0151: Move or Die


Content warning: The following story contains references to rape, sexual violence, coercion, and toxic masculinity, which may be difficult for some readers.


"Move or Die," Molly Mitchell

I met my rapist through the DIY scene in Tucson, Arizona. I was a DJ and operated an independent record store, and he sought me out to create a musical partnership. After he booked me for a number of DJ gigs, we became good friends, and I started helping him with his creative projects.

In addition to operating a DIY venue and booking shows at the local "cool kid" spots, he was also part of a shitty white guy hip hop duo and had an operation called "The Rap Van." The idea was that he would load up about 15 buzzed participants from the local bar in the back of his white cargo van, and he'd drive it around while an actually talented rapper would perform. Tucson ate that shit up. So did I.

In the beginning of our friendship, my rapist and I actually had a consensual sexual relationship. I mean.. sort of. He was also sleeping with a number of other girls 15 years younger than him and lying to me about it. That's where the sexual relationship ended, and I insisted that we either pursue a plutonic, professional friendship, or nothing at all. He chose the former. After six months of effort, it finally felt natural to just be friends.

One night, we ended up taking a mini road trip up north with another female friend of mine. The trip was originally supposed to be just she and I, but she put herself in charge of finding us a third person with a vehicle, and he's who she chose. 

Initially I wasn't sure about it. I didn't know if I could completely relax on an overnight trip with him. But after hours of friendly conversation (during which he continued to gush about his new love interest), I started to feel more comfortable. He was our designated driver, so my friend and I participated in some good old fashioned binge drinking. One of the neighborhood bars had a niche drink-- 30 oz of Mountain Dew and vodka. We caught ourselves a caffeinated buzz, but I never lost consciousness. 

I remember getting into the van and asking my rapist if he was good to drive. He said "I'm not even kind of drunk", and he drove us to our location. Once we got to our camping spot, he and my friend went outside to smoke a cigarette, and I fell asleep in the back of the van fully clothed-- jeans, shoes, and all.

I woke up the next morning exactly how I fell asleep, except my hips were in excruciating pain, which I chalked up to sleeping on the floor of a van. Throughout the remainder of our trip, my rapist kept making jokes about how we "had sex." I knew that even in my drunkest state, I had no interest in doing that with him again, and he said it in such a way where I believed he was kidding.

The jokes persisted all the way back to Tucson, and my friend started getting in on it, too. When I finally asked my friend why she kept saying that we had sex, she simply said "Because you did." I asked her how she knew-- Did I do it in front of her, did she see me, was I vocal, was there movement? She said "no, it seemed like you were passed out, but he was moving and grunting, so I knew you guys were doing it." She was so cavalier about it. He was, too. I didn't ask any further questions, and spent the next week feeling terribly about myself-- How could I do something that I was so explicitly against? 

Finally, I confronted him. I sent him a message on Facebook spilling my guts-- Telling him how fucked up it was that he felt welcome to my body when I was clearly unconscious. I had spent six months rejecting his advances and making my stance clear...there was no room for doubt. He responded apologetically, admitting "I didn't get your consent. I didn't check in...as a friend."

I confided this to the owner of the record store, who is still to this day one of the best men I know. He respected that I wasn't sure about going public, but advised me that my rapist was featured on a local rapper's upcoming album, as well as a local zine. He told me that he refused to carry the zine and album with my rapist's name on it, and thought it was only fair to give the artist's behind those projects fair warning.

And so we did. We told a few people the truth at a time. And then it blew up. In no time, my good friend, who is a well-known hip hop artist in Tucson publicly outed my rapist on Facebook (with my permission, of course). It became the talk of the town. The venue that hosted The Rap Van cancelled his upcoming events. His hip hop duo's album release was cancelled. Word spread like wildfire.

Before my name was even associated with the outing, "his side" of the story started circulating. My rapist was going around letting everyone know that I was the one who raped him-- That's right. I grabbed him by his bits and forced him into mine. Poor guy. Even more ridiculous is that people actually believed him.

Let it be known that I did file a police report only a couple of weeks after the assault. I provided a very detailed report and followed up with the police. Nothing happened.

Anyone surprised?

I was overwhelmed with support in Tucson, no doubt. But there were also a significant amount of people who were actively against me-- Many of them were people I considered friends. I stopped getting DJ gigs (not like I wanted even wanted them anymore, I didn't even want to leave the house). My rape became my life. People were constantly coming up to me at work (I worked weekend at a popular bar) and sharing their personal assault stories. People were also constantly coming into my work just to stare me down and intimidate me. I couldn't escape my rape no matter where I went, and I stopped feeling safe in my own town.

My rapist fled Tucson shortly after he was outed. He deleted all social media, never publicly addressed the issue, hopped in his Rap Van, and took off. As if that didn't scream "guilty" enough, I had publicly shared a screenshot of the conversation in which he admitted to raping me. That wasn't enough for a lot of people. Music bros kept demanding more proof, demanding police reports, demanding answers from me personally. Even female survivors were speaking out against me, claiming that I had single-handedly ruined the downtown music scene with my "allegation", and that I should have gone through the police, not social media. 

I reached a point in only a matter of months where I realized it was never going to get better for me in Tucson. I was sleeping all day, only waking up when I had to go to work. I was dangerously depressed and knew that I had two options-- Move or die. I chose to move.

In the midst of saving up for my move, it was brought to my attention that my rapist had fled to Detroit, where he was hosting The Rap Van shows at a different bar. Same shit, different city. It was also brought to my attention that his van was being funded by a creative grant issued by Meow Wolf, a well-known creative organization based out of Santa Fe.

At this point, I was too drained to take any further action. Fortunately, I had a lot of really incredible soldiers fighting for me. People I didn't even know were rallying together to call the Detroit bars and performers associated with The Rap Van to warn them of my rapist and his actions. After this, he eventually fled to Canada, masquerading it as a tour-- Calling it "Vanada." Shortly after that, The Rap Van's instagram was deactivated and I haven't heard any news of him since.

A really remarkable amount of friends and strangers also rallied together to contact Meow Wolf-- Eventually getting in touch with the CEO. While it was too late to revoke the grant, my friend negotiated with the CEO, who agreed to match his Rap Van grant as a donation to SACASA, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

That wasn't the only good thing to come of my rape. It turns out that leaving Tucson was the best decision I've ever made. My whole life has turned around for the best. While I still suffer from PTSD night terrors, I'm working through my trauma in therapy.

Meanwhile in Tucson, there are still plenty of bros who insist that my rapist is innocent. And that makes me worry for what they're capable of, as well. I fear for the young men and women of Tucson. I fear for the young men and women who participate in art scenes everywhere. So many of us find music and carve out little communities for ourselves through that art, thinking that we are surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals who, regardless of gender, are all to some varying degree "feminists." When that gets tested, you realize that, in the face of clear evidence, folks who were so much a part of your progressive, mindful, equal community are quick to not take sides in a situation where right is is clearly right and wrong is clearly wrong.

All that we have is our voice. And all that we can hope is that someone listens. Thanks for listening. 


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About the art:

This story shook me at my core - it's a story that hits home in a lot of ways, especially with so many men in the indie/emo music scenes being outed for their predatory and/or outright sexually deviant behavior.

Molly is one of my favorite folks to interact with on Instagram - it's really the only place we know each other. She has great taste in music and has always been straightforward when discussing her mental health and life situations. So when she reached out to me after I was calling out a dude for basically what she discusses in this story (re: bros needing more "proof" and not believing the accounts of survivors), I suggested sharing a story with us - and she had it ready to go almost IMMEDIATELY. I essentially woke up to the story in my inbox.

I'm so thankful that Molly was able to take a careful look at her circumstance and recognize what she could/needed to do to be safe and have a chance at a more normal life - and sometimes that takes moving away. I WISH I could say this is the first time I've heard that rationale, but the reality is that many folks end up having to disassociate from a scene, or leave it altogether in order to preserve some sanity. That's why the words in this piece are some important - it's so real.

And it's such a necessary and poignant story to read because it encapsulates many elements of pervasive and explicit behaviors existent in the scenes today. There's no room for a scene to be unsafe, coercive, and/or dangerous FOR ANYONE. I just hope we truly begin listening to voices and survivors and challenging the toxic behaviors of men in the scene and at the gigs.

- Craig.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive" (Community Post)


Content warning: The following community post contains references to suicide, depression, anxiety, and sexual assault - which may be triggering for some readers.

"Emo Music Kept Me Alive,"
Boston Emo/Pop Punk Community Post

Hello friends! Craig from Art of Survival here!

We're taking a break from our July vacation to share something very special we had the opportunity to participate in over the weekend!

But first, some context -

After the news broke of Chester Bennington's suicide on Thursday, we were shattered - as were many other people from our generation. The lead singer of Linkin Park - the band that spawned a reawakening of rock music in the late 90s/early 00s - had died by hanging.

I cried. A lot. I also sat in much confusion.
And I tried to grasp how we lost another great musician so young.

