Suicide Warriors: Twenty One Pilots

I believe in this world many of us are suffering in silence, feeling alone among the masses with nobody to truly expose our pain to. I’ve written about this before, and every once in a while – especially on Bell Let’s Talk Day – the conversation about mental health and depression swells up into the mainstream for a while before it swiftly subsides back into the darkness.

Last year I discovered the band Twenty One Pilots thanks to their catchy song House of Gold hitting a local radio station. It intrigued me enough that I checked out the rest of the album and slowly, song by song, I became hooked. I even spent an entire 1.5 hour training run last spring listening to the same six songs on repeat. There was clearly something about Twenty One Pilots that was striking a chord within me.

After watching hours of interviews today, I’ve finally put it together: singer/songwriter Tyler Joseph is one of us. He wears his vulnerability on his sleeve rapping and singing about contemplating suicide, about feeling alone in the world, and about fighting just to get through the night. What sets him apart from every other ‘life sucks’ singer out there, though, is that he comes down into the pit with us and hands over a branch of hope to cling to. For example:

Am I the only one I know,
Waging my wars behind my face and above my throat?
Shadows will scream that I’m alone,
But I know we’ve made it this far, kid.

And I will say that we should take a day to break away,
From all the pain our brain has made,
The game is not played alone.
And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it,
And keep it frozen and know that,
Life has a hopeful undertone.

 (Migraine)

He is in the battle with us, holding our hands so we can try to get through those dark times, together. He shares in this terrific interview his struggle to find self-worth, the importance of journaling, and what might be the real meaning of success for him, while in his music he tries to teach us ways to gather up strength to push forward:

You think twice about your life, it probably happens at night,
Right? Fight it, take the pain, ignite it,
Tie a noose around your mind loose enough to breathe fine and tie it,
To a tree, tell it, “You belong to me,
This ain’t a noose, this is a leash,
And I have news for you, you must obey me.

(Holding On To You)

I know that I can fight or I can let the lion win,
I begin to assemble what weapons I can find,
‘Cause sometimes to stay alive you got to kill your mind.

(Migraine)

And guess what, he’s saving lives. If you look up Twenty One Pilots videos on YouTube and check out the Comments section, you will find comments like “TOP (Twenty One Pilots) saved my life” over and over again. Watch their PinkPop Festival performance and you won’t see fans waving signs that say “I ❤ U Tyler”, TOP lovelythey are waving signs that say “Thank you.” A recent tweet on fan account @thankfulforTOP reads: “they stopped me from killing myself. honestly. i could not be more grateful, i love them more than words can say.”

Watching Tyler talk about each song on the hit album “Vessel”, his struggle is written all over his face. He doesn’t hide it but he also doesn’t wear it like some great marketable badge of rock ‘n’ roll. He puts it out into the world with a quiet, humble honesty. He’s a suicide warrior, fighting for his life and fighting for ours.

In that same interview, he talks about how he pushed to have an extra song added to the end of the album to deliver one last message to listeners:

“I will fear the night again. I hope I’m not my only friend.
Stay alive, stay alive for me.”

(Truce)

I hope this band keeps making music for years to come. They are a much needed voice in the world.

And now, to put a smile on your face after a bit of a heavy post, here’s a short clip of the two of them on the lighter side. (Who couldn’t love these guys?!)

 

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The Unspeakable Unfairness of Life

In the last month, I have been reminded time and again of the unspeakable unfairness of life as the grief of others has skirted me, overwhelmingly reminding me of the universe’s limitless capacity to inflict pain on those within it.

It began with JH, initials representing two people. First, a sad man who died alone in his apartment following a lifetime of battling addictions and depression, destroying countless relationships along the way. Second, his grieving son, mourning the loss of a relationship he never had, yet identifying so strongly with his genetic heritage that he began resigning himself to following in his father’s footsteps, slipping increasingly into his own addiction and isolation. Two generations directly impacted by our society’s inability (or unwillingness) to step up and take responsibility for supporting those who need a stronger, more proactive approach than just a paycheque and a handshake. Two generations directly impacted by our inability (or unwillingess) to protect children from growing up in homes where they are hurt instead of loved.

