Growing up my father used to ask me almost daily what my life story was. To make conversation sometimes on the phone or at the dinner table, in bouts of silence, he would shout “So son, tell me your life story!” which in turn would prompt me to say: “My life story? It’s nothing special.”
And now 21 years later I realize I never once honestly answered his question. Granted he knew most of my life, I never told him the story from my point of view.
I never answered the question for him, or myself, the one thing that truly matters;
Who am I?
To answer this I think I have to start as early as I can remember.
Growing up as a child I was very fortunate to have two parents who cared for me and loved me. I’m the oldest child in my family and have two younger brothers, Kevin and Jason, 2 and 5 years younger than me, respectively. For the first 12 years of my life, I was a typical kid. I had lots of friends, played sports, video games, and went to school. I fell asleep every night with a gameboy hidden under my pillow so I could play pokemon until I fell asleep.
But as I entered the 7th grade something was different. Something within me changed more than your typical pubescent middle schooler.
I can remember being 13 and wanting to die.
The overwhelming sense of sadness that started to follow me around began to eat at every corner of my body. As a thirteen year old boy, I didn’t know how to handle it. I would reach out to friends saying that a “darkness” was following me around. I would explain that I would get sad about nothing and didn’t know what to do about it. Most of my friends would encourage me to cheer up, but no one couldn’t understand the depths of which I was speaking.
I can remember being at a ski resort for my 13th birthday where I had a group of my friends sledding together and being lost in my head. I wasn’t having fun. I couldn’t enjoy it. I was sitting at my own birthday party full of my best friends and was still sad.
And it continued to get worse.
Eventually that pain I felt became so strong that I thought the only way to derail the approaching train of continued sorrow would be to inflict pain in a physical way instead.
So I cut myself.
My parents eventually caught on and found out, and started taking me to a psychologist and different therapists so I could get the help that I needed. It was then that I was diagnosed with Depression.
The therapy sessions for me weren’t too great. I didn’t really get any answers, and part of me didn’t want to get better. I was convinced that the way I was feeling was going to stay. And that I was simply going to have to live with it for the remainder of my life. Persuming I stayed alive. So most of the time I lied to the therapists about how I was doing. Saying things were good when they weren’t, saying my moods had improved, putting a smile on and saying whatever I had to to get out the session and back home.
Although I wouldn’t call those therapy sessions a success, there were things that happened that year that did start to help.
From the encouragement of my mother I started writing. Mostly poetry in the beginning, with angsty lines and lyrics that would fit over any song found on a modern rock station. As awful as those poems were it was then I realized how writing could be therapeutic. After I would finish something I felt a little better. The ink on the pages absorbed some of the mess that was in my head.
Apart from beginning to write I also recieved my first guitar from my grandmother for christmas. My mom started taking me to guitar lessons every week and would have me sit down and practice at home. But being a thirteen/fourteen boy who had just made a premier club soccer team who practiced twice a week and had a game, I told her I was too invested in sports to pick up an instrument. But to my (now) appreciation she forced me to keep playing guitar, knowing what musical ability I had displayed since I was a child.
I continued to write and play guitar as I went into high school. My depression came and went in periods, although a constant weight was held in the back of my head, whispering words of discouragement and taking me out of moments of reality. I still rarely talked to friends about what was going on. As far as most were concerned I was a happy outgoing kid. The few that I talked to about my sadness, I would just say I was having a bad day. I never used the word depression. I didn’t want people to know.
I thought they would judge me.
I became captain of my soccer team the first two years in high school. I worked as an anchor, producer, and director of the high schools morning show. I participated in a male pageant at the high school. I had a girlfriend. I continued playing on the premier soccer team
and played tennis, baseball, and basketball for school and on local town teams. From an outside perspective I was totally fine, but at home when I was alone, I was completely someone else.
This charade was something I kept going for a long time. High school was a time where I tried to bury the feelings as much as I could. But as most can guess, they couldn’t stay hidden. I would continue to go into periods of depression, and I did my best to channel almost all the negative energy that came forth into my writing and songs, which started playing a much more relevant part in my life. I would spend almost all time not on the field or in school in my basement in front of a computer, writing songs and practicing my playing. And during my sophomore year I finally had a chance to display all the work I had been doing.