We've received a great bit of information concerning Chester's personal life over the last few days, and it's clear there was a lot we didn't know about him. I hate knowing he suffered so much in private, and yet, music is where he vented it all - even on the band's latest/most stripped away album, "One More Light." While I wasn't a fan of it musically, I went back through it the other day and truly, he poured himself into that album.

The signs were there.
And today, Linkin Park released a heart-breaking letter to its fans.

As a two-time suicide attempt survivor, I understand, to a degree, how difficult it can feel to live with varying levels of depression, anxiety, trauma, and a desire to live anymore. I came up with Linkin Park - from 2000-2005, I could be found screaming Chester's lyrics into my bathroom mirrors. So this loss really impacted me harder than any of the recent celebrity deaths.

That brings us to this weekend.

In Boston, the we have a booking collective called Coach and Sons Old Time Family Booking. These great human beings put on a near-monthly event called "Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke." It is exactly what it sounds like - there is a live band, filled with loads of talented humans from various Boston-based bands, and they play setlists like the ones below. And audience members all have the chance to perform their favorite emo/pop punk tracks of yesteryear.

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We were asked to table at the event and supply information on suicide prevention in our community, as well as collect donations for the night's special charity song, which was aptly chosen as "In the End," by Linkin Park.

We raised $309 for the Trevor Project through just this one song! And you can watch the performance that Francis threw down by visiting the event page - Click here.

Throughout the night, we asked people to share their stories of how emo/pop punk music impacted or saved their life - or, they could share specific bands or songs that got them through the hardest time of their life. We would then take their card and place it on the wall behind us so that people knew to add to the wall.

As you can see below, the wall filled up throughout the night, and it was beautiful. More and more stories were added and Katy and I were continuously holding back tears as we put a new piece on the wall. And it was even more powerful to watch folks in the crowd come over to read the cards as well.

There was an air of solidarity that evening.

These are their responses...

 

Some people shared how the emo and pop punk scenes have impacted their lives...

Lots of people shared specific bands that have meant a lot to them and/or have saved their lives...

Others shared the song or songs that has helped them through the difficult times in their lives...

...while many paid tribute to the band and man that helped many of us discover ourselves...

Ultimately, the theme of the night was perfectly summed up with one comment...

Throughout the night, we spoke with hundreds of people who had been impacted by this music scene in one way or another. We're used to fielding stories here - we've shared nearly 150 in just over a year, so you can imagine that we've heard a lot. And creating a space where complete strangers felt comfortable sharing these stories - and many others that were not written down - was amazing.

Our scene was still reeling, still in pain from this recent loss of Chester, but there was so much optimism in the air as well. So many people were willing to talk with each other that night and it was so inspiring.

We love doing this work, and a night like Saturday completely confirmed it. We paid homage to the music that has helped us heal over the years - the music that has kept us alive. We also paid homage to a man that made music that helped many of us discover ourselves.

We don't get paid to do this, we do it so that people know that they are not alone in the various struggles we all face and are often afraid to confront or discuss.

But that's how we saved ourselves and save our friends - we must be willing to discuss our mental health in order to destigmatize the taboo behind the issue.

I want to heal,
I want to feel,
What I thought was never real
I want to let go of the pain I felt so long

- "Somewhere I Belong," Linkin Park

The next Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke event will take place on August 26th at the Middle East Downstiars in Cambridge, Mass and we will be out there with information on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention in the scene!

The next Live Band Emo/Pop Punk Karaoke event will take place on August 26th at the Middle East Downstiars in Cambridge, Mass and we will be out there with information on sexual assault prevention and bystander intervention in the scene!


About the Art of Survival:

We are a Boston-based nonprofit that serves to share the stories of trauma survivors in hopes that story-telling will help our community heal. We then make a unique piece of art for each survivors thanks to the generous work of our talented team of artists!

If you'd like to share a story with us, please visit SHARE YOUR STORY!

Tattoosday 009: Keep You


Content warning: The following story contains references to the loss of a father to cancer, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Keep You," Craig Bidiman

My dad died one year ago today.

Exactly one year ago yesterday, I was in Portland, Oregon, digging through records at Everyday Music and Music Millennium because that morning, my father, Wayne Bidiman, told me to go have some fun on my last day in Oregon.

See, I had just flown out to Oregon from Boston a week earlier because my mom told me that dad's health had taken a turn for the worst. I was unemployed, depressed, and struggling to find work. So I didn't have the money to drop on a cross country plane ticket to get home. Luckily, I have some amazing friends and family members who fronted the money for me.

The trip was weird. I hadn’t been home in 10 months, so to go home with the purpose of saying goodbye to my father felt odd. I showed up, he seemed fine, and we laughed a lot.

