I wrote my favorite song the night before I went to the hospital in December of 2015. After attending a classical concert at my college, I was near bursting. As the music caressed me, I’d been feverishly jotting down ideas in my pocket notebook. At the close of the concert, I couldn’t stomach standing (waiting waiting waiting, always waiting, standing so agonizingly still) with my companions and ran off to the music building, with its abundance of baby grand pianos, and began to write. At the end of writing the song, I played it and realized that I’d just written a song about disassociating and climbing to the top of a building, presumably to jump. “There’s no sound, but I’m climbing; the elevator stays lonesome up to the top floor.” I don’t remember much else from that night other than that I cried a whole lot. The next day, I was admitted to Northern Westchester Hospital, where I spent a week in 9 North, the psych ward.
My suspicions of being bipolar were confirmed as the mood stabilizers and antidepressants and low grade anti-psychotics took hold and made me feel normal, even happy. As trapped as I felt, that week inside locked doors was the beginning of feeling better. Some days now, I’m overcome by a happiness which felt impossible a few years ago.
But “Save My Soul” is still my favorite song I’ve ever written. Dark as it is, it’s true and it brings me back to a time of great loneliness and self doubt, but poignantly. The truth is that a lot of my best songs have come from the exact, if less exaggerated, spot. My whole catalogue is filled with rumination on my own unhappiness. My mental health has been my biggest and most faithful muse.
So many brilliant musicians died at their own hands. Chris Cornell’s recent suicide is an obvious one. One of my favorite musicians is Elliott Smith, who suffered the same fate. Kurt Cobain, Phil Ochs, Nick Drake. Many, many others died of overdoses undoubtably tied to their frail mental health. It extends to non-musicians and even people who seemed full of joy, like Robin Williams.
I look back on those times of climbing trees barefoot and staying up until 7 in the morning, those times of wanting a light switch attached to my own existence I could blissfully reach out and flick. They were times of great inspiration, but they were also my worst. The maddening highs were too intrinsically tied to the cruel lows.
Writing now takes effort. It takes a patience and steadiness. Other things inspire me. Even in those days of fiery inspiration, music making was a muscle I stopped flexing. My muse was my downfall. As I grow more stable, I’m practicing, writing, recording, and gigging more and more regularly. The music muscle gets stronger every day. At the end of the day, my mental health was too important not to save.
I’m not exactly sure why I’m writing this all, but I do know that things got way better for me.If you feel terrible more often than you feel better, please seek help. There is so much out there. New things will inspire you. Your art is more than your mental illness.
That fateful December night I wrote, “You were blooming as my eyes grew distant, as my mind grew frantic as my mind.” But the thing is that now I’m the one who is blooming.