This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.
I can remember sitting at a table outside a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, browsing through a document I’d printed out a few days earlier, a document called “PersonaLyrics.doc”. I was in Atlanta with a group of ten youth and four adults from my church, for the triennial National Youth Gathering. I didn’t really want to be there.
I was in charge. The other three adults looked to me to make decisions. It was understandable — I was the staff person, the Director of Christian Education. I was being paid to be there. But I really wanted to be home. And I was used to being able to go home from my commitments. Here, I felt like I had to be “on” every waking moment, for five days. And maybe I was feeling a little out of my depth. I was only 27 years old, and I was guiding these youth from hotel to conference center and back, wrangling them and praying with them, teaching them and keeping them safe, disciplining them as necessary, and trying to laugh with them as well.
And it was too hot, too sunny, and too humid. I’ve never liked that.
And it was bringing back memories of the last National Youth Gathering I attended, twelve years earlier in Dallas, when I was in high school myself. That gathering was not altogether fun for me. There were about the same number of people then, I think: about ten youth and four adults. Among the youth were me, my best friend Steve, and my girlfriend Cora. As we prepared and did fundraising and team-building activities over the prior few months, I had been looking forward to it. To spend time with these people I cared about so much, and the chance to experience what everyone said would be an incredible, faith-deepening, life-changing week. Alas, it was not to be. Yes, I had a good time for parts of the week. Yes, I still think back to some of the things I heard there. But the primary emotion I feel when I look back at that week has nothing to do with the event, and everything to do with Steve and Cora. Because by the time we got to Dallas, they were dating, Cora having broken up with me a few weeks earlier. This was not entirely pleasant for me. I needn’t go into any more detail here; you can probably see why that Youth Gathering felt like a traumatic experience to a 15-year-old.
So in Atlanta, those feelings came back. Now, I was long, long over this breakup. I was happily married, and Steve had been the best man at my wedding. I harbored no grudges about this. I never gave it a thought, until I was back there again, back in a hot southern city filled with tens of thousands of Lutheran youth. There, in that setting, I was triggered.
I didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t about the other thirteen folks with me. They were delightful. It was about feeling out of my depth, and struggling with long-dormant emotions of betrayal and abandonment. In this moment when I was hoping our youth would experience a deep sense of God’s presence, I was experiencing the desert of God’s absence. I felt alone, desperately alone. And I just wanted to leave.
I couldn’t. And I couldn’t talk about this with the other adults there, except as a funny story about my childhood. (Ha ha, adolescent relationships.) I just didn’t have the vocabulary yet, or the courage, to talk about this. I thought that as the leader I had to be above all that, just suck it up and deal. So I tried. I know I wasn’t the best leader that week; I know that I was short-tempered and annoying at times. I didn’t know why, but in retrospect it seems like I was having something of an identity crisis: who was I? Was I the 15-year-old still stuck in betrayal? Was I the 27-year-old trying to fake my way through leading this group? Was I the mask I was wearing? Was I just a mess inside?
And so it’s no wonder what I decided to work on in some precious bits of free time there: my “Persona Lyrics” document. This was to be the latest and greatest iteration of “Myke’s Mood Music,” a concept I discussed back in Snapshots #10. (“Myke’s Mood Music” was the name I gave to a series of mix-tapes I made throughout my teens and twenties, mix-tapes I made for myself to listen to and just zone out and get mellow and depressed.) Earlier that year, I had discovered the song “Persona” by Blue Man Group. Oh, what a depressing song, what a soundtrack for me:
There’s a feeling that I get sometimes
It’s so small that it’s easy to hide
It’s like a howling voice from the distant past
It seems I have no choice when it comes to this
It’s building up inside.
I got this idea that I could build the mix-tape of all mix-tapes from that as a seed. I would find songs that built around the idea I heard in this song: the concept of wearing so many personas every day that it was unclear what, if anything, was behind them all. I scrounged through my CD collection, starting from the remnants of old Myke’s Mood Music tapes, removing songs that didn’t fit the theme, and adding new ones. I wanted to make it almost a narrative, a concept collaged mix, which would tell the story of me, for me to listen to over and over. When I had a draft of what songs would go on there, I downloaded all the lyrics of the songs, and made this document out of it, called “Persona Lyrics.” I looked for themes and sub-themes, connections and sub-connections. I took this document with me to Atlanta, and used the free time I had to scour through it for new meanings and directions.
After I returned home, I did make the mix. I still have it — the only “Myke’s Mood Music” mix-tape that was ever on CD, and the last one I ever made. Here’s the lineup, if you’re interested:
- “Darkness” by Peter Gabriel
- “What a Good Boy” by Barenaked Ladies
- “Innocent Child” by Big Audio Dynamite II
- “Question” by the Moody Blues
- “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls
- “Piece of Dirt” by They Might Be Giants
- “Come Undone” by Duran Duran
- “One” by U2
- “Persona” by Blue Man Group
- “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads
- “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand” by Primitive Radio Gods
- “Humpty Dumpty” by Aimee Mann
- “Funeral in His Heart” by October Project
- “The Final Cut” by Pink Floyd
- “Natural Blues” by Moby
- “The Beautiful” by PM Dawn
- “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
- “The Wanderer” by U2 feat. Johnny Cash
Of course, the copy I have is titled “Persona 2.2,” because it was never quite done. I saw it as a work in progress. I guess it still is.