He still felt immortal to me.

For those who don’t know my father, he was a train of a man. Wayne the Train—that’s what me and some of my friends call him. He survived lung cancer two times before this, 4 heart attacks, a stroke (or two?), diastolic heart failure, deep vein thrombosis in his legs, sleep apnea, diabetes, and whatever else was thrown his way.

I actually have no real memories of my father being healthy.

But the dude never complained. Not that I ever heard.

I would ask him, “how you doing today, Wayne?”
He’d often respond, “I’m surviving.”

So that’s how I respond to people when they ask me how I’m doing.
It’s something that has stuck with me over the years.

He never complained but we could tell he was in pain.

As the days went by, I watched him slowly deteriorate. I would spend chunks of the day asking him about mortality, and what it felt like to be on the way out. And he was very honest with me. Then again, that was never anything new. He was a quiet man, but when he spoke, we listened.

He told me, "don't worry about death, sweetheart. Worry about living a good life." Dude lived a good life—he was on the cusp of his 74th birthday, and had no regrets.

We tried to keep him comfortable, but as a large man with weak legs, it was hard for him to get around those final days. He kept telling me I didn’t need to worry about him—which was ridiculous. But I always listened to my father, so I tried my best not to worry.

But those final days were definitely filled with doubt about how long he’d truly be around.

Music has always been present in my family—granted, it wasn’t necessarily the punk, hardcore, post-rock, etc. that I listen to today. BUT I was exposed to a lot of Beach Boys, Elvis, Conway Twitty, and my dad’s favorite, Marty Robbins.

Dad used to spin his old records when I was growing up, but that’d before I really cared about vinyl or really knew what they meant. Yet, for the last three years or so, I’ve become quite the vinyl collector. One of my dad’s favorite records is Gunfight Ballads, by Marty Robbins. It’s an old one—somewhat uncommon in the used shops, where most of the Marty Robbins pieces are those missing his crowning accomplishment, “El Paso.” But Gunfighter Ballads is full of songs that I remember because dad always played the album for me and used to tell me the stories behind all of the songs.

I grew up listening to Marty Robbins. He was a storyteller in his music. And I am also a storyteller in my music. Strange how that works!

So, back my last day in Oregon during that final week with my dad when he told me to go have some fun with my friends. So I went up to Portland and had brunch with a few friends and went record shopping at Music Millennium and Everyday Music. In a stroke of brilliant serendipity, I came across a used copy of Gunfighter Ballads for $1. I was stoked! I knew this would put a smile on dad’s face on my last day with him.

I also came across the album, Destrier, by Agent Fresco—which was one of my favorite albums of last year, and it is actually album about losing someone—so stumbling upon it was pretty cool, and it’s still the ONLY TIME I have ever seen it in the wild. So I bought it as well.

And as I left Music Millennium, where I apparently had no cell phone reception, I was flooded with text messages and missed calls from my siblings.

I knew what they were going to say without even checking them.
So I immediately drove back to Salem to be with the family.

When I got back home, I walked in with the records in my hand and showed the Marty Robbins piece to my dad—he was pretty lethargic at this point, but when he saw the cover, he immediately knew what it was. I saw a smile form on his mouth and he told me it was “a good one.” Always one to downplay how he really felt.

After that, he didn’t say much for the rest of the night. Just a few nods. Some creaky smiles. And eventually, he quietly, and without complaint, passed away.

Now, to the tattoo—I got this specific picture of my dad tattooed (in neo-traditional style) on my calf because it is an image of my father that was always on our wall when I was growing up.

The image is of my father’s 1959 Army enlistment photo. It’s old. Dude was old.

This is the image that my tattoo is based on. The image of the tattoo was taken a week after getting the tattoo. The one you see in the main image was taken yesterday, nearly two years since i got the tattoo.

This is the image that my tattoo is based on. The image of the tattoo was taken a week after getting the tattoo. The one you see in the main image was taken yesterday, nearly two years since i got the tattoo.

It’s one of those images that has been cemented in my brain since childhood. So I wanted to immortalize this on my skin. I got the tattoo while in Massachusetts almost a year before he died, so he was able to see it the couple times I flew home before he died.

He said it was his favorite tattoo of mine. I have many of them. And clearly he was biased!

The banner reads, “KEEP YOU,” which is an homage to the Pianos Become the Teeth album of the same name. The album is the third in a trilogy of the band’s lead singer processing the loss of his own father. Keep You is the absolution from the loss. A light at the end of the grief experience.

