be with you guys. Thank you so much.

Cristina: Thank you. Thank you everybody for listening.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

Cristina: Thank you for listening to Uncover the Human, a Siamo Podcast.

Alex: Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard, Jake Laura, and our score creator, Raechel Sherwood.

Cristina: If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.

Alex: We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas, or questions. You can reach us at podcast@wearesiamo.com, or on our website, wearesiamo.com, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. WeAreSiamo is spelled W-E-A-R-E-S-I-A-M-O.

Cristina: Until next time, listen to yourself, listen to others and always uncover the human.

[END]

Taylor Fraser Profile Photo

Taylor Fraser

Director

Taylor Fraser is the Writer and Director of the Foreward podcast.

Taylor was a sophomore in high school when her small town in Colorado was rocked by a deadly school shooting.

Her work has appeared on outlets worldwide, including The National Geographic, NBC, Pac-12 Networks, the Discovery Channel, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Time Magazine, Forbes, The Rolling Stone, and many prestigious film festivals around the world.

Although she has worked and traveled all over the world (18 countries and counting) Taylor has made her home base a cute little house in Denver, Colorado.