Some friends of mine who had been in a few bands in the past had started a new project called Scan The Sky. Knowing how good some of the material was before the band started I joined the band as a piano player (which I had no experience in) just to get an in since both guitarists spots were taken. And after a show as the piano player and taking the backseat for the first single, I eventually worked my way up to lead guitarist, becoming the main songwriter in the process.
Over the next two years I worked diligently on writing the music and lyrics to our debut record. Everyday I channeled my depression and negative thoughts into art. And while it was very therapeutic, I started to find that I was only creating good things while I was depressed. The days where I felt happy and positive I would sit down to write and would get nothing. But I just took the “I’m a tortured artist route” and moved forward.
In 2011 we put out an Ep of three songs and continued to work on the main release. I directed and edited the music video for one of the songs, Forget Sunset, which we shot above my Dad’s auto garage in an old flooded workspace. That december I also passed my two year anniversary with my then girlfriend.
In 2012 things continued to go well in both my relationship and the band. I graduated high school in June of that year and proceeded to work on the last of the bits missing from the album.
But that summer is where things started to go wrong for my mental health. Me and my girlfriend broke up before college and it hit me hard. I hadn’t been completely “alone with my thoughts” in almost three years, and being single again didn’t help the depression I was trying to hide. Around the same time I also found out my parents were going to be splitting. I felt I had to be strong for everyone in the family and tried to be the one who could bridge communication and make sure everyone was doing okay. Being the oldest I was concerned for my younger brothers, and began to pile more pressures and emotions down on top of the existing shadow of my depression.
But still I pressed forward.
The music became my sole purpose. We finished all the recording for the cd that summer, and continued to work on mixing and mastering as I made my way into my first semester of college. The first two months of college I saw as an opportunity to just start over. There
was new people, I was away from home, I thought maybe I can make a new lifestyle and actually be happy.
But it was only so long before more fuel was added to the fire. Things started to be tense in my dorm room as there were conflicts with my roommate, myself, and his girlfiend (my roommate was also the singer of the band). My first rebound attempt after breaking up with my girlfriend ended with me being used by someone questioning their sexuality, which led to me feeling extremely used when it was decided it was not a male they were looking for. My mental health started deteriorating more, I would stay up for days straight, go on runs at 2 in the morning, binge eat or not eat at all, and started having total disregard for myself.
But the one thing holding me together was knowing all the work I had been doing for the last two years was about to be released for everyone to hear. And that excitement was an emotion I could still feel.
One of the only ones left I could feel.
But then came the nail in the coffin.
That december we released our debut full length album, and the reception was great. We were getting a lot of traction online and were in the process of organizing a tour on the east coast.
But things had been becoming very fragile during that first semester within the band as the relationships were strained and tested with everyone separated at different schools. It got to the point where I had realized everyone’s heart wasn’t in the project as much as mine was. The whole thing became a hassle of getting ahold of people, planning shows, or working on future material. It started causing me so much stress and anxiety, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. Not within this band.
So I quit.
A month and a half after the cd came out, I left the band.
And it was at that moment I broke.
The depression and pain and emotions from my life, my girlfriend, my family splitting, and the band all hit me and my whole body shut off. I became a shell of myself; completely apathetic and lifeless. I no longer cared what I did with my life, I didn’t care who knew I was sad. I no longer had a will to live.
I went through that second semester on my freshman year drinking and playing video games. I didn’t go out, I didn’t talk to anyone more than I had to. I hung out with three friends and that was about it. I couldn’t tell you one significant thing that happened if I tried.
I was breathing but I wasn’t alive.
I stopped writing, I stopped working out, I even stopped enjoying food as much as I did. I did what I needed to get through the day, staying alive because I had promised myself I would never take my own life because of the pain it would put on others.
For those six months I felt like someone had shut off every switch in my body. But come that summer, somehow one got turned back on. I got a new job and started changing my hairstyle. I started hanging with some older friends from home again. I started talking to two guys about writing music again.
I had started making my way up from rock bottom.
