Last week, my mom and I drove two hours to see a Skillet concert in downtown Chicago on a school night. Now, that might sound crazy to you, but trust me, it was worth it. If you're not really into the music scene the way I am, you probably don't understand the power of a concert.
Let me tell you about my first. No, I don't count the REO Speedwagon concert I saw with my parents when I was eight or the Kelly Clarkson concert I went to when I was nine. My first real concert, with music and messages that I chose for myself.
It was The Roadshow 2014, a Christian rock tour featuring several bands. I know, I know, that sounds completely lame and terrible, right?
No. Absolutely, 100 percent wrong.
That night changed my life.
Skillet was the first band I ever really got into. Prior to them, I just went with the flow and listened to whatever was popular on the radio at the moment. I didn't get that music could have a deeper meaning, something that really speaks to you.
I didn't realize the incredible, life-changing power that real music contained. Something bigger than money, sex and drugs. Something bigger than myself, bigger than yourself, something bigger than all of us.
I burst into tears the first time that I heard "The Last Night" by Skillet. I had never heard something that spoke so true to my life at the time, a tragically depressed 13-year-old girl who had gotten lost in the shuffle of life. For the first time in I-couldn't-remember-how-long, I felt like I wasn't alone. I felt understood, I felt like I wasn't crazy or attention seeking. I felt empowered.
I didn't know music could do that. I didn't know I could feel both validated in my own feelings and simultaneously inspired to pull myself out of the dismal situation I was in.
At the time, I didn't know what was wrong with me. No one knew I was struggling, I didn't have a diagnosis or anyone to talk to. Music was the single thread that my life held on by. You'll hear a lot of people talk about how music saved their lives. But you just don't get it until you've felt the desperate need to end your own suffering. You don't understand the effort that goes into keeping yourself alive every day.
Then something comes along that makes you feel like life is more than short-sighted suffering. I always understood that life could be amazing. I saw people around me consistently thriving, happy and loved. I just didn't think that I was meant for that life. I thought I was born into this miserable existence, and that was just me. That's what I was put here on this Earth for.
Then I went to that concert, and I realized that I could do this. This life could be for me. The world was what I made it.
“Remember the first time you went to a show and saw your favorite band? You wore their shirt, and sang every word. You didn't know anything about scene politics, haircuts, or what was cool. All you knew was that this music made you feel different from anyone you shared a locker with. Someone finally understood you. This is what music is about.”
John Cooper stopped in the middle of his song. "We all have something that we're sick of," he said. "Racism, hatred, bullying, depression…" I didn't hear what he said after that, because depression was suddenly the only thing I could think about. I screamed at the top of my lungs, just like everyone else in the crowd. Yes, I'm sick of feeling this way. I'm sick of all the loneliness and despair. He understood me. "Tonight, we're fighting against what we're sick of. We're not going down without a fight. We're standing up for what we want in our lives. Just because you're sick of this world and how it treats you, doesn't mean you have to let it win."
I understood it then. My life could mean something, but my death would mean nothing, fix nothing,and hurt everyone I knew.
People around me were crying, hugging each other. Complete strangers, but for that one night, we were all best friends. It's an unspoken thing at concerts like that, but everyone comes there bearing some kind of baggage, and they come to let go of it, even if it's just for a couple hours. That connects us all to each other. No one has to say it, everyone just kind of knows. They know you're struggling, and somehow they know how to help.
It's not as if Skillet wrote their songs about me. It's not as if they knew who I was or how they helped me. Yet that night, I felt the way they wanted me to stay strong. I saw the way the music lit up the eyes of the people around me, and I felt it in my chest. That was exactly what I needed, to know that it's okay to be messed up. It's okay to be broken.
I felt accepted by this band and these people whose names I didn't even know. I felt like I fit in here.
That was the first night I sat down and acknowledged that this thing I was feeling was, in fact, depression. That I wasn't just a whiny kid, that it wasn't just a phase. That was the first night I felt like it was alright, too. I felt the energy of the people around me, just a bunch of broken, lost kids. All coming together just to try to put each other back together and find their way through this together.
This was a place I could go and finally, finally, just be myself. It was the most liberating feeling I've ever experienced.
Now, four Skillet, two Sleeping With Sirens, a Pierce The Veil, a Panic! At The Disco, a Fall Out Boy, an All Time Low, a Blink-182, a Weezer, a Black Veil Brides, a Mayday Parade, a Thousand Foot Krutch, a Beartooth, a Good Charlotte, a Motionless In White, a Vanna, A Day To Remember, a Linkin Park, a Sum 41, and a Youth In Revolt concert, as well as two Warped Tours later, I'm hooked.
At each show, I learned something new. At Panic! I was told to "love whoever the f*ck you wanna love, regardless of what anyone says." At Linkin Park, they said, "When the world makes you feel unwelcome, you're always welcome here." At Fall Out Boy, I heard "Death is in love with you, and your job is to break death's f*cking heart." I saw videos online of Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance saying "There is nothing in this world worth hurting yourself over, do you hear me?" At Vanna, the lead singer pointed at me and shouted, "You wanna have blue hair? Do it! Never let anyone tell you that you can't."
To this day, every time I go to a concert, I'm still overcome with emotion. Going to see bands I have idolized and hearing them live and in person, it's the most amazing feeling. These people who have changed my life, there they are. Right there. They're real.
I wonder if they know what they've done for me.
I wonder if they understand that they didn't save my life. They did something better. They gave me the strength and courage to save my own life.