This album features a track titled, “Repine” (video above). And in the song, there is a line that repeats, “Your wick won’t burn away, your wick won’t burn away.” This line has stuck with me ever since I first heard it. And at this point, my partner has even gotten sick of me singing it.

But the line is so important to me. It’s the idea that the memory of my father’s life will never fade away. No matter how much I grow up now that he’s gone, he will always live on with me and I will continue to burn on in his memory.

Check out the original version of the song, "Farewell, My Father" by clicking this image of my first album,  Into the Fire.

Check out the original version of the song, "Farewell, My Father" by clicking this image of my first album, Into the Fire.

Music has always given me a release. I'm a pretty outgoing and fun-loving guy, but my music is where things get a little more serious, real, and sad. But I need that release.

Six years ago, I wrote a song for my dad. It is called, “Farewell, My Father.” It’s an instrumental song. For someone that loves words and uses LOTS of them, I had no words for this song. I wrote it shortly after dad’s lung cancer appeared the second time and I had no idea what to write. So I kept it void of words. Ever since writing the song, it became one of my favorites to start off my live sets.

The song structure mirrors the progression of my emotions regarding the news of my dad’s condition. Give it a listen above!

I titled it, “Farewell, My Father” all those years ago because it felt like my farewell to him—even though he was still there with me. But over all the years he struggled with his health, I felt like I was slowly losing him and this song was there with me to keep me somewhat comforted in those fleeting times.

It wasn’t until that final week with my dad that I finally had to say farewell to my father.

The album art for my new EP,  Farewell . Photo: Katy Weaver. Art direction: Nevan Doyle

The album art for my new EP, Farewell.
Photo: Katy Weaver. Art direction: Nevan Doyle

So, I’ve written an EP for my father.
It is called, Farewell.

Farewell was successfully crowdfunded by over 150 people and we raised over $6,000 to make sure that we could press this album on vinyl, which has sort of been a dream of mine.

The overwhelming support has made me feel pretty great about releasing this new project as an homage to his memory. This will be another form of creating a permanent fixture of my memory of my father. The music will live on even after I’ve died. Weird to think about, but valid and somewhat enlivening.

Farewell will feature five tracks.

It will include the first song I was able to write about my father that actually contained words. This song is called, "Active Ghosts," (you can see a live video of me performing it above), and it focuses on my regrets with my relationship with my father. It also centers on his strength as a man who never gave up, and what I learned from being around that strength.

There is also a pretty personal spoken word piece that focuses on a number of aspects of my relationship with my father. I wrote it rather quickly, but made some edits along the way, and it serves to connect all of the other songs together.

Another song encompasses my struggles with depression and suicidality, explicitly through the lens of dealing with the loss of my father. This song serves as an interlude for the EP, in which I ask the listener to be proud of your survival in life. A lyric in this song is represented on the shirt you can snag!

The final track on the album will be a remake of “Farewell, My Father,” which I’m simply retitling, “Farewell,” for this release. I always had the vision that this song would be bigger and more expansive. But I never had the abilities or wherewithal until now. Adding multiple elements to the song has made it completely come alive to me. And I am so glad that we decided to end the EP with it.

The Farewell EP actually features a spoken word cover of “Enamor Me,” by Pianos Become the Teeth. I am covering this track because it is the track on the Keep You album that most reminds me of my relationship with my father. It's full of minor details that fill up memories, many that I try to reflect in my own writing. It also carries a weight of reflection that feels both jovial and tragic.

The repetition of the line, “I don’t feel any closer to you here,” stands out to me so much because it’s a tragic line—it’s a line that reminds me that even though I continue to live with the memories of my father, I will never be any closer to him. I may be able to feel his existence in my life, but I will never see him again.

Losing someone is never easy and it feels even harder when it's someone that has given you a home and a family and brought you into the world. Granted, I am adopted, but my father never treated me like anything less than his own son and for that, I am eternally grateful.

All in all, music has been an integral part of how I process grief, and tattoos are how I mark that grief into permanence. Tattoos are essential to my identity. They tell my story, and I love sharing these stories with people because why else would I put them into my skin? If you aren’t willing to share your ink stories, then why do you have them?

At least, that’s my perspective. I know some people are much more reserved than me when it comes to sharing personal information, but I figure if I’m willing to share, perhaps more people will be willing to do so in the future.

I’m in a much different place than I was a year ago when my dad was deteriorating. I am no longer unemployed. My depression still comes and goes, but it’s incredibly manageable—especially because of the artistic ventures I’ve been busy with lately. The music helps, the painting helps. Work helps. It’s helped me pass the time.

