RuPaul queen, and heavy fan favourite, Brian McCook (A.K.A Katya Zamolodchikova) recently tweeted an image announcing his break from shows and tours. “Hi, my name is not Katya,” McCook wrote in the statement. “I am Brian, a recovering drug addict and workaholic. I need to take some personal time for my mental health to heal and recover.” All booked shows have been postponed until 2019.
For those unaware of Katya’s rise to stardom, which means you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a brief outline. She was initially a season 7 contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race before returning to the show for All Stars Season 2 and finishing runner-up to Alaska. Following Drag Race, she gained further attention alongside Trixie Mattel with their UNHhhh segment on YouTube with WOWPresents, which was recently picked up by SBS Viceland and turned into The Trixie and Katya Show.
Her unapologetic transparency and comedic outlook on her experiences with stress, anxiety and alcoholism immediately won the hearts of fans. A personal highlight from season 7 was her "Krisis Kontrol" commercial, an imagined body spray relieving her from the “cacophony of demonic voices” in her head telling her “you’re not good enough”.
Concern was raised a couple days ago when McCook live-streamed a message on Instagram to his fans in French. “There is no emergency, there is no emergency,” he said, in loose translation. “But I need to take a little break".
"It's time to take a vacation, because my health, the drugs, my brain, it wasn't good."
“I'm not dying, I want to live,” he continued, “I'm a drug addict, but I'm sober… But I need to take a vacation, because I want to survive, like Gloria Gaynor… I need to take a vacation because I'm tired, I'm exhausted, my brain doesn't work anymore, because of the drugs, because of all the gigs. I believe you understand. We'll see, and I wish you a good day. Bye bye.” You can take a look at the full translation on a Reddit fan page here.
I’ve long admired Katya for the way in which she’s been able to combine comedy and art with articulate discussions surrounding mental illness, substance abuse and self-destructive behaviour. In laughing at herself, she has normalised these types of discussions with those around her, subsequently allowing for open dialogues.
During her time in front of the camera so far, Katya has highlighted a common, yet often unspoken, reality: that mental illness and substance abuse, despite moments of sobriety and happiness, often continue to linger in ebbs and flows.
McCook has also highlighted the fact that it's okay to relapse or have moments of doubt. I’ll always remember his candid chat with Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen (AKA. Miss Fame) about struggling with thoughts of breaking sobriety whilst on the show. “I’ve been sober for the past year and a half,” he’d said at the time. “Most of the time I’m fine, but being away from my network of support has been brutal.”
McCook’s break from drag is a firm reminder that, no matter who you are or how successful you may be, everyone deserves to take some time out to regather a sense of self and focus on your mental state. After all, it can be easy to feel overcome with stress or doubt without properly checking with yourself.
McCook is like no other; in articulating his ongoing battles, he has allowed for a barrage of fans and viewers to feel comfortable in articulating their own sadness or concerns.
In a society that often favours strength and resilience, McCook’s vulnerable honesty is a breath of fresh air.
Fellow drag race contestant Pearl showed her support McCook yesterday in an Instagram story. “Life is about creating balance and harmony, not capitulating every last piece of your soul. To future drag race contestants: only work as much as you think is appropriate FOR YOU.”
We all have moments of weakness and we all deserve moments of reflection. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this.
We wish you all the best in your break this year, Brian.
If this article has touched on issues for you, please don’t hesitate to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Alcoholics Anonymous Australia’s 24-hour phone line on 1300 222 222.