A Chargie’s Poetic Journey Through The Great Depression
Trigger warning: Depression and suicidal ideation
Music Therapy Takes Form as Track by Track Album Review
On August 10, 2018 UK pop-punk band As It Is released their third full length album, The Great Depression. Expectations were high before this album’s release, seeing how it was supposed to keep the conversation about mental health going as well as bash stereotypes and the idea of romanticizing mental illness. It was supposed to be a coming of age album for today’s adolescent and young adult needs. Even with expectations of extremely relatable lyrics this album’s impact was mind blowing.
The second album, Okay, was heart touching. Even the few songs released early did not serve as adequate warning for what was to come. The Poet’s journey through grief accurately described my personal saga with only one difference. This poet suffers from chronic illness which tends to stir the mental health soup pot with anxiety disorders, depression, and even suicidal thoughts at times. Buckle up for the guaranteed bumpy ride because the road of grief has four stages: denial, anger, depression, and acceptance.
Track One: The Great Depression
Every great tale has an exposition detailing the purpose of its plot and every great road trip starts with a meaningful starting destination. We begin with the first track in the album, The Great Depression. A song breaking the fourth wall. Narrator speaks to the listener. We, the listeners, are the consumers. The song shares the duality of being both problem and solution. However, reality is sugar coated to cover insecurities. “I’m the sickness and the cure.
We tell you what you want to hear cause we’re so insecure” exactly describes the unhealthy paradox of answering “fine” to ever question of “How are you?” Instead of acknowledging there is a problem we hide behind the curtain and pretend we are invisible. Just because you’re wearing camouflage does not mean that you are hidden. Neither are your problems. Not only are we living in “The Great Depression” but we are also living in the lies we are selling. Denial happens to be the first phase of grief which makes this the perfect first track.
Track Two: The Wounded World
The second song is all about pointing out the hypocrisy in life. Society today allows individuals to quickly blame everyone else. We make ourselves look innocent when in truth “we’re pointing the finger that’s pulling the trigger, and in case you haven’t heard, we’re all to blame for the wounded world.” It is easy to blame everyone else instead of taking ownership. Humans are conditioned to always look for a cause for every effect. Yet, we almost never think to look within our own selves.
Personally, I am always quick to blame outside pressure and outside circumstances when it comes to my mental and physical health. Overbooking a schedule and saying yes to every invitation or request can create too much stress. These kinds of wounding behaviors result in self inflicted wounds. GI issues are a common problem for Chargies yet despite this knowledge we all tend to over indulge in foods we know we shouldn’t eat sometimes. Accepting blame where blame is due offers healing. “So raise your white flags up, and let surrender eclipse the sun. We never learn.” Anyone else want to raise their hand here?
Track Three: The Fire, The Dark
This song is all about losing relationships. Personally, platonic relationships are as difficult to lose as romantic ones but there is reason to believe this song is alluding to romantic relationships. “I start fires in the dark. Show me luck, show me fate, show me any escape. I start fires in the dark, burning bridges and hearts to the ground, cause it’s too late now.” A strong support system is essential in times of need.
Cruelly the worst of times is when many find themselves losing long lasting relationships. Watching them slip away uncontrollably sucks. I have lost quite a few people I considered friends due to chronic illness including mental health disorders. During the times that strong friendships are most needed the reality of discovering which friends are true sets in. It’s natural to question “What have I done?” or ” Why’d I tear myself away?” Self doubt reminds us we’ve made mistake after mistake. During these moments it is important to remember that we need to take care of ourselves before we care for others. It’s tough losing friends; however we must hold on to hope. And there’s always music therapy to help with loneliness.
Track Four: The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)
“Hold on, stay strong. You got to keep it together now. Just dry your eyes, cause boys don’t cry. No, no, boys don’t cry. No, no, cause boys don’t cry.” Beginning the second phase, Anger, is the fourth track, The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry). This song sarcastically mocks the stigma that boys are not allowed to show emotion and instead encourages them to not be afraid to show how they feel. Life is rough for everyone in different ways. Bashing a whole gender for doing what is healthy, shedding tears, getting upset, expression emotions is ridiculous. Bottling up emotions can be very dangerous. Everyone should feel free to express their pain without receiving harsh criticism for doing so.
Being a female, I have not received the phrase “boys don’t cry” directed at me; however, I have received similar criticism. Growing up with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) I was often told I was overreacting for bursting into tears, hyperventilating, showing anger, etc. I taught myself to bottle it up. This unhealthy coping mechanism lead to several major meltdowns. Only so much negative energy can be bottled up before it explodes like Mentos in Diet Coke.
It was not until Junior Year in high school that an accurate diagnosis for chronic pain was supplied. Even after a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) accusations of over reacting were common. Phrases such as “toughen up”, “suck it up buttercup”, and “fake it till you make it” were constantly being thrown. The Stigma reminds me that it is okay to show emotion and reminds me that crying is a natural and healthy response. As long as I have hope, all will be fine.
Track Five: The Handwritten Letter
The Handwritten Letter is a swan song. It is a desperate call for help. “I need you when I’m bruised and broken. It’s all that keeps me here and hoping. I’m tangled in your mind unwoven. I need you when I’m bruised. I need you when I’m broken.” Everyone needs a support beam to lean on. Metaphorically, collapsing to the ground without it is inevitable. Not only do the lyrics of this song emphasize this fact, but the conversation in the background after the second verse does as well.
I’m constantly being reminded throughout this song of my immediate family and my best friends that form my safety net. Having someone catch us from a nosedive from great heights is critical. If you suffer with mental wellness make sure you know who the people are that will throw you a rope when you need to climb out of a hole you’ve dug for yourself. When it seems that my heart has lost all hope and glowing exit signs seem like a greeting, I rely on my support system.
The spoken conversation in the background before the pre-chorus resonated as similar words have been spoken to my close family and friends. Chronic illness and mental illness are intertwined often leading me to feeling like trapped. This song is my screams I beg my support system to hear when I am at the bottom of the hole I dug. It’s too deep and impossible to get up on my own. I need a team that is like family to bring me back to ground level.
Track Six: The Question, The Answer
This acoustic track slows things down. It brings up the question: is living and holding on really worth it? Amidst the depression feeling empty inside with no will to live on becomes the norm. We end up questioning everything that we know to be true. Questioning our support system, our reasoning, and reality all at once in a loop while desperately seeking an end to all the confusion is consuming. “Show me how it ends. Will I still be scared to live?” sounds like a sweet serenade. Severe chronic pain, depression, and anxiety have made me wonder if fighting is worth it on numerous occasions. Fear of living in agony results in wonder of what would happen if the choice to end the suffering and leave the pain behind was made. It’s good to know I am not the only one with the same thoughts as the bridge “say goodnight tired eyes, say goodnight one last time.” Falling asleep hoping to not wake up the next day, yet each morning I arise still alive. If suicidal thoughts are common, and keep pestering the mind, and becomes seen as a way out of this hell, it is important to stay strong and remind ourselves now is not the time.
Track Seven: The Reaper
I’m not sure why everyone has to give The Reaper such a bad reputation. He just offers his hand so you don’t have to cross over to the afterlife alone. This song is about the internal struggle between wanting to give in to death and wanting to stay alive and keep on fighting. I am currently living in this song as I battle with my will to keep on living and the idea of all my pain escaping and giving up. This can be seen in the opening lyrics of the chorus, “Now what I see and what I dream, they don’t align”. To be honest, I am not sure I am ready to give up living.
Life in all its unpredictable measures has been certainly interesting and most definitely challenging at times; yet, the flame in the torch of hope still flickers. Among the guilt, depression, anxiety, and physical pain there is still that hope that life is worth continuing on. That hope exists with every live show announcement and with every opportunity to photograph a live show. It exists hanging with my friends and within conversations and laughter during family dinners. For almost every reason I would want to end my life there is a counter reason for why I should continue living. “He leaves my wrists untied. Offers his hand and tells me to decide. Now I am begging him let me keep my wasted life. Please, it’s not my time” croons the lead singer. I am proud to say that at the moment that it is indeed not my time to die.
Track Eight: The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)
Out of all twelve tracks this song hit home the hardest. The internal struggle continues with the lyrics, “I‘m not sure he’s right, but I’m not sure he’s wrong. I’m just desperate to belong.” Everyone wants to feel like they belong. I am no exception. The familiar archetype of two voices – positive and negative, good and evil – one on each shoulder helping an individual make an important decision is being used as the sole structure of the entire song. Two distinct voices with polar opposite goals try to force a choice. In this instance, however, one voice is trying to convince one to stay alive through both the good and bad times while the other voice entices one to follow them into the afterlife where all the problems will vanish. These voices currently argue inside my head. Most days I listen to the voice of Hope. Darker days I wonder if the escape to salvation is worth it. On good days the debate happening is barely noticeable. On bad days it is a marathon. No matter the day, it is always the same banter summed up by the chorus “Her voice like a sunrise. His voice like temptation. She sings to me softly. He’s screaming salvation”. The eerie intro is also a nice bonus that has this tale sailing along smoothly about the rough sea.
Track Nine: The Truth I’ll Never Tell
It’s hard to say you are okay when in actuality you are drowning deep in doubt. Pun intended. My belief is that “The Truth I’ll Never Tell” is a sequel to a song off their debut album, Never Happy Ever After “Drowning in Deep Doubt”. Where “Drowning in Deep Doubt” talks about the truth of the matter, “The Truth I’ll Never Tell” goes into depth of why it’s hard to share the truth of why you have been distant without bringing everyone “down down down.” How do you explain how you really feel without sacrificing everyone else’s general happiness?
This song dives in to the “fake it till you make it” mantra with lyrics such as “I could tell you how I’ve really been/ But would you even want to know/ Don’t want to bring you down down down/ If I open my mouth I’m gonna bring you/ Down, down down…” The same monotone answers are always the replay when asked the polite well being inquiries. “I’m okay.” “I’m fine.” “No really, I am okay.” Saying you are okay to others while acknowledging that everything is far from alright internally is much easier than admitting to your friends and family you are not okay. In fact, it is the best way to avoid unwanted questions. This stubbornness and facade of “okay” instilled in ourselves seems like survival. Truthfully, it is the bottling up of emotions. That is just as dangerous as the thoughts causing us to be withdrawn from society.
Track Ten: The Haunting
Before listening to this song I theorized that As It Is were going to do a song similar to the style of The Misfits or Set It Off with their songs, both called “The Haunting”. I was at least hoping for some My Chemical Romance nostalgia with a Three Cheers For Romance vibe. Hence why I was totally caught off guard and in a state of shock when I heard the intro of the song “It’s Haunting It’s Haunting…” with a major Big Time Rush vibe. I immediately paused, replayed the intro, paused again, and then listened to some Big Time Rush. The similarities were too uncanny and I really felt Ben, guitarist and vocalist for As It Is, was trolling me; or at least was attacking me with nostalgia. Behind the boyband appearance this song talks about what it would be like if you actually listened to the Reaper. This chilling scenario with an upbeat bounce is met with acknowledgement that you are not okay.
Acknowledgement is the first step to acceptance as well as the first step to striving to get help. The lyrics “Can you feel your sister staring at your grave/ And if you could take it back if you could see her face.” reminds me of what it might be like if it were my brother staring at my grave. I love my brother way too much and no matter what demons are possessing my brain and even though death is offering a retreat from the pain; I could never leave my brother grieving like that. I acknowledge that it’s hard, especially when we “you die to dream, and you dream to die”; yet we can’t keep running from ourselves. Mental illness and physical illness does not go away by ignoring it.
Track Eleven: The Hurt, The Hope
This song talks about self harm and harmful coping mechanisms. While it doesn’t talk about cutting specifically, it mentions drinking and smoking which are just as harmful. Pain acceptance requires coping mechanisms and sometimes falling back to unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking, cutting, starving, burning, or otherwise harmful behaviors is inevitable. This is shown with the lyrics “Because we all need to feel release. Because we all wanna be at peace.” I do use music and writing as healthy coping mechanisms but sometimes I fall back into old habits of punching, pinching, and scratching myself until I bruise or bleed. Music is my number one coping mechanism. I have a playlist for everything from nausea to high pain to even a mental health playlist. All are on Spotify and I’ll share a few of them here and here and here.
Track Twelve: The End
“Nobody’s listening.” We have reached the end of this track by track album review and it ends with “Nobody’s listening.” In retrospect this is the truest statement ever made in an album. Sure we say we are “listening”, but are we really listening? As the song says, “You only heard the words not the hurt/And absent of pain/They don’t mean a thing/They don’t mean a thing”. Words can only do so much, and no matter how much we scream, if our emotions and intentions of our swan songs are not being heard we will end up going mute. I haven’t reached the point yet of giving up hope, although unfortunately one million people a year commit suicide. Every one successful attempt, twenty other attempts have been made.
Suicide is an epidemic caused by the empty feeling of hopelessness. It is crucial to thoroughly listen to our peers when swan songs are being sung. We must pay attention not to the words, but where the emotion is coming from. Read in between the lines of “okays” and “I’m fines” to find what others have been begging for someone to find. “And I screamed for you until the day I gave up and lost my voice/So with crimson arms and this broken neck/ You fucking tell me who made this choice!” We have to be great listeners, yet also we hold one more responsibility. The responsibility to keep the conversation going. That’s something that I will do with every breath that I take. So I encourage you to take the first step. Listen to this album, share this review, and take a deep breath after the silence once the last track ends. Don’t stop talking about mental health. We must keep the conversation going.
About the Author
Hana Belanger is a disability advocate and activist, contributing author for The Unchargeables, slam poet and important part of the Unchargeables Twitter Team. College student and barista by day, music photographer and fan-girl by night, this nerd of all sorts balances chronic illness, a social life, and learning to be an adult. An optimistic gal who always knows where one can turn on the light even in the darkest of times is still trying to find the meaning to life. You can find her living in the moment usually at a concert or cafe with ice packs, a camera, and headphones.