While I haven’t been back home since dad died, there are moments when I deeply miss him. And I’m genuinely unsure what it will be like when I go home for the first time. But I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Chances are, I will struggle with the true reality of him being gone. But through this tattoo, and through my music, I can keep him as close to me as possible.

Thanks for reading, friends.


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!

094: Finding the Comfort of Yourself


Content warning: The following story contains references to bullying, self-harm, suidical ideation, and violence, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Finding the Comfort of Yourself," Brian Walker of A Day Without Love

Since the age of 14, I have never felt exactly comfortable with who I am. In someways you can say it's because of growing up in an environment of where I was bullied, I witnessed urban violence and saw gunshots time to time in my neighborhood. But at 14, I moved to a safer neighborhood. I moved to the suburbs and I transferred to a suburban school. Did I change much? No things got worse. 

My only outlet was martial arts, I didn't have many friends but I felt empty. I was bullied, I was not exactly considered dating material and beyond all of the outside factors in my life that were not going very well, I did not feel very good about myself. 

At the age of 15, I started to verbally speak out about my own self hatred and how I did not like who I was. I did not like the fact that I was black because of the racist jokes that were made against me. I was not accepted by people in my own community and people of other races did not accept me. No matter what it was I didn't feel acceptance with myself. I then started to drink alcohol and found fairweather friends. 

Many of these people were not real friends, at 16 I started to find a deeper sense of hatred. Not only was I poisoning my body, I tried to kill myself. I tried to drink an entire bottle of mouthwash and took pills from my grandparents closet hoping that I wouldn't wake up the next day. I wanted to kill myself in my own high school, I wanted to get run over by a car. I confessed these thoughts to my friends and started to get into therapy. 

At 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was given pills to "fix me." These pills did not fix me, they destroyed me, I tried to take these pills with alcohol in hopes I would kill myself. I continued the therapy and I found out later that I was misdiagnosed. I switched doctors and was diagnosed with major depression. 

I found out that I had issues with trusting the person that I was and not being comfortable with who I was. My behaviors manifested this depression through insomnia, overeating, addiction to alcohol, and living a relatively balanced life. 

Ages 16 to 20, I went to therapy to try to improve myself. In some ways I made progress, but in other ways I still remained dependent, depressed and rife with self hatred. 

I didn't wake up feeling like I wanted to die everyday, but I still hated myself. Sometimes I medicated with alcohol. Other days I medicated with sex with strangers that I wasn't intimately or emotionally involved with.I looked for a medicine and nothing worked. I started playing music at 18, but I wasn't confident in whether I had the ability to even help anyone. 

You can check out Brian's new album,  Solace , as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here:  https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

You can check out Brian's new album, Solace, as A Day Without Love on his bandcamp page, here: https://adaywithoutlove.bandcamp.com

At the age of 20, I stopped going to therapy, mostly this was due to the demands of my academic work. I haven't been able to go since because of time or the lack of financial abilities. But I have found a very healthy coping skill, music. 

Music has opened doors for me that I never thought I could have done and because of music among many other life changes and growing pains I have learned how to forgive myself and learn about myself. I recognize that my illness should not hold me back and I should never be a person who latches on to the idea of hating myself. I am learning how to think outside the box of myself and trying to tell a story to help people. I am taking strides to live healthier and treat my body better by living a non drinking lifestyle. I don't engage in harmful actions, I try to engage in more healthy intimate relationships. 

I still have hard days, but through music, playing and sharing my story I feel that my pain is less, and I am learning to find safety in my own body by trying to improve and allowing myself to feel. For so long I never allowed myself to feel and I am now more aware of what my depression has taught me and how I can now help others with the gift of music.


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About the art:

We've held on to Brian's story for a minute. He submitted it back when we first interacted in July, shortly after I came across his powerful piece on being a black man in a white DIY scene, which you can read here.

I find Brian's writing incredible reflective and evocative of an experience that I can relate with on a number of levels, but also have no idea where to begin conceptualizing. I think that's the power in the storytelling approach that both he and I equip within our writing and our music. There's a vulnerability, a comfort in letting it all out and being free to share the innermost frustrations and fears.

I took to creating this piece by focusing on Brian's new A Day Without Love album, Solace. It's a gripping and heartbreaking exploration of a life riddled with anxiety, grief, love, and peace. I took the lines for this piece from the opening lines of his song, "Capacity." Which funny enough, I misquoted on the painting - instead of "brain," he says, "mind." But in talking with Brian, he said that "brain" was actually in the initial lyrics. So perhaps he and I aren't as dissimilar as lyricists as one might think.

