TW: This post deals with suicide, anxiety, death, and drug abuse. I try to talk carefully about it, but I reserve the ability to speak callously about some of my personal struggles, since I feel that better represents how these struggles truly feel.
There is something intoxicating about baring it all through some form of art, whether that’s music, or writing, or whatever suits you as a creative outlet. It’s different than expressing your emotions to others in conversation or text messages. When I write about my suicidal ideation, anxiety, or depression, I don’t have to talk carefully; I don’t have to worry about the awkwardness that comes with waiting for the other person’s concerned response; I don’t have to feel as though I’m putting somebody in an uncomfortable situation. Writing provides me an outlet to be nakedly emotional and it provides a healthy outlet to do so. But the twist is that writing has turned every experience into an opportunity for artistic fodder; I seek out reasons to write and my experiences continue to provide those reasons. This type of artistic expression means I’m constantly evaluating myself and my life and those around me, for better or for worse.
It’s funny because I can write a piece documenting my experiences with life and depression and anxiety and feel better because of it in the moments afterward. Hearing from others that my pieces have resonated with them sustains me to some degree as well. But baring my emotions so openly puts me in a precarious position: I put this pressure on myself to live up to my writings, to always be open and positive, to persevere, to constantly seek out what “cures” my depression. I obsess over feeling fulfilled and I’m constantly chasing that serotonin dump that comes when somebody compliments my writing or I achieve some task that makes me proud. In many ways, it has become addicting – and I’m young in my writing career. The result of this precarious position is what amounts to three different states of Tré.
The first is how I feel when I’m writing or in the moments after I publish a piece; in this state, I feel fulfilled, almost ecstatic, it’s a “flow-state” where I don’t feel like I’m writing but rather the words are falling out of my brain, like a puzzle. It feels like my fingertips know what to type before I even process the thought in my brain. Time moves inconspicuously, and honestly, I don’t care how much time has passed in this state. This state is when I feel like no possible tragedy could convince me that life isn’t worth living, depression and anxiety are nonexistent in my mind, and the hellscape of the world doesn’t seem that scary, and it actually seems beatable. The problem is: this state is what I’m constantly searching for in everything I’m doing. The second I leave this state, I can’t remember what it feels like to be in it until I stumble my way back into it. This is why it’s so addicting: the high only exists when I experience it and I can only appreciate it when I’m missing it.
The second state I experience is one of hopelessness. My depression isn’t one where I want to lay in bed all day and not do anything. I don’t necessarily feel listless, but rather the opposite of my flow-state mindset. I feel hopeless that I will ever feel the way I feel in that flow-state again, and worse yet, that since the flow-state is so transient and hard to reach, it’s not worth seeking out. What’s the point of those moments of ecstasy if I can’t control when they come? Or is that precisely why those moments are so worth seeking out, because we can’t control them? It’s hard to say, but the important thing to note is that this feeling of hopelessness is what batters my brain and prevents me from progressing. I feel like if I’m not in a flow-state, I’m not doing anything worthy in my life; I’m not progressing, I’m not happy, I’m not fulfilled, and why would I want to continue my existence if the vast majority of my life is not in these rare moments of ecstasy?
Which leads me to the third state. Let me make this clear: I do not struggle with substance abuse and I’m certainly not addicted to any substance, but I can admit (and will explain) why my relationship with alcohol may not be all that healthy. The third state I experience is one where it’s coated with some superficial feeling of contentedness. (This could probably be a different post entirely, but how do we define and rate feelings of contentedness or fulfillment? Is a feeling of contentedness that’s produced from writing or making music all that much different than the feeling from a buzz from alcohol? It’s mostly just a burst of serotonin anyway. This is not an endorsement of abusing drugs, I’m just making a point.) The psychoactive drugs I consistently consume are all legal: caffeine, I’m prescribed Xanax, which is a benzodiaprene, for anxiety, and alcohol. (I’m a firm proponent of legalizing recreational and medical marijuana for the record, but that’s not a part of this post.) Coupled with socializing, alcohol presents itself as the perfect solution for this feeling of hopelessness. It somehow feels like I’m being productive in some way, even if that way is enjoying the company of people I dearly love – and I suppose that counts for something. The buzz that alcohol provides intensifies this feeling of living in the moment and, if used appropriately, that’s totally fine in my opinion. What becomes an issue is when alcohol is a prerequisite for enjoyable socializing, which, in my life, it has become that way. Most 20-somethings socialize in this way and I know I’m in the norm. I don’t resent that, necessarily, but I resent the fact that this is a state of life I live in or think about a lot. My weekends, 2/7 of my week, are surrounded by my weeks instead of the other way around. I think it’s because I’m such a social person and my existence is formed by self-reflection, socializing, and fulfillment. Socializing suits that, because it also triggers the serotonin dump that we all crave. With alcohol, it’s a damn good cocktail at providing a nice relief from that hopelessness. If I can feel similarly by writing or by social drinking, why would I choose the one that stresses me out as opposed to the one where I’m actively creating memories? This sounds like an indictment of writing, when the reality is that writing is what keeps me sane in many ways and social drinking drives a lot of my self-loathing in ways that are hard to explain. This is where I want to talk a bit about Mac Miller.
