Kurt Cuffy (Canadian Touring Photographer)

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At 23, I had finished four years of traveling all over Ontario playing music, working retail jobs I never cared about. I was stuck in limbo, not being able to afford what I wanted to do, which was make videos. So while working a 8:30 am to 8 pm at a computer store (which wasn’t chill!), I would sneak in my research on cameras and ask my buddy who happened to be a wedding photographer a ton of questions—until one day, I was holding my tax return planning out how to grab my first camera which was my Canon Mark II.

After which, I was amped and ready to enter the world of…? What I thought would have been video, but the jobs I was “promised” didn’t pan out. So instead I found myself shooting my first show, which happened to be a house show with The World Is A Beautiful Place and Dads.

That night was crazy. I just remember feeling a ton of pressure from my local friends, who had known me as the singer of a band for many years, all of a sudden shoving a camera in their face. But knowing about the stress of what everyone thought definitely pushed me to not be just another photographer and learn my shit! I ended up meeting Carly Hoskins who was touring with Dads at the time and also hanging out with an old friend Stephanie Mill, who both happened to be photographers. One was doing what I wanted, and the other I’d looked up to for quite sometime.

Fast forward eight months. I got a phone call from Ange from Abandon All Ships to head out with them on what turned out being their last US headliner. The tour was 55 days: it was my first tour, but I was ready for the challenge.

Midway through tour I remember being so happy and always smiley around the band. One day I remember Ange pulling me aside and saying, “This music scene you love so much, ain’t all smiles. They don’t care and it will drive you insane.” Not thinking much, I finished the run and continued on with my career.

Two years after that I was touring the UK/EU for the first time and that’s when the hard knocks started hitting in. On my way over, I spent all my money on a plane ticket because well, I was young and knew it would pay off.

So I went. Instantly almost deported by TSA. France to London, almost deported again. I’m shaken and losing money, miles away from home. Canadian money doesn’t go that far in most places especially across the pond. At that point I start getting in my head for the first time ever: Why do I do this? How long can I keep this up? What should I eat today? Better yet, what can I afford to eat? All of this stuff, on all of our drives. You can also tell some of the guys in our crew were going through the same, but the best way to deal with the thoughts is to laugh it off and just remember you have each other.

On my way home from the most stressful twelve days of my life, I was randomly searched by TSA and had my work laptop I just bought confiscated with no hopes of getting it back. I got home knowing I had no way to bounce back. I just shut myself in for over a month without touching my camera. Finally, I got an offer to shoot PVRIS’ first time in Toronto with Mayday Parade where I got a great feel for it again and got back on track in time for the Structures farewell tour in December of 2015.

2016 held much of the same, with starting the year out on the AP tour for 56 days and finishing the year with I the Mighty and Beartooth for 121 days in a row—210 total for the year. It was stressful and still is, except there’s way less crying on hotel floors as my change falls out of my pockets or wanting to be anywhere but Europe while on my second bus tour. I at least know where I want to go with this in life. I also know I’ll never do anything I don’t like and I’ll do things my way for as long as I can—or until I own three Apple watches on each wrist. I have a very solid team of best friends and label I work with right now, and it think it’s safe to say we keep each other sane. Here’s to the future and clear thoughts!

Penelope Martinez (Idobi Radio, Local Wolves, Focus Magazine)

A few days ago I woke up to the news of letlive. breaking up and my world was shattered. They’ve been one of the biggest influences in my life and coming to terms with the fact that they will not be putting out new music every few years, that I won’t be planning trips to see their shows, was difficult to say the least.

Photo by Anam Merchant.

I first heard of their music when I was a sophomore in high school. I was ecstatic to see some of my favorite bands playing together on the Street Youth Rising Tour: Pierce The Veil, Memphis May Fire, Issues, and letlive. I drove four hours with my friend because my state’s show had sold out, and seeing them live made me fall in love with their music even more. Since then, they, along with the Maine and a handful of other bands, got me through some of the worst periods of my life.

Much like many people, I unfortunately never went to therapy to treat my mental illness as a teen. I went to doctors to fix my physical illnesses but that’s about it. I came here illegally when I was five and haven’t gone back to my home country since. I have no family, except the family of friends I’ve created, and only my mom to rely on—which isn’t a bad thing, because I love my mom. But because of the culture shock and sudden separation from the family I was raised in, I was diagnosed with depression, anorexia and anxiety at the age of six and went to therapy up until I was nine. I stopped going because I began improving, but also because I began to learn how to hide everything that I felt. By sixth grade, my mental health was deteriorating again and was at its worst. Still, I never spoke to anyone about it. Instead, I opted to listen to bands like letlive. and the Maine, taking it one day at a time.

Middle school consisted of being bullied by one particular kid—I truly don’t know why he hated me—but also being appreciated by most of my classmates. My life at home was a mess, and I was feeling very homesick. Ultimately, I stopped noticing the positive things in my life and began to take up unhealthy habits. No one ever noticed, I don’t think anyone has ever known to be honest, but it happened, and it was real, and it was bad.

When I got to eighth grade, things started looking up. I joined yearbook where I began to pick up photography, got into the high school that the kid who didn’t like me desperately wanted to go to (and he hated me for it! Best feeling in the world, proving people wrong, right?!), and kept discovering amazing music. It wasn’t until the end of freshman year that I attempted to stop my bad habits because I realized I was picking up more along the way, and I began to get worried about myself. My eating habits were horrendous and unhealthy, and people were starting to notice, just like I was starting to notice others who were like me.

So I did what I always do: I put on some music and tuned everything out. I sat by myself on my bed and thought about every little mistake I’ve made, and about how the world will end and how everything that I have done will have been for nothing. And then letlive.’s Fake History came on like it usually did, but it was different this time. It snapped me out of the trance I was in and I realized that I didn’t want to be this person anymore. And although I didn’t seek professional help because I didn’t know how to bring it up to my mom, and I knew we couldn’t afford it regardless, I went online and found ways to cope. I began painting, A LOT. I took up doing DIY projects, and more importantly, I went to my first concert: Mayday Parade and the Maine.

This show changed my life; It’s where I found my passion for music photography. That day was the day my life turned around. I chose to stop my bad habits and instead I picked up a camera, got a job so I could buy my own gear, and began to work my way into the music industry.

