One thing I think all of us did as teenagers was obsess over songs and their lyrics. See, back in “The Day” not all of us had the internet to research what artists were actually writing about when they composed their songs (like I spent most of middle school singing along to “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette only to figure out it was inexplicably about Dave Coulier… maybe). All we had to go on were the paper inserts in the CD jacket and our imaginations. And sometimes, when a song was really special, it was like the artist had written it with my life in mind! How amazing and connected that felt.

Looking back, yeah, it was kinda dumb. But I know why I felt that way, why I was searching for meaning where it probably didn’t exist. As a tween and teen, I was on a journey to discover signs and signifiers to explain to me what life was about, especially the facets of life I had yet to experience (like a relationship, a bad breakup, partying in California or particpating in riots). Now, let’s not get freaked out and overstate the power of song lyrics on kids. We all know that parental involvement and school environment, as well as performance activities are the best predictor of how a kid will “turn out.” But if I hadn’t been blasting Smashing Pumpkins constantly from about 1997 until about 2003, would I be the whining angry sentimentalist obsessed with everything that is vintage and overwraught?

As we age, enter adulthood, our concepts of who we are and where we fit in the world solidify. We have experiences, we get out on our own (hopefully) and we don’t need songs to help us formulate identity or speculate on experiences we haven’t had yet. At least, I haven’t felt taht need to find music that clicks with me and describes how I feel. I just like music I can sing along with and that has a cool melody, and yeah, the songs can feel familiar but mostly I’m just enjoying them thinking “Oh you young’uns and your relationship problems” or “Wow, this song makes me wanna dance but also has a serious problem with women” or “So glad Elton John got knighted…”

Then, one day, at the age of 30, I heard “Gasoline” by Halsey. And it grabbed me by the shorthairs. This song is about me when I struggle against my anxiety and depression, and yeah, I’m looking at it metaphorically, but daaaaamn. I feel like a teenager again.


So, let’s take a look at the lyrics.

Are you insane like me?
Been in pain like me?
Bought a hundred dollar bottle of champagne like me?
Just to pour that motherfucker down the drain like me?
Would you use your water bill to dry the stain like me?

Okay, insane and in pain, that doesn’t need much interpretation. When you are having an axniety attack, or suffering through depression, you can’t percieve the world as it really is. To me, mental illness is like having a VR headset on. What you percieve is not real. There could be people standing around you in the real world not seeing what you see, telling you that the dinosaurs or the fish you’re seeing aren’t really there, trying to guide you so you don’t bump into the walls. But you can’t see it, and it’s so hard to believe people that what you percieve is not true. Inside the VR headset, I’ll see myself as ugly, worthless, someone who should be erased. People on the outside (mainly my husband) tell me the opposite is true. But I can’t quite believe him until I “take the headset off” by either calming down or taking medication. Then I can remove it and see the world as it is.

As for the champagne, I see that as symbolic of something good that I ruined with my symptoms. We could be having a perfectly normal afternoon, then I discover I have misplaced my poetry journal. I know it has to be somewhere in the house, but I cannot stop looking until it is found. The longer I look, the more frantic I become, and the rest of the day I am struggling with anxiety even if I find the book. Because then I’m thinking about how I snapped at my family or said something mean while I was trying to find a book of crappy poems nobody will ever read. So it spirals. I pour the champagne down the drain, then use the water bill to dry the stain. Anxiety has a ripple effect that causes me to ruin things in a chain reaction that I can’t seem to stop. I can’t change my attitude and turn it around without a significant amount of time passing or medication.

Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me?
Do the people whisper ’bout you on the train like me?
Saying that you shouldn’t waste your pretty face like me?

Well, nobody’s telling me that I’m wasting my beauty, but there is a lot of pressure to look a certain way. I read that as society trying to dictate that I need to feel bad about myself until I lose 40 pounds. Do I tear myself apart to entertain? Every day of my job as a teacher. As time has gone on I have shifted into a pretty serious introvert. I still feel comfortable talking in front of a crowd, but being around people for long periods of time (like 8 hrs a day) is exhausting.

And all the people say
You can’t wake up, this is not a dream
You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being
With your face all made up, living on a screen
Low on self esteem, so you run on gasoline

This is my life. This is my reality. Job, family, a few hobbies, some great travel and memories… but is there something more? As Belle said, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…” You can’t wake up. This is not a dream. This is your life. You are part of a machine, you are not a human being. Low on self-esteem? Yeah. So what keeps me going? My inablility to accept I could ever fail at anything or disappoint anyone important. That’s pure gasoline. It’s fear and anxiety.

I think there’s a flaw in my code
These voices won’t leave me alone
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold

I think the line “I think there’s a flaw in my code” hits home with such force. If I’m supposed to be a machine, there’s something seriously wrong with me. I’m constantly wondering what it’s like to be normal. I thought I would have this shit figured out by now. I have that voice in my head that’s constantly berating me for how I look or what I’m doing or not doing. It never stops. And my second favorite line is “My heart is gold and my hands are cold.” I know I have a big heart. I love so many people and things and I have such loving emotions. But on the outside I can be cold and awkward, or downright heartless and mechnical. Ruthless efficiency allows me to “get things done” on an endless to-do list that I keep ¬†beliving will someday be accomplished.

Are you deranged like me?
Are you strange like me?
Lighting matches just to swallow up the flame like me?
Do you call yourself a fucking hurricane like me?
Pointing fingers ’cause you’ll never take the blame like me?

Light a match to make some light, and then just eat the flame. Good intentions and all of that. Am I a fucking hurricane? Yes. When my anxiety gets going, it’s not safe to be in my path because I could take it out on you. That’s the other thing about anxiety people don’t really talk about. It’s all about being blameless. Everything is simultaneously attacking poor pitiful you, but at the same time you’re convinced you’re a piece of shit who did this to yourself. And you’ll do ANYTHING to have whatever problem you’re facing NOT BE YOUR FAULT. You need to be PERFECT. Things happen to you, you don’t do things, or that’s what you would desperately believe to get through the day.

I think there’s a flaw in my code
These voices won’t leave me alone
Well my heart is gold and my hands are cold

What was Halsey really wrting about when she penned “Gasoline?” I don’t really want to know. I like the way it was in the ’90s when it was just you and the CD liner notes, staring at the ceiling and trying to experience and connect with what the artist sang through your cheap headphones. Claiming that a song “really gets you” strikes me as immature and kind of lame, but I have to say that “Gasoline” has been my anthem for the last two years or more. It is the honest, nihilistic song that allowed me here today to explain to you what it’s like living with my personal brand of mental illness.

Listen here: