Music: the experience of living, of being human, translated into sound and sense. It’s a refuge in times of chaos and confusion, and it’s a celebration in moments of joy. For me, it has always been an anchor. Music provides a way to make sense of a world full of contrast, one that is at once beautiful and terrible, both broken and hopeful.
This anchor became one of my only sources of stability when I lost a friend to suicide in high school. The world as I knew it collapsed. Where do you turn when tragedy cuts a story short? What does it mean to wrestle with grief and questions that won’t resolve?
Music offered me solace, helping me move through pain when it would have been easier to become paralyzed by it. In music – in the songs themselves and in the other people who connected to them – I found proof that I was not alone in what I was going through.
Two years later I found myself in a season of raw nerves and sleepless nights. Another loved one was struggling with suicidal thoughts. My mind raced constantly. When I went to bed I wondered whether he’d still be here in the morning, praying that he would be able to begin a journey of recovery. When fear felt overwhelming, music was the light that kept the darkness at bay. It sang of the possibility of recovery and brighter days. It suggested that this story – his story – was not over yet. Music also proved to be the catalyst in my friend’s healing. Writing and playing music provided an outlet for the storms he weathered inside himself. It was the first step in his journey towards recovery, a journey that today sees him healthy, focused on recovery, and pursuing a career in music.
Not long after, I began to experience my own struggles with depression and anxiety. The world, previously full of color and emotion, dimmed to a soul-numbing, leaden grey. My best efforts to connect with the world around me felt blocked by an invisible wall. I believed depression’s whispered lie that I was inadequate and unworthy of love. Listening to music was one of the few times I felt anything. I found catharsis and hope in the small flicker that reminded me that I was still alive. All was not lost.
Songs are powerful things. Songs tell the truth that we are not alone; they remind us that others have felt the same way. Songs say it is OK to feel how you feel. It is OK to struggle. It is OK to cry and scream and shout and perhaps sing as well. It is OK to feel stuck between verses.
I felt stuck between the knowledge that I couldn’t keep struggling in silence and the fear of speaking up. I feared the unknown, I feared the stigma of mental illness, and I feared the heavy reality that spoken words create. They might have already been true, but I didn’t want to say aloud that “I need help” or “I am a person who struggles with depression.”
Listening to music helped me realize that those words might be part of the story, but they were not the whole story. This verse might be struggle, but I could choose recovery for the next.
Music helped motivate me to step into a counselor’s office for the first time and then a second time and many more times after that. The first two years of recovery were the most challenging of my life, but they taught me that I was stronger than I knew. It was also during this time that I helped found a UChapter at my school. In the space provided by the UChapter, I found stability, hope, and community.
I also rediscovered music in an entirely new way. We threw benefit concerts as part of the UChapter programming, and I fell in love with the work. Watching the shows come together was an experience I’m not sure I can put into words. I felt joy, pride, and an undercurrent of heartache to hear the stories of people present and know what they had endured. But the feeling that prevailed was hope. I hoped for the others in the room, hoped that community and music could overcome the darkness that haunts us. I felt a powerful sense of purpose. I realized I had many things to be grateful for and just as many to fight for.
Today I fight to help bring meaningful music to people, to provide them with the community and hope I have discovered to be so powerful in so many lives. Music creates a safe space in which to address topics like vulnerability and mental health. It’s a universal language, a source of connection, and a vibrant reminder that we are not alone. We are all in this life together.
Some seasons feel heavier than others. Life moves like that. But through music I have found solace and solidarity and community. I have found others who live with the problem of pain, who believe that the best days are ahead. I’ve found the courage to live openly and honestly and to reach out to others. I have found a purpose to the pain, a reason to cry and scream and shout and sing.