It’s been four years since I shot my first show and my life has been a huge roller coaster of emotions since. Despite everything, I wish I had sought help when I needed it. I wish I had had a resource like Hope for the Day, but had it not been for music, I don’t know that I would be here. If it wasn’t for music, I would have never met some of my best friends and biggest inspirations (aka my best friend AND biggest inspiration), and I don’t think that I’d be happy. Maybe satisfied, but not pure happiness and joy. I don’t think we should ever settle for something, and I would have settled had I not gone to that concert. Settled on a nine-to-five job, a career that I would probably enjoy, but that would leave me in debt for the rest of my life.

Instead I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with some incredible artists, travel the country doing what I love with some of the best people, and meet some unbelievable human beings. I began my own magazine, Focus (focuszine.com), and we featured some pretty neat artists. Ultimately I left it because my schedule didn’t allow me to put 100% into it, which is good and bad, I guess.

I can truly say that I have no idea where I’d be, or if I would even be here, had it not been for music. It’s so powerful, and I think some people truly underestimate it. I never thought I’d make it out alive, but here I am. I’ve surrounded myself with kind, hilarious, and talented people who push me to be the best I can be and keep me grounded. I’ve lost a handful of friends because I’ve put my all into this dream and because of how I mishandled my mental health, but I’ve learned that if people want you in their life, they’ll make the effort if you do too. And unfortunately, not everyone is meant to stay in your life. I’m only 20 years old, but I’ve accomplished things people can only dream of, and I’m not even getting started yet. I know what I stand for and I know what I want and what I’m worth, so I’ll continue to fight for this dream because I owe my life to music.

Elena de Soto (The Masquerade, The Wrecking Ball ATL, Deep Rest Records)

music this magnificent and medicine are one and the same. they make life worth living; hearts worth healing. - Boys Night Out, "Healing"

I was 13 when I discovered Boys Night Out. Already 2 years into therapy for being sad and nervous, and just starting to discover what is referred to as “the scene.”

7th grade was a rough year for me and my circle of 3 friends, but also one of the most defining years of my life. I didn’t like the kids I went to school with and they didn’t like me. Now, being 24, I know that THAT’S FINE. But when I was 13 and I was being made fun of every day for wearing a black sweater, I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t invited to small parties that everyone was just discovering and starting to throw. Instead, I went to my best friend's older brother’s local band gigs at Metro Gallery. I liked Metro Gallery. I liked the teenagers that hung out at Metro Gallery. But I still wanted to be friends with the kids in my school, my school district, and my tiny suburb.

I was a cheerleader for both my school and for a traveling competition team. That’s what the cool kids were doing right? That’s what the happy kids were doing. But after games and after practices, I wasn’t hanging out at their pools or country clubs. I was in my room with the door closed taking MySpace bulletin quizzes and updating my LiveJournal account with with lyrics of the music I was discovering through talking to strangers on the internet accompanied with some horrible photo of a tree or the sky that I took with my first point and shoot camera. I loved the internet and I loved the people I talked to on the internet. They were like me. We shared the same thoughts. I wanted to be like them.

I would spend hours every night with my door closed and my headphones on. While my parents were sleeping, I was in AOL chat rooms under the name elenaxenvy talking to like minded individuals and doing my best to maintain all 5k+ “friends” i made on Myspace.. When one of those strangers showed me Boys Night Out's Trainwreck - I swear I spent next the year listening to it on repeat. I had never heard such a complex album before. I felt as though I had this dark and heavy record, and that no one else in my school knew anything about my life because they didn’t have these songs.

Locked in my room and angry at the world for not understanding, I was identifying with lyrics and music.

I take my medicine and make them believe that i'm a better man. - "Recovering"

The lines I wear around my wrist are there to prove that I exist. -  "Introducing"

I was cutting myself without the intention of dying. But so were all of my friends and all of the other kids I started meeting at shows. I spent every weekend 40 minutes away in Wilkes Barre seeing bands and smoking cigarettes in the parking lot with fellow show goers.

Then I would spend 2 weekdays in therapy. I spent every night being dispensed medication and being talked to by my crying parents. Why was I cutting myself? Why was I smoking cigarettes? Why did I start dating boys that were way older than me and definitely not good people? Why wasn’t I taking my therapist seriously?

(Sidebar, I was an awful kid to my parents and they didn’t deserve that.)

I’d spend years trying to be super ‘alt’ and hanging out in alleyways next to venues with my little point and shoot camera. Begging anyone 18+ to buy me cigarettes and pay attention to me. Bonding over whatever band was playing, I was happy. My entire week could be solved with whatever 30 minute set of mediocre metal core or pop punk music was in town that weekend.

It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I took my therapist and medication seriously. That was when my parents first brought up divorce. That was the first time someone close to me died suddenly in a car accident. Both of those events happened in the same week, leading to a diagnosis of PTSD from my new psychiatrist. Former medications weren’t keeping my feelings at bay and I was switched to stronger pills. What I thought was me being a sad kid who worried a lot was actually diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Thoughts, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

It wasn’t long before I was taking heavier and heavier doses of highly addictive medication that I would continue into my adult years.

The next year and a half all I could think about was getting away. After a small scandal that almost ended in expulsion, followed by a bullying incident against my best friend for her sexuality - I basically stopped attending school. Some days I would drive into the parking lot and start crying so hard that I just drove away and hid at a friend’s apartment. Other days I would go to the nurse’s during my 2nd period class and get sent home from panic attacks. Somewhere in between the threats of truancy and the painful alienation from my friends and family due to an abusive relationship, I got accepted into Savannah College of Art and Design. I would be moving to Atlanta, GA. I had my escape plan.

You cut your ties. Felt better off. - The Hotelier, "Dendron"

I got the chance to start over in 2011. I was in a new city and I didn’t know anyone. But I knew exactly where I would friends. I got off the plane in Atlanta, GA on September 8th, 2011, and headed straight to The Masquerade to see Balance & Composure. From that moment, I knew I wanted to hang out there. I felt at home in a different city and I felt truly happy. I was excited to see what my Atlanta adventure would bring.

