Radio therapy: Breaking the silence

Illustration of Tyler Joseph of twenty one pilots
Isabelle Doerschlag/Staff

Sometimes, quiet is violent.”

While silence has the power to incite introspection for some, and for others, meditation does, less often discussed is what silence truly means for those struggling with anxiety, depression or any similar challenges. The silence is often filled with a self-critical or self-loathing cacophony of voices of our own creations, filled with dangerous imaginings and overwhelming thoughts that make silence deafening. The solution, for many, is to fill the silence, to drown out those voices and thoughts with something more constructive — or at least, something less painful.

For me, that was music.

I never listened to a whole lot of music as a kid — it wasn’t until the middle of my high school years that I really began to need it. My stresses developed into anxiety, which gradually worsened, and I began to struggle to quiet the hateful thoughts constantly living in the silence. So I began to eliminate silence altogether with any music I could find. And that helped, at least a little.
But it wasn’t until I discovered the right music that I found something that could really satisfactorily help me. A friend introduced me to Twenty One Pilots and, as terribly cliché as it sounds, I found myself in the music. I listened to it constantly on repeat, until

I knew all the words and all the notes, and even still I find comfort in the melodies.

After high school, my emotional situation only got worse, and I became even more dependent on my music, using it as an escape from my growing personal issues — and in a way, that saved me. Stuck in classes that I despised, with no friends and a borderline emotionally abusive roommate, there was little to keep me going.

Through all of that, music was always a constant — a small comfort — that meant that someone somewhere could feel the same as me and could express it in a way to make other people understand that the simple act of existing could hurt. I found solace in the idea that something so painful could become something so beautiful and moving, so I began to create as well and began to make art to express what I was feeling. It became my own pocket of oxygen in a sea of hardship — sometimes the only thing keeping me from drowning.

And it did, until gradually things got better. I found friends, found things I enjoyed, discovered that people cared about me and that maybe I should too. I left the dorms, left the toxic roommate who constantly either berated or ignored me and finished the classes that were causing me so much distress, and while certain things such as the stresses of classes and the challenges of living away from home didn’t change, what did was enough to help propel me forward.

I did all of this to the constant soundtrack of my life, a playlist I slowly constructed through my experiences. Songs became more than songs — they became memories, representing people and places, emotions and moments in my life where I had to fight to make it through or where for a bright moment, I was given reasons to fight. Despite wanting to leave everything behind, I stayed.

And the music, the music stayed too.

I live more than a mile from campus now and I walk to and from classes every day. My friends ask me why I don’t just take the bus, and I find it difficult to put into words why the 30 minutes alone with my music is so important. That time with myself, with the lines and notes that speak what I cannot find a way to say, with words that sing of the pain of being surrounded by people who don’t quite understand why you’re always so tired and stressed, with voices that instead of hating you speak comfort — that keeps me from slipping back to where I was, back into the depressive spiral that is always so precariously close to me. Artists such as Halsey and Jon Bellion, like Tyler Joseph and Shawn James, keep me company on my walks. They bring me comfort when I have no one else whom I feel safe enough to turn to and bring me solace when I feel alone.

Music to me means that the silence cannot drown me.

Music to me means that there are other voices than the one in my own head to listen to.

Music to me is everything.

Contact Olivia Staser at [email protected].