So, this blog took a couple days to write as it is basically a summary of my journey. I had to recall some painful things, but at the same time, I think it healed me a little bit to recall everything and process all the events in sequence. So I present to you, this week’s Thesis Thursday:
It is amazing how a song has the power to transport you back to a very specific place and time. The songs can recall happy or sad, significant or insignificant memories. But the songs that always paint the most vivid images from the past are the ones where we wondered if the writer had somehow crawled into our head. They are songs that take the feelings that you can’t describe, or sometimes even understand and put them to an appropriate melody with profound lyrics. And for me, most of the songs that have given me an “a-ha” moment or provided much needed comfort were not sung by Christian singers because they often don’t delve deep enough into the pain. I am so glad that I found a few artists that helped me grieve and helped me realize how essential music is to my healing. One of these artists is John Mayer and although his personal life is a bit rocky, his songs have pointed me to God’s truth and provided more answers than any song I have ever heard on Christian radio. There is a song(s) on each of John Mayer’s 5 albums that describe a specific marker(s) on my journey with depression and anxiety and helped me in the general process of growing up.
The entire Room For Squares album
July 2003: Black Butte, Oregon – I was on vacation with my wonderful extended family when I had my first panic attack. It’s quite funny to joke about now, but at the time it was quite terrifying. I was supposed to be relaxing and enjoying my family while we swam, rode bikes and went on adventures in the surrounding area, but instead I was filled with an overwhelming sense of fear and insecurity. One of the days, we decided to go on a field trip outside of the camp. I was not too happy as I subconsciously wanted to stay in familiar settings. We hopped in the car and I decided to put on Room for Squares (but only the upbeat songs) on my walkman to distract me from how uncomfortable the excursion was making me feel. It worked enough for me to enjoy the day.
Bigger Than My Body from Heavier Things
August 2003: I got home from that vacation and my parents and I decided that I needed to go to a therapist. She told me I was having symptoms of anxiety, depression with a fun side of agoraphobia. We started working through practical ways I could deal with it and it seemed like I was improving. I started to learn about what was going on in my brain and how to change my thought patterns. We visualized me getting out of the car on the first day of school (as this was my biggest fear at the time) and I really started to get excited about seeing my friends again! I wrote lyrics, bible verses and random thoughts on index cards and went over them whenever I started to feel anxious. And it really helped.
But unfortunately the therapy wasn’t enough to calm the chemical storm that was still raging inside me. The Friday before school started, I received some information about a social situation that brought up a ton of insecurity and set me on a down-ward spiral. I ended up missing the entire first week of my junior year and was put on depression and anxiety meds (Thank God!). The months that followed were some of the hardest I have ever endured, but by that next summer I was out of crisis mode. But still there was still a lot of healing that needed to happen.
September 2006: Studying Abroad in Florence – I had been on medication and in therapy for about 3 years now and my depression and anxiety was pretty much under control. I survived my first year of college, a bout of mono and my first real job. But I was still battling my mind a lot, especially when it came to my faith. It got significantly better after I settled into college, but I had definitely becoming acquainted with the fact that my flesh was weak. I still had many years to go to forgive my body and my mind for “failing” me. Naturally, I was worried about living in a foreign country for a year. What if I started having panic attacks? What if I had to go to an Italian hospital? How would I fly home if I was in some sort of crisis mode? But somehow (aka the grace of God), my year abroad was pretty smooth mentally except for a few weeks of depression in February. This song always reminds me of that victory and I am still amazed at how incredible that year was and how many deep, long-lasting friendships that God has used in profound ways came from the bond created by that experience.
War of My Life from Battle Studies
November 2008: I was in my fall semester of my senior year of when this album came out and I had recently had a setback with my mental health. In Spring of 2008, I started sleeping A LOT, to the point that my roomie thought I had mono again. Something was off, but I didn’t know at the time that medication could just stop working. I’m having trouble recalling the specifics of the timeline and medications but basically I had to switch medications and it was hell. Panic attacks resurfaced along with side effects from the depression meds that made me feel not human. To this day, one of my biggest fears is having to switch medications again and whenever I start to feel a little off, my thoughts avalanche to this conclusion. I was so angry that it was happening right before and during my senior year. I was supposed to be soaking up the last bit of the college experience and I had to deal with anxiety again. But by the time War of My Life came out, I was feeling a little less fragile, but was still needing that something to get me back to normal.
