All I knew then was that I wanted to get out. I felt like I was slowly suffocating, slowly decaying in my hometown around the same people I had known for as long as I could remember.
I was a senior in high school and despite urges from everyone around me—my parents, my teachers, friends—to finish strong, I just wanted to run away from it all. There was the accumulating class load with AP tests around the corner, the drama of prom and high school relationships creeping into the brains of everyone at school and making them crazy, and the recent death of my grandpa burrowing sadness under my skin.
The inside of my head was a horrific mess of emotions, but outside I tried really hard to hold all the pieces of my life together.
Just get to college. Just get to college. It was all that was getting me through.
One chilly April afternoon, just a month and a half before graduation, I got a phone call. My college coach—the one who had promised me a scholarship, a place on the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team, who I had connected with and was excited to play for—was on the other line. He was quitting, moving, taking a position somewhere else.
The high hope I had placed in college, of this new adventure I was soon to embark on with new friends and a chance to be a star athlete on campus, was instantly shaken. I couldn’t wait to get away from my small suburb of Denver for so long…but now the uncertainty of change hit me like a one-two punch to the face.
What the hell was going on? What was going to happen to me now?
When the weight of every problem and the panic of tomorrow was about to swallow me whole, digest me, and spit out my bones, I grabbed my basketball, my iPod, and I walked to the park. There was this old grimy basketball court, rims rusting and the nets barely hanging on. So I started throwing up shots and blasting music.
I must have looked pretty similar to Kevin Bacon in Footloose having an existential crisis and dancing his way through an abandoned warehouse. I, of course, had a basketball in my hands and no one except me could hear the lyrics pounding in my skull, but somehow scuffing my feet on the pavement and getting lost between guitar chords and drum beats was the best thing in the world.
This long of a struggle, finally opened up my eyes.
Revolution’s not easy, with a civil war on the inside.
Pain, give yourself a name.
I’ve been to war with my mind,
But things will be different this time.
I won’t be putting up a fight.
There were too many songs to name on that playlist. All I knew was that those people on the other end of my headphones, they understood me. They knew what I felt—crushed, alone, abandoned, overwhelmed. Even though we had never met, they sang those songs for me.
You know exactly what I am talking about. At some point, maybe even more often then not, a song or a band has been the only way you have been able to get through something difficult. In fact, its been statistically shown that when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety, over half of millenials run to music.
For many of us, music is the safest, least condemning, most constant haven we know. Notes and lyrics offer us the one thing we so desperately want…freedom.
It’s been four years (almost to the day) since that April afternoon. I made it through my grandpa’s funeral, prom, AP tests, graduation, and moving to college. Heck, I made it through college just about. But those lyrics, that old basketball court, stick out in my mind so vividly because I’m in almost the exact same place now as I was then.
I didn’t think I was going to make it through, hold it all together. In an instant, all of life could fall apart on me. I suspect there are a lot of days you feel the same—the inside of your head feels so jam-packed you could explode.
Maybe it’s worry—the future is uncertain, problems are compounding like crazy, and you don’t know if things are going to get better, or worse.
Maybe it’s stress—there’s more things to get done than there is time, and you’re tired, and your sick.
Maybe it’s anxiety—your head feels like a prison, smothering you with questions and lies, and you doubt if you are strong enough to fight it.
So we do what we do best: we plug in, scroll through, turn up. The louder, the better. We close our eyes and let the music erase the moment. So much of the time, we don’t know what else to do.
We think we are slaves to the internal battle, and music is only a temporary fix. While the words scream, shout, pound, coo to us softly, we feel escape. But by the end of the day, and the song, tomorrow still looks scary. We are still trapped and in chains, still drowning.
And why, exactly? Because when it really comes down to it, we are afraid. Life is terrifying, dizzying, completely overwhelming—but we don’t have to be weighed down by that anymore.
Freedom is often a mentality. Every day when we wake up, the demons of fear, of anxiety, of pain, want to control us through our thoughts. What we think controls how we see ourselves, how we act around others, and the choices that we make. If we think we are slaves to the prison in our heads, we will be.
I’m not here to downplay the mental struggle every day brings, as if it were an easy fix. In fact, the battle zone of the mind is the hardest you and I will ever face, and I know that.
But I want you to know today that freedom is available to you.
While music may not heal the wounds or permanently fix the problems we face today, music does have something profoundly powerful to offer us. When we soak up the words, we learn something important—
Firstly, that there is community around us. There are singers and band members and other listeners who get us, who understand how hard the internal climb really is.
Secondly, that life gets better. When we hear that other people have been through the ringer and have seen the other side, there springs a hope in us that we can make it through, too.
And thirdly? Music gives us courage. Courage to not run from the problems that plague us, the people who torment us, or the decisions that haunt us, but rather to face it all with our heads held high. Maybe today is scary, but we just have to keep moving. Maybe we feel we might drown, but we are stronger than we think.[clickToTweet tweet=”Music gives us courage” quote=”Music gives us courage”]
You and I, we can fight for freedom today. And the more we fight for it, the more we bend and break our minds to see hope instead of fear, the closer we get to breaking the chains once and for all.
I’m standing firm. It’s who I am.
You can’t keep me, you can’t keep me down.
Iʼm moving on. I’m living free.
You canʼt stop me, you canʼt stop me now.
~August Burns Red, Identity