College was hard and no joke. But when I wasn’t working on something for school, I was definitely drinking or attending a show. I started going to The Masquerade probably 3-4 times a month and other DIY shows at Wonderroot, Drunken Unicorn, and Archive Gallery 2-3 times a week. I didn’t know anyone and I would go alone. My social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone and changeovers between sets were a dreaded time for me. Never actually being decent at concert photography or show pics, I started taking my camera to shows to act as a barrier from interaction. Sitting outside between sets and smoking a cigarette, my eyes and hands were attached to my camera while I pretended to be looking through photos with upmost importance and couldn’t be bothered to make conversation.

Eventually people started noticing the camera girl showing up all the time and started to extend invitations to other shows that often felt like a test of loyalty to the scene. And that was fine. I wanted to be there more than anywhere else. I was starting to get better at taking action photos with an intense flash and I had a huge appreciation for the energy and aggression that was present at every single show. It took about a year of actually showing up at shows to go from being the “Camera Girl with Pink Hair” to being Elena. And Elena had a purpose at those shows. Elena was there to take pictures of everyone yelling in unity and punching the air in frustration. Everyone just wanted to feel something and I could relate more than they may have realized. I’ve always been appreciative to those who accepted my presence and could tell that I needed to be there just as badly as they did.

I kept very busy my freshman year and was able to balance my school work (although poorly. I was no good at any foundation gen ed classes) and my out of school life. I made some friends through school and would go to shows at The Masquerade with them. We would travel to any surrounding state for shows and even take trips to New York for the sake of shows. While they didn’t attend really any hardcore shows with me, they became some of my best friends and the times we went to shows together became some of my fondest memories.

One night in April 2012, I got very inebriated and sent an email to The Masquerade stating why I wanted to intern there. I don’t know why they responded to me, but they did. The next day I got asked to come in for interview and was given the opportunity to be an intern at the venue I loved so much. I was being thrown photo passes for all of the shows that were hosted there. I couldn’t believe it. All I had to do was update the website, post about shows, and take posters around town in exchange to growing my portfolio and having endless amounts of photos for school.

Jokes on me because SCAD could care less about concert photography and offered no valid critique or technical suggestions. But that thought quickly disintegrated when I got hired by The Masquerade to run their socials and website part time and I decided I didn’t want to be a photographer anymore. I skipped school as often as I could without failing and I started to feel like I was living at The Masquerade. More of my friends began interning there and working there and I was going to too many shows to keep track of.

I decided that my mental health was fine. I was so busy that I decided I was okay. I was doing so great in Atlanta that I didn’t need my depression medication anymore or to see a therapist in my new city. So I stopped. I was fixed.

Little did I know that mental health isn’t something that is just “fixed.” A lesson I quickly learned when my father died in a car accident in 2013.

I retreated to Pennsylvania and my formerly diagnosed PTSD returned and manifested as an intense fear of driving. It stays with me everyday. I hate driving. I hate being in the car. I am constantly anxious and sad when in the driver's seat of a vehicle. If it’s raining, I would rather sit somewhere and wait it out rather than try to drive through it. The fear of cars and accidents didn’t stop me from driving my teary-eyed self to a Daylight show in Wilkes Barre the night of my father’s funeral. Those 40 minutes of music felt like the first time I stopped crying that whole day. However, after that night, I can’t listen to Daylight/Superheaven anymore without feeling a physical pain in my head.

I spent that summer in Pennsylvania remotely working for The Masquerade. I dropped all of my school classes and tried to figure out what to do with my life and how to get it back on track. Being home was a good escape back to my scene there and seeing bands from there that I loved. Seeing Title Fight play ’27’ took on a new meaning for me and crying through Tigers Jaw’s “Meet At The Corner” became my norm.

When I came back to Atlanta, I was still so sad. I let my schoolwork slide to the point of pushing my graduation back a quarter. I didn’t care about anything including myself. I started to slide into toxic behavior patterns and relations because they seemed like the answer to coping. [Spoiler alert, they were not.] I needed to go back to therapy, but I didn’t. I got promoted at work and I used that as justification of the fact that I was ‘doing okay.’

Your lack of love for your dear self is sapping all of us here out! Trace your roots back to the ground, work out the knotholes for yourself - The Hotelier, "Your Deep Rest"

With my anxiety taking the wheel, I was taking more classes than I needed to in an effort to be finished with college earlier. I had made up my mind about my future and I knew I wanted it to be in the music industry. I was honest with myself that I could never be the touring photographer that I wanted to be because I couldn’t handle being on the road. The thought of overnight drives and unpredictable weather terrified me. A weekend trip with a band in a car solidified that decision.

I took myself back to where I felt safe and comfortable growing up - locked inside at my computer with my headphones in.

When it came time for my senior projects and statements of intent upon graduation, I had an assignment to interview a mentor. In my previous 3 years at The Masquerade, I knew better than to bother Greg while he was single handedly booking over 600 shows a year for the venue. He knew of me, typing away in the other room, but definitely didn’t know my name for at least my first 2 years. I asked him if I could interview him for a project and he changed my life with his response. Neither of us really knew that I had interest in being a Talent Buyer, but it became the only thing I wanted to do.

Greg didn’t just give me an interview for my school project. Greg took the title of mentor and he took it seriously. My mental health was still fragile and I was gearing up to work remotely again from the comfort of my mom’s house in Pennsylvania for the next 2 months. Not only did Greg understand - but he decided this was the time to start training me for my future in Talent Buying. During Summer 2014, Greg copied me on almost all of his emails. He taught me about the different types of deals that were made for bands to play the venue. He walked me through booking my first official show (that later ended up being a sell out), and he introduced me to all of his contacts. I think we both really decided that this was my foreseeable future and that I would start booking with him at The Masquerade full time when I graduated.

The next 10 weeks were an extremely stressful Adderall-induced blur. I was balancing my marketing work for the venue with my talent buying learning with my final three college printmaking classes. I didn’t eat or sleep and I was struggling with panic attacks more than I had ever before. But I did it.

I turned 22 on November 19, 2014.

I graduated college on November 21, 2014.

I started at The Masquerade full time on November 22, 2014.

Less than a month later, Greg, my best friend Monica, and I started working on a festival with the idea of bringing together music we love by artists that inspire us.

Working my first year really in the industry was exciting. Everything about music is exciting. Working with bands I grew up idolizing was mind blowing. I had to fight the urge to tell agents and managers that I needed their bands’ music in my life to survive. It almost felt like I needed to dial back my enthusiasm and love for music in order to be seen as sane.

