Jukebox, mental illness, ritual, and community

then she drinks herself up and out of her kitchen chair
and she dances out of time

as slow as she can sway
as long as she can say
this dance is mine
this dance is mine

One of my favourite musical artists is Ani DiFranco. She’s a folk-rock-political singer-songwriter-righteous babe-freak. The first song I ever heard of hers was Self Evident, and I fell in love with her at that moment. I was a teenager, just coming into my own as an activist. I was learning that the world was full of injustice and wrongdoing, and I was learning that it was up to me, and the rest of my generation, to do something about it. Ani DiFranco shaped my life as an activist as much as Michael Moore did.

tattoos like mile markers
map the distance she has gone

winning some, losing some
but she says my sister still calls every sunday night
after the rates go down
and i still can never manage to say anything right
and my whole life blew up
and now it’s all coming down

She did more than that, though. She wrote songs that reached so deeply into exactly how I felt; she wrote songs that described me. It was like she knew my whole life, and turned it into music. She transformed sadness into beauty.

she says, i’ve got a darkness that i have to feed
i got a sadness that grows up around me like a weed
and i’m not hurting anyone
i’m just spiraling in
and then she closes her eyes
and hears the song begin again

I’m sure there are many people who feel that way about many music artists, and that’s why music is so important to us. Listening to a song that you feel describes you, even if it’s describing the most fucked-up person you can think of, can really help you feel less alone. As a teenager with severe depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, self-worth issues, black-out anger spells, and so much more, Ani’s music was a source of much solace for me. It still is.

she appreciates the phone calls
the consoling cards and such
she appreciates all the people
who come by and try to pull her back in touch

Roll With It galvanizes me when activist burn out threatens to destroy me. O.K. described how I felt for a certain someone, and School Night reminded me how bad he was for me. Manhole helped me get over him. Not a Pretty Girl helped me realize and reclaim my own strength. And so, so many of them described who I was, who I am — Grey, Dilate, Lag Time, Loom/Pulse, Studying Stones, My I.Q., Rock Paper Scissors, Fierce Flawless, Up Up Up Up Up Up, 32 Flavors — but none so much as Jukebox. (Well, actually, Jukebox and Dilate. But this is my J post, so I’m talking about Jukebox.

they try to hold the lid down tightly
and they try to shake well
but the oil and water
they just wanna separate themselves

My Jukebox is mental illness. The songs of insanity repeat themselves over and over in my brain, so what can I do but dance? Out of time; drink in hand. But it’s my dance.

The thing is, mental illness isn’t something that just goes away. You can’t just snap your fingers and get rid of it, and medication — no matter how good it is — won’t erase it from your life. There’s no magic pill you can take once and then be “normal” for the rest of forever. 

I have a lot of ways to deal with my depression and anxiety. A lot more ways to deal with the former than the latter — anxiety is still really hard for me to cope with by myself. And then there’s the whole “inability to deal well with social situations” thing. I’m ragey, defiant, uptight, anxious, full of self-loathing, an assorted collection of contradictory behavior, and, much like Abed, I can’t always deal with change. Which is sort of hilarious, considering how many things I do simply for shock value. See above point about contradictory behavior.

Part of the main reason I am so interested in building an actual, workable religion with rituals and traditions and all that stuff? Ritual and tradition help calm me down in the middle of a meltdown. This is important to me so I can have structure for my soul. It’s also important so I can bring that structure to other people — whether it’s complete strangers, or my future spawn. (My kids are going to be fucked up, too — it’s sort of impossible not to be when you come from generations of mental illness and you’re going to be born into a world that’s basically turning into one huge shitstorm. If they’re anything like me, they’ll need ritual and tradition too.)

I’m trying to cobble together a working faith structure as well as learning the ropes of ADF and possibly ATC in the future so that my kids have religious options. I want to not only include them in my personal Imbolc/Beltaine/Lammas/Samhain Sacred Triad rites, but also High Day celebrations put on by local druids, or events like Spring Mysteries.

These rituals and traditions are important to me, and so is community. Not only do I need something personal to turn to during a meltdown, but I need an external support structure. As much as I dislike other pagans  people most of the time, I’d be the last person to say that humans are anything but herd animals. We need each other. Community is essential to our well-being. Both as a paradigm and a TV show.

So yes, this dance of mental illness may be mine to dance, and mentally healthy people may not really understand. I have major issues with social cues, behaviors, and filters — leading to my general dislike of people. I don’t understand them.

Despite all that, I still appreciate my community. I appreciate my support network, all the lovely friends I’ve made.

And I constantly hope and pray that I’m able to keep a good amount of them in my life. That my issues don’t cause me to lose more people. That I don’t make the wrong choices, again, and get close to people who are not worthy of me. This is actually the source of a lot of my anxiety: fear of abandonment. Fear that when my friends are done with me, they’ll put me in a locker.

I know that people get fed up with me. It’s sort of impossible to remain super-likeable when you’re this messed up. Not for lack of trying on my part. I just can’t figure out the right formula. I don’t understand people enough to keep myself pleasant enough for them.

And that’s not an entirely bad thing. It means I stay true to myself, for one, and that’s something I sort of strive for. And it means that the friends I keep are the truest ones. The ones who like me just as I am. Even if they get fed up with me from time to time. I’d rather have that than a bunch of sycophants — even if I sometimes fear that the amount of friends I have will get smaller and smaller and smaller, until it’s just the Ogre putting up with my crazytown-bananapants.

In the end, it’s the difference between listening to anything on the radio, and keeping a personal jukebox full of all the things that I love best, and that actually serve me well — friends, rituals, traditions, medication, therapy, and music. 


Addendum: I realize that I really destroyed that metaphor by the end of the post. I don’t really care. It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve been off my meds for a week.

One reply on “Jukebox, mental illness, ritual, and community”

  1. Yeah, I think most people have that one band or artist that provides a soundtrack for their life. For me it’s The Indigo Girls. It can be like a lifeline you hold onto when everything is spinning out of control. The music pulls you back from the edge and help you focus on staying sane.

    All you can do is dance to the music and keep going.

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