(Eric is a co-founder of Live Again, along side his wife Courtney in Portland, Oregon. He loves sad songs, good coffee, Portland food, and great conversations.)
"Buried deep as you can dig inside yourself,
And covered with a perfect shell,
Such a charming beautiful exterior.
Laced with brilliant smiles and shining eyes
And perfect makeup but you're barely scraping by,
But you're barely scraping by."
I would sing these lyrics with all my heart, as if I wrote them, in the front row of Dashboard Confessional concerts for over 10 years (starting in 2001) at around a hundred different shows across the country. However, it wasn’t just me and the guy on stage, frontman and songwriter Chris Carrabba, singing them. It was a room full of hundreds or thousands of people that each felt the potency and truth of words like these. These words allowed them a way to express their own struggles, their own doubts, and their own deepest secrets.
That you can't fake it hard enough to please everyone or anyone at all.
And the grave that you refuse to leave
The refuge that you've built to flee
The places you have come to fear the most,
Is the places you have come to fear the most."
However, the key to sharing them at a concert as opposed to at home alone in your room was there was a community happening here. It wasn’t a time for quick solutions to problems or any answers at all really. It was a moment built on expressing how it felt to be in your deepest darkest moments and hearing a chorus of people around you say, “I’ve been there too” or “I’m there right now.”
I’ve been there. I honestly can’t remember a time in my life where I have ever been totally free from anxiety or depression. It’s not a constant, thank goodness, but it always seems to be hiding around the corner. As a young child I would be so nervous before social interactions. It seemed to hit at random and escalate at key moments. I remember times when I’d be riding my bike to my best friend’s house to play and a “feeling of dread” would come over me. I would try so hard to fight through that feeling, think of what I could do to reduce it, and even consider just turning around to ride home again. I also feel cursed with an incredibly emotionally based memory. Each time I remember an event I can still be overcome by the emotions I felt then. For instance, I can still feel the panic in my body when I remember my friend Frank and I walking up to the girl we both had feelings for and asking her to choose. I can still feel the pain of her choosing Frank. I can still feel the embarrassment that we even did that. I was 12. I didn’t really have anyone who I felt I could talk to about these feelings and, in truth, I didn’t even know where to start. Mental health wasn’t a subject anyone really discussed, especially with a kid. My mom had a few years where she suffered so badly with depression that it gave her horrible stomach aches. However, it took forever to even find out that was the cause and being a kid I wasn’t privy to the process or recovery. I had no idea that I was suffering little kid versions of the same thing, feelings of overwhelming sadness or panic without exact reasons attached. Later in life, she told me that at the time she could barely believe it was depression. It just had to be something wrong with her stomach. After all, she had a great life with friends, family close by, a loving husband who provided enough for her to be a stay at home mom. However, depression doesn’t only affect those who are down on their luck. It’s an equal opportunity problem that way.
When I was 13 my family moved across the country from Ohio to Arizona. Everything was new and now I didn’t even have people to talk to about it. I remember that summer and the anxiety I felt about having to start at a new school and without friends. I remember lying in bed listening to the radio and daydreaming about not having to wake up the next day. It is an incredibly dark thing to think about now, but at the time I remember it was so comforting. I would try to fall asleep to the right song thinking it may be the last song I hear.
By the time I was a teenager I had a pretty good defense mechanism. Humor. I’d like to say it came naturally or out of a place of comfort or joy, but in truth I developed it as a way to defend myself against my own feelings that I didn’t understand. I would make lots of jokes, make funny videos for the video announcements, and got heavily involved in drama club. I had gained a unique popularity of sorts that would even lead to a prom king nomination. I began to feel confident, but I could still feel those feelings underneath the surface.
Buried deep as you can dig inside yourself,
And hidden in the public eye.
Such a stellar monument to loneliness.
Laced with brilliant smiles and shining eyes
And perfect makeup but you're barely scraping by,
but you're barely scraping by."
-The Place You Have Come To Fear the Most by Dashboard Confessional
I would still find solace in music and people would always be surprised that for such a “funny guy” that I liked such “depressing music”. However, those feelings of anxiety and depression would take center stage in my life when at 16 my father passed away suddenly. I was put in counseling and put on medication. However, as I began to mourn the death of my father I began to realize the issue ran much deeper. It wasn’t about this one incident. It was about an anxiety that had been chasing me my whole life. It was about the depression that always multiplied every sad feeling I had ten fold. I remember around this time feeling suicidal for the second time in my life. Truthfully, I felt like a child again. I was curled up on a bed in a dark room and thinking about how I might end my life. Should I take a whole bottle of that medication? As I began to think of violent ways to end my life I felt ill. Perhaps I could just will myself to death. I remember shaking uncontrollably. The next day I felt better, but it wasn’t gone.
At this time I also began a faith journey that contained going to church, the movie Fight Club, and all the saddest songs I could find. On the other end of the journey I came to have a faith in God and a general feeling of purpose. I truly felt that I was living for a reason, but those dang feelings…they didn’t go away. However, I was soon guided to the two things that would allow me to feel expressed and loved: my wife to be and a band that understood how it felt. It took a while to figure out, but in truth I fell in love with Courtney upon first meeting her. After all, she was the only one who would listen intently to a song when I said, “This explains how I feel in life right now.” We had both struggled with feelings of rejection, anxiety, worthlessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Better yet, we would talk about them. We would stay up late, sitting in cars, listening to CDs, and talking about everything and anything. I had found true community in this girl. It is no surprise that we both fell in love with the songs of Dashboard Confessional upon my early downloads off of Napster. Give me a break, it was 2001. If you know of Dashboard you may assume all the songs were about break-ups, but in truth the songs had a range of emotions tied to all kinds of loss, anger, and self doubt. Lyrics like, “So this is odd, painful realization that all has gone wrong. And nobody cares at all” may seem melodramatic but when sang earnestly it rang true.
When Courtney and I first got involved in suicide prevention years ago through online hotline volunteering I think our hope was that it would feel something like the communities we had found in each other and beyond. It was amazing to be able to step into those moments and help people. However, it was never easy. You had no starting point with them. You didn’t know them and in truth they could disconnect at any time. Then if you were able to help them there was no ability to follow through and continue to support them. Although sometimes effective, it left much to be desired on both ends as far as community goes. We began to wonder if someone should build into existing communities (schools, churches, workplaces, online) and create healthy environments where everyone could feel free to share about themselves. We dreamed of every community being strong enough that when someone within the community didn’t feel like they could keep living that they wouldn’t just feel comfortable to speak up, but that those around them would be ready and willing to do whatever they could to walk with them through it. Perhaps the community would be so aware of signs of suicidal thoughts that they could be proactive and start the conversation. Little did we know that we wouldn’t find that opportunity and that we would be led to start it. So here we are. Live Again is based on the vision to reshape the culture where communities of all types are able to have healthy conversations that will lead to greatly decreased suicides. We don’t want anyone to have to have to fall asleep to a song not wanting to wake up the next day. We want them to be able to share that song of pain with someone in their life that is willing to listen and perhaps scream it at the top their lungs in a room full of people who understand and want to help.
“Maybe we were right to carry on,
Even when they said we'd be undone
Take it as a sign we can still go on, we still belong
Even when the best is yet to come
And when tomorrow comes and we've shown everyone
What they can never take away”
- Dashboard Confessional, Alter the Ending