10 May Metal Health
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"Metal Health"Written by Christine O'Neill
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Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
I recently discovered the most amazing resource to help those dealing with mental illnesses and personality disorders, and I want to share what I’ve learned with as many others as possible. Since I know so many struggle with these problems, I hope you find this information useful. But first, I’d like to tell you a little bit about me, just so you know who all this is coming from.
My name is Abbie. I’m in my 20s, and I (used to!) struggle with suicidal depression. I’ve moved so far away from that dark place that I see no reason to revisit it, and if you’re in that place yourself, the last thing you need is the trigger. Suffice it to say I made multiple attempts on my life, found myself in more than one hospital, and cost my family thousands of dollars in rehabilitation and recovery programs.
But the thing that killed me is I was trying. I mean I was *trying*, man. I took my pills religiously. I read everything I could get my hands on about mental illness to confirm that my diagnosis of unipolar depression with a generalized anxiety disorder was accurate. Down the line, I would have a psychiatrist suggest borderline, but I was past caring at that point. When I was in the psych ward, I participated in every activity even if I was miserable through every second of it, which usually I was. I distinctly remember missing one Expressive Writing activity because I overslept, and having a panic attack as a result. I was so distraught and angry with myself that I asked to be put under supervision. That’s how seriously I took my recovery.
After the psych ward came the… resorts. Hospital is not the right word. They were gorgeous campuses with amenities that make the Ritz look like Motel 6. I was subjected to a blend of leisure activities and didactic sessions where we would learn about coping strategies and dialectical behavioral therapy. My motivation and attention span were both shot, but I scraped together everything I had in me to focus on what was being taught. We got these insultingly simple handouts in comic sans font with WordArt titles that said stuff like, “Five Ways to Beat the Blues” and “D.E.A.R. M.A.N.: Practicing Interpersonal Effectiveness.” I thought it was absolute bullshit, but I ignored that voice in my head insisting this was beneath me. Instead, I studied all the nonsense they gave me. Usually, the activity directors collected our folders at the end of each session and returned them only while we were working, to avoid the risk of someone forgetting or losing the handouts. But I got permission to take mine back to my dorm to study them. I memorized every stupid acronym, employed every useless coping strategy, meditated like a motherfucking guru. I was the darling of the psych staff, who constantly made comments about what a good student I was even though my attitude was shit. They could see how hard I was trying.
Nothing worked. Maybe you know how I feel, friends. Do you? Have you ever reached that point where you cease to experience that sense of hopelessness or frustration and feel only exhaustion?
“How much longer?” I would ask myself. “How much more wasted effort do I need to put forth before I can say I’ve tried everything? How much more time do I need to kill before time kills me?”
A few months ago, during one of the respites between hospital stays, I was browsing my phone like I always did for more information on my plight. I came across a self-help book on an obscure website that I had never heard of before. I was a little surprised because I really thought I knew of every book on the subject, which I now realize is a little delusional – but maybe that delusion was fate, pushing me towards the light. I quickly discovered why I’d never heard of it before; its publish date was today.
The book was called “Metal Health” by A. Luisehk. The cover depicted a tricked-out guitar leaning against an amp, with an orange pill bottle on its side and capsules littering the stage. At the bottom was a quote from a critic that read, “An irreverent romp through the vicissitudes of mental illness… Luisehk’s work will strike a chord with metal fans that just may save their lives.” The description called it a cross between a memoir and a self-help book, which examined lyrics and themes in heavy metal music as a framework for coping with depression and suicidal thoughts.
As I already mentioned I was willing to try anything to get better, but this held a special lure for me because I happen to like metal music. I didn’t have like a favorite band, I’d never been to a concert or anything, but I could easily see how such powerful music might inspire a recovery. I ordered it and paid a little extra for two-day shipping because I had this gut feeling this was what I had been waiting for.
Under normal circumstances, this is the part where I would highly recommend that you order the book and read it yourself, but a strange and unfortunate thing happened. I’ve been unable to find any trace of it on the Internet. I tried going through my search history, looking back for the shipping confirmation email, and of course, Googling the author’s name. Here I am, months later, and my online sleuthing has turned up nothing. I looked in the book itself but failed to find a copyright page with the publisher’s information. Strangely enough, there was not even an ISBN.
*BTW, I would REALLY appreciate if you guys could message me should you happen to come across any information on A. Luisehk or “Metal Health.” Thanks!*
That being said, I am going to do my best to impart what I learned from it, so you can become healthy, resilient, and liberated from the shackles of depression like me.
“My back hasn’t healed from last week’s whipping
With the valium and lithium they got me on I’m tripping
They keep me bound and gagged and they say it’s for my health
But I’d rather die than let them try to cure me of myself.”
~ “Infucktrination” (Mourningwood)
Four lines that undercut the fallacy that mental health “treatment” is actually seeking to cure us. Tell me, how can we think straight when we’re dizzy from the anti-depressant carousel, trying new cocktails of pills every few months? How does some egg-head with a diploma know what’s right for my health? And that last line… what exactly are they trying to cure, anyway? Do they want me to be happy, or do they want me to be lobotomized?
