In the Bible, James 1 reminds us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. These words are a lifetime challenge, one that I’ve been wrestling with since growing up in a Christian conservative household.
As I grow in age and gain wisdom, these words have taught me that by taking time to listen to others, it turns out everyone has a story of struggling through difficult seasons. Not everyone has an addiction to overcome, or actionable suicidal thoughts, but everyone– if we’re honest– has struggled with some form of anxiety or depression.
This is the story that has been written so far about my family, our shared struggles with depression and anxiety, and how rock and roll has been therapeutic in bringing us together.
As with most true stories, this story has a beginning. The term “beginning” might be misleading, because I don’t believe anyone just wakes up one day and starts to experience depression or anxiety. These mental health challenges are deeply rooted and creep up on us over the course of time. Often we don’t even realize it’s on us until we are at a crossroads, which is where this story begins.
A few years ago on one of the last hazy days of summer vacation, my wife and our four kids were visiting my mother-in-law and swimming in the pool. At the time our oldest son was about 7 or 8, and our youngest was an infant. I was working about a 3 hour drive away from where they were for the day. It was a routine kind of day, nothing out of the ordinary– until I got a phone call from my frantic mother-in-law. My wife had passed out while swimming. Emergency help was on the way.
By the time I arrived at Hershey Medical Center, my wife had been flown there by helicopter and was awake and seemed well at the time. She would have a type of pacemaker installed when a heart condition was determined to be the root cause. Later, lab testing would reveal that three of our kids also share this genetic heart condition. Our story, and our battles with anxiety and depression, began on that hazy, routine summer day.
My oldest son had the composure to go ahead and call 911 when my wife passed out in the pool, then sat with our younger kids watching the scene unfold. He didn’t know how to process this emotionally at the time, so I suspect there was a lot of buildup that festered over time.
Fast forward to February 2017 on Super Bowl Sunday.
I’d recently had battles with my own depression, to the point where I had contemplated and even researched suicide. At that time, I chose not to seek help for myself .
Our oldest son came home from church that day, rabid to play video games. I shut that down because of concerns I had with behavior that morning. His response was unexpected, to say the least: he went to his room and covered himself with his blanket in a fit of rage. He made what we assumed to be empty, unknowing threats of self-harm and suicide. As parents, we took the first step of discussing it with him, hoping he’d understand that those are not words to speak lightly. He doubled down, so we took him to the Emergency Room, hoping to prove that what he was saying was serious and that we care so much about him that we will seek medical attention.
What they don’t tell you in the parenting handbook is that mental health is not to be messed with. I think he got so nervous at the hospital that things escalated to the point that he simply didn’t know how to respond, and we wound up staying two nights in the ER. After that, my son would be graciously admitted to an outpatient psychological center for further counseling and evaluation– about 3 months of outpatient, daily counseling for him. During the ER stay, I really connected and felt I fully understood “Love Feels Like” by Toby Mac (featuring dc Talk). I truly was “poured out, used up, still giving; stretching me out to the end of my limits.”
Later that summer, we had to say a very hard goodbye to our dog, who was 12 years old when we put him down. That was particularly hard on my oldest son, who had become attached to our dog while going through counseling. It was at this time that I started to introduce my kids to Skillet songs like “Invincible,” and my older boys used the Echo Dot to find more and more songs by Skillet.
Shortly after these traumatic events in 2017, my wife and I had the privilege to set sail on the Jesus Freak Cruise. This cruise was much needed for us after a difficult season. It also connected me with my roots as a Disc Jockey and writer in the CCM industry, and even more so my passion for positive rock and roll (dc Talk was one of the original Christian grunge rock bands I listened to).
Earlier this year I experienced another season of extreme thoughts and high anxiety. Life has taught me that this will be a lifelong ongoing battle, and the best thing to do is find a community to be a part of (enter the influence of the rock and roll community). Getting involved again in the music industry last fall (first with NewReleaseToday, and now with Rock On Purpose) has helped me to connect with my family in so many ways.
One of those was a shared interest in Skillet. Turns out, boys really enjoy banging their heads and screaming lyrics about feeling “like a monster.”
We went to Uprise 2017 together to see Skillet live, which ignited a passion for singing and rock and roll in my boys that help us to relate well together. Matt Baird, lead singer of Spoken, took time to take a picture with my boys and I and to sign posters for them. He was genuinely interested in chatting with us. I think those moments can have a lasting impact for our children.
My son is doing better now, and music is still a very important thing in his life. He listens to Imagine Dragons and Skillet, both bands having a big impact with a positive message.
As for me, after walking through a very dark time in December and into winter of 2018,
rock and roll music has kept me alive and fighting on many days. Lacey Sturm, Skillet, Seventh Day Slumber and the community of fellow rockheads and the various rock shows I’ve attended this year help to be a reminder to me that life is worth the pain, and we’re not in this thing alone.
I stand here to say this: the struggle with depression and anxiety is real, but positive and deeply meaningful music with an edge to it has been a therapeutic escape. It’s also OK to seek professional help.
Our community that is rock and roll is an example of the best medicine: love each other well, remind those around you that tomorrow needs them. Remain so tightly connected, pray for one another and make sure absolutely nothing is off limits in our conversations with each other.
The best part of it is that our fellow rockers have James 1 figured out: listen well, speak slowly.