Next, JB. A beautiful and shy two year old boy who loved to sit in the pink fuzzy chair at my workplace’s childcare centre, who mischievously enjoyed pressing the tap on the water cooler until water spilled over the catch tray and onto the carpet, who grinned his widest grin as we spun him around in a tall office chair. His mother had recently finally decided to leave her abusive husband and was just starting to feel that her life had sunnier days ahead when suddenly JB became sick and died in hospital three days later. Just three days for her only son to go from a sniffly nose to a coffin.

Finally, OW. A healthy five year old girl who fell sick just before Christmas, went to sleep on Christmas Day and never woke up. Today, her visitation, with a special request to wear our most colourful, sparkliest clothing. As I approached her mother in her glittery purple dress and frilly headband, we fell into each other’s arms, sobbing. I told her she was beautiful, her most sparkliest self. She sobbed in reply, “I did my best for her.”

Helen Keller once said “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” It’s true. I am constantly amazed by the overcoming of pain and the strength of those around me, but right now I don’t understand why there has to be so much pain in the world. We are a species that can fly to the moon, that has devised ways to kill millions of people in the blink of an eye, and invented technology that puts the furthest corners of the world within reach of each other. Why aren’t we able to prevent the deaths of our healthy children? Why aren’t we able to protect innocent souls from abuse? Why can’t we commit to helping those struggling with mental health issues? I just don’t understand.

To je smůla

Pronounced: toh yeh smooola

That’s Czech for “that’s bad luck” or “that’s too bad”.

I was raised by outwardly pleasant but inwardly negative, childish parents who mostly ignored me and my feelings unless somehow it would benefit them to pay attention to me. I heard the phrase To je smůla a lot growing up. I often still hear my inner little girl thinking it to herself as she watches me stumble and fumble my way through situations other people seem to glide through effortlessly; other people who were raised by genuinely loving and supportive parents.

I know, I’m a grown up and I’m responsible for my actions now. I can’t keep blaming my parents, holding them responsible for my choices today. Shitty childhood? To je smůla. Suck it up, sister.

But here’s the thing. Yes, I am responsible for my choices and actions today, but everything in psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy tells us undeniably that our actions today are influenced and guided by our unique perceptions of the world which were created in childhood, shaped by – guess who – our parents. We come into this world with no notions about anything. Our understanding of the world and our own place in it is molded by our parents. It’s a simple fact. And we carry that through the rest of our lives.

As an adult, it’s my responsibility to fix what they broke. I take complete responsibility for that and am doing my very best to tackle it piece by piece because, quite simply, I want to be happy. I don’t want to wake up every day feeling hopeless, finding relief from the sadness only by imagining the different ways I could bring my life to an end because the mountain of problems my parents have gifted to me through their own dysfunctions feels entirely inconquerable.

And this ridiculous society we’re living in tells me to go buy ‘stuff’, get a better job, car, outfit, haircut. Better meds. No meds. More exercise. More wine. But whatever you do, DON’T tell people you’re depressed. Because nobody really wants to hear it, and let’s face it: our society doesn’t care. Proper therapy costs a fortune and is out of reach for most of us. Free therapy is stop-your-crying therapy that doesn’t get to the root issues so doesn’t actually effect any sustainable change. And employers just want you to keep your mouth shut and keep performing – exceeding expectations, increasing production, surpassing sales targets. At the end of the day, our society doesn’t really care about people, and it sure doesn’t care if you’re happy or if you’re ‘ok’. Just don’t cause trouble and keep paying your taxes.

So what happens to me, and people like me? I am described repeatedly by people as happy, positive, strong, confident, funny, smart. I’m considered middle class, successful, personable, a good friend. To tell my story, I need to create an anonymous blog because I’m just not brave enough to ‘come out’ to the world. I just don’t actually believe people care, and I don’t believe they can help. And to think I’m just one of about 11 million Canadians who aren’t getting the help we need for our mental health issues. To je smůla.

Statistics about mental health in Canada: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx