My story of teen angst begins around the time I was twelve or so, when, with the weight of constant relentless childhood bullying and ostracism bearing down on my shoulders, I began middle school.
I had already had my first existential panic attack when I was around six or seven and as an undiagnosed autistic child I obviously wasn’t expecting things to get better in a bigger, more overwhelming school system.
And for a long time anyway, they didn’t.
Now… this is the point in this story that, with the next few sentences, some of you will laugh. Some of you may even “cringe” as very loathe as I am to use that phrase, as I despise the very concept of “cringy” but I very much digress.
So here goes the bandage being ripped clean off, my first taste of angsty music was Nickleback. Yes, I know, all the music lovers out there just made a very perplexed face, but listen, as a kid growing up in the Bible Belt the only music I had ever heard was Country. And that’s not an exaggeration.
I was in some ways very sheltered and that was one of them. I had previously thought I didn’t like music, because of that. And then If Everyone Cared played on the radio one day and my life changed drastically. I guess it was considered “country enough” to make it on the country radio station.
I had been on the Internet many times before, usually reading or writing and sometimes using this completely brand new website called “YouTube” to look up cat videos, Kim Possible episode clips, and sometimes the odd country music song if one really stuck with me. You could even rate things with stars and “favorite” videos!
So I searched for the Nickleback song (using only the lyrics I could remember of course) and ended up getting a recommendation for bands like My Chemical Romance, Panic at The Disco, Nightwish, The Offspring, Hawthorne Heights, Nirvana and Voltaire.
I was enamoured.
I could no longer say I didn’t enjoy music. I was still mercilessly and cruelly bullied at school and developing pretty serious ptsd from the bullying and other things going on in my life. My only two friends had moved away, one to a new school and one completely out of state. None of us had cell phones back then, that would change the next year when I got my shiny green flip phone, but by then it was too late to exchange phone numbers.
By eight grade I was completely alone, just me and my bullies in school, and I felt more othered than ever before.
I remember talking to my cousin, asking him why he listened to the music he listened to. I remember how he had grinned lazily at me and said that the songs he listened to made him feel better about feeling sad all the time.
How he had slipped his overly large headphones over my ears and put on Gehenna by Slipknot. He died a few years later. I’m still and forever will be glad that I got a Slipknot tattoo, in memory of him. I remember how proud he had been of me, wrapping me up in a tight hug when he saw my music choices a few months later.
What he said that day resonated with me a lot then, and still resonates with me to this day. These angsty songs weren’t advocating sadness, they were telling me that the sadness I was experiencing was valid.
Welcome to My Life by Simple Plan was an introduction to my emotions, Teenagers by MCR was a rally cry at my bullies. I’m Not Okay by MCR was my pleading for help that fell on deaf ears so I would turn the music up higher and hoped no one ever saw my self harm scars because I was terrified I would be in trouble for hating myself.
I was terrified because I had been made to feel ashamed of myself. The songs I listened to spoke of being helpless and said it’s okay to feel that way. Powerless by Linkin Park was on repeat as I walked through the high school halls and people whispered about me, told everyone to stay away from me because I was “weird” and “annoying”.
I turned my music up louder.
I remember when I was editing a PowerPoint presentation for school, idly listening to the “emo” radio station on iTunes Radio on my school computer, and the song Everything I Do by Schism came on.
I scrambled to turn the volume down, sending panicked looks around the room to make sure no one had heard it. But I was also grinning like an idiot, another song that said:
“Hey, you’re not doing okay? Me either! Neither is anyone! It’s alright!”
I didn’t include it in the main playlist because it’s a bit more... graphic than the other songs, but I highly recommend giving it a listen as well. Let’s just say it starts with very explicit language and continues that way.
Maybe the whole country I lived in was systematically set up against me and anyone who’s different.
My highschool career wasn’t all doom and gloom however, although it was still a minefield of undiagnosed mental health issues that I felt like I couldn’t talk about, and friendships formed and friendships lost… Hit the Switch by Bright Eyes was pretty much a staple for me at that point, playing it on repeat.
There were many times when I looked at the people who had pretended to be my friends and lied to my face and mocked me and bullied me behind my back and never never never made the effort to actually talk to me, to even try to understand me... and the line “I’m completely alone at a table of friends” hurt so accurately.
“When everything is lonely I can be my own best friend... the mask I polish in the evening; by the morning looks like shit.”
That line really appealed to a depressed, anxious Autistic kid with “imaginary friends” (possibly DID personalities, still working on a diagnosis there) who was masking their autistic characteristics to the point of making themselves physically ill.
After multiple failed secret suicide attempts I made a promise to my boyfriend at the time (now husband) that I wouldn’t self harm anymore. It was near the end of eleventh grade. A Valentine’s Day gift I had offered to him because I had nothing else to offer. And while I slipped deeper and deeper into depression, I kept that promise. And I still have.
And angsty music was there for me then too. Self Conclusion by The Spill Canvas spoke to me on so many levels, the insistence that you shouldn’t give in to the depression and darkness trying to consume you gave me the perspective to keep going.
And in 12th grade, when the night before school I had came extremely close to breaking that promise I had made, my English teacher played the song Odd One by Sick Puppies, while looking meaningfully right at me. I didn’t care that everyone saw me breaking down crying in class.
That song meant everything to me. It said “Be different. You’re not broken. Being “the weird kid” is okay. You’re worthy of love not despite your difference, but because of it. And you are loved. And you’ll be okay.”
And I still listen to music that speaks to me. Music is such a big part of my life that I think in many ways it is my life.
My life is a song on repeat, my life is flapping hands and shaky movements and echoing things back to people and passionately talking about the things I love to anyone who will listen.
And it’s music that reminds me there are those who will listen.
There’s Adam Young, Autistic like me, and he is Owl City. And there’s Cavetown, and Royal & The Serpent has a song called Overwhelmed. Penelope Scott and Mother Mother and dodie and Alec Benjamin and Corpse Husband.
There’s so much music in my life that sings such sweet songs.
Because even when the songs are angsty they’re about continuing. Because the artists write down their feelings into lyrics and sing them to those who may resonate with them.
I purposefully made this playlist short, 8 tracks. A traditional length mix-tape. I have many other songs that speak to me, some that feel like they speak of me, and many other recommendations I can make. Many other stories I can tell.
But for now, enjoy side A of my life. And soon, we can turn over to side B.
Thank you for listening.
... if I were to add a bonus track to this however, it would absolutely be This Song Saved My Life by Simple Plan