“Come out angels
Come out ghosts
Come out darkness
Bring everyone you know
I’m not running and I’m not scared
I am waiting and well-prepared”
When I sang these words or repeated them in my mind, I was declaring at some times, and at other times still hoping to convince myself that I knew who would always end up the victor. The fact that my mind felt strong enough to call out my struggles and ultimately, Satan in this way was a huge turning point in my journey. Out of all of the songs, this is the hardest one to articulate how it impacted me. I guess it just helped me realize my strength and my progress at a time when I desperately was looking for a little boost.
The Heart of Life from Continuum
Flashback to Summer of 2003: When this song first came out, the following lyrics brought me back to that first summer and that frightened little girl holed up in her bedroom wondering why she had to cancel her first driving lesson or why the thought of a trip to Target made her throat close up.
“I hate to see you cry
Lying there in that position
There’s things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen”
It’s still painful to think about now because I was so fragile and so scared. But when I first heard this song in 2006, I think it allowed me go back to that place, feel those feelings and maybe heal a little bit from replaying the pain. Needless to say, this song was quickly added to my Life Soundtrack on I-Tunes and played through my mind anytime I felt overwhelmed with life.
November 2009 – 2010 : Continuum came out in 2006 and The Heart of Life was immediately added onto my Life Soundtrack playlist in I-Tunes. Although I drew a lot of comfort from this song when I was in college, the time that I most associate with it was the three or so years after college. I was already in a strange transition period after graduating from college in May of 2009, feeling a bit lost and betrayed by the education I worked so hard for. Then in November, my grandpa Bill’s cancer came back and then he spent 9 weeks in the hospital eventually passing away in January of 2010. The whole family was devastated as he was an amazing man and had such a special relationship with each of us. I experienced several times during those 9 weeks where sadness permeated my every cell, especially the night I said goodbye to him and hold up the phone to his ear as my mom said goodbye to her father from Switzerland. But for me, I think the hardest part was watching other family members suffer and there not being a single thing I could do to help them. Not that I wasn’t sad, but because of my struggles with depression, I had already lost something very dear to me – a normal life. I knew how to grieve and I already knew that life wasn’t fair. This “life wasn’t fair and completely out of your control” theme continued throughout the next two years with a couple of other crises. But even within the midst of (or soon after) all of these shocking and life-altering things, God graciously let me in on some of the reasons why His timing is perfect.
The song’s lyrics say:
“You know, it’s nothing new
Bad news never had good timing”
Bad news, the kind of news that immediately puts that sickening pit in your stomach, is never going to come at a good time. The reality is that life really sucks sometimes and there are situations where you will have to live in a prolonged state of the unknown. And although John isn’t known as a Christian, this song is a profoundly simple and comforting answer to “the problem of pain” and is one I always pass along to friends when they are grieving.
“Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good”
Age of Worry from Born and Raised
June 2012: To me, Age of Worry signifies another turning point in my life. In the weeks leading up to my 25th birthday, this song became my mantra. I’m not sure what John’s “age of worry” is, but I feel like mine is now. And as I sang (and still sing) some of the lyrics out loud, I can’t help but ponder how 16 year old me would have listening to this song. At 16, I would not have sung along to lyrics like “Build your heart an army to defend your innocence while you do everything wrong” like I was at a pub cheering for my favorite football team. I would have thought “An army? Uh, no thank you. I’m too weak to win. And doing things wrong and failing is the worst thing I can think of.” The bravery I feel when I sing parts of this song like “There’s no time that you must be home so sleep where your darkness falls” or “Sing out in the age of worry and sing worry, why should I care?” is a stark contrast to how I had been for so long. I was consumed with worry and never would have joked about it or called it out like this. Worry and fear had once held a firm grip on all of my thoughts and made me miss out on life, doubt God at every turn and make me wonder why He still puts up with me. Although I still have my times of fear where my mind lets anxiety creep in (this past week being one of them) there has been a consistent pattern of God working through tragedy, and through enough times of depression and anxiety issues, that even my irrational brain is starting to get it. Now, it is much easier to put negative thoughts out of my mind immediately instead of letting them fester and ruin a day or a week. Well, it ruined a day or two last week, so I’m definitely still a work-in-progress but still, this song is special to me because singing it always reminds me of how far I have come and how faithful God has been on my journey.
P.S. John Mayer’s new album Paradise Valley comes out August 13 and I can’t wait until I get to add another song to this list.