I Use Pop Punk As A Self-Help Remedy For My Depressive Episodes

hayley williams from Paramore
PHOTO: ALBERTO E. RODRIGUEZ / GETTY IMAGES

Let me take you back to a weird and mystical time known as 2008 — the era of MySpace, outfits that involved dressing in multiple, ridiculous layers of clothing, and President-Elect Barack Obama. A simpler time.

I was 13 years old in 2008, and the albums that filled my Microsoft Zune (remember the Zune?!) included Fall Out Boy’s Folie à deux, Panic! At the Disco’s Pretty. Odd., and Paramore’s Riot!. My walls were covered in posters of Brendon Urie and Hayley Williams. Skull and crossbones patterns covered my clothes, all my jeans were skinny, and my MySpace page was filled with angsty lyrics that I believed captured just how "deep" I was: "I got troubled thoughts and a self-esteem to match, what a catch." (That lyric choice has me half shuddering, half capable of seeing myself use it as an Instagram caption in the near future.

I would also have periods of extreme nervousness in which doing simple things like getting ready for school or ordering a sandwich felt like superheroic feats. Voices in my head told me on a continuous loop that I was worthless, useless, and would never amount to much. Every single molecule in my body ached when I would drag myself out of bed. It was like there was a wall of plexiglass between me and everyone else. And the only release my 13-year-old self could find at the time came when I put my headphones on, turned up the volume, and stared out into the void, feeling isolated, empty, and frustrated while trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.

Experts at the time called it “teen angst," something I would eventually grow out of. It was “just a phase." 

In the 10 years since then, "my teen angst" has been diagnosed by doctors as clinical depression and anxiety, two things I’ll never grow out of.

But just as my depression wasn’t a phase, neither was my love of pop-punk. At 23, I am still turning up P!ATD as I run errands, and blast Fall Out Boy when I just can’t deal with anything anymore. Spotify knows to suggest bands and artists from the late '00s to me, and I even have a special playlist for when my average depression becomes an all-consuming black hole, filled with the bass-blaring, head-banging songs with pain-riddled lyrics. It’s the music that gets me out of bed in the morning; it’s the music that keeps me from ending it all sometimes. It’s raw, it’s “angsty," but in lieu of the therapist I should be seeing, it’s the best I can do.

It’s no surprise that I enjoy pop punk during a depressive episode — after all, the genre was essentially built upon depression. It's is a spin-off of the “emo” music (short for "emotional") characterized by fervent, often confessional lyrics that ruled alternative radio in the early 2000s. Many popular pop-punk bands, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance included, started out in the emo genre before branching out, which is evident in their lyrics: "We'll meet again / when both our cars collide," declares My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way on “Helena." “The ribbon on my wrist says ‘Do not open before Christmas,' " sings Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump on “Our Lawyers Made Us Changed The Name of This Song So We Don’t Get Sued.” P!ATD’s song “Camisado” is about a relapse. Linkin Park’s "Numb" refers to the numbness caused by depression, and almost every single song by Simple Plan is drenched in sadness. (“Welcome To My Life,” anyone?)

I could go on, but my point is: These lyrics resonate with me and many other depression sufferers in such a profound way because their songwriters and singers also live with mental health issues. Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz, Paramore's Williams, and My Chemical Romance's Way have all been open about their battles with depression. P!ATD's Urie has admitted he's struggled with anxiety. These artists have created music for themselves as an outlet in which they could express themselves. They set their lyrics to loud basses and screams because it can be very frustrating to live with a mental illness. 

It’s raw, it’s “angsty," but in lieu of the therapist I should be seeing, it’s the best I can do.

I often get so angry at the world, angry that I have to work twice as hard to get half as far as neurotypical people. Angry that my illness is so stigmatized, so often overlooked. I am living in a world that's not made for me, and I’m pretty bitter about it. The way I’ve learned to deal with my depression, then, especially when it evolves into a severe depressive episode, is to embrace that anger — to treat the disorder like an enemy that I need to fight and conquer. To do so, I need the right music fueling me.

I take my days one at a time. Some are much better than others. But when I’m in my dark place, I can always log into my Spotify account and play Paramore’s “Fake Happy” or my beloved Folie à Deux, and try to kick my depression’s butt — or, at the very least, try not to feel like I’m drowning. And some days, that’s good enough.

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