It was almost two decades ago when I lost myself. I had been trying for years in my youth just to be another face in the crowd, I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, I didn’t want to be seen or heard I just wanted to live my life and exist and have others accept me. One of the first people to accept me for who I was, the one who peeled back layers – I lost. Sara and I would sit in the back of church group talking about hot girls and she would be open about being bipolar with no judgement from me. I didn’t even know I was autistic then, but hearing her speak so honestly made me realize I was wired different too. In 2003, her body was found at the bottom of a cliff and when she was gone I let her take so much of myself with her. I had so much guilt because I let my own mental health get in the way of our friendship and we weren’t as close as our back of the church days. I hid so many truths and was oblivious to others. I knew that I was autistic but didn’t know what it meant. I had no idea what the anxiety and agoraphobia I was yet to be diagnosed with formally were controlling my life just as much as my abusive ex at the time was. I was so embarrassed about being autistic (when finally diagnosed) that I just refused to tell people I was autistic at all. I had completely lost grasp of who I was and was letting others pull me along to fit their needs.
Our story truly starts though about 11 years ago, when I met Crystal online. Crystal was patient, and kind, and also had her own struggles with mental illness. She GOT wanting to just hang out inside, that we didn’t have to go out to have a good time. Whilst many of my peers found the definition of a good time in bars and parties, I was fine to sit and watch movies or play board games. Crystal understood. She didn’t need to be a social butterfly and neither did I. I hated talking on the phone (still do), yet with Crystal I could talk for hours. With Crystal, I didn’t have to feel like someone I wasn’t. It was Crystal who introduced me to Paramore, and nothing would ever be the same again. My ex was so controlling he bullied me into listening to only music he liked. Even alone I was heavy with guilt that I would upset him by listening to something he didn’t like when he wasn’t even around. Paramore became my little secret, when he wasn’t around I found the courage to listen to them and they lit a fire within me. I began to stand up for myself. I began to take control. Little tiny steps, from enjoying my own things to going on tiny adventures with my boys. My neighbors judged me because my closest friends were states away and I didn’t want to socialize with them or let their toddler bully mine. Their constant judgement triggered my agoraphobia to the point it became difficult to leave the house, but in my home I was building control and finding an escape with the support of Crystal, who despite me and all my issues, stayed by my side and kept pumping music into my ears that became my anthems.
I still struggled though, God did I struggle. One night I was heading into work up in Washington state, driving along the water’s edge I was going to commit to a plan that had been floating in my mind, poking at me, egging me on. I was going to drive off the road and kill myself to finally be free of every heavy thing holding me down. I knew the exact spot I was going to let go. Crushcrushcrush came on and it snapped me into a reality that I desperately needed. I don’t know why that song of all songs hit me so hard, perhaps it was the conviction in Hayley’s voice, or the music tat echoed through my body when they played. I turned the wheel back and my coordinates right, I went to work and cried in the parking lot making myself late for my shift. The world was falling apart around me further and I wondered if I should have just let the urge take me. I still don’t know to this day why that of all songs saved me, but it did. The months that followed turned into hell, the abuse got worse until I ended up in jail for defending myself, and new nightmares began. I was homeless, I had lost everything including my two young boys and had no where to go. When a friend took me in three states away the abuse continued. I wasn’t allowed any of her food, I had to clean and I wasn’t allowed to hang out with them at night until I “had a job”, they had no understanding of what I was going through, who I was, what anxiety was on any level. I was made fun of constantly for being weird, or annoying. They called me retarded and made fun of the way I dressed despite the fact that I had only a handful of clothes to my name. I had nothing BUT Paramore, a handful of songs saved on a broken phone were my solace. Eventually I met Jackie, my wife, and my world changed. I had missed my first chance to see Paramore because my concert happened the day I was in court and I was so desperate for money I had to sell my ticket to a friend. I had become another cog in the wheel, just trying to hold a job and exist. Jackie and I grew closer and closer, sharing a love of Paramore and her understanding that sometimes adventure for me had to be in the comfort of our own home.
I belittled myself constantly because I wasn’t normal enough. Unmedicated I drifted through life being angry at everything I didn’t have answers for. My father had long since died and my mother and I’s relationship wasn’t at it’s greatest then. I didn’t have her support in the ways I needed it. All I had was Jackie and even then she didn’t really get me then because I had locked so much of myself away. I didn’t want to burden anyone and was filled with such anger I just buried it and let it define me. I bullied people in my own life because it was all I knew how to do. I hurt myself mentally and physically. I bled myself raw. Sometimes belting Paramore lyrics was the only therapy I had, especially when I had no means to get actual mental health care.
The first Parahoy was a blur because despite going, I never felt safe, didn’t feel understood by my peers and was too afraid to be honest. When my thoughts tried to emerge they were often a chaotic explosion and didn’t help anything. I spent a lot of time hiding, a lot of times drowning in negativity and feeling hopeless. Things HAD to change. It wasn’t until a few years ago when the affordable care act allowed me to finally have health insurance that I got answers I needed, and finally was medicated for my anxiety. It wasn’t a fix all, but I had answers for why. My mental health issues aren’t gone either, even today I struggle with leaving my house and recently had to quit college because there weren’t anymore available online classes for me. I couldn’t even go to school, something that was ingrained in me since my formative years. I can’t go ANYWHERE by myself, my wife accompanies me to all doctor appointments, to target, even to the bathroom when I’m not at home. I’ve missed Paramore shows because my panic attacks are so painful that it feels like my rib cage is tightening around my lungs and my back spasms. I went from being called a flake to standing up for myself and say no, I can’t do this right now and this is why. I wasn’t completely in the dark anymore, so despite the pain and embarrassment, I knew what was going on was a part of who I was and things I couldn’t change, but assist in some way or another. I had the keys to my own safety and happiness in my own hands. I had answers and a tiny spark to get me where I needed to be.
