Behind the Music: Kasey Rausch

Kasey Rausch Photo by Jada Hubbard

Music was a sanctuary for Kasey Rausch as she grew up in southeast Texas, part of a large family whose romance with music goes back five generations. So was Kansas City—Parkville, to be precise—where Rausch was born and raised for a few years before her father’s job took the family south.

But each summer, she would return to her native state to stay with relatives and immerse herself in her family’s lively musical vibe. A few days after graduating high school in Texas in 1993, she moved back to Kansas City for good. Right away, Rausch became involved in the local music community, as a performer and supporter, playing live gigs and releasing recordings, both as a solo artist and as part of other projects.

A few years ago, Rausch stepped completely away from music and the local music world for a few reasons, including to pursue other professional and artistic options and to focus on her mental health. She recently answered questions from IN Kansas City about how her recent journeys have led her to places of enlightenment, discovery, and remedy.

What are your earliest memories of music?
I remember being two or three years old, living in a tiny house on Melody Lane in Parkville and plopping down on the floor in the middle of a circle of music makers. There was likely my Grandpa Rausch on mountain dulcimer or harmonica, my dad and multiple uncles on guitars, maybe a mandolin mixed in, and my mama and aunts singing along. At some point, I’d move to the couch, laying between the back of the sofa my pop made by hand and the backs of whoever was sitting on the edge with instruments on their knees.

What was your childhood like? Aside from music, what were your interests?
My childhood was a mixed bag that included lots of joy, a big, extended family, involved grandparents, parents who always let me know I was loved, and a sister who became my best friend—eventually! My dad’s job took us from Parkville to southeast Texas when I was four, and from that time until high school graduation I would spend most of my school days in Texas, plus a brief stint in New Mexico, and every summer in the Kansas City area, hopping from relative to relative to sleep in whatever couch or bed was available, sitting in on every music makin’/pickin’ party I could. I’d beg my parents to let me stay in Kansas City right up until just a couple days before school started, then back to Texas I’d go. I’m sure that’s why two days after I graduated high school, I was out of the state and back in Kansas City.

Besides music, I was obsessed with gymnastics and competed for five years across the state of Texas. I had dreams of being an Olympian. (I wasn’t nearly that good.) My gym was in Huntsville, Texas, and I spent two training camps with the Károlyis—yes, the coaches whose facility Larry Nassar would later make nightmares come true for girls. Same coaches, different gym.

It took lots of therapy as an adult to understand the impact that unhealthy ‘80s gymnastics training had on my mind and body, especially being autistic with ADHD and Sensory Processing Sensitivity, things we didn’t know when I was a kid. My childhood was not without trauma. Like far too many women and girls, I experienced sexual assault, the first at the age of five. I don’t remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t have to work through anxiety or big emotional meltdowns. Luckily, I had the balance of loving parents to help me navigate the big feelings that I was able to communicate and hold me tight through the ones I couldn’t say out loud because I didn’t have words for it all.

Describe yourself as an adolescent/high school student.
I so badly wanted to be happy, kind, loving, working towards world peace, and I felt the best way I could do and be all of those things was through my guitar. Yet as puberty hit, many of my mental health traits escalated, and like so many females, it was written off as hormonal. I was sick often, missing tons of school. I went through several therapists, all missing the big cues of autism, ADHD, SPS, PTSD.

Medical doctors finally diagnosed me with an autoimmune disease, also common with autism, though I didn’t have much guidance on how to take care of that. We didn’t have the internet available as a research tool. Still, through the ravages of an unstable thyroid and the workings of a neuro-divergent brain, I often could easily find joy and excitement in life.

When I felt good, I was so excited to feel good! I was expressive, funny and creative, an easily recognizable black sheep of the small town I was in. Although I was seemingly well-liked amongst most of my peers, everyone knew I was “different.” They wondered why I missed so much school.

As I got into high school my mental health suffered greatly. I got involved in an abusive relationship, too scared to tell anyone what was happening and too afraid to leave for fear of harassment. At 17 years old, I was institutionalized and diagnosed with long-term depression. We were just scratching the surface. Now as a nearly 47-year-old woman, I weep for the young girl who was already in it for the long haul with so little information to work with. At the same time, I celebrate as a grown woman for doing the work that now offers the tools to navigate my world on a healthier plane.

Several years ago, it seems, your life took a turn toward something other than music. First, you studied American Sign Language (ASL). What inspired that and what has become of that pursuit?
I had been working hard at music for a long time, nearly 30 years, when I started getting burned out. I needed to know that I could do something besides music. I felt completely defined by music.