I tried to emulate the color scheme from the album cover as well, which makes this piece pop in a way that many of my other pieces haven't. And I like that. It's an imperfect, messy, and vulnerable piece. Which I feel is all the more fitting.

- Craig.

048: Dancing Through the Pain

Trigger warning: This post contains information about depression, which may affect some survivors.


048: "Dancing Through the Pain" Maria Napoli

"Depression has been my demon since I was 12 years old.

Never did I ever feel comfortable enough to tell someone what I was going through until I came to Lesley University. At the CommonLynx Retreat [a peer-led Diversity seminar] in the Fall of 2015, I shared my story for the first time in my life. That moment changed me forever.

Now, thanks to the incredible community of people I found at Lesley, I am comfortable with who I am and what I have been through, and I know that everything really truly does get better, especially when you have support from others.

One year ago I would never picture myself being here- creating a dance video to share my story- but here I am. And I couldn't be happier about it."

- Maria Napoli


About the art:

Maria has been a dancer since she was a toddler. It is her way of working through her emotions, and was the reason she is attending Lesley University for Expressive Arts Therapy.

She wanted to share her story through dance, and thus the video was born. She is dancing to the song "A Little Over Zero" by Elisa - a song she feels accurately represents her manifestation of depression, consistently feeling alone even when surrounded by people.

She worked with a friend from her hometown in New York to create the video, so this is a special feature piece created by Maria & Matthias Toia that we were very happy to have as an addition to our ongoing project.

Thank you for sharing your story Maria! I know you're going to go on to help a lot of people through dance, just as you helped yourself.

- Katy

041: What My Depression Means to Me


Content Warning: This post contains information about an individual's struggle with mental health, which may be triggering to some survivors.

“What My Depression Means to Me,” Brittany

Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.


I’m not entirely sure where to start my mental health story, as I’m not sure when it started.

I think back to my childhood, and I remember having a lot of great times catching dragonflies, listening to music with my parents, and riding my big wheel up and down the sidewalk. But it was also a tumultuous childhood with some truly rough spots. I grew up in a household in which two of the people living in it had mental health concerns of their own, I got physically and verbally assaulted on the playground nearly every day in elementary school for being an overweight kid, and as a result of the latter had extremely low self-esteem and body-image. I struggled with my identity as a queer woman, suppressing it from the time I had a hint at it at the age of 16 to my full-on acceptance at the age of 21. I work through body image issues every day, stemmed from childhood bullying, mass media, pop culture, and the dating scene.

My Dad says I have always been a deep thinker. He described me as a contemplative child, and said I never seemed like a kid even when I was one. Perhaps the combination of my inability to keep things light and some of my lived experiences made it so I never had a chance of not living with depression. Nature or nurture? Both, probably.

I write this story, and it is the second iteration. In the first, I explained my depressive episodes year-by-year so you would see it was the circumstances and not me. I read it again and realized that, while sharing my mental health story with you, I took no ownership of it and completely disavowed it as my environment only. While I believe there are environmental factors, I know that my own brain is also a component of my story.

If it is caused by just a circumstance, I can change my circumstance. If I am depressed, I can’t exchange my brain for a new one.

A lot of my most depressed states have been in times of transition. Transitioning schools, work environments, building new social circles, and moving to new places usually makes me feel isolated, detached, withdrawn, and lethargic. I would love for transitions to mean that I’m excited for something new, that I’m looking forward to making new friends and living in a new place. But what it actually means for me is that I get nervous, I struggle to make friends, I spend a lot of time alone, and am usually thoroughly discontent in my new environment. In my first year of anywhere new, regardless of where it is, I start to feel extremely isolated; this is due to the slow pace at which I create new social circles.

The isolation then leads to depression, which leads to a feeling of detachment from my environment, which ultimately leads to suicidal ideation due to lack of emotional investment and social contact. These are transitions for me, every time. The lyrics “Tell me why I always feel alone” and “I want to love, want to live, want to breathe, want to give; but it’s hard and it’s dark and we’re doomed from the start,” from Meg Myers’ “Hotel” describe how I feel during times of transition. I would like to transition smoothly, make friends quickly, and not feel isolated; I would like to thrive in my new environment, but I end up feeling isolated and alone anyway.

Once I form a reliable social circle, I have good days and “meh” days. On my good days, I smile more, talk more, am a more enthusiastic listener, and seek social contact. On the other days, I have trouble paying attention, I isolate myself, I miss details, and I pick everything apart until it all seems terrible – my naturally analytical brain becomes over-analytic. How often do good days and meh days occur? It depends. Is it a year of transition? Have I settled into my environment? Do I have a reliable and consistent social circle? What support systems do I have in place? Do I feel supported in my work environment? These factors largely contribute to how I process my environment.