The second Parahoy came full circle for me. I was able to bring Crystal, the very person who gifted me with Paramore on. I had my service dog, I had answers. Things still weren’t perfect because I let expectation pump up my reality and when things weren’t exactly as planned my meltdowns took over. I hid A LOT that cruise, missed performances, couldn’t even get myself to be in the game I had been chosen for…I was a mess. It was like I was letting the negativity of others or even my own completely consume me. Even medicated I was allowing the worst parts of mental illness to win because I had so many negative thoughts woven deeply in me. I worried everyone would stare at me, that I would be the focus and not the band because I was too weird or too ugly or drawing too much attention to myself. I had some great moments, don’t get me wrong, but I let the shadows pull me in. I had regrets because I didn’t allow myself to do anything I really wanted to.
After Laughter hit me like a ton of bricks. The lyrics swallowed me up and surrounded me. I had grown with the band, I had my pain and my sorrow and it was all neatly wrapped up in songs that I could digest as if they were made just for me. I didn’t have to be ANYTHING anyone wanted me to be, even if they didn’t get every layer of my mental illnesses or being autistic. There’s “bad” parts of me but they’re surrounded by good. It took me to the water’s edge years ago where I almost let go and reminded me to keep hanging on. I WAS worth it, even if so many negative forces wanted me to feel otherwise. I stopped letting people define me, and began to define myself.
Parahoy 3 was the turning point for me. First of all, it began on Sara’s birthday, April 6th. She blessed me with magic on her day and turned that little spark to fire. Be it demanding proper treatment and not standing down, to putting myself out there and telling my agoraphobia to fuck off. I never thought I’d see the day where I would move around a huge cruise of people in just a bikini or wander in a fishnet dress & boxer briefs. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d dress up every single night and singing louder than before. In me being out there, in me showing my skin and exposing my soul, people learn. The more awareness there is, the more people like me are not just accepted or appreciated. Over a decade of being a Paramore fan and Parahoy 3 was the first time I saw them that close because there was an ADA pit. People like me being open and honest about our needs without judgement is how other people get their chances too, Me putting myself out there begrudgingly on the first two cruises, and me opening up on social media helps other autistic folks feel safe in these sort of environments or lets other agoraphobic people know that it can happen for them too. Seeing Hayley, Zac and Taylor bounce back time and time again from the world of media and all it’s chaos, and be open and raw about their own struggles reminds me that I’m truly not alone. Their words and music surround me and help me see that even though I’m autistic, people can understand different layers of me at their own capacity. Putting myself out there this cruise allowed me to meet people I had been too shy to talk to and cement beautiful friendships that I’m eternally grateful for. It helped me strengthen existing relationships and see who would truly fight for me AND that I deserve it! I used to be so afraid of the parts of me that might draw attention, good or bad. I was afraid to be true in my gender identity, I would try to be effeminate to match what people wanted of me. This cruise I was in my own as a gender fluid person, and I FELT SAFE. Safe enough at least to not shave my pits and wear what I wanted regardless of gender constraints. Things that seem to simple, to wear what you want, to be who you truly are, are like wars for me. I battle with my mind and maybe I’ll end up breaking free. On Parahoy, I won the battles time and time again and found my steps to freedom. I still had my moments where I was sick with anxiety, but I didn’t make myself feel like shit about it either. In the past I would beat myself down with guilt for being a flake or not seeming strong enough, but on this cruise I realized the right people wouldn’t guilt me for these things. Me being open and honest about the good AND the bad aspects of mental illness helps the awareness that breeds appreciation. I’m not asking for pity, I’m asking for respect, for some understanding. I was sent into a meltdown because paperwork for Oberyn had been messed up before I was even on the ship itself but wheeling up the gangway. When the accessibility coordinator realized how stressful this was for me she proceeded to make sure I was at my absolute comfort and joy for the rest of the cruise. I’m not asking for free shit all the time, though it was lovely. Cholette understood that negative energy and things out of my control can ruin my entire trip and worked to remedy that. I didn’t expect any of it, but even just her notes of apology and genuine concern for my safety were gifts enough. I was shocked that someone got it, and three cruises in, Sixthman continued to prove they got it too. Paramore did so much for me just by doing this cruise, without even knowing it.
Paramore has helped me time and time again to realize the parts I’ve hid away so long don’t need to be hid. In letting my truths be set free I can help others understand themselves and people around them struggling in similar ways. I am both a half empty girl and a rose colored boi, I’m allowed to be optimistic and have my bad days too and not have to feel like a burden because of them. “Normal” people have a bad day and it’s excused but when you’re mentally ill and people see the aspects they ignorantly refused to see and it doesn’t fit well, we’re the assholes. But this last cruise made me realize that I’m not an asshole for how I am wired, and those who blame me for things out of my control are the true assholes. I’m still going to have those days where leaving the house seems like the end of the world, but there are also going to be days just like Parahoy 3 where I come out on top. Days that fuel me with the confidence to be unapologetically me. In truth, it wasn’t that Paramore saved me in all of this, but they showed me how to save myself. I’m still here, still kicking, and still have a lot of shows left in me to scream at the top of my lungs. Plus, theres still a lot of awareness needed out there and I’ve got to help see it grow and turn to appreciation.