Music and Mental (in)Stability

Haven’t written on here in so long I barely even know how this whole blogging thing works anymore.

[taps mic] This thing on?

Anyways…

Hello Internet. How are you?

That’s cool.

Me?

I’m doing alright actually, which is interesting considering the circumstances.

However, though I’m doing alright at the moment, I’m doing that kind of alright that’s made me realize just how not alright I’ve been for most of my life.

To put that statement in metaphorical terms (I am a writer, and English teacher, so please…indulge my neurosis for a moment): imagine a giant storage unit, with a metal sliding door and multiple locks and security codes and the whole shebang. There’s rust around the edges too, because this thing is old. Three and a half decades old, to be exact. And full. It’s so full it’s damn near bursting at the seams.

You see it? Good.

Now imagine this storage unit has been sitting in the back of my head since I was a kid, just gaining more rust and dust and strain.

And the unit’s contents? Shit, it’s got everything.

This old-ass storage unit sitting in the back of my head is filled with all sorts of life-changing crap: the ability to understand and empathize with others; the ability to accept, acknowledge, and change personal shortcomings and bad behavior; the ability to communicate effectively; loads of epiphanies and…

A storage unit filled to the brim with perspective, to be succinct.

Broad perspectives, but more specifically the various perspectives of the many people who have come in and out of my life throughout the years.

If you can, really imagine this packed storage unit (I’m imagining that moment in Breaking Bad when Walt opens a similar storage unit to reveal mountains of drug cash). The unit’s door is warped from the pressure of everything inside. Yet it’s managed to stay stubbornly closed anyways, for over 34 years.

Can you see it?

I’ll take that as a yes.

Now, imagine that–recently–Life itself stormed in through the entrance of that mind. Like a SWAT team, just rammed through the gate and barreled straight to the back, found that storage unit, and promptly stomped a giant boot against that strained door, bursting through the locks and security features and hinges, cracking through the rusted metal. Tore the whole thing apart, sending all of those loads and loads of perspective flying in every direction (I’m imagining “Life” in this metaphor as a huge manic soldier, high on uppers and red-eyed from being in the trenches forever).

To say it was a mess up there would be overstating the obvious.

Anyways, metaphors aside.

It should come as no surprise that it was the slow death of a romantic relationship that started the ball rolling on all this (I tell my students to avoid cliches in their stories, even as our lives are filled with them). More specifically, the many moments and circumstances leading up to and following this break-up led to me having so many successive realizations that I’ve got the equivalent of mental whiplash–just epiphany after epiphany, like a never-ending line of dominoes falling one by one, moment by moment, day by day, for weeks now.

A bit overwhelming. But seems to be par the course when it comes to break-ups.

In an effort to avoid the melodramatic though, I’ll point out that the break-up was just one of many factors that contributed to this mentality shift. Seems this was just my year for personal change.

Blah blah blah, what’s your point, right?

The point of this (and stick with me, I promise there is one) is that I’ve been recently forced by Life to take a long, hard look at myself, who I am, who I’ve been, and–most importantly for the purposes of this post–who I want to be.

And one difficult admission that I’ve had to make is that I’ve spent the vast majority of my years being the worst type of emotionally unstable person: the type of emotionally unstable person whose been good at faking emotional stability.

A younger me would spend the next few paragraphs detailing all the stuff other people have done to make me this way (and by younger me I mean any version of me that existed before the past couple of months). And I’d be wrong in giving voice to any of that criticism.

Because the other thing I’ve recently realized about myself is that that’s who I’ve been for most of my life too: the person who always assigns blame, never accepts it.

The person who unapologetically drops his unhappiness on other people’s shoulders, then gets pissed when they throw it back at him.

The person who expects others to make him happy.

A boy in a man’s body, really, lacking the ability to take responsibility for his life and his actions.

I know, I know. Not a good look. Kind of makes me wonder how I’ve made it this far, to be honest.