I realized that the industry is hard. It’s complicated and messy and you need to have thick skin. There have been and surely will be many nights where I get home from work and just want to cry. There have been and will be many weekends where my depression has immobilized me to the point that thinking about getting up to even shower brings me to tears and feels like the hardest task in the world. There have been and will be many times where we don’t get the show that we really wanted and I feel like a failure. Every one of those nights is met with a night of taking photos I’m really proud of or jumping off the speaker, or getting too drunk with my friends and singing along.

Spending all of 2015 and 2016 booking for the venue and the festival was a roller coaster of emotions. I’m so grateful that I had my work family and my friends by my side for all of the ups and downs. But sometimes the ups and downs are too violent to ride out with just your support system.

When it was decided that The Masquerade had to temporarily move locations while further searching for a new permanent venue, I didn’t deal with the change well. With that came the decision to hold off on The Wrecking Ball ATL 2017 and the final nail in the coffin.

Driving to work in a new location everyday made me cry. Sitting in my new office induced panic attacks and crying fits that took me outside 4-5 times a day, thinking I couldn’t handle this. Not having The Wrecking Ball 2017 to work on and look forward to made me grim about the future and wonder what I even had to look forward to. I had lost all motivation and retreated to my bed to nap at every possible change I got. I needed to get help again.

There’s always a stigma against mental help and seeking professional help and there shouldn’t be. I finally established care in Atlanta and have been seeing a professional monthly to adjust what medications I’m taking and what other chemicals (alcohol is a depressant y’all) I’m putting in my body. Mental health isn’t something that can be ‘fixed’ and forgotten about. It’s real and there is no shame for needed help in regulating your feelings and imbalances.

Getting a dog helps too.

Music has definitely become my life - but that doesn’t mean it should be life and death. Maybe someday I’ll make it through The Hotelier’s Home Like No Place Is There without crying - but until then, I’ll just do my best.

——

They diagnosed you born that way

They say it runs in your family

A conscious erasure of working class background

Where despair trickles down

Imbalanced chemical crutch

Open up, swallow down

The Hotelier, "Your Deep Rest"

 

If you're interested in submitting to Voices From The Scene, please shoot an email to Punk Talks Outreach Coordinator, Kika, at kika.chatterjee@gmail.com!



 

Kaity Davie (AKT)

I can remember the moment incredibly clearly—I was sitting in the dark, curled up on the floor of the conference room where we had our weekly meetings, and I couldn’t move. My muscles were locked in place, I was having trouble breathing, my heart was racing, and I had been crying non-stop for about 20 minutes without making a noise. One of my bosses, someone I immensely respected, knocked gently on the door, walked in, and sat down on a chair. He sat quietly until he saw me begin to loosen up, and when he noticed I was taking deeper breaths he started to talk to me about inconsequential things just to get me back on track.

At 28, looking back, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what caused that moment. Honestly, I don’t think I could have told you at 23 either, even right there as it was happening. But there I was, in my first real job in the music industry, having a major anxiety attack on the floor in the dark.

Growing up in my house, we didn’t really talk about mental illness. Not until one of my parents was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was placed on permanent medical leave from their job were those words even said with any sense of seriousness out loud. I was an active kid with a big mind: placed into honors classes, training in competitive sports and dance, learning multiple instruments, reading every book I could get my hands on. I didn’t know how to sit still (I still don’t), and it was exhausting, but I kept going. I was embarrassed by not being perfect and terrified at the thought of disappointment, scared of not being able to do everything at a level of flawlessness and excellence that no one but me expected. It felt like a weight on my entire body, and I didn’t know how to describe it or fix it besides just pushing through it. That’s the first time I remember music being a true beacon for me, and I dove into whatever records I could find that helped me make sense of my mind.

In college, I stopped sleeping and kept myself busy on a near constant basis, because I knew if I slowed down for even a second, everything would hit me like a brick wall. And I wasn’t wrong - a few months into my senior year, at 1 a.m. in the back of the library, I put my pen down in frustration and used both hands to dig my nails into my skin until I bled. I sat there in silence; that hadn’t been the first time. I saw a therapist for the remainder of that year, and it was the best decision I could have ever made. There’s a laundry list of music that soundtracked that time frame as well, from that moment in the library to high-energy and big-hearted road trips catching shows around the country.

Between my time in radio, my internships, and my career, I’ve been working in music since I was 16. The music world has run with me through both my worst and at my absolute peaks. It’s the world’s greatest gift, because music is hands down the best thing in my life, but it’s also been the cause of some serious issues I’ve dealt with. I’ve seen some amazing successes, worked with stellar artists, and have been able to be a part of some huge moments in this world, but there’s a good handful of those that feel almost darkly tinted because of how I was feeling internally at the time.

A year or so ago, I realized that my mental health was starting to deteriorate again. In part, it was because I had just felt stagnant in New York, as if I had been standing completely still while my brain spun itself out. My self esteem, personally and professionally, was shot. I was spending my days feeling like I was kicking ass and serving the musicians I was working with everything I had…and then I’d go home at night after a dinner or a show and would end up with a non-stop brain I couldn’t turn off. So when the opportunity to move came up, I took it—I went 3,000 miles across the country, and the new adventure I took on was anything but stagnant. I scraped and celebrated and struggled and felt victory and sadness simultaneously. It brought up every bad feeling I had about myself, pushed me through some seriously dark moments, and challenged me at every turn. But eventually, I felt myself start to level out. I’m able to celebrate my successes again, even within periodic moments of rising anxiety.

Coming to terms with my anxiety and my impulses has been easier in recent years because of music - both the actual product of music, and the people I’ve encountered in the industry and in my overarching community. As a fan, I’ve found what feels like a mirror in so many artists within our “scene” and beyond. The feeling of that thread of connection to other humans who feel similarly to you has been so powerful and a true source of relief for me, especially when those moments of doubt or internal struggle peek through. I think one of the greatest things about loving music and the songwriters that bring me solace and motivation is that they’re the same kind of person I am—they’re HUMAN. How great is it to remember that? We’re all just humans. Sometimes we go through things from a different angle than our friends do, or we need help from medication or have a coping mechanism that’s different than others we know, but we’re all the same muscle and sinew and bone at the core. Just because we can’t always handle or process everything as severely as it comes at us does not discount that about who we are.

