Raven's Roost

If you are from this part of Central Virginia or have traveled along the Blue Ridge Parkway at all, you may be familiar with an overlook called Raven’s Roost. It’s a truly stunning vista not far from the northern terminus of the Parkway, only a few miles from Crozet, where I live. 

This song is not about Raven’s Roost, though I have no doubt it has been the setting for many a moment of wonder and self reflection fitting for a song of its own. In this song the overlook makes an appearance and then is left behind. 

This song is about anxiety and feeling out of control. I was deeply depressed and experiencing anxiety that was getting worse and more frequent, once sending me to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack. I wanted to write a song that captured that feeling, both lyrically and musically. 

It was written fairly quickly, most of the bones of it came to me while driving somewhere one day. Luckily I was able to capture it as a voice memo for later processing. The chord progression I already had which was unusual. Normally I write lyrics, then create the musical framework to house them. This time the structure was already there and all I had to do was let the words move in. After some renovations and remodeling they settled nicely. 

When it turns into a panic… 

The first verse speaks to the act of attempting to live and appear “normal”. Being out doing the things, seeing and being seen. Until it becomes too much and retreat is necessary. Searching for peace of mind and not finding it. 

Gotta get out of this city, find someplace quiet 

But people still scream any place they’re in 

This line in particular wasn’t part of the original free flow channeling of lyrics. I was working on the song on a Sunday morning in our sunroom. The weather was great, the rest of the household was quiet, I’m in Crozet, away from the chaos of the city, etc. etc. Idyllic. Bucolic. Right? Yeah, not so much. I spent an inordinate amount of time listening to the neighbor’s kid scream bloody murder because his brother had taken his bike. The writing session was over, disrupted in the exact same way my own thoughts derailed most attempts at keeping my mind quiet. 

When it turns into a panic… 

Verse two explores the shifting tides of mindset and the tools and techniques applied in an attempt to control them. Although I didn’t actually go up to Raven’s Roost and contemplate an irreversible act, it was my wife confessing to me that she was scared she would come home one day and find I had killed myself that was the catalyst for reaching out and getting some help. The lyric was written before she admitted her fear to me, but the song, like she did, saw that I was in trouble. 

The break after verse two is the soundtrack that was playing on loop in my mind at that time. 

Raven’s Roost purposefully has no chorus. A chorus is a musical devise that releases whatever tension has been building. It is meant to be freeing, uplifting, the easy sing-along feel good part of the song. There was no chorus for me. No release. So the next couple of verses even eliminate the short break between them and just keep coming in waves of mounting tension. 

When it turns into a panic… 

Verse three enters the realm of being being withdrawn, isolated. The dawning realization that everything is closing in. The world is getting smaller and it feels there wasn’t much there in the first place. 

In hindsight this is where things get really interesting. 

Not that I can’t live without you 

I didn’t want to have to 

Sometimes it slams me straight into a wall 

The narrator shifts the blame outside of himself. Someone’s absence has caused all this anguish. Who are they? Did they die or just leave? We don’t know but this person was significant. Our hero tries to be defiant, he thinks he is strong enough to handle this. But it’s devastating. 

Sometimes it slams me straight into a wall 

Anger finally appears. Anger is one of the mind’s natural defenses against depression. And I was angry all the time. 

When it turns into a panic… 

Verse four comes straight in and now things are getting desperate. There is a longing to be better, even for just a little while. Thinking the answer is out there, somewhere, in someone else’s hands, the search is on. Feeling so completely helpless that obeying street signs is a comfort because it’s one less decision to make. Finally the desperation becomes strong enough to question core beliefs in hopes of a solution. 

When it turns into a panic I start praying for directions 

But I don’t believe in god 

Until I do 

Here I may have been drawing from my experience with AA. One of their primary tenets is that recovery depends on a belief in a higher power. It doesn’t have to be the traditional Christian “God”, simply something outside of the self that gives you strength and comfort. At the time of writing this song I had a little over a year of sobriety and I have no doubt that struggle played heavily into my emotional state. 

I don’t believe in god 

Until I do 

I don’t believe in god. That’s a different discussion. But I do believe this was a premonition. That I would have to question and push against some of my core beliefs in order to get better. Therapy is one example. I didn’t think it could help. I didn’t believe it was something people my age should do. I should have my shit together or I should be strong enough for it not to matter if I don’t. It still feels ridiculous sometimes. But therapy has helped immensely. 

The song finally takes a break, releasing the tension and quieting to only the acoustic guitar. It’s short lived and uneasiness returns. But now there is space to start getting closer to the root of the matter. 

I know too many people, don’t have enough friends 

Acquaintances only pass the time 

Not developing deep, meaningful relationships, keeping those around you at arms length at all times may be a marginally effective defense mechanism, but it isn’t a sustainable strategy for well being. In the end, you wind up alone when what you need most is connection. 

Because when it turns into a panic they can’t comprehend 

How it hurts to know how much it hurts 

To be missing you 

The irony of course is that I am not alone. Predominately there is my family, my wife and children who wish more than anything for me to be well. There are people who understand because they have also lived with mental health challenges. Sure there are those who would call me weak, or say I’m being overly dramatic or some such thing. And I could wish they could empathize. But that would be cruel because it would mean wishing they had experience with a debilitating mental anguish or suffered an emotional emptiness like the one plaguing me. And those aren’t things to wish upon anyone. 

How it hurts to know how much it hurts 

This is a concept I explore again in another song in this collection. Awareness of your own deteriorating state of mind. In this case, as it was for my addiction recovery, that awareness was a crucial component in making the decision to get help. 

I ended Raven’s Roost not knowing who the missing person was. I questioned my motives for putting that thread into the lyrics. I accused myself of lazy writing in an attempt to make the song more universally appealing. Everyone has someone they miss. It also softens the discomfort of talking about mental health issues by deflecting the focus onto a more easily identifiable outside source. In the end I left it because I didn’t think those were my motivations. 

Now I think the person I am missing so much is myself.

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