Suffice to say that these personal admissions have spurred along a strong internal desire to work on those aspects of my personality that have led to so many destructive habits and conflicts with loved ones.

And in nearly all recovery scenarios, the first step is admission.

So here goes nothing:

For most of my life–all of it, really when I think about it, because I can’t really remember a time when this wasn’t the case–I’ve suffered from deep depression.

To elaborate, I spent the vast majority of my adolescent and teenage years and all of my twenties fighting against the constant feeling of sinking into my own mind.

Returning to the clarity of metaphors: imagine a cloud of darkness constantly following you around, so that every time you catch a glimpse of sunlight, the view is immediately drowned out by lightning and thunder.

No matter who I’ve been with, what I’ve been doing, where I’ve been going, who I’ve been going there with–the cloud has remained, oppressive.

It’s a pretty shitty way to live. And because of it, I spent nearly two decades afraid of…everything.

More specifically: everybody.

I see now that it’s the initial reason why I became a writer. For most of my adult years, writing has been the only thing I could do to successfully combat the emotional issues I had that I had no other way of dealing with. But it also was something I could do by myself, alone, away from the anxiety of social interaction, which had almost just as much appeal.

As I’ve said many times before, writing literally saved my life by helping me–on numerous occasions–push suicidal thoughts away. But that’s about all its done in that regard. Because–as has become apparent to me most recently–the solitude of a writer’s lifestyle has done more harm than good for my mental evolution.

And as if depression ain’t enough of a bitch to deal with, there’s also been the near-constant issue of self-doubt.

Imagine that beautiful combo: crippling social anxiety sprinkled with a complete lack of confidence sitting next to the aforementioned dark cloud of depression, both riding shotgun in my head like some demented hitchhikers.

Crazy, right?

I can see you rolling your eyes. And dammit, hey, I get it.

I used to think all of this was unique to me. I guess that’s common for depression: the feeling that nobody understands. Fact is though, I know a lot of people can relate to what I’m saying here, because mental health has proven time and again to be a major problem in this country. In this world, actually.

Which is part of why I’m writing this.

My issue is the same issue that countless psychological experts have been discussing forever, and have been discussing even more vehemently in the current social climate:

The tendency for men to suppress/hide their true emotions and desires.

The tendency for men to push aside any talk of their emotional well-being.

The idea that–to many people in this society–I’m less of a man for even writing all of this.

I grew up in a very strict Christian Jamaican household, and was therefore never really allowed to assert myself. Not placing blame, just stating a well-known fact: Caribbean households, on the whole, tend to be about as authoritarian as they come. And to be fair, I grew up around and befriended a number of other Caribbean boys who were raised under similar (or flat-out bad) circumstances who’ve never displayed the sort of unstable traits that I have.

Yet still. I’m an introvert, and overall conflict-avoidant. Which is really the starting point of all this. The world is a bit cruel to people who aren’t naturally assertive.

The world is a bit cruel, period. But that’s another topic.

As I grew older, this lack of social development turned into destructive behavior; towards myself, mostly, when I was young. Eventually though, I turned it on the people I’ve loved and been close to.

My cycle’s followed a blueprint throughout the years too: 1) emotional state goes out of whack, 2) can’t figure out how to express it constructively, 3) turn to that ever-reliable pool of instant confidence: Anger.

As you can imagine, this has ruined many friendships and romantic relationships. And up until recently, I was pretty clueless that I was doing any of this.

Looking back now, I can say that living like this–cycling between anger and depression–is one of the loneliest ways to exist that I can think of. I can also say that not knowing myself enough to be able to identify this, to be able to tell others what I’ve wanted and not wanted–liked and not liked, tolerated and not tolerated, felt and not felt–has sucked a lot of the potential out of my years, leaving many of my fondest memories as dry and unfulfilling as a desert mirage.

But you get it at this point now though, right?

I’m just beating a dead horse?