There have been a number of moments over the last few years where I’ve realized I should probably see a therapist regularly, not just in moments of emergency or panic. I feel more in control of my emotions and how I handle them than I ever have (apps like Headspace and friends who understand where you’re at are helpful, and I continue to rely on music for every feeling that passes through me) but it’s still hard to come to terms with. Therapy is expensive, it’s time consuming, and it continues to chip at that image of “perfection” that teen me put in place. (That’s a whole other mountain I still have to climb.) But as with anything, I know it’s all a work in progress—that I’m a work in progress. I’m aiming to get to a point where I feel comfortable accepting that I don’t have to do things alone, and that my support system can include a professional without feeling like I’ve done something “wrong” to get there.

In the meantime, I’ve got a pair of headphones, access to amazing songwriters, a solid group of friends and peers that understand where my head’s at, and access to mental health care professionals whenever I find I am ready for it… and that’s what will keep helping me find the strength I know I have within myself to do whatever it is that’s best for me.

First image via Carly Hoskins, second image via Erica Lauren

If you're interested in submitting to Voices From The Scene, please shoot an email to Punk Talks Outreach Coordinator, Kika, at kika.chatterjee@gmail.com!

Alexis Howick (Synergy Artist MGMT)

My name is Alexis Howick, and here's a little piece of my story. I went through most of my life without ever really experiencing the effects of depression or anxiety, but by age 20 they had completely consumed every aspect of my being.

Rewind to 17-year-old Alexis: I was mostly happy and healthy, I had a strong family life, I was involved in dance at my school, and life was good until I entered into my first serious relationship. At the time I had no idea that my relationship would turn out to be the most unhealthy and emotionally traumatic experience of my life. I weighed 130 pounds at the beginning, and by the time it was finally over and done with about 3 years later, I had dropped all the way down to 99 pounds. My college grades had plummeted, I failed my first class, my relationships with my family members were strained, and my life ended up revolving around my newly prescribed anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicines.

During those years I started distancing myself from my family without even realizing it. I kept things bottled up and chose to keep secrets instead of talking about my problems. I developed a heavy disdain for the world and lost almost all emotional control. It wasn't until I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about my mental and emotional state that I realized my pain and suffering was also hurting the people around me. From that point onward I decided to take matters into my own hands, focus on my mental health, and start taking steps toward getting better. It was then that I finally reached out for help.

I was the first person in my family to ever take medication for anxiety and depression, which was really scary at first. I started seeing a therapist named Kelly, who was the most incredible woman I've *ever* met, and together we started working on rebuilding the broken foundation I had based my life upon for years. I had bad days, ok days, really high highs and really low lows, plenty of emotional weeks and setbacks, but in the midst of the process I’d occasionally experience a rare, really great moment or day. I clung onto those times for dear life and took them as signs that things could actually turn around. They gave me hope that this process could actually work for me. Kelly deemed them my “pink cloud days." Somehow, even though the process made me so uncomfortably vulnerable, I put my trust and effort into it not knowing where it would lead me, and eventually the struggle paid off.

Seeing Kelly three times a week eventually turned into twice a week, and then twice a week, once a week, every other week, once a month, and finally to whenever I felt like I needed it. After 2 years, I felt confident enough to step away and start my new chapter. My new found confidence led to me applying to my dream internship at the time with Alternative Press magazine, which led to a full time position, and eventually I merged into artist management in Los Angeles where I currently reside.

The hard times in my life were long and difficult, but in the end they were worth this wild journey. Through all of my little life successes, getting through a time I didn’t think I could survive has been my biggest victory. I found ways to cope. I started eating healthy. I started to organize EVERYTHING. I got into spiritualism. I started traveling by myself. I went to shows by myself. I’d go shopping completely alone (17 year old Alexis would have died doing anything alone). And I started really investing my time into my design work, clothing, and photography. I gained a new sense of independence and the “pink cloud days” naturally became more frequent.

The biggest lesson I've learned through all of this is that anxiety and depression can't ever fully be cured. Instead, you learn to cope with them. You learn how to adjust and you learn how to manage the things in your life in a new way. You surround yourself with the right people, and the people that are meant to be in your life show up when you least expect them to (s/o to Patrick). You are fully capable of restarting your life, re-learning yourself, and letting light back in. It's hard at first but I promise it's worth the time and effort. Something that Kelly said that has stuck with me to this day is to not fight through the feelings. Feel them. Acknowledge them. Let them pass. In time, the feelings DO pass. They always pass.

Hannah Hines (Idobi Radio, The Alternative, The Punk Pit Stop)

HANNAH HINES VFTS

I didn't know what I was fighting at 16, I just knew my weapons of choice—young adult novels and poetry, alternative/punk/emo music, a One Direction fanbase Facebook group of friends I had never met, lacrosse, and writing lyrics or quotes on everything I owned. My school notebook had the Saosin lyric “You're not alone / There is more to this, I know / You can make it out / You will live to tell” smudged on the back in sharpie. My locker had a picture of Ernest Hemingway’s quote “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places” taped on the inside. I think I reblogged My Chemical Romance's music video for "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" (the Dialogue/MTV Version) every day on Tumblr. I was a walking homemade self-help book taking pieces of whatever I found hopeful and making it my own.

I’m 22 now. I am still fighting, but I know what I’m up against and I know why I fight.

My mental health destroyed any consistent friendships I had in high school because I was just "too serious" and couldn't "just relax.” In retrospect I don't blame the people I lost because I couldn't even handle or understand myself; we were taught all about algebra we wouldn't even use and nothing about this universal issue of mental illness. For years I was just coping, just waiting for this “phase” to pass because I blamed it all on the high school environment. Even if it was just situational, I should have asked for help. I’ll revisit this but know: if you want help, you deserve help and should ask for it.

The thing with a mental illness is your reality does not necessarily reflect reality. This is hard to overcome when you’re convinced everyone hates you, when you are sure you’re in danger, when you’re sure there is no way it gets better. I couldn’t understand that, so I escaped it.