Sorry, I get kind of carried away delving into some of these lyrics. I’ll try to stay on topic!
My connection with the author was instant. His casual tone and liberal use of the F-word endeared me to him by the end of the first chapter. His writing style was darkly comedic, but his content was smart. Like, really smart.
Luisehk begins by dichotomizing depression and what he calls “the soulful core.” The soulful core is the unadulterated flow of negative thoughts and behaviors that come from a chemical imbalance in our brains, which is what the word depression originally described. But depression has become a condition that one develops when family, friends, and doctors feel the need to treat this soulful core rather than channel it. Depression is the whole experience of going to see therapists and psychiatrists, taking mood-altering drugs, using coping strategies as a crutch, and scaring ourselves with statistics and studies that say we’re going to shoot up a school unless we “get help” and continue the cycle. The soulful core is not meant to be cured. It’s meant to be channeled. (And he made some really good pun about how you can change that channel to heavy metal or something, it escapes me at the moment but it was super clever.)
In the next chapter, Louisehk weaves music into the philosophical foundation he’s just created. Everything about heavy metal, from its tempo to its instrumentation to its lyrics, reveals the path to overcoming depression. We do ourselves a disservice by listening to songs in isolation. Bands have a corpus, a body of songs that you need to listen to together rather than just assuming “this song’s about soldiers fighting in a thunderstorm” or “this one’s about a woman emerging from the depths of hell for the express of torturing the narrator” (by which he meant the singer, but he’s so smart he uses the kind of language an English professor would use in analyzing literature). You see, all metal artists have at least one song – often several – that follow a formulaic series of events. First, the narrator is an incensed and willful victim, hurt by society, a loved one, substances, whatever. Next, he finds redemption by using his soulful core to inflict violence upon the sources of his suffering. Finally, he concedes that he is too damaged to feel completely whole after attaining his revenge, but in the process, he has gained power and mastery over what hurt him. He finds a type of happiness that is tainted, but it sates him and replaces the depression.
The chapter is peppered with snippets of lyrics to underpin Louisehk’s thesis. There’s a bunch, but I’m going to give you one example for each (I have most of the lyrics he quotes in the book memorized).
Angered victim: “You spat right in my face when you locked me in my cell / You’re only tough because I’m cuffed, I’ll see your ass in hell.”
~ “Served Cold“ (American Roulette)
Redemption in violence: “I’m a motherfucking monster with a motherfucking grudge / You tried to make me human and tonight you’ll pay in blood.”
~ “Beneath“ (Bodily Fluids)
Unwhole but victorious: “Put a bullet in my chest, but the joke’s on you my dear / I won’t even bleed because my heart’s been gone for years.”
~ “Cuntrol” (Ex Marx)
And sometimes this pattern is subtle, like, you might not even notice it unless you’re paying attention. After first reading this, I would try to listen to metal albums and sometimes had trouble fitting the songs into Luisehk’s model. But that’s why we look at the whole corpus, because if you do, you will totally see what he’s talking about.
Individual songs are less instructional (this is how you escape depression) and more observational and commentary-oriented (hey, did you ever notice?). Some even undercut the whole idea that metal is, like, this purifying flame because there are people who buy into it only to make themselves feel badass. For instance, there’s this one overly-dramatic song that makes me laugh every time, just because it so artfully cuts to the heart of the matter while acknowledging its own hypocrisy. One part goes, “I write my hitlist with blood in cursive / Oh my god, you guys, I’m so subversive.” Hahaha, I just love it!
The more I read, the more I started to hear it. Heavy metal narrators are godlike beings, and their music tells a story that can lead us down that same heroic path! They may not be morally spotless, but it’s not their fault. The best they can hope for is to reclaim some small part of themselves in taking it by force.
Okay okay so I know I’m not capturing the brilliance of “Metal Health” by just synopsizing it like a book report, but you have to believe me that it’s life-changing. Unlike any of the therapies I’d been subjected to, Louisehk’s words actually started to alter my way of thinking. If you have depression, you know how fucking impossible that seems. I gradually realized that I no longer hated myself and my life; I hated everything else. And I took joy in that anger. Suddenly I felt like I wanted to live again, because I finally figured out what would purge me of this depression.
I started listening to heavy metal music every free moment I had. I loved the way it got my blood pumping, causing this almost arousing excitement that I was embarrassed to feel at first. But then I got to a chapter called “Blame over Shame,” which eventually led to the complete annihilation of my self-criticism. Bye, bye, prudish societal restraints! So long, self-control! I find violent music sexy and I will scream it from the rooftops if I want to!
Luisehk eloquently explains that there is a way to release the shame with which humankind burdens you… those constant reminders that you’re not normal because you don’t have friends, or you’re not taking your medicine, or you can’t be in large groups of people or left alone for too long. Instead of absorbing the shame, which we’ve been taught to do instinctually, we reflect it back to establish blame. Heavy metal isn’t about self-pity, but righteous anger. It opened my eyes to all the shame I’d been subconsciously soaking up. Like, who does my mom think she’s helping when she sends me an email every other day with job postings? I’m sorry mom, is my unemployment so unbearable to you that you’re trying to fool me into thinking you’re supportive when those emails only make me feel more shame? And that’s the tip of this iceberg with this lady. My dad’s not much better, and my brothers can rot in hell for all I care.
