I didn’t tell anyone about my issues when I was first diagnosed with anxiety. I was scared and embarrassed and felt immature. Small. Pathetic.
I wasn’t alone in this.
I immediately took to the Internet to learn more about this thing that takes over an individual’s mind. Apparently, there were other people who felt the same way – like anxiety diminished them as a person, like people judged them for this thing that they couldn’t control.
That’s why I didn’t tell anyone, because mental illness and therapy are taboo subjects that shouldn’t be talked about. It should be kept under wraps – people don’t need to know what we’re struggling with. They’ll just judge and make things worse. Or, at least, that’s what I’d heard. I didn’t like the way that sounded. Not one bit.
Well, guess what? I just don’t care if someone thinks mental illness should be kept under wraps, because you know what? It shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t be afraid to be who we are, even if a part of us is our mental illness. It’s what makes us, us. And I’m damn proud of it.
Ever since I published my first post, the story of how I was diagnosed and how I came to terms, people have been asking me how I cope. Well, reader, there are multiple ways. It’s difficult, really, finding what works, but you have to experiment with a few things and see what calms you and works for you. I watch movies. I reread my favorite books no matter how many bloody times I’ve read them. I breathe in the smell of lavender. I listen to guided meditations on YouTube. I constantly open up my Anxiety Relief folder on my phone and pick an app to use. I practice mindfulness. I close my eyes and feel my feet touching the ground, I focus on easing the tension out of my muscles, I listen to my breathing, my heartbeat. I feel the touch of my hands on the blanket beside me. I breathe, breathe, breathe.
But, reader, there’s one thing I do that helps me probably more than any of the others, and that thing is music.
I have a playlist filled to the brim with songs that calm me down, give me inspiration, make me feel worthwhile and important. And today, I want to share a few songs and stories with you.
Flashback, four years ago. It’s February. A thick, white sheet of snow covered itself over what felt like the entire state of Connecticut. My friends and I are bundled up in coats and gloves and hats, and despite the snow, we’re on our way to a concert we’ve been waiting months for.
The walls are singing Hallelujah, Amen.
“Do you think it’ll be okay to drive?” I ask my friend and roommate, Liz.
“The roads are pretty clear now; besides, we’ll be on the Merritt most of the way. I think we’ll be alright.”
See, we don’t really care who you are. We’ve kind of got this non-exclusive policy of determining exactly who we open up too and let into our family, then who becomes a part of our united mass of harmony.
And so, we plop into Liz’s tiny green buggie and make our way through the snowy state all the way to another town far away from school. The roads are clear, but the snow is nowhere near gone. Velvety white covers every inch of Connecticut, and I stare out the window of Liz’s car the entire way there – nervous and excited and wanting to be at this concert already.
Four or five bands are set to play, but we are only there for one.
A couple of hours in, and a group of six men take the stage. The lead, a skinny boy with blond hair and black framed glasses smiles down gratefully at his fans, who are screaming his name with such passion, I think the building is going to explode, or the windows are going to shatter. I turn towards Liz and laugh.
“What band is this?” she asks me. “These people are going nuts for them,” she peers up at the stage, confused. Waiting. Wondering.
I just shrug my shoulders. “I’ve heard of them before…Paradise Fears, I think? But I don’t really know anything by them. Guess we’ll learn!”
That’s kind of become the thesis to this song. Through suffering, acceptance, grief, and strife, there’s no way that your puzzle piece fits into our puzzle wrong because everyone is welcome on this stage that we call Life.
A good while later, the screams are still deafening and the band members’ smiles are still lighting up the entire room. It’s captivating, really, their radiance and joy and passion for their music, this show. Their fans.
And we don’t really care who you are. Everyone is capable of looking up and wishing on a star. So catch it, so contagious, this daydreamers disease.
And hope can be your sword, slaying darkness with belief.
A soft, gentle piano begins and the room is still and silent. I swear, you probably can hear a pin drop. The lead singer grasps the microphone, closes his eyes, and begins to sing, and every single person in that crowd starts to sing with him.
It’s slow at first, the song – only the sound of the piano and the lead singer’s voice. It’s mesmerizing, wonderful, captivating.
More instruments begin to pick up.
We don’t really care who you are, regardless of how lost you are returning from, regardless of how far.
I suddenly feel something in me. A spark, if you will. A fire’s lit inside me and I feel different, changed. Stronger. I stand up straighter and stare right at that band in front of me.
So bring me all the worst of your broken, bruised, insane – because that’s the thing with music – when it hits, you feel no pain.
