Three years ago today, I released Icarus for the first time as a single. Today, on World Mental Health Day, I’m releasing DEMONS, a duo of stripped-down versions of Icarus and Antidote (from The Shoebox EP). But before you hear them, I have to tell you a little story. I have to tell you why these things go together.
Four years ago, I had just begun living in New York. People back home were excited for me, and I tried to reflect that back to them. But honestly, I hated it. The city felt massive, anonymous, and cruel. As winter set in and the days darkened, I stayed in more and more. I stopped calling people back. I fell behind at university. I didn’t know what was happening to me, so I tried writing about it. Icarus came tumbling out in a few nights: it felt somehow fitting to write about flight and the skies to get out of feeling so low. And while it didn’t solve everything, a bit of the weight seemed to lift. When the new year rolled in, I moved, met some of my now-closest friends, and tried to put that strange winter behind me.
A year and a half later, I left to study abroad in Paris, France for six months. Being half French and (for a change) utterly in love with the city I was in, it felt like coming home. But little things kept tripping me up: coin denominations, cultural habits. Meeting new people was exhausting, and I missed my friends and family thousands of miles away. The little things got bigger and bigger. All I could think was, “You can’t do anything right. Nobody likes you. You don’t even deserve to be here.” I spent many, many nights with that voice chasing round my head. I didn’t know how to make it stop. All I could think to do was pick up my guitar and try to scratch the voice out on the strings—because that's what I had done before. And that’s how Antidote was born, on the bare wood floor of my tiny studio. In my head these songs are like siblings, wrapped in pretty imagery—mythology and masks, a heart gone dark, poisons and cures.
Neither of them feel pretty now that I know what really birthed them: Icarus was written during my first depressive episode. Antidote was written in the middle of another episode, and at the onset of an anxiety disorder. I manage the anxiety daily, and the episodes still recur—often (though not always) in the winter, like echoes of those two years. Altogether, I've seen half a dozen doctors, called a Paris hospital at 3am, and gone to the emergency room for symptoms of anxiety and depression that manifest physically. I've blown off friends and opportunities more times than I would like, because I'm so terrified of doing, saying, being the wrong thing.
Some good has come of all this. The good was YOU. When I released Antidote, I thought it was one of the most personal songs I’d ever written. I even thought it was too specific, too knotted up in those long wintry Paris nights to make sense to anyone else. So imagine my surprise when many of you reached out to me and told me you understood Antidote—that it put words to something you’d been struggling with for a long time. Even now, it staggers me, that something I wrote to exorcise my own demons is helping you with yours. And you, in turn, helped me put names to those demons, to ask for help with what I’d ignored for so long. I can’t be sure, but maybe if I had listened sooner to the doctors who suggested mental illness was a possibility, if I had felt less ashamed of what I was going through, it wouldn’t have taken so long to learn to manage it. (And believe me, I’m still learning.) I'm hoping that the stripped tracks on DEMONS will help you better understand the places they came from, and maybe even help you take that step toward help if you feel like you're struggling.
No one wants to admit they need help. I’ve even wrestled with myself about whether or not to write this—whether my experience even matters, compared to what others have been through. (There is a reason I call myself the "poison." There is a reason I was “too scared to say that I’m tired.”) But then I remind myself that every experience is valid, and important, and someone out there might recognize themselves in it and take heart. Having been through it, I would never wish that kind of silent suffering on anyone. So let’s take the shame out of it. Let’s talk about it.
If we can’t cast the demons out, at least we’ll know their names.