Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos, who has bipolar disorder, has always been very up-front and public about his issues with mental health. And in a new Facebook post, Angelakos remembers a specific incident that triggered an episode for him. Eight years ago, Passion Pit played a SXSW showcase that was cosponsored by the website Brooklyn Vegan, which at the time was notorious for its often-hostile comments section. (The site has since discontinued anonymous comments.) And Angelakos writes about how, in his mind, he was performing for the nastiest people in that comments section, how that helped unmoor him, bringing back childhood memories of being bullied. Here’s what he writes:
**To the Otherside**
(please excuse spelling/grammatical errors, this was just a one-shot. editing this would seem to me, at least on a certain level, as inherently defeating the purpose of the entire thing)
In 2009, I performed at the Brooklyn Vegan/Paste showcase at SXSW. I had been drinking heavily, I had been using drugs, and I was spiraling. More accurately, I was experiencing a mixed-episode, which is a dangerous combination of both manic and depressive symptoms. I am a strange person in general, so my behavior probably made sense to the world that was fostering my career: I was a young artist and I was having a moment. I didn’t really understand social media, I wasn’t even very good with Facebook, and I only had a basic, very generalized understanding that there were platforms and tools available.
However, the interactions on these tools, as I saw them then, seemed problematic for me — the benefits of connecting with your audience were drowned out by the sea of inevitable voices of dissent. This is not to say that I only wanted to live in a feedback loop. This is to illustrate that I had very clearly never recovered from several traumas in my life, including sexual molestation and, more specific to my point here, bullying. Years of childhood bullying.
At the show in Austin, I remember how packed it was, and I was suprised. I knew Paste was a fan of my music, and it was a considerable honor to me. But Brooklyn Vegan had been reporting on me for years, and their website was, to me and many in the industry at this time, less about the reporting and more about the comments sections.
I didn’t really understand the point of the comments sections after awhile, at this particular juncture, because at this time it was nothing but the most vile, angry, hateful responses to what was, to me, an attempt in earnest to make really beautiful music. It was hard to understand it, it was easy to assume, and I really did think that people would begin to see that it was a character, that it stood for something internal, that it was quite literally the sound of my pain and self-hatred. I believed they would, at least with a few objective listens, begin to understand me.
This is not how it works, obviously. But when you’re being told by so many people that what you’re doing is good, is going to succeed, is going to connect, especially when it already very clearly has, you begin thinking maybe there’s something wrong with you, maybe there’s something you can change, maybe there’s more you can hide, maybe you can really fight to make people understand if they don’t.
This is also not how it works. Or maybe how it worked.
So in this tent, I had entered the lion’s den. It was the culmination of all of my childhood pain, but actualized on such an absurdly profound level, in that I was playing a show for a bunch of people I was absolutely certain did not like me, were not looking to be impressed but looking to watch me fail, and were, in fact, the comment section. They were my nightmare. And I was going to perform for them. Smiling.
And then I had, what I later learned, a literal breakdown. In front of the audience. That was not the art. But it was perceived as the art. It was perceived as insane, as melodramatic, as a cry for help. It was beyond a cry for help — that cry had been ignored, had been dismissed, had been mistaken for the antics of a “snowflake.”
And in this immensely defiant, beautiful way, I made it work. I ended up going to a hospital. My suicidality had reached such oversaturating, overwhleming shriek, and no one could understand it, so it was time to go away for a minute.
That was later diagnosed as disassociative psychosis.
That is what trauma renders, and that is, in effect, in many ways, what trauma is.
And most artists go through this every day. And most artists think this is the price. And most audiences believe the same thing.
But we are not snowflakes. I am a really strong person. It took me awhile to realize this, but I am.
And we are not catastrophes. We are the dramatization of all of our and your realities. This whole thing is both a calling and a choice. It’s the most confusing, wonderful thing in the world. It’s such an honor, and it’s a really the most unnecessary burden. It’s a moth to the flame, it’s the abused going back to the abuser. It is, above all, a horrifying, utterly euphoric type of beauty, constantly burnng holes through a mundane overcast.
It’s just a truth.
And sometimes, just for a moment, say ten years from the moment that you decide to put your music on myspace for no good reason, you realize that the trauma is not the authenticator.
You realize that just because you are an artist does not mean you have to suffer. The trauma is not the validation. The trauma is not the litmus test. Life is hard enough, and that’s why it’s so interesting to convey in any other way then the way we do by default.
So long as you make it to the other side in some way — any way — you win. What that looks like for each person, I dont really know. But it’s a feeling, and it’s when you realize that no matter what they said or say — the bullies of your childhood , the bullies in the comment sections, or the bullies that become president — just get to the other side.
That’s a truth that no one can really refute.
Most people won’t understand it. And you got into this whole thing to be understood, so that’s a bit confusing.
But that’s okay. You did it.
And that’s enough because you’re enough.
One day, we’re all going to learn the long-term consequences of the sort of shit that we all talk on the internet, and it’s probably not going to be good.