Getting off track again, sorry. So anyway, I was listening to this music all the time, often in the back of my mind trying to recognize some of the lyrics, songs, or bands from the book. But I never came across any of them. In fact, I searched the Internet and I guess these bands are a little too obscure to have promotional sites or get their stuff picked up by Pandora and YouTube. Or… which I have suspected for a while now… the culprit is censorship. That would explain why the site where I ordered the book disappeared and why none of these bands seem to exist. It’s because our culture fetishizes mental illnesses.
Think about it. Depression is a huge industry! Therapists, psychiatrists, pharmacists, neuroscientists, and even the alcohol and prescription drug companies in this country profit off sadness – my sadness, your sadness. It makes sense that they wouldn’t want us finding books or music that open our eyes and minds to their exploitation.
About halfway through “Metal Health,” I encountered an unexpected twist: it becomes a workbook. An introductory page explains that we’ve done the groundwork to understand the soulful core and how to expose depression for what it is, but now it’s time to put our knowledge into plans and those plans onto paper. I spent hours poring over insightful questions, scribbling additional thoughts in the margins, drawing on experiences I’d had with people from childhood to the present.
Here, I want to share an example with you so you get the idea. Lemme grab the book and I’ll type it up.
The question: “Many of the bands I’ve mentioned here talk about the afterlife – either hell-on-earth, as they strive to tame their soulful core, or sending their enemies to hell, often with the implication that the narrator will see them there. Who from your past would you sacrifice your afterlife for, in order to avenge the crippling, suicidal depression you face today?”
My answer: “When I was in middle school, I had this bitch of a girl who bullied me every day. This girl, M (not gonna put her name in case anyone knows her), used to pretend to be my friend, but would always pick on me and turn the others in the clique against me. Though I thought of M as my best friend, I also sometimes talked to a girl who sat behind me named J. She was a bit… weird… but really nice and always hung out with me when I approached her. But I didn’t really give a shit about J, beyond feeling a little sad that she had no other friends. All I wanted was to earn M’s approval and not walk into school to find that they’d formed a “Long Hair Club” that I couldn’t be part of, or discover that suddenly trading gel pens was their only interest.
“J seemed to grow more and more secluded as I moved on to a different group of friends altogether, leaving both her and M behind. I did okay for myself by high school, after recovering from the gaping hole that bitch had left in my self-esteem. But J didn’t do so hot. I don’t know exactly what happened to her, but I watched her withdraw further and further, earning the reputation of the girl who never smiled and who nobody talked to. She kept to herself, and though I’d occasionally wave to her in the hallway, we had no real contact. I have no idea what became of her. She stopped coming to school, and the rumor mill said she either had a terminal illness or moved across the country.
“As an adult, I look back at this thread of my life and it makes me furious. Like the quote you shared in Chapter 5, ‘I’d rather kick down a fucking door / than internalize one thing more.’ J and I could have had a happy, fulfilling friendship throughout middle school, and all this time I thought it was MY fault for choosing M over J. But I am not going to give in to the shame! I’m stronger than that now. Instead, I’m going to establish blame, and make M carry my cross. She’s who eroded my sense of self and in the process took away J’s only friend.”
The next question asked what steps I would take to rectify the situation and gave helpful suggestions. That, of course, led me to looking up her Facebook, Insta, LinkedIn, and some digitized newspaper articles. Paid a little money to look up her current phone number and address, too. Anyway, I would get a little carried away with my responses (as you can tell, lol) so my book has loose leaf folded between many of the pages to hold the words I couldn’t fit in the space provided.
God… metal music is just this microcosm where everything makes sense, you know? It’s so fulfilling. The narrators are the ultimate tortured protagonist, embodying something in all of us. The difference is that they put power behind their past trauma and transform it into something beautiful, something purposeful, something violent.
I came to the final chapter of the book yesterday. It was back to all text, no longer in a workbook format. It made me cry. I actually read it over three times in a row, just to really let it sink it. I… I can’t do it justice. I’ll just share with you the last passage, the most powerful part of the book:
“You have the knowledge. You’ve made your plans. It’s time to pick up the heavy mantle of heavy metal and carry them out, like the anti-heroes of our music. And if you don’t have the will to do that, then maybe you should kill yourself after all.”
There you have it, my friends! I really hope what I’ve shared here has helped you understand the true cause of your depression and shown you that you can overcome your suicidal thoughts.
Help is here. Recovery is possible. Just remember to hate the world so you can come to love yourself.
* * * * * *
I’m so glad I had a chance to write this down tonight since I’m going to kill my mother tomorrow. Just in case something goes wrong, I wanted to make sure that I’d done my duty to the world by sharing A. Luisehk’s wisdom. Thank God I’ve been off my meds long enough to finally be thinking clearly.
But of course, let’s hope I survive the first true expression of my soulful core and live to express many, many more.
Thanks so much for reading! Good luck everyone!
🔔 More stories from author: Christine O'Neill
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