That next semester I started rooming with the best friend I had made at school. I started opening up to him about what was going on and he was extremely supportive and as understanding as he could be. My fear was that things would change and I’d be judged. But if anything I felt more comfortable around him, and nothing in regards to our relationship changed.
That semester I also took a civic engagement course about helping the community. In this class I worked with three girls to help the veteran population on our campus. I adopted a lot of mindsets in this class about seeing things from other people’s point of views, seeing privilege, perceptions of realities, and most importantly, advocating. It was also in this class that I started to get to know this beautiful girl. A girl, one year later, I’m now dating.
Over the course of sophomore year I started writing again, although not much, it was enough. I continued to write music with the two guys in a new band called Sleep Season. But this time I wasn’t the guitarist, I was the drummer. I bought a drum set and taught myself to play drums in three weeks before we recorded our debut ep, a feat i’m still proud of to this day. We recorded in January of 2014, and it went through the mixing and mastering process throughout the summer.
That next summer I continued to try and be a little better. I opened up to more people about my depression and about what was going on. It was becoming easier to talk about. And while some people didn’t understand or did judge, the vast majority treated me no different, and met me with empathy and compassion.
In August of 2014 Sleep Season put out the EP, only for the guitarist to quit a few weeks later. This was a devastating blow again as I had felt I was making progress, and started to recess. I still saw the progress I was making and tried to hold together what I had done over the last year.
But that October I had fallen into a really bad period of my depression. I felt really checked out from my life and friends, and found myself not sleeping again. I would lay in bed and not talk to any of my six roommates with my eyes being pulled into the back of my head.
It was then that I finally decided to take the next step for my health. I called my Dad and told him I wanted to start taking medicine for my depression. I had been nervous in the past based on all the scare stories that are out there, but felt I had no other option to try and find some sort of happiness.
I started going to the school counselor and was prescribed Prozac. Between the therapy and the meds the end of fall and winter started really turning around. I started working on a few new pieces, and more importantly, was finally able to allow myself to be comfortable enough with a girl for the first time since my relationship in high school. I started letting people in again in regards to my depression, and in an intimate relationship.
Things started to look up and I started to gain a little bit of confidence back in myself. Going into this spring’s semester in 2015 all the pieces started falling more into place.
I was enrolled in a class called “Electronic Writing For The Media” which involved starting and running a blog based on a topic of your choice. And I was in a toss up between doing music or mental health. After asking my roommate he promptly answered: “Dude, do mental health.”
So I did.
And that’s where this website started. This whole idea of community, the pieces of art, my photography project, my music, my stories, and these words are an accumulation of the pain, happiness, and experiences that have happened in my life.
Those cds I put my heart into? They were called Dear Hope and We Must Be Broken. The two names of the website. The civic engagement class? It taught me that it is possible to change things, and that there are people who you can work with to help. Being a soccer captain? I learned to be vocal, confident, and a leader, despite my mental illness.
And most importantly, all the hardships I’ve faced, what has that taught me? Empathy.
My whole life I’ve been a pleaser. I would do anything to help someone who needs it. I’ll put anyones needs in front of my own (not always a good thing) and hate seeing anyone sad. Maybe it’s because of the constant sadness I’m in, or the vast experiences I’ve been through, but I think that it’s one positive thing the depression has given me.
Now, 6 months after launch, the website has 8,000 hits and almost 700 unique followers. I’m conducting a research project on mental health that will be published. I’m creating a photo project that details and depicts what mental illness looks like on the outside. I’m creating an assembly for children in middle school and high school about mental health and it’s importance.
My depression is not gone and it never will be. In fact, as I sit here writing this, I am on the tail end of an episode that has lasted me the last 4 weeks. I realize it comes and goes, but it doesn’t make being in the period any easier. But for now, I’m confident in knowing I’ll always come out the other side. I have a great support system, a caring family and a loving girl friend.
So if I were to sit down at a table with a stranger and introduce myself, I would tell them about how I’m a musician, a writer, and that I run a website on mental health. And if they asked for my story, I think that maybe I’m at the point where I would be able to sit there and tell them this one.
The one my father had asked me so many times my whole life growing up.
This is my story. This is who I am.
And this is why I do this.
I am not broken.
And I am not alone.
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