DENVER—In the same week comedian Adam Cayton-Holland had the worst news of his life, he also had some of his best. The name for that emotion? Cayton-Holland has one.
"The Adam Cayton-Holland syndrome," he said. "Right when I was getting some career stuff going really well, this happened."
In 2012, his standup career was going well, and he had a meeting with Amazon. They were interested in a pilot he and his two friends from Denver were working on. In the same week as that meeting, his younger sister, Lydia, took her own life.
"It was 100 percent the worst thing that’s ever happened to me," Cayton-Holland said.
He had been the one to find his 28-year-old sister in her home. They were not just brother and sister. They were best friends.
"I have no higher compliment than someone being an individual and Lydia was an individual," Cayton-Holland said. “I’ve never met anyone like her."
He looked for a way to cope, to start healing. So, he started writing.
"After she died I didn’t feel funny, or like doing standup anymore, which was what I had been doing for the past eight years with some success," Cayton-Holland said. "Because I’m the creative type and this is how I process stuff, I just wrote about it and put it on my website and it exploded.
"It was amazing the reaction it got—and it was amazing how it felt for me. It just felt like a catharsis."
A literary agent saw that post, and gave him a call, and wanted him to write a book about it. That book, "Tragedy Plus Time," came out August 21, 2018. On the cover, it is described as a “tragi-comic memoir.” For Adam, writing it was a large part of his healing process.
"I wrote this book to process a lot of this stuff for myself—I cried and cried and cried the whole time, but it was necessary for me,” Cayton-Holland said. “This is a really sad book, and the end of Lydia’s life was really tragic and sad.
"But looking back, I’m able to realize there were two years of mental illness taking over and taking her out, but prior to that, there were 26 years of brilliant Lydia."
He said Lydia was funny, and shy, and smart. He said the book is a love letter to her and his family.
"I’m glad it’s out,” Cayton-Holland said. "I think it’s a really nice tribute to Lydia and I like that--I like that she in some ways is living on in this book—that makes me happy."
"Tragedy Plus Time" hit the local bestseller list, and Cayton-Holland said he feels a lot of support from the community he grew up in. He has a successful comedy career, and writes and acts in the TruTV sitcom “Those Who Can’t.” He could move to L.A. and make it a little easier, but he said that Denver is home. It is where he feels comfortable and happy.
"In a perverse way, it’s a weird life lesson Lydia gave me, 'Just when you think this crap matters—boom here’s some real life.'"
Cayton-Holland travels a lot, but Denver remains his home base. He and his wife Katie are expecting their first child in November. Adam credits her with making him more of an optimist.
"Katie’s kind of made me optimistic, which I was not for a long time," Cayton-Holland said. "That’s quite a gift."
"He’s going to be a great dad—the best dad,” Katie Cayton-Holland said. "That’s why I picked him."
Katie Cayton-Holland also gave Adam the idea to take extra copies of "Tragedy Plus Time" around to the Little Free Libraries scattered throughout the Denver neighborhoods.
"Adam was trying to figure out who to give the books to and since I frequent these, I thought there was no better place to put them," Katie Cayton-Holland said.
She helped and supported him through the writing process too.
"It hasn’t been easy to see the pain come back, it’s always going to be there, but writing a book about it, it’s going to be more heightened and painful," Katie Cayton-Holland said. “This is something he needed to do and I was all in for it."
The couple has sprinkled the books in the Park Hill and Baker neighborhoods so far. Adam Cayton-Holland grew up in Park Hill, and wrote the book in Baker.
He said he hopes anyone who finds the book in the free libraries, or buys it, learns something. Especially about the importance of talking about mental health issues.
"I think that we still whisper the words suicide, and mental illness, and depression, and be like, ‘Is it OK to talk about it?’" Adam Cayton-Holland said. "Yes, it’s very OK."
To learn more about “Tragedy Plus Time,” go to Adam Cayton-Holland’s website.