On Suicide, Music, and Emotional Resonance
This is a place for introspection.
Art is a mirror. It reflects an inner reality to those who behold it. It confides the self because it reflects the self.
Music is an excellent mirror. Most of us can attest to finding some sort of comfort in music. Misery loves company, so what better company to keep than a tortured soul that knows exactly how you feel?
My hypothesis is this: if you have experienced great joy or great sorrow, you assuredly have some soundtrack that plays in your mind whenever you walk through the corridors of memory.
I’m no stranger to sorrow. A little over nine years ago, I began showing the first symptoms of a near decade-long battle with depression. My anxiety reached such a fever pitch that my parents made me go to the doctor. Casual observers could see my heart quite literally pounding inside my chest. Things were clearly not okay, but as many young men do, I simply bottled my feelings inside. I did not permit myself to grieve. I did, however, in the quiet and solitary moments, seek solace in music. I had only just begun to explore the depths of the genre I would come to love, but something about Metallica‘s more somber tracks resonated with me. I cannot think of the summer of 2006 without hearing “Fade to Black” in my mind, Hammett’s sorrowful solo crying out to my own inner being for counterpoint, for understanding.
On July 9th, I lost the first of three friends this summer. James “Bozlinger” Hotel passed away in the night, and I reported on his death the next day. I watched an entire community of strangers grieve. I listened to Nine Inch Nails in his honor.
I am all alone this time around
Sometimes on the side I hear a sound
Places parallel I know it’s you
Feel the little pieces bleeding through
In December of 2010, I very nearly committed suicide. I wrote a note, grabbed a knife, and went into my bathroom to kill myself. I cut my wrist, shallowly at first. I prayed for the first time in a long time. I thought of my mother. I decided not to do it. I left the bathroom and sat on my floor and called my friends for help. The hesitation marks on my wrist faded with time, but the emotional scars lasted longer. I still haven’t been able to talk about this with my parents, even five years later. If I’m really being honest, I guess I still see the fact that I reached that point a personal failure. It’s easier to be vulnerable here with strangers than with people who may be hurt by the poor decisions I made, even if those decisions were made long ago.
It took me some time before I could listen to certain artists again after that day. Type O Negative resonated too much. To this day, “September Sun” reminds me of the darkest day of my life. It reminds me that I am alive, that I chose what may be the harder path of pressing onward after reaching rock bottom. It reminds me of what might have been.
On July 31st, a high school friend named Mat lost his long battle with mental illness. I didn’t hear about it for a couple weeks, but I again played the role of messenger, emailing old classmates. I hadn’t spoken to this friend in a few years, but I empathized with his grieving mother. I reflected on my relationship with him and wondered if things had been different had I been a better friend. I listened to Woods of Ypres and thought about how our actions are like ripples in water, felt by others we cannot see on distant shores.
There was a crack of electric light, coming down from a darkened sky
My dreams flashed before my eyes, as they were erased from my life.
It wasn’t until summer of 2011 that I really came to terms with my depression and learned how to grieve. I learned how to let go by committing pieces of nostalgia to flame. I found a peace and a recognition that I would likely always have a predisposition towards sadness. Even in that, though, I learned to be content. Years later, music would resonate with me for entirely different reasons. In 2013, many of my favorite albums struck a mental chord because they reminded me of how far I had come. Even a haunting, plaintive song like “Passing Through” can actually be uplifting when you remember where you’ve been and seek joy in where you are.
On August 5th, a good friend named Jordan took his own life. Just a week prior he was making plans to travel and talking about how excited he was to start his new graduate program. Life is impartial and unfair. For the first time since 2013, I cried. I cried in my office and tried to call other friends to let them know. This third death hurt the most. In the days since, I’ve had a lot of time for introspection. Over and over again I have found myself sitting in my office at home listening to A Black Sea by The Lion’s Daughter and Indian Blanket, a beautiful blend of unconventional black metal and folk spirituals. I keep thinking about how Jordan and I attended Pagan Fest a few years back, listening to Napalm Death‘s Utilitarian on the way there. I keep asking myself why. The truth is something I will likely never know.
I saw the daughter choose her fate,
tugging upon a rope
to take her down,
down to that place.
I saw the daughter choose her fate.
I am grieving, but I did not write this post to ask for sympathy. Having faced my own depression, death, and the fallout from it, I have learned how to embrace sorrow. I have good friends, faith, and a steadfast wife who supports me when the sea boils around me. I have my writing, and I can shape words to express my sorrow in ways that my tongue never could. I have music and the mirror it holds. I can look in that mirror and find a kindred to my suffering and know that I am never alone.
I wrote this post because I am certain that many of you are the same. You know what it means to suffer. You know what it means to hurt, and many of you use music as a coping mechanism. I wrote this because I want you to know that you are not alone. I want you to know that it is okay to grieve. Studies have shown that men are significantly more likely to commit suicide because they cannot reconcile their own pain with the external expectations, real or imaginary, they feel. I want you to know that it is okay. It is okay to grieve and admit failure rather than drowning yourself in booze or occupying yourself with work or burying your pain beneath material possessions. None of those things are inherently wrong, but sometimes we simply need to admit defeat, put on some music, and think.
I’m always here if you need me because I’ve been there.