David T. Lewis
I was maybe 11 or 12. My bedroom door was closed and I was having a profound moment. Facing my mirror, mouthing out the words, "Show a little faith there's magic in the night. You ain't a beauty, but, hey you're alright." I am sure my parents were smirking a floor away. Their son prematurely shouting along to Bruce Springsteen's blue-collar ode to aging underdog lovers in Thunder Road. It didn't fit, it was pre-teen relationship pantomime.
Profoundly sensitive and raw, I was always touched by art. Music was it's most unadulterated form. I had a cassette single of Eternal Flame by the Bangles. I'd listen intently to this totally saccharine song and cry for all the following 3 minutes and 58 seconds. Then once the song ended, I'd collect myself, rewind and start again.
As I got older this catharsis trigger started to morph into hormonal shame. Epic ups and downs. This nagging dread. As I spent many of my youthful days crippled by this sense of free floating existential anxiety: what if I'm not good enough? what if I fail? what if I'm humiliated?
By what? It didn't matter: small talk with girls, speaking in class, ordering donuts. Anything could trigger it. I remember clearly being paralyzed at the prospect of getting off the school bus. Somehow unable to do something so simple was insurmountable. I sat in the back of the bus, trembling, sweaty with my stomach grinding. The bus driver yelling at me. Phil Collins on the radio, "Well if you told me you were drowning, I would not lend a hand." It felt like an emotional seizure.
Now that I am over 40 I can look back and see these stories as cute - endearing, even - but truth was they were deeply painful at the time. The other - more difficult - fact is that I still suffer with both anxiety and depression. Only now I have perspective, outlets, and methods to move forward. I am more forgiving and I have a sense of community that I didn't when I was younger.
During those panicked bus rides throughout middle school, I didn't talk to anyone about my symptoms or fears. It felt stupid or dorky. I was also deeply ashamed. It wasn't until my freshman year that I found something that spurred some hope: punk rock. Not the genre per se, but the DIY "scene". I started to go to concerts, I started hanging out at art galleries, I started making terrible movies. What drove me was this sense of misfit belonging, coupled with absolute and earnest expression.
I cringe a little bit now thinking about my most pretentious self, talking at length about Fellini films, pseudo-political hardcore revolutionaries like Refused or Fugazi, the cultural critiques of Damien Hirst, Raymond Pettibone's subversive drawings. It was just a movie, just music, only a painting but really it was much more to me. It served a deeper purpose, because it helped me set a new horizon line.
Now, I'm not writing this as some homage to Nick Hornby, but just as a backdrop to my unyielding empathy for how difficult it is to be a young person. How truly uncomfortable it can be as you sort through the emotional baggage of your life. Your place in the world in plain view of this newly digital age.
More than all that though, I firmly believe that we leave our young creatives stranded, without an outlet or healthy notion of self-care. I'm writing this as a time machine to my younger self. I want to say loudly, that the romance of suffering and isolation is total bullshit. Being sick is not part of your gift.
I have lost 3 people in my life, in recent years, due to the grip of depression. I’ve known countless more. Sadly, the darkness of depression is too often accompanied by suicide, addiction, and self-destruction. So as I write this, I’m reminded of how important it is to discuss the challenges that so many of us face in our mental health. If for no other reason than to attempt to normalize the loneliness that comes along with the acute discomfort of depression.
We should take care of ourselves and those around us. Be open, offer acceptance, patience and kindness. Listen. And if you are in this dark mind or feel trapped and treading water, speak up. For yourself, but for others too. Advocate. Be that beacon and offer light.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (TTY 800-799-4TTY). This number can be dialed from anywhere in the United States 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
David Lewis is a Dissonance Board Member.