I Decided: How Big Sean Helped Save My Mental Health

“Voices in my head saying I could do better.”

Big Sean released his fourth studio album, I Decided, Friday, February 3rd, 2017. A concept album that Sean himself describes as a sort of rebirth, a chance to go back and fix the mistakes of the past. That same Friday I found myself wrestling with suicidal urges, spiraling in and out of anxiety attacks, brought on by withdrawals from my Lexapro. I checked myself into the hospital the following day and was placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. During my stay not only did I get the treatment I so desperately needed, but I also spent a lot of time listening to and dissecting the themes of I Decided.

“Voices in my head saying that I knew better.”

I hadn’t stopped taking my medication at my own volition, rather an error with my health insurance had occurred and I was without coverage. Unfortunately, I was unaware of this until I had to refill my Lexapro. I was blindsided at the pharmacy. The one-two punch of being uninsured and being told how expensive my medication would be put me on the ropes. I walked out feeling defeated but confident that I could manage a few weeks without. I had never gone through withdrawals before and that ignorance was damning.

“I’m hanging halfway off the balcony, overthinking…”

About three days after my failed pharmacy trip my previously stable mental health started to unravel. I noticed while working that my balance was off and I started to feel dizzy. Soon I started getting headaches and became irrationally irritable. What happened next happened fast, almost like a mental shock and awe campaign that effectively left my rational mind reeling. I became volatile. Mood swings were frequent. I lashed out at friends and family alike. Angry text messages turned into desperate apologies turned into tears I couldn’t share. I spiked a glass at my uncle’s feet over a difference of opinion and calmly swept it up right after. I wasn’t in control of my emotions and by extension, my actions. It wasn’t until I found myself crying for no reason while riding around with a friend that I realized something was wrong with me.

“I think I’m ready to jump out the window.”

I tried going back to the pharmacy. I brought letters and old health insurance cards in a Hail Mary play to get my medication. I sat down and poured over everything with the pharmacist. We each called the insurance company to no avail. I wanted to yell, I wanted to berate the pharmacist and her staff, I wanted someone to help me. This was stupid. I’m suffering and I’m supposed to just accept it? Quietly, I picked up my paperwork and left without making the scene I had desired. I drove home and laid down on my bed. More tears. Shallow breathing. I turn off my phone. No contact. I want to be alone now. I want to be alone for this. I want to die. I want to die now. If it ends everything I’m going through, then I crave it. And since I can’t just lay down and die I have to make it happen. This plays over and over in my head but I’m too exhausted to act. I go to sleep.

“Voices in my head attacking what I’m thinking. Bullet to the head might be the way to free it.”

When I wake up I don’t feel any better. My suicidal urges persist. I lay in my bed. At this point I don’t want to die and the thought was that if I don’t do anything at all then I won’t actually act on killing myself either. Hours pass. A moment of clarity. I need help. More help than any one friend can provide. It becomes clear to me that my situation is dire and things can go unimaginably wrong if I don’t do something. After a few more hours of nothingness I get out of bed and take myself to the emergency room. Upon walking in I realize how obvious my condition must be. My face is downcast and my voice is faint. The nurse at the front desk brings me to a room before I can even finish saying how I feel. I get asked the normal depression questions at this point. “Do you feel that you’d be better off dead?” “Do you feel tired or have little energy?” “Do you feel you are a danger to yourself or others?” They take me from the initial room to another, more private setting. I’m left alone while they call my emergency contacts and I start to notice how empty the room is. All of the walls are bare, no furniture or materials other than the hospital bed I’m lying in. My anxiety sets in. In an instant this all becomes real. My mind is racing. I try to convince myself that I’m fine, that I don’t need to be here. I start believing that all of the medical staff I’ve met with think I’m crazy or that I’m faking it. They must think I want attention. I know that some of my thoughts are deceitful but I’m not sure what to believe. A psychiatric doctor comes in the room and asks me if I would like to stay the weekend. I say yes. From here I’m placed on a 72-hour hold and relocated to outpatient.

“And you taught me I’m a product of everything I go through.”