My depression means that I experience suicidal ideation; how often and how intense depends on the day/week/month/year, the circumstances around me, and how I’m processing my environment. For those of you panicking, I have no intent to act and no plan.

My depression means that I have survived two suicide attempts in my life, the most recent being six years ago.

My depression means that in downswing periods I overcome the urge to revert to my self-harm tendencies. It’s hard, but I’m a good debater and I’ve learned how to debate with myself during these times and have the survivalist and role model in me win. I’m proud to report it’s been six years. During these times, I attach and relate to the lyric “I’m trying hard not to get into trouble, but I’ve got a war in my mind” and “I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy” from Lana Del Rey’s “Ride.”

My depression means that I have trouble emotionally investing in my environment. I do get excited about things; I do have days when I have energy and enthusiasm; I do have days when I feel “present.” But on the whole, I’m removed from my environment and often feel like more of an observer than a participant; others describe this as me being calm and collected. If I’m in a downswing, this phenomenon of detachment is more common and pronounced. If I’m not in a downswing, you’ll see more of the energy, enthusiasm, participation, and excitement.

My depression means that I have trouble getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. I can’t really explain this one; I just know that when I’m feeling good I tend to adhere to a better sleep schedule than when I’m not. A song that encapsulates this feeling is “Feather” by Meg Myers, which explains how I feel when I don’t want to get out of bed and interact with people. In particular, the lyrics “Words taste bitter, frozen every time I see a pair of eyes. Momma, can I sleep forever?”


My depression means that sometimes I have a low appetite. This manifests in that I get tired of chewing or I’ll sit and stare at my food, feeling apathetic at the sight of it and discouraged at the amount of energy it’s going to take to get it down. Sometimes it means I overeat because I literally don’t give a fuck about anything, including my physical health, and because I eat for comfort. Eating for comfort started when I moved from Colorado to Minnesota, had no friends, became inactive, and spent a lot of time inside with my sister eating and watching TV. Food became a comfort tool, even though my weight leads to a lot of physical insecurities.

Since I moved to Iowa about a year ago, I’ve been experiencing new feelings that aren’t great. I’ve been experiencing a lot of tightness in my chest, stress, have felt overwhelmed at the simplest of requests, and have difficulty putting energy into relationships I hold dear. I often feel irritable and short-tempered. I used to enjoy driving, but my irritability turns into anger, which turns into aggressive driving. Within the past couple of weeks, I realized that I’ve been experiencing anxiety.

So now, in addition to the depression I manage, I am living with anxiety. I can say I manage the depression after years of learning how to through counseling, trial and error, and a good support system. I can’t say I’m managing the anxiety. It’s new to me, so I need different tools for it. When I think of all the complaining I’ve been doing of late to close friends and family, I wonder if I should be complaining when I’m not currently doing anything to change it.

My sister once said to me, “Don’t complain unless you’re going to do something about it. If you’re going to do something about it, then I’ll listen.” I don’t know if she knows this, but that has stuck with me for many years. With that as my mantra, I’m planning on looking into counseling soon, and need to find a provider that is covered by my insurance and is queer lady-friendly. Because I am smart, capable, and funny (in my subjective opinion), I expect to rule the world with the help of a trained professional.

The reason I did not want to write this piece is the reason I am writing this piece. The students I supervise and supervised, colleagues, and past and present supervisors will have access to it – I don’t want them to know my history because it’s too personal, but perhaps knowing my history will help them in some way. It is a risk to splay yourself publicly, to be this vulnerable. I am taking that chance so that others can see that you can make it, you can be successful, you can positively impact and influence those around you even if you live with depression and anxiety.

I am writing it to remove some of the stigma associated with depression, and to work through some of the stigmas I still hold. I am writing it so others see that depression does not have to be a limiting factor, and that you can accomplish what you set out to do even if you live with it. I’m writing it so students I’ve worked with can see that, eventually, you will learn how to live with it and you will be okay.

I am writing this story because we shift the narrative through sharing.
 
And now, a song that reminds me it’s important to reach for help when needed so you can help others help you:


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About the art:

"End Love" is a song that is very important to Brittany and it reminds her to reach out for help when needed. The quote that I used for her painting are some lyrics from "End Love."

The scene I painted is an evening scene on a lake among some trees. Brittany loves the serenity of nature. The swirls in the sky represent her fun, light, and loving personality. Everyone has down days, but as someone who also struggles with depression and body image, those days become much harder to bounce back from.

I hope when she looks at this painting, it gives her strength, even on rough days.

- Emily Lopez