For as long as I can remember, my dream has been to study psychological resilience and music. I started singing professionally at age three, and I found joy and identity in creating and performing music.
While covering a music industry event in Hollywood recently, I had the chance to speak with Benjamin Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. A friend had mentioned Ben’s advocacy for youth suicide prevention, so I took the opportunity to ask him what it was about the process of creating music that had helped him in overcoming adversity:
“When I started playing music, I realized that intelligence had nothing to do with one’s ability to excel in the classroom environment. It gave me passion. It gave me confidence. I was able to make friends and also figure out new ways of learning. Creating gave me purpose every day and will for the rest of my life…Music saved my life.”
Like Ben, I know music to be a healing tool. As I attempt to explain where the past year of my life has taken me, I’d like to tell you how music saved my life.
On July 9, 2013, I grabbed sushi with a dear friend from college. It had been at least a year since we’d seen one another due to his relocation to another state. To this day, he remains the only friend who could ever get away with his hysterical show of picking me up and spinning me around. It was simply his way of saying “hello.” We had a wonderful dinner and parted ways.
The following afternoon, I received an urgent phone call from the Los Angeles Police Department. After an inundation of bewildering questions and the request that I be sitting down, I was alerted that my friend had sustained a potentially fatal injury. The following two months consisted of a blur of countless ER, ICU, and, eventually, hospice visits, and even more fatigued phone calls from detectives, friends, and family members. After failing to regain consciousness, my friend died on August 21, 2013, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was twenty-seven years old.
In the months following my friend’s suicide, the prolonged plagues of devastation and anxiety made it painfully clear that I was suffering from severe depression. Something about being the last person to see my friend before he took his life had made my very existence unbearable. I simply couldn’t imagine a reality where I would ever feel whole again.
One night I made a frantic request of a trusted friend, “Why can’t you just tell me it’s going to be OK?” I’ll never forget his response: “Because it’s going to be OK whether I say so or not.”
It hit me then: I had built my entire value solely upon the affirmation of others. How could I ever afford unconditional love and hope if I did not possess it for myself? It took more correspondence with kindred spirits, more star-filled nights, more floods of tears, and more compassionate, tough love from friends than I ever thought possible, but, eventually, I began to understand that spending so many years doubting my own worth had been, in fact, the greatest torment of all. Slowly, with the help of my music and a lot of blind faith, I began turning inward to face a past that I had resisted confronting for far too long.
It wasn’t quite until really digging into the psychology of music that I found a way not just to dull the pain but to also utilize it for courage. When the pangs of feeling alone threatened to overtake me, I discovered mercy in composing. When I found myself paralyzed by desolation and fear, melodies stepped in to share my burden. Music had not only provided a defense against panic, but it had also yielded a powerful strength and beauty within me – the will to struggle and the will to survive.
A year ago, I got the call about my friend. Three hundred and ninety plus days have passed since the night I called “Love you, buddy!” after my friend as he walked away. Over the past twelve months, I have experienced more trauma and mercy than I ever imagined possible. I’ve loved and lost more deeply than ever before. But I’ve also applied to – and received a full fellowship to attend – my top choice graduate school for music and psychological resilience.
Every now and again, it may seem as if there isn’t a soul alive who understands what you’re experiencing. When life becomes painful, it can prove incredibly tough to embrace it. For me, my faith, my friends, and my music carried me through the darkest moments. When my collapsed sense of self risked personal harm, gentle souls appeared to remind me of what I’d already overcome. Going to the record store, taking in a show, passing an evening alone with a piano – these things have all served as constant reminders that there is too much beauty to quit.
As we hold on tightly through life’s trials, we must remember that nothing lasts forever. Reach out to those who love and support you when you can’t discern the path ahead. Keep going, for there is another way. There is always hope.