All the while, I was watching a TV show with multiple deaf characters whose hearing friends and family also communicated with sign. There was a particular scene, filmed from a deaf person’s perspective, that showed deaf teenagers rapping in ASL. They felt in their bodies the beat of the music through the speakers and used their hands and facial expressions in sync to express themselves. I was fascinated and was quickly falling in love with this beautiful language. I wondered if my hearing could be of service to others in the way of interpreting music and plays, which would give me a way to remain in the arts world, while being of service and earning a paycheck.

I excelled quickly in my college classes, studying not only the language but deaf culture as well. However, just as I started my journey, the requirements for interpreters were increased. I realized with my limited funds and slow trek rate, it would take me many years to complete, and this, coupled with the realization that I also wanted to get away from working nights, caused me to shift my focus. I also had just started a new job while attending classes which felt like it was right where I needed to be. I had become a caregiver for a woman with Alzheimer’s.

Let’s talk about that: You helped her all the way through end-of-life care. I suppose you could write a book about that experience, but distill as best you can how it enlightened and changed you.
Patrice Eilts Jobe—“Mama P”—taught me how to see beauty in the simplest, everyday things: the blue sky, the swaying trees, a nice color palette. She was an artist—she created the Kansas City heart fountain logo—and her dedication to her work up until the last year of her life was astounding.

Even amongst her fear and frantic moments, she laughed often. She taught me that I don’t always have to defend myself because it’s not always about being right or being heard. Sometimes you just have to meet people where they are and love them the best you can. She taught me about trust and showing up for people. And through the experience I learned that one person can’t always show up for everyone. The foundation is that we show up for ourselves so that we can show up for others as we’re able. She taught me that it absolutely takes a village.

You also stepped away from music and, pretty much the public/social media world, for a long time for various reasons. You have since emerged, restored, it seems, in so many ways. In October, on the occasion of World Mental Health Day, you disclosed to your Facebook world that you are autistic and went on to talk about how you were among generations of women who were failed, ignored or overlooked by the mental health world.

You went on to talk about how liberating it has been to know what has been affecting you all these years. Again, a giant topic worthy of more than a few words, but elaborate on that: how this diagnosis has freed you.
Once I got an absolute answer of autism, it’s like my whole world, my entire life experience, came into a clearer, sharper image. I can now look back at my life and offer myself a little more kindness, now understanding the scientific thing that was happening in my nervous system. To be clear: I was not diagnosed by a medical doctor. After being in and out of doctors offices and therapy as a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s, a young adult in my early 20s, and intense psychotherapy in the last few years, I finally had to connect the dots myself.

For many years, the majority of the research done on autism focused on boys. Scientists want an even playing field in their studies and mixing the female body in the group “muddled it up,” so to speak. For generations we were dismissed as hysterical, given lobotomies and sterilized. Seriously.

My most recent therapist would point out traits I didn’t recognize that I had, and I started digging deeper, doing my own research. I remember coming across an article about Executive Dysfunction, a trait often present in autism, and forwarding it to my sister, weeping because I felt like I was reading an article about myself for the first time. It took me from seeing these challenges as something that I felt alone in, often selfish and bothersome to others, to something that was shared by a subset of neuro-divergent people.

As I dug deeper, the path kept becoming more clear until I was absolutely certain that I am autistic. It was apparent very quickly; I just needed to let it soak in. The next step was to ask my mother about what kind of baby I was and hear her perspective on the overwhelming melt downs I had throughout my life. It was more confirmation.

The reason I share this much of my path is because it is hard for a woman my age to get a professional diagnosis. My self-diagnosis is enough validation for me. I now know where to look for tools to help me navigate life in a neurotypical world.

We must talk about this because the stereotypes that society and the media have created in regards to autism must be smashed. When a large population of people are pigeon-holed into one or two ideas of either a Rain Man type of person or a total non-verbal person—both of whom are beautiful kinds of people—so much that the many other traits aren’t recognized even by oneself, we have a damaging blindness. If I had understood my needs years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so much, but then, maybe that wouldn’t have led to a life of songwriting and music. I really wouldn’t “fix” that for the world.

More good news to come from all of this: You have stepped back into the music world, which is reason for all of us to celebrate. What are your plans generally going in to 2022.
Thank you! Yes! I’m slowly dipping my toes back into the waters of music. For 2022 I’ll be in the recording studio a lot and I’m so excited! I love studio work. I have years’ worth of songs to catalog, and my intention is to take it as slowly and intentionally as I need and want.

November is your birth month, You turn 47. What is Kasey Rausch most looking forward to as she starts her 48th year in this world?
Watching my kids—all my “kids”—shine like the stardust they’re made from, laughing with my “Tiny Grama,” who this world is so lucky to have going strong for over 95 years, dancing with my great-niece, climbing mountains with my husband and hiking buddies, squeezing my parents, singing with my sister—all my “sisters”—learning the art of silversmithing from the world-famous Robyn Nichols, practicing loving better, listening better, being still longer, spiraling up more and being here now.