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Listening to the Mountain Goats

Set of headphones on a white background

Over the past 6 years the fall and early winter have been a rough time for me. It begins with my birthday in October. For some reason, as I've gotten older there is a melancholy that accompanies another trip around the Sun. I doubt it would lead to depression by itself, but it is followed by the anniversary of my kid's cancer diagnosis in November, which adds a hefty dose of anxiety to the mix. This leads into the holidays, my father's birthday, and parents' anniversary--which have been difficult since my dad passed.

I made the decision this year to not push myself to try to write or even engage with others if I didn't feel moved to. Since kiddo was born I really haven't had a moment to catch my breath, and I have been running on empty, actually, below empty. I had given up all constructive and preventative forms of self-care and was simply dealing with the aftermath of first, becoming a mother, and then his diagnosis. Now we are in a better place. Kiddo is 2.5 years cancer-free. I have been trying to take steps to reclaim time for myself, without guilt. (A quick note: I have a wonderful and supportive husband who has no real online presence and is very private. I don't discuss him, but I also don't want to give the impression that I don't have any support or the privilege of a parenting and life partner.)

For the past 15 or so years The Mountain Goats (TMG) have been part of the self-care routine that is initiated when I feel the pull of depression-- it's my first response and best defense against the numbness that crawls into my skin and eats my joy. My first major depressive episode occurred was when I was eleven, which has given me 29 years of experience learning how to detect and manage my symptoms.

My depression usually takes the form of a painful numbness, if that makes any sense; like the memory of heartache. I lose connection with the people around me and then slowly lose my desire for interaction and the will to do, well, anything. I've learned the key to keep myself from falling too far into it is to grip tight to emotional connection, experience, and catharsis while I can still feel it.* I have to be self-reflective and really look at the events/emotions/chemicals prompting or contributing to where I am.

This is where The Mountain Goats help. John Darnielle is a talented and empathetic songwriter. He has an incredible gift for creating auditory vignettes which are simultaneously specific to the narrative of the song and universal in their experience. I can feel the pictures he is painting with his music and lyrics, even when I have a hard time connecting to people in the same room. His lyrics can be cuttingly precise and sometimes function as a shorthand for emotions I have a hard time communicating.

More than anything I suppose TMG music reminds me that I am not alone, and that so much of our experience, regardless of our paths, is universal. Pain is pain. Grief hits us all. That is why Darnielle's catalogue can be so diverse in subject (his songs have covered wrestling, goths, and biblical themes) but still speak to so many people.

I have been spending a lot of time listening to the TMG catalogue this year. I've had a hard time connecting to the people around me. The move from the States to Canada may not seem like a huge cultural shift, but you'd be surprised at how big the learning curve can be. Especially when you have a child who has special medical needs and will be starting school soon.

My social anxiety hasn't helped either. I always feel like an interloper--even in the best circumstances. I often feel horribly out of place here.

All this to say, I hope to be writing more now. I can see the metaphorical sun peaking through the very non-metaphorical clouds. I've transitioned from Tallahassee to All Hail West Texas and am entering Goths. 'Cause I'm hardcore, but I'm not all that hardcore.

How do you cope with depression or melancholy? Do any artists help you?

*To be clear I am not in anyway implying that this is a universal truth or that this is a substitute for medication. I have never been able to find a med that worked properly for me. So far my body does not respond well to them, and the side effects have outweighed any benefit. BUT that does not mean they don't work for anyone or don't/won't work for you.

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