How emo music helped me realize I had a mental illness

Over the weekend, I donned a band tee, ripped skinny jeans, and Vans to attend the Emo Night Brooklyn show in Detroit. And, at the event, someone said something that stuck with me —"Emos are the suicidal youth who survived. That's why I love us." 

Emo, of course, is short for "emotional." So it's no wonder that many of us who were drawn to emo music as teens grew up to be diagnosed with a mental illness. No, I'm not saying emo music causes depression — but, according to a study by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, it is more likely for depressed teenagers to turn to music for support. 

For me, I first discovered emo and pop-punk music in 2003, my sophomore year, when I noticed someone in my class wearing Dashboard Confessional and Lostprophets band tees. I had never heard of the bands but, for some reason, decided to impulsively buy their CDs with my allowance — just based on a random classmate's shirts. 

Listening to their music, I was instantly hooked — a love which grew even more thanks to the release of the emo-filled "Spider-man 2" soundtrack in 2004. Even though my family didn't have cable, I would watch MTV whenever we would go on vacation — discovering songs like "Fat Lip" by Sum 41, "Helena" by My Chemical Romance, "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence, "Ocean Avenue" by Yellowcard and "Sugar We're Goin' Down" by Fall Out Boy.

This was some of the first music I fell in love with on my own, not because my parents or my friends liked it, but because I was inspired by the lyrics — lyrics which I, of course, would doodle in my notebooks or use to caption my MySpace photos. At the time, I didn't really know that these songs were considered "emo." All I knew was that "emo" was a word that "popular" kids used to make fun of their sensitive, shy, eye-liner-wearing peers — a word which I definitely had been called when going through my own depression in high school. So, as a teenager, I thought "emo" was an insult. 

According to an article in the Daily Dot, "Much of the impetus behind emo hate mirrors the stigma associated with mental illness — a distinct and serious problem among teenagers. ... When emo is made a target of ridicule, kids who turn to the music while struggling against a mental illness are likewise pushed further from the care they require."

Now, about 20 years later, thanks to the modern emo/pop-punk revival and the fight to destigmatize mental illness, more and more people are realizing that being emotional, struggling with depression, and relating to these sometimes sad and angry songs — it's nothing to be ashamed of.

And now, us teenage outcasts are in our 30s and 40s, and we're self-realized adults who still join together to appreciate the music and celebrate that we survived our collective mental illnesses. While we may not have been cool kids, I think we're pretty damn cool adults if I say so myself. 

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