To summarize: I’ve been fucked in the head for a while, and the collateral damage has been extensive.

Alright, enough with the drama.

Here’s the real reason I’m writing today:

Over the past three years, I’ve become obsessed with making music. Playing guitar, singing, writing songs, and  performing on stage. Listening to music has always been one of my favorite pastimes, but to have found an outlet where I can actually express my emotions in an active and acceptable manner has been something of a wonder.

A mental miracle, to toss in some alliteration.

In my pursuit of music, I’ve found a route through life that actually provides both shelter and a foundation for my own confidence, conditions that I didn’t even know were possible.

Go out in public, alone, without sweaty palms and an inability to look people in the eyes?

Yeah, right.

Talk to strangers without stuttering or nervously laughing or–sometimes literally–running from the conversation?

You’re talking about somebody else, not me.

Climb on a stage?

With people watching me?

And play?

And sing?!

You must have lost your goddamn mind.

Yet, three years since picking up the old, dusty Epiphone guitar I bought in college but rarely used, I find all of the above to now be true.

The Musical Mental Miracle.

Bringing all of this full circle: with the confidence in myself and my abilities that music has instilled, I have been able to look back and properly assess my own behavior over the years–without anger or defensiveness–for the first time in my life. And through that newfound opening, I’ve been able to realize that my number one responsibility moving forward is to take responsibility for my own emotional well-being.

Concurrently, I also have to acknowledge how irresponsible I’ve been with many other people’s emotions and livelihoods in my past.

And for that, I am eternally sorry.

To the people I’ve sold out in their moments of need, I’m sorry.

To the people I’ve lashed out at unfairly (or lashed out at for any reason), I’m sorry.

To the people I’ve abandoned, I’m sorry.

To the people I’ve saddled with my burdens, I’m sorry.

I promise you all: I aim to do better.

So right here, on this lonely blog entry–my first in like two years, my apologies for the heaviness/wordiness, I’m shaking some of the cobwebs off still–I’m sending a proclamation out into the nether-regions of this technological landscape:

I will actively seek to improve my overall mental and emotional health.

Additionally, I will actively seek to help the people around me–and anybody who needs it, even if you’re not around me–with their own mental and emotional health as well.

If you (yes, you, reading this right now) are currently going through something–if you recognize that cloud I described earlier because you’ve got your own demented hitchhikers riding bitch, if you’ve recently had your storage unit full of perspective explode all over your psyche, or if you just need to talk to somebody about the things going on in your head that are keeping you from reaching your full potential–you’ve got a sympathetic ear in me.

As for me?

For better or worse, I’m going to dive headfirst into this music endeavor (warning: it’ll probably lean towards “worse” for a while).

If you want to follow me on that journey, click the social media pages below:

Patrick’s Facebook Music Page

Patrick’s Instagram Music Page

Patrick’s Twitter Music Profile

And if you just want to talk, shoot me an email.

I might not have the best advice, but I promise I won’t judge.

Sometimes that’s all we really need.

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3 thoughts on “Music and Mental (in)Stability

  1. As a long time fan of your writing from the days when you went by the name of Ricky I was estactic to see this come up in my notification. Your ramblings, as you call them, are not rambling but yet the thoughts and words of someone who is growing up and realizing that struggling with an old rusty cabinet full of crap is normal for all but choosing to find his version of WD40 to make that rust easier to manage. The same goes for you, if you ever need an ear to bend know that I am here for you.

  2. I will ALWAYS be here for you son. You mean the world to me, and I will always be in your corner.
    So happy that your music is now helping you and you get better and better with that guitar each day. Love you and ALWAYS know I’m here for you

  3. Rick,
    So happy to see a post from you, so eloquent, as usual. As far as I see that breaking through of your “rusty storage” unit was another break through for you! You have discovered the best gift of all, introspection. I wish you success with your music and your writing (which I love so much 😊).
    Love you, Rick, and as Nike would say “just do it”. Always proud of you😊

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