No matter what you did, I promise we forgave it. All that’s left is your voice; you’ve got no choice but to raise it. All you broken hearts, all you dejected dreams, just let yourself be free, because even broken wings can fly away.
One of the guitarists steps forward and explodes with these beautiful sounding chords. I notice around me that people are sobbing hysterically, holding one another’s hands and leaning on one another’s shoulders. I turn towards Liz, who’s wide-eyed with wonder and adoration.
“I…I think I like this band.” She tells me, still beaming up a them, giddy like a little kid in a candy store.
“God, me – me, too.” I reply. I swallow over a lump in my throat, taking in every single second of this moment. Who ARE these guys?
In time you’ll find that life’s a painting and you’re the artist.
Just open your eyes; it’s never to late to clear your canvas.
So paint me jealous, paint me rage. For God sakes, paint me anything. Just paint.
Your brush awaits.
And the walls are singing, Hallelujah, Amen.
Flash forward a little bit, friends. A year, actually. Valentine’s Day 2014. I just returned home from study abroad a couple of weeks prior, and Liz and I make our way from Connecticut to Massachusetts to see our favorite band in the world, Paradise Fears, in Boston.
“I’m going to cry when they sing Sanctuary,” Liz tells me. “And Battle Scars, probably, too.”
We’re all just singing, Hallelujah, Amen.
I just smile and turn up the volume.
Let your walls keep singing, Hallelujah, Amen.
We arrive at the train station. I am anxious and sit closely to Liz while these girls across from us animatedly discuss how they’re excited for the concert.
“You’re going, too?” Liz asks.
The girls’ eyes light up. “Yes! They’re our favorite band!”
C’mon, keep singing, Hallelujah, Amen.
The Red Room at Cafe 939 in Boston is packed. Liz and I squish in with the crowd and find a perfect spot a few feet away from the stage. We wait nervously, excitedly, anxiously for the show to begin.
Towards the end of the show, the boys put on a very intimate, acoustic performance of Sanctuary.
But this time, Liz and I don’t stand, confused, amongst fans singing their loudest.
This time, Liz and I sing along to every word – with passion in our hearts and tears in our eyes.
The walls are singing, Hallelujah, Amen.
The walls sing you to sleep. Hallelujah, Amen.
One secret meant to keep you safe tonight.
I swear that everything will be alright.
Flash forward again, guys. It’s 2017, and I’m sitting in my family room writing this blog post, nearly on the verge of tears listening to my favorite band. This band that changed my life and so many other lives. This band that, through their kindness, inspiring lyrics, and magnificent music, even saved some.
So, reader, there you have it. I have my list of things that help me cope with my anxiety, but music is probably the biggest one. Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration and lyrics and passionate musicians to help you out, and God, I’m so glad that Paradise Fears are those musicians for me.
So a special thank you to Sam, Jordan, Marcus, Cole, Michael, and Lucas.
I don’t know if you’ll ever read this. Even if you do, you’ve probably heard a few stories similar, about how you’ve changed lives and what not. But God, I can’t thank you enough for helping through one of the biggest struggles I’ve ever endured. I don’t know where I’d be without you. Without your music.
But back to you, reader. I want you to remember some things from this. You’re not alone. God, it’s the furthest thing from the truth. And the right people – your family, and your friends – they’ll accept you for whatever troubles you may be dealing with. Like mine. They accept me for my anxiety and my panic attacks and my moments of downright sadness. You’re not alone.
We’re in this together, reader. I promise you.
You’re not alone.
I want to leave you all with a few more things, because truthfully, this one little story about how Paradise Fears changed my life is the tip of the iceberg, really.
I started writing a book three months after the first time I saw them in concert, purely because Sanctuary gave me the inspiration for this story. And then, God, they did it again and released more breathtaking music that only made my want to write my book more.
It’s been a long process, but I’m 50,000+ words into this book and no matter what else has impacted me to keep this going, Paradise Fears will forever and always be my number one source of inspiration behind this novel.
So maybe I sound like a fangirl, but I don’t really care. Haven’t you ever heard a song or seen a band that just touched you in a way that changed you forever?
If you feel alone, here are some more of my favorite PF lyrics. I hope these help you the way they’ve helped me. Remember, reader, you’re not alone. Let the music overtake you and remember to breathe, breathe –
I’ll carry you home.
You’re not alone.
Keep marching on.
This is worth fighting for; you know we’ve all got battle scars.
You’ve had enough, but just don’t give up.
Stick to your guns.
You are worth fighting for. You know we’ve all got battle scars.
Keep marching on.
*Lyrics to Paradise Fears, Sanctuary and Battle Scars
*Thanks for changing my life, guys. Thanks for being YOU.