Music became another realm for me to go to, a safe place where I got to be alone without actually feeling alone. I downloaded a few albums on my Nook which would end up being my portal to that place: Mayday Parade’s S/T, Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, Paramore’s All We Know Is Falling, Relient K’s Mmhmm, All Time Low’s Put Up Or Shut Up, Secondhand Serenade’s Awake, and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. I had no idea the emotions I was dealing with back then. I could have never written about them myself, but somehow I was able to identify with the pain a lot of these artists were singing about. It was the cathartic release I needed. I don’t want to say that music saved my life but I also don’t want to imagine where else I would have turned to deal with life if I had not had music that was both empathetic and hopeful.

When I made it to college I was sure all my problems would disappear. I was still carrying my baggage around from years past, but I was moving forward so I didn’t think it was weighing me down. I was still alone but I was happy to be in a new place where no one knew me and I could find myself. But we need other people, we deserve a support system.

I started to understand music more deeply; I had always been highly empathetic but I was starting to have my own experiences that I needed to work through. I remember once at a Pierce The Veil show, their lead singer Vic said “Take this song and make it your own.” I finally gave myself the freedom to access art in this new way where a song could be about a breakup but for me it would be about losing my grandfather etc. In high school I was really numb, music was just something I consumed and used. With age, music became something I needed to be involved in directly.

So freshman year when my internet friend Erin asked me if I wanted to go to a show in Washington DC to meet our other internet friend Kaile, I let myself say yes. We had all met through that One Direction Facebook group but liked the same music outside of that. We went to the Resolution Tour with Action Item, Paradise Fears, and Before You Exit. That one date turned into going to the Pittsburgh and New Jersey dates of the same tour. It was my first experience with traveling for music and realizing I found that feeling of home hundreds of miles away from my actual house. The people at those shows were complete strangers to me, yet I felt as if I were a part of a community, one that accepted me right where I was. Ever since, live music has become an important part of my life: It has helped me find my best friends and given me a reason to travel all over the country. It still is one of the few social environments I am comfortable in, it’s hard to even express how crucial that is for my mental health.

All of this wasn’t enough, though. I couldn’t go a week without having a panic attack. I either slept for 14 hours or not at all. I wasn’t taking care of myself and I didn’t care. I was scared of myself, of where my own mind would go. I wouldn’t even allow myself to drive a car. I felt totally out of control.  I was cancelling plans whenever I could. I had self-diagnosed myself with anxiety at some point as if just knowing what it was, was sufficient.

Going into my senior year of college I re-read The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I finished it on campus and walked straight to the counseling center. Those first six weeks of therapy were some of the hardest. I was relieved to have an official diagnosis but I finally had to deal with all the burdens I had been carrying around. I had to start understanding how my brain worked, how to recognize when it was wrong, and how to fight it so I could live with it. I didn’t want to tell my family but I wanted to continue getting professional help somewhere more permanent. I’m not going to lie, it was very difficult, and maybe they didn’t totally understand, but they were still understanding enough to help me. I had never given anyone the chance to help me. I had always just assumed everyone knew something was wrong with me but didn’t care enough to ask. My only regret is that I didn’t ask for help earlier because I deserved it, we all deserve to understand ourselves and have other people that try to understand us.

We all have mental health. We can all practice self-care. I think we can learn something from therapy. Don’t let the stigma that surrounds therapy and other professional help to stop you from reaching out. There is nothing weak about asking for help; in fact, one of my strongest moments was walking into that counseling center. I don’t share my story for who I am, I share it for who I was because 16-year-old me needed this honest conversation about anxiety/depression even if it is dark.

“Recovery” is a journey, not a destination. Some days waking up and living is enough. Some days you still have to cancel plans or take a break or admit you’re struggling and that’s okay. Mental health is just as important as physical health. You deserve to be honest, you deserve to have friends and family that support you and don’t make you feel like a burden, you deserve to KEEP LIVING to your full potential despite whatever it is you deal with.

That’s why I see myself as a fighter. I have new weapons now too: Sometimes a pen is a sword and paper is my battle ground. I take care of my body so I can keep fighting. I have a strong army around me in case I need to rest. I have my books with characters that teach me how to fight. I always have and always will have music to help me; to be a war cry; to block out the battles for a moment so I can think; to remind me I’m not the only one fighting; to encourage me to push through; to connect me with other warriors (maybe that’s you). But the point is I fight. I fight for myself and my dreams and my passions. I fight the causes I believe in and the people I share life with. I fight for the moments I feel invincible and the days I make an impact. I fight for the lies I once believed about myself and the people who still need to learn the truth. I fight for my role in the world because no one can replace me, no one can live the life that I will. We are irreplaceable.

Emily Tantuccio (Atlantic Records, MTV)

 

The only thing I’m truly afraid of in this world is running out of time.  

 

You'd think that would make me less of a procrastinator, but I submitted an assignment with a midnight deadline at 11:59:57 recently - so I'm still working on that.  I mean it more in the sense of urgency that was instilled in me as a person dealing with chronic illness, nervous that I would never be well enough to go out and do what I loved every day.

  Even during my long term hospitalizations, I never liked to refer to myself as a “sick person”.  I hate that label, and the thought of anybody feeling bad for me sort of made me feel like my skin was on too tight - it still does.  I don’t mean feeling bad for me in an empathetic sense.  More in the way of somebody taking pity on me for my obstacles and thinking that they make me any less capable, because they don’t.  I made that decision a long time ago to never allow that to happen.

 

I was diagnosed with tumors for the first time when I was 13 years old.  After my third surgery at 19 years old, I was also diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder where I am missing a tumor suppressor because of a mutation on my DNA, so my body is more inclined to create masses that need to be monitored frequently for cancer.  It has been an exhausting journey, but rewarding all the same.  I have seen ICU’s in several states and cities.  I’ve missed out on some important days, but I’ve gained many more to make up for it now.  I am incredibly grateful to have supportive friends and family, access to some of the best medical care in the country, and this unwavering resilience that carried me through.  The hardest days were the one when I would be up in a hospital room with an IV or two in each arm, wishing with everything I had in me that I could just be out on my own feet, not attached to any machines, just doing what I love.  Just living my life.  I used to spend a lot of time in there worrying that I might not ever be strong enough to do what I loved, to travel, to go back to school, to get into college.  Just when I got comfortable with life again after my first bout of surgeries, my tumors spread to my chest and I was forced to come home from college to deal with that in my second semester.  I felt like I couldn’t define stability.  I was afraid that the hypothetical hour glass didn’t have enough sand in it to see me out.  I was afraid that the universe wasn’t going to play out in my favor, but I decided to convince myself that it would anyway - and I waited.

 

Fast forward to now.  I’m in my twenty first year on this earth and I’ve never been healthier.  I have met a ton of goals I set for myself, from getting to travel for work and starting to take on PR clients of my own, to getting back on the Dean’s List at college and getting my photos published in the pages of Alternative Press.  I still run into some days where I don’t feel my best from time to time, but I’m only human - it happens to the best of us.  I emerged from the toughest times and went into recovery with a few lessons that I want to share with those of you who may feel you still are struggling to figure this out for yourself.

 

First and foremost is this: you are not what’s wrong with you.  Your life’s path is not determined by whatever kind of demons you’ve faced - whether they are physical like mine, or otherwise.  There are some people in this world who you might encounter that want you to believe differently, but I promise you that it isn’t the case. We all are given a choice in life when we face challenges: either allow it to drown you, or you carry it with you as you go forward and proudly show off the scars.  Say to people, “Look at what happened to me - but look at what I did in spite of it.  Look at who I am in spite of it and how powerful that has made me feel today.”  It’s so important to realize that you can use your problems to empower yourself, and to empower others who might be facing similar obstacles.  I used to be very confused about why I dealt with what I dealt with until I met the incredibly giving and loving team behind Living the Dream Foundation.  Now I work as part of the LTD:F family, and I get to give back to kids who are taking on life-threatening illnesses, always hoping to instill some of my peace and acquired wisdom in them so that they have a little bit of an easier time conquering it all.  Being in a position to help others through my struggles is what made me realize I had not suffered in vain.  What I faced has given me the opportunity to change the world one kid at a time, and I would be incredibly silly to pass something like that up. 

 

There is not a single thing in this world that I feel like I’ve been cheated out of because of what I went through.  I set goals for myself over the course of the past few years and I met them despite being out for the count for a while in between.  For me, that always came down to being able to project myself past what I was facing.  I hit the ground running when I was feeling better and I took full advantage of every single day that I was well enough to roll out of bed once I had my life back. You have to realize there’s a future for you, and there’s a day where it’s all going to be better even if it seems like there won’t be right now.  I know it’s easier said than done, but I promise there is hope if you believe there is - just be patient.  The way I see it is this: I have huge dreams and ambitions and I would be cheating myself out of something beautiful if I dwelled on the negative for even a second.  Forward progress is always the priority, no matter how small your steps are.  My tumors were mere footnotes in a bigger, far more beautiful story than the days I spent staring up at the children’s hospital’s ceiling.  The earth keeps turning and I went along moving right with it.  So it goes, you know?  This is only the beginning.

The next time you are starting to tell yourself that you are never going to make it because you’ve got a lot of weight on your shoulders for one reason or another, I want you to remember my story and realize that you still have options.  Nothing is an end-all if you don’t want it to be.  It might take you a lot more effort and patience to get to where you want to be, but you’ll get so much more out of the journey if you just stick with it and see it through.  Utilize your setbacks as more reasons to succeed.  Raise your voice and be proud of your fight - I know I am. 

Steven LaClair (Nothing Original Media)

My life becomes more organized between the hours of 12am-3am. It’s not by choice but rather what I’ve had to adapt to. It’s terribly difficult to get a life together in the middle of the night. What can anyone do in those hours? Most I can do out of the house is drink week-old coffee at a diner and share my frustrations with a waitress who isn’t getting paid enough to listen to me complain. Sleep and I is like the ex-lover you can’t get over. You learn to live without them but always want them back.

It’s not a perfect world dealing with insomnia. It’s frustrating. Believe me when I say I’ve tried it all and still functioning on three hours of sleep a day after cutting out caffeine, regularly working out, eating fit and trying every remedy under the sun. Relationships, grades, stability all suffer deeply without regularly sleeping. It has torn my life apart at points to the point where I’ve destroyed my body with alcohol to put myself asleep. It’s a simple formula of needing energy to function but without one half of the formula it is difficult to live.

The way I describe it may be a bit dramatic. It makes a life a tad more difficult but it isn’t impossible to live with. The downfalls are being constantly tired, irritable with trouble focusing on things like work and school. I learned at some point at the age of 20 that it’s not about fighting it but living with it. I know I’m not going to sleep right now and instead of wasting my time bullshitting myself thinking I’ll be asleep in the next hour I decide to write. I find it relaxing and with that extra 1-4 hours a night I created a thing called Nothing Original. 

I took advantage of the time that I wasted in the middle of the night and shared my thoughts on anything music related. Whether it be talking about a new album or sharing news stories I found interesting – it was something I did until I eventually felt I could fall asleep. It started as talking about issues in the world of music I felt no one was shedding light on and eventually grew into a second job of mine. It’s been my baby and my crutch for three years now and has changed those hours I struggled to sleep into something I could never imagine.

It’s not exactly glamourous. Most people nowadays know there’s no money in journalism let alone music journalism. It sucks a little bit knowing I could never do this for a living easily. I love writing and music so it seems like a match made in heaven to pursue it as a career. But in reality it’s the most taxing hobby I could have picked. The most addicting part of it all was news reporting. Addiction isn’t fun and it doesn’t make sense to some without a substance involved. It’s a rush. The desire to be first to a story that will only be interesting for fifteen minutes before it’s potentially worthless is difficult to deal with. It’s easy to fill and there’s never a shortage of news so I was just constantly filling this meaningless desire.

What’s the point? The views. Nothing Original at one point was doing 100k views a month. It’s nothing compared to other blogs like AbsolutePunk and PropertyOfZack but it’s a great feeling. Being some 19-year-old kid with thousands of kids caring about what I thought was cool. Nothing Original has allowed me to meet my favorite bands, connect with awesome people, form relationships and give me access to more music than I know what to do with

Emily Racanelli (Girl Nowhere)

Life is all about choices. It may seem like society has crammed us into a routine, but when you take a step back it looks a little different. Think about it; you choose to get out of bed, get dressed, go to school/work, come home, go out with friends, etc. But what if one day, you just decided to stop putting in the effort? Suddenly, all these choices were just too much and the kid you were yesterday got swallowed by this hollow shell that couldn’t pull your legs off the bedside. That’s exactly what happened to me.