When I arrive in outpatient it’s already fairly late in the evening. I’m given my own room and what feels like privacy as shades and curtains are pulled shut. I lay down in what seems like a fairly normal hospital room until I notice the multiple cameras watching my every move. I’m allowed my phone so I send a text to my supervisor saying that I won’t be in the next few days due to my psychiatric hold. A response comes quick; “Did you see if anyone can cover for you?” Ugh. I roll over, trying to put everything out of my head. Maybe TV can help. I turn it on but terrible comedy specials and professional fights can only go so far. I decide to pull out my phone and download Big Sean’s new album, as I’m not allowed headphones the music fills my small, dark room. The intro to I Decided plays, an older man runs through traffic, lamenting his life thus far and wishing he could go back to fix things. After that, “Light” comes on. Sean raps, “spent my whole life trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel, I should have realized it was inside, so lately I been trying to get what’s inside outside”. I laugh to myself, thinking about how reductive that all sounds. But I like Big Sean. And I like the positive energy he brings to his music. I continue to listen intently.

“No matter how much they gon’ shade you they can’t stop the shine.”

I find myself enamored with the songs Sean puts forth as the album goes on. From moody relationship records like “Jump Out the Window” and “Owe Me” to more energetic, on message singles “Move” and “Bounce Back” but a nerve is struck by the time I hear “Voices in My Head/Stick to the Plan”. The instrumental comes in sounding dreary and depressing as Big Sean starts softly, floating over the production as his background vocals berate him for not being as successful as he should be. I’m hanging onto every word in my hospital bed, finally at a place where I can perfectly relate to Sean’s emotional context. Then the beat switches. A more aggressive Sean, who sounds much more confident and in control, comes out swinging, reminding himself to “stick to the plan!” One of producer Metro Boomin’s signature tags drops and the mood shifts. Sean lays out an assault on his own psyche, reminding himself to keep pushing on. The beat drops. Then again. And again. The music hyperventilates. Continuing with the feeling of wrestling with an anxiety attack Sean comes back in with an even faster flow and the beat picks up to match his tempo. There’s desperation and franticness as suicide crosses his mind. Sean contemplates when he even started feeling this way and by the end of the song leaves us wondering if he’ll truly ever be able to escape these thoughts. Back in my hospital room silent tears stream down my face. I pause the next song then run “Voices in My Head/Stick to the Plan” back again.

“Stick to the plan, stick to the plan, stick to the plan, bitch quit playing.”

The next morning I’m given a menu and instructed to order breakfast. After my food arrives I’m finally given the Lexapro that’s been so elusive the last few weeks. The doctor instructs me that they’ll be observing and checking in with me throughout the day but otherwise I’m left to my own devices. I’m fine with that and after the medical professionals leave I turn on I Decided again. I keep listening to the album. How timely for something so inspiring to come out when I needed it most. After a while my phone dies and I have to ask the nursing staff for a charger. Once again, not allowed to have cords, I have to give up my phone for it to be charged at their desk. I lay back in my bed and reflect. I reflect on the unfortunate circumstances that led me to this point. I reflect on our country’s healthcare system and how it allows people to slip through the cracks. I reflect on my actions while going through withdrawals and the people I hurt because of it. I reflect on my hospital stay and this Big Sean album. I’m entirely alone at this point but Big Sean’s words keep me from feeling that way.

“Make it, make it, make it, boy we gotta make it.”

By the time my final day rolls around I’m back on a steady dose of Lexapro, written a new prescription, and informed that my insurance is active again. All of that is appreciated if not frustrating to begin with but thankfully my hold is rescinded. I am discharged at noon that day. I decide to walk home instead of calling for a ride because I still have some unresolved shame from the whole experience. I walk out of the hospital with headphones in my ears, loudly playing I Decided as I return to my everyday life. This weekend changed me. I’m still trying to work out what that all means for me but I know I gained a positive perspective from an unlikely source and for that I’m grateful.

“Last night took an L but tonight I bounce back.”

Chase Vibe is a North Minneapolis based Hip Hop artist, writer, and activist. Find him fighting personal demons and oppressive systems.