Content warning: This post contains information about depression, anxiety, and self-harm, which may be triggering to some survivors.
“Never Lose Hope,” Allie Triglianos
The other day in one of my last classes for the semester, I was reminded about the power of a song. A discussion about the highs and lows of my first year as a graduate student caused me to break down and cry at the end of class. Dealing with depression and anxiety sucks to begin with. When adding the pressures of grad school, an internship, a committed relationship, family issues, and body insecurity together, it creates a mountain that seems impossible to climb. It makes you feel like you're stranded in a valley with no way of climbing out.
Thinking about all of this was completely overwhelming, so when I left to go home that day, I played one of my favorite artists, No Bragging Rights. Their album, Cycles, was a saving grace. As the first song ended, “Hope Theory” began to play. “Hope Theory” was pretty much the reason why I survived my sophomore and junior year of college. I had always believed that a song could have the power to change lives, but I never understood it until the moment I heard that song.
I've been going to therapy on and off for most of my life. After 9/11, I vaguely remember some family counseling as my dad was an NYC firefighter who had lost many friends that day. As I went on in grade school, I remember feeling extremely insecure about my body. I remember being in eighth grade and running to the bathroom after lunch to vomit in hopes that I wouldn't gain more weight. When I entered high school, I began thinking about suicide. I never told my family this, but I would stare at the knives in our kitchen drawers and envision them gliding across my wrists. My mom decided I should start talking to someone again as I had bad mood swings and would lose my anger easily. I went to counseling in high school, did group therapy. It helped for a while.
When I entered college, I began dating someone. I spent fourteen months of my life with someone who did not value our relationship and proceeded to break me down slowly, making me doubt they were faithful while calling me crazy to think so. I was right. After that, I found solace in drinking and experimenting with drugs. I thought that if I could just think about something else for a while, then the thoughts of suicide would be swept under the rug.
The thing about sweeping things under the rug is that eventually it piles up, creating a giant lump, and one day you just trip over it. That day happened the summer before my junior year.
I couldn't sleep, went to the bathroom and stared at a bottle of pills. I spent over an hour in the bathroom, bottle in hand, quietly sobbing as I didn't want to wake my parents. The next day I called a suicide hotline, asking for advice. I was afraid to tell my mom I wanted to go to therapy again. When I came back to school for my junior year, I disaffiliated from my fraternity and became withdrawn from school. I lost interest in my academics and was unsure of what to do. There had been many a time where I would go into my supervisor's office and just cry, worrying about my future and how I didn't want to live.
Amy became an anchor for me. She helped me figure out a new major and even aided me in my journey to renew membership with my fraternity. She encouraged me to see a counselor. She realized a burning passion within me to help others and inspire change in students, she pushed me to look into student affairs. She reminded me that there will always be bad days, but better ones were coming. I'm not sure if she knows the extent of her guidance, but I feel forever grateful to have in my life as she helped save it.
That semester I met the love of my life. It's been two and a half years together, and every day my partner Tom reminds me that I'm grateful to be alive. There are bad days, and worse days, and days where I wake up crying I wish I never woke up. However, he's always there to help me through the depressive episodes, the panic attacks, the anxiety attacks.
He proved to me that I don't have to be ashamed of the thoughts in my head. That it's okay to talk about how I feel, even when it's not happy. I've learned so much about myself with his help that I even found ways to talk to my mom about everything. Now my relationships with the both of them are better than ever. I'm much more open to talking about what it's like to live in a constant state of battle with your mind, but I know that by talking about it I can help bring more awareness mental illness in this world.
This first year of grad school has been rough, but I'm so thankful to have such an understanding and loving partner to help me through it. We find joy in listening to music together and finding new music. He is my constant reminder that brighter days are coming. To have such a close connection to an album is sort of like having an out of body experience. When you listen to a song for the first time, you close your eyes and pay attention to every drum beat, every strum of the guitar, and every lyric.
If you're lucky, you feel it in your core when your brain makes that connection to that song. For the few minutes it plays, everything is how it's supposed to be. The lyrics of "Hope Theory" are a reminder that my pain is a reflection of my strength. That I have a reason to be alive, that life can suck, but there is hope. The last line of the song I've used as a personal mantra - "I believe that brighter days are coming." While there are bad days, hope is what keeps us pushing forward. It helps us to persevere and find strength through our struggles. Brighter days are coming, and I will welcome them with open, thankful arms.
About the art:
l was super excited to put together a piece based on a hardcore song for another punk in the field of student affairs. Craig and I have been binge watching Ink Master, and I absolutely love American Traditional style tattoos.
I took a lyric from the song, "That’s not a noose, it’s a rope to pull you out. To pull you out of this mess that you’re in," to influence the piece, and took another line to highlight within the piece in, "Never lose hope."
As I was finishing up, I received an email from Allie about the suggested colors -- none of which I had included. After a brief panic, she told me she loved it, and was actually trying to design a tattoo based on the song. For a minute, I thought, "this piece is totally my style so I can keep it and redo another with her colors," but luckily she loved it.
So happy to be able to create a piece that means something for both Allie and myself. It feels good to connect with other student affairs professionals through music, tattoos, and mental health discussions. Thanks for picking me, Allie!