By the time I was 12 years old, I knew there was something a bit off about me. I was incessantly plagued by nervous ticks and twitches, counting up even numbers in my head while washing my hands until blood trickled out of my cracked skin. Of course, at that age you assume things will pass and it’s no big deal. I wish I could say that was the case with me. Soon I was not only being tortured by my body, but my mind as well. Every time I was dropped off at a birthday party or sitting in class or basically anywhere that wasn’t my room, I was overwhelmed with this sudden rush of fear. Sweaty palms, choked up breathing, and everything else I would eventually learned was part of a panic attack. In those moments, I did not exist. The world stopped and all I wanted was to bury myself under my blanket for 6 months. Halfway through the 7th grade, that’s what I did.

One Monday morning I chose to give up. I chose to not go to school, keep my phone turned off, and not even leave the house. My parents–an elementary school teacher and high school guidance counselor–couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, and neither could I. All I knew was that I was constantly nervous and sad and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. As winter ran it’s course, so did my depression. I visited every therapist, psychiatrist, ad psychologist on Long Island (and tried all the anti-depressants they can legally give to kids under 18) to no avail. On meds, I was hazy and tired. Without them, I was lonely and always in fear of when my next panic attack would strike. The saddest part was that I couldn’t determine which version of myself was worse.

At 12, I thought it was all over. Fast forward four years and I was at a place I never imagined reaching. After my downward spiral I returned to the 7th grade with a new motto I would tell myself every single morning: “No matter what, you have to get out of bed.” I powered through the year and the next few after that, rebuilding the section of my life that I had previously let slip away.

I was in my junior year of high school with a solid group of friends, good grades, and minimal panic episodes. Then I met a girl who would break the normalcy; I really wanted to befriend her. I’m so glad I did because she’s the reason I can say I actually have my life together (as together as it can be for a college student) today. She introduced me to all these obscure bands, like Mayday Parade and You Me At Six. In my pre-breakdown phase, I was always drawn to non-mainstream music, such as Green Day and My Chemical Romance. However, the musical side of me was killed by my depression. Finally, it was resurfacing. I found so much comfort in these bands and their lyrics, knowing that even when my panic attacks and depression would get to me, I wasn’t alone. I have no shame in admitting that there were many late nights at 16 and 17 years old where I muffled my tears in pillows while screaming the lyrics to Mayday Parade’s “Three Cheers For Five Years.” (Acoustic of course because when you want to feel, you want to feel deeply). Those words sunk into my chest as they spilled out of my mouth: “I swear that you don’t have to go!! I though we could wait for the fireworks, I though we could wait for the snow!!” It was the catharsis I needed, knowing that it’s okay to let yourself feel things for a bit as long as you can get up the next day.

Anyways, back to my new friend. I was down for whatever she wanted, and since we now shared an interest in music, it made sense to get tickets to a concert. I’ll skip the details because it makes me cringe and die a little inside when I think of the incident, but basically what happened is I got to the front row of Hammerstein Ballroom and freaked out. As the general admission floor filled with people, my anxiety mounted and I got so claustrophobic that I made us leave before the lights even went down. Instead of tossing me and my intense weirdness aside, my friend stuck with me. In the past, people walked away because I was certainly a handful with a slew of baggage. She didn’t leave and just having someone there who accepted me the way I was meant more than words can convey.

The more we hung out, the more I fell back into music. That year I taught myself how to play the guitar and got back behind the drum kit I had abandoned when I was 10. Before I knew it, my room was filled with instruments and I was writing songs and recording every part, from the guitar and drums to the bass and keys.

Reflecting back on this at 19, it all makes sense; there was a reason I went through what I did. This journey pulled me outside of myself for a while and gave me a second chance at life. Like I said, I always knew that something was different, but when I say that now I do so with a smile. I was drawn to pop punk and alternative music because of what I went through. I think it was Soupy from The Wonder Years who said,   “I think everyone involved in punk music is intrinsically fucked up on some level and it feels good to know we’re going through this shit together.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a perfect kid these days. There are nights when I cry over an acoustic guitar and days when I’m still in my pajamas at 4 p.m. The difference now is I don’t let it get to me. Instead, I put on a song by Taking Back Sunday or The Story So Far and I scream those lyrics throughout my empty house, knowing that I’m not alone in these moments.

That girl who is the reason I am a musician today is now my best friend and band mate. I hope that the songs we write can do for other kids what pop punk did for me. I didn’t get the Mayday Parade logo tattooed on my ribs for nothing, I did it because that band spoke to me in a way that normal words couldn’t. Maybe someday there will be a kid getting the Girl Nowhere logo inked on their skin for the same reason.

Never did I imagine that I’d be in college starting a band with my best friend and excited to pull my legs over that bedside in the morning. Every day isn’t perfect, but there’s definitely something perfect in every day.

Emily Dubin (The Duby Scoop, Table Three Media)

Unnecessary.

Outcast.

Nuisance.

I have always felt out of place. My entire life I have struggled to find a sense of belonging, a group of people with which I felt wanted, where my presence was desired instead of tolerated. I am a puzzle piece forever in the wrong box.

An addition.

A “plus one.”

Annoyance.

I don’t know how it became instilled in me, this sense that everybody in the room was secretly whispering to each other about me, asking each other why I was there in the first place. I had it relatively easy– I wasn’t bullied, I wasn’t picked on, nobody was ever outright mean to me and for that I’m grateful.

Unnecessary.

Nuisance.

Discovering music and the scene that surrounds it has led me to some of the most incredible and welcoming people that I have ever met. We stood on the same common ground, our edges and our colors seemed to match. But I couldn’t shake the continuous looping thought that although these people might like me, that didn’t translate into people wanting me to be around. I hated walking into circles of friends that were conversing because now these people would have to deal with me amongst their actual friends.

A “plus one”

An addition.

It is possible to be in a room filled with people and feel like you are completely alone. It is possible to be standing two feet away from somebody in a conversation and feel like it is a million miles.  It is possible for people to be welcoming and great and amazing and to still feel like you’re unwanted because if for 19 years nobody has wanted you around why would people start now, in this incredible community?

Outcast.

I stand and I smile and I laugh. I look around at everybody else, all of these other puzzle pieces that are standing and smiling and laughing, trying to see where I fit without jamming my corners or folding my edges. To find a picture that I feel like I have an important part in completing, in making whole.

To feel like I am necessary.