This post is going to be difficult. This one’s going to be personal. It’ll be a bit controversial and it’s going to get into territory that no one likes talking about. I apologize in advance for offending anyone and that is never my goal and I’ll link some proper resources below on how to better deal with some of the topics brought up in this post.
So let’s get down to it. Let’s talk about mental illness, emo music and when a song is more than just an anthem.
It actually started innocently enough, I was listening to Camisado by Panic! At the Disco more recently than a young professional should be and I was very struck by the point and premise of the song:
Can’t take the kid from the fight, take the fight from the kid.
What a horrifying image of parents removing the will and spirit of their ‘spirited’ child through the use of power medications and repressive therapies. But there’s some context to this narrative the song is trying to lay out. By the time a person is sent to a medical treatment facility for mental illness, the individual is already a danger to themselves or to others. And while there are likely parents who are absolutely exasperated by their unruly teenagers, there is no sane parent out there who views medication and medical treatment facilities as a means to simply control their children. Not to say it never happens, but it is far from the status quo.
There’s an interesting concept that being young means being fraught with anxiety, depression and mental illness. There’s an idea that high school is somewhat synonymous with depression and concerns about boys, girls, image and status.
But is that really the case? Now, there’s plenty of research on the fact that SSRIs (the standard for anti-depressants) aren’t always great for teens and that oftentimes the best way to help a teen who deals with anxiety, depression and dark thoughts is to just listen to them. But in lieu of being listened to, Brendon Urie is sympathetic enough in a pinch. But really, therapy and strong friend bonds and a nurturing home life are the best medicines but those aren’t always guaranteed in a home. And truthfully not enough parents and guardians are attentive to the needs of their moody teens. I know many times I found more comfort from Brendon Urie than I never did from my aunts. And while it felt good in the moment to commiserate with Tom Delonge and Gerard Way they don’t replace counseling, meditation, prayer and oftentimes: medication to help ease the burden of depressive symptoms.
I also take great issue with that era of emo punk’s glorification of self-harm and suicide. It was a topic that made so many parents and psychologists uncomfortable that for a time, I wasn’t even allowed to listen to that. It didn’t stop me. I still absorbed a great deal of that culture but always felt conflicted about anything that made suicide sound like a noble effort.
Being raised Catholic, suicide was the worst possible thing. If you take your own life, some Catholic cemeteries will not even let your body rest on their grounds for fear of tainting the rest of those asleep with Christ who died due to other reasons. But the idea of the suffering artist didn’t start in the mid 2000s. People have long since assumed that to be creative, you must be ill and many artists (too many) will go off medication to finish a novel or start abusing illicit substances to complete an album. And we tend to collectively glorify the artists who died young and by their own hands. My own blog header is based on a Sylvia Plath poem and she famously committed suicide after struggling with bipolar disorder for most of her life. And many have began to question if we remember her because she was genuinely a great writer or because of her well-documented descent and struggle with mental illness. I choose to see her as a great artist and I do my best to balance that she was also a sick woman. I lament that she didn’t live longer and regret that we didn’t get to see more from her. And as a young teen, while listening to Simple Plan, I also thought heavily on Ophelia: every angsty teen girl’s idol. Ophelia killed herself in Hamlet because she couldn’t have the man she wanted or the life she wanted. And while fueled by Helena and strawberry pocky, the idea that simply languishing in sadness didn’t seem so bad as an emotional teen.
And what’s strange is that it really seems to be just this era of emo punk. I can’t say that these songs were any more or less emotional than let’s say Haru no Katami or even Blue. So what was lost in translation between In the End and Sakurabito. And even more modern hits from these bands are still just as emotional without the glorification of self-harm and death. Panic!At the Disco is an amazing example of watching a band grow from the halcyon days of I Write Sins Not Tragedies to more mature swoon-like swing of Death of a Bachelor without losing any of the emotion, sentiment or catharsis that comes from song.
And despite the melodramatic leanings of my youth: there is one thing that I know now for sure. There is nothing glamorous in suicide. There is no beauty in a life ended too soon. There is nothing glorious about choosing to end life. I have lost people to suicide in my life and I can confidently say the only product of suicide is grief, misery, regret and the immense loss of potential and promise. The specter of Death and Grief haunt families and those who have suffered a loss at the very hand of those they interred are doubly then haunted by that same Revenant.
There is nothing spectacular about ignoring medication for creative endeavors. There is nothing artistic about choosing to suffer. I cannot tell you how many of my friends and those closest to me used these anthems instead of therapy. Used them to rationalize anxiety and make light of depression. Used them to make seductive talk of ending life and just how wonderful it would be if we could all just disappear. We were foolish kids who were looking for an escape. And many of us that continued on into adulthood did grow up to be more well-adjusted or at least to find better coping mechanisms for serious emotional concerns.
And if I could go back, I’d at very least tell a younger version of myself all of those things. I would never tell teenage Amanda to stop listening to songs like Promise and Violence. But I would tell her to frame those emotions better. I would tell her that she really wasn’t alone. That her emotions were valid. That her feelings were important. I would let her take solace in the comfort of musicians but also encourage her and her friends to seek actual and real help. I would ask her to keep on writing and working on costumes and do things that actually, physically helped her feel more secure in her insecure world. But I could never take back the feeling of someone understanding me, even if it was a celebrity who shared that emotional blankness like a cheap call girl. I would never want to take back the fact that I felt accepted and understood. I would never say to stop punking or to give up. I’d say to hold on and to let the music flow: just with a little more maturity and emotional temperance.
There are plenty of valid and legitimate resources for those struggling with mental illness and depression. Here are just a few of them on top of the countless hotlines and call services you can use to get real help.
Just remember, no matter who you are, that you are never alone. Music can help heal some wounds and community almost always eases the pain. You aren’t alone. I’m here for you.