Mac Miller had been in the spotlight for his entire adulthood. He was a human in the same way we all are. But he was also an artist. I don’t want to pretend that I can authoritatively speak on his mind, but we can listen to his lyrics and see his struggles. He bore it all in his music, much like I do in my writings. Over the last decade, he created music that you can hear blaring in the background of college parties around the country. Yet he also created deep, introspective, reflective, and dark meditations on his soul and his existence. He was not shy about his substance abuse and the way he used it to coat his internal struggles. We look at artists and wonder how they could struggle with any sort of depression and anxiety when they’re wealthy and famous. We admire and respect artists for being capable of reaching into our soul and finding the words that we want to say but don’t know how, in a way that feels like they know us better than we know ourselves. They become a part of our existence. We love them and we care about them. At the same time, we deify them. Even though their success is often predicated on finding a way to express their emotions in a way that resonates with us and simultaneously fulfills them, we expect them to transcend the very thing that keeps them creating. We ask them to stop being the human they need to be to create. I value art so much because I believe it the expression of our soul. I think everybody is capable of creating some art, and I think we’re all naturally skilled in expressing it in some way. I also believe that we can all nurture the skills and become masterful at any type of art with the right amount of effort.
I don’t mean to be opportunistic in writing about Mac Miller’s death. It is tragic, not only because he was an artist that positively affected millions of lives, but because he was a 26-year-old human struggling and his life was cut far too short by substance abuse. Substance abuse permeates every part of American life and it cuts us all the same way. It’s likely we all have somebody we love that is struggling with something, whether it’s substance abuse, addiction, depression, anxiety, or anything. It’s possible that being a shoulder to cry on or somebody they can talk to could save their life. We must not stigmatize those that struggle. We absolutely must be compassionate, loving, and understanding. There are times we might not be able to be that person for them, but maybe we can at least help them find the appropriate help. Every life is fundamentally valuable and every day of our lives could very well be our last, whether that’s incidental death, death by chronic disease, an overdose, or by suicide. I have wondered about my own life so much. Though the thoughts are more rare, I still frequently have intrusive thoughts of suicide. It’s scary and it’s hard to understand. I know I’m loved and I know how many people would be heartbroken if I lost the battle to depression. Finding a healthy balance of my three states is what will help me in my battle. I feel like I’m winning most days, but on those days when I feel hopeless, receiving a simple text or compliment has been genuinely life-changing in the moment.
From listening to his music, and I want to be careful with speculating, it seems like Mac tried to juggle his artistic pursuits with the allure of substance abuse to escape the doldrums of everyday life. I hate that it seems like substance abuse won. I can relate to that feeling of trying to feel fulfilled, while also obsessing over the many parts of life, and how balancing them can be overwhelming.
(Mac Miller’s death is sad for another reason. Bullies on the internet have found their way to blaming Ariana Grande for his death, claiming that breaking up with him sent him over the edge which eventually lead to his death. That is infuriating and baseless. It is beyond unfair to blame her for his struggles. It was never her sole responsibility to help him find the solace he needed to not abuse drugs. Again, Mac Miller is a victim, but Ariana Grande is not the culprit. She was supportive when they were together and even afterwards. Please remember Mac Miller was his own person and he was vocal about his struggles. It is sad he lost the battle, but we need to respect that Ariana Grande had nothing to do with it. We need to realize she cared for and loved Mac Miller so she is also probably heartbroken and needing to grieve too.)
I think what I’m trying to say with all of this is that, by all accounts, Mac Miller seemed to be a good dude who had some struggles. I’m saddened by his death because his music paralleled my life in a lot of ways that I’m only realizing after his death. I’ve partied to his music, but I’ve also solemnly driven around listening to his raps about the value of life and finding a way to be happy when we don’t feel like we can be. I’m constantly trying to find ways to be happy and sometimes those ways seem to set me on different paths: writing is a personal endeavor that I always do alone (or next to Duncan) and provides fulfillment in a much different way than socializing and “living in the moment” drinking does. Writing requires me to reflect, internalize, and learn for the future. Socializing is about the most “living in the present” we can be.
I hope my words live on after my death like Mac Miller’s will. In the days after an icon like Mac Miller’s death, especially in the way he died, there are always tributes and reflections about how we need to appreciate our time and listen to those around us for subtle cues that they may be struggling. It’s easy for us to be cognizant during this time and it’s easy for us to realize how much we love our friends and family. But we must learn to internalize these lessons so the next time your friend makes an offhand comment or joke, maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a cry for help. I can admit I’ve found myself doing this on more than one occasion.
To get a good grasp of who he was as a person, I think this is a superb piece: The Perfectionist.
To finish, a live performance of one of my favorite of Mac’s introspective songs: