In high school, I had no friends.
When I told this to a friend at a show recently, he said, "What? You're the most social person I know. You're friends with everyone."
I wasn't always, though. In elementary school I was kind of weird and in middle school, I was the victim of some pretty terrible "mean girls" stuff. By the end of 8th grade, I had sort of withdrawn. Over the summer, I started feeling sad for no reason. I didn't know the name for it at the time but I was starting to struggle with depression.
I felt sad, and frustrated that I didn't know why I felt sad. I felt empty, like I was missing something, only I didn't know what I was missing. A lot of the time though, I just felt nothing. That was most frustrating of all. I didn't know how to talk about my feelings, so I turned to cutting myself. As a 25-year-old with much more life experience behind me, I can recognize that cutting my arms with a razor blade wasn't solving any problems and making me any happier, but as a 14-year-old that was struggling and didn't know how to verbalize what was going on, it was a (very unhealthy) release.
Depression is scary. I was falling down a rabbit hole but didn't realize how bad it was until I was at the bottom. Fighting my own demons was like being in a horror movie, only I didn't have a sidekick to stay with me through the dark. The combination of bullying and having absolutely no friends made me feel completely and utterly alone, and I wanted to die. I thought, "If it gets worse, and I can't get through it, I can always kill myself."
One of my favorite bands, Simple Plan, put out the music video for their song "Crazy" right in the middle of my struggles. The music video depicted some serious issues that teens go through, including self-injury; maybe it's cliché, but when I saw it, something inside me knew I needed help. I turned to my peer leader at school, who went with me to the guidance counselor. Once the guidance counselor called my parents, I started seeing a therapist and taking anti-depressants.
Therapy and anti-depressants were a huge help in getting my mental health under control, but so was music. I played my favorite albums on repeat and began reading music magazines and blogs, devouring any band interview, record review, or collection of concert photos I could get my hands on. How cool was it that there were people whose job it was to write about music and take pictures of bands? I was fascinated by music journalism, but since one of the things I was bullied for was my taste in music, I didn't think I could actually do it. I had established myself online for my fiction writing but never had the confidence to start writing about bands.
So, when it came time to apply to colleges, I decided I'd study engineering and be pre-med. I had straight As in my science classes first semester, but I was miserable. It took a lot of work to get good grades and I knew it would take even more to get into medical school and become a doctor, or to get a PhD in engineering. It was overwhelming, but I still felt so lost about the future, and began feeling depressed again. A few weeks after I returned for the spring semester, I made an appointment with a therapist on campus.
The day of my first therapy appointment was also the day I accepted a bid to join a sorority. The sorority felt like an incredible support system. Sophomore year, after the encouragement of one of my sisters, I joined the school's programming board, and began booking concerts on campus! This was it- I was going to work in the music industry. When I took a class called History of Rock & Roll that spring, I fell in love with writing about music, and started my own music blog the day after finals were finished.
At first, I got incredibly anxious before interviewing a band or going to a show to take pictures. Approaching people who were professional musicians and in the music industry was intimidating- was I qualified? Did I deserve to be there? Was I any good at what I was doing, did they take me seriously? As I continued interviewing bands and taking photos, I realized that I was actually pretty good at it. Finding something I was good at and passionate about gave me a sense of self-confidence that I'd never had before. People respected me as a professional, and I also began making friends at shows. I felt confident in social situations and suddenly, I became a person that loved meeting new people! For the first time, I had found my place in the world.
But when I was kicked out the sorority house in the middle of junior year, I went down a spiral again. I'd been having a difficult semester already and suddenly the rug was pulled out from under me, and my support system of "sisters" was gone. Walking out of the sorority house for the last time hurt. When things got bad, the people who were supposed to have my back instead turned on me; once again, I felt like I was completely and utterly alone.
Once I was settled into new housing, I went to see two bands I loved (I Call Fives and Forever Came Calling); I needed something positive and I needed to be in a place where I was wanted, so I could distract myself from how lonely I felt and how much I was hurting. The show helped, but it was hardly a cure-all. I started seeing a therapist again, but told her I didn't want to take anti-depressants again; the two and a half years I'd spent on them in high school were a fog where I felt like a shell of myself.
One day I had to take my car to the shop; it was nothing major and nothing expensive but for some reason, it was incredibly stressful. I broke down crying, and almost crashed my car on my way back to campus. This was a wake-up call; I told everything to my therapist, and with her encouragement, went to a psychiatrist who prescribed a different anti-depressant. Finally, I felt like I could breathe again.
After graduation, I got an amazing opportunity to tour with a youth circus as their PR/ Communications Intern. I loved every second of it, and immediately following that tour, got to tour with a non-profit I loved, representing their cause at festivals and concerts around the US and Canada. Six months of touring was incredible, and while I wasn't really ready to settle down, I didn't know what else to do, and I got an office job in marketing.
I hated it. Or rather, I hated that I was working such long days (with unpaid overtime) for a low salary, and by the time I came home from a long commute, I was too tired- and didn't have enough time- to pursue the things I actually wanted to do. My job felt stifling, and I was terrified that the rest of my life would be exactly the same. I felt like I was stuck in a place I didn't want to be and that my aspirations of doing anything in music were done. I broke down crying in the bathroom more than once, and with the encouragement of a friend, started seeing a therapist again.
But I was still having trouble. Feeling stuck in my job grew to feeling stuck in life overall, and small tasks like packing my lunch or folding my laundry felt like mountains I couldn't climb.
So… I quit. Or rather, I took a medical leave to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (basically an intermediate step between regular therapy and an inpatient program) for my depression and anxiety. The dose of my anti-depressants was increased, and I began to work through some underlying issues. Towards the end of the program, I began to apply to other jobs- things in the music industry- and by an incredible stroke of luck, I got a part-time/contractor job covering pop and indie-rock music in and around NYC, and officially quit my office job.
For a while, I supplemented my income writing about and photographing music with random odd jobs: babysitting, real estate photography, dog-walking, fan photography at football games. It was stressful and money was always tight- if I looked at the amount I made as a writer/photographer versus the hours I put in, I would've been better off doing just about anything else- but I loved what I was doing and felt like I was making moves towards a career I wanted, so it was worth it.
I was in a good place mentally and had developed coping skills in therapy; my psychiatrist agreed I could stop taking my anti-depressants. Then – I lost that cool music writing/photography job. I was devastated, but I was doing better than I had when life had hit me like a ton of bricks in the past. Of course it was tough- losing a job always is, and I cried a lot- but this time, I was able to get through that without letting it destroy me mentally.
It was November 2015 that I lost that job. To some extent, I think mental health issues are something I will always struggle with, but they ebb and flow. Part of that is based on circumstance and part of it is just random brain chemistry. Sometimes I still deal with feelings of self-doubt and criticism and anxiety and heartbreak and loss, but I'm in a better place now. I know that there's hope for the future and I know that whatever happens, I can get through it. I'm too excited to see how the future plays out to want to die.