The Homeless Gospel Choir, Punk Rock, and My Mental Health Journey

The Homeless Gospel Choir, Punk Rock, and My Mental Health Journey


When looking for salvation, I’ve never really needed to look further than punk rock. When I was in sixth grade and I started feeling like a misfit, my friend, Jake, handed me Green Day’s Dookie on cassette. When I first heard this music, I realized, instantly, that there were other people out there like me. The music was a loud celebration of being broken, but also it signaled wholeness in a healing community. As an adult, I started writing songs about my feelings and sharing them with audiences throughout the country as a touring musician, under the name The Homeless Gospel Choir.

A few years into making music, I came home from a tour cycle and felt particularly odd. I was back at home and had more time on my hands to reflect on my thoughts and feelings. I found that I was most scared when I was alone and quiet. Many times, I was convinced that something terrible was going to happen, either to me or because of me, even if I was just sitting in my room alone. My thoughts would then spiral, and I would think that if I did die, no one would care, that my life was a joke, that my art and music and writing sucked.


What’s the fucking point, right? The longer I pursued music and art, the lonelier and more awkward I felt, especially after a long touring cycle came to an end. I found myself drinking more heavily when I got home from touring because I thought it helped me relax or that it gave me the courage to talk to others after I hadn’t seen them in a few weeks or months of being on the road.

I found myself swinging through different emotions. One minute, I was arrogant and self-indulgent, and the next I felt pitiful, self-deprecating, and full of regret. I vacillated between these emotions many times a day, or I’d stay in mood cycles for weeks on end. I was continually worried about how I was viewed, what people thought of me, and how I could ensure that I was loved and admired by everyone. This only made the mood swings worse because if I believed that someone didn’t like me or give me the validation I felt I needed, I would spiral into a depression.

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Throughout these cycles, I honestly believed that the worse I felt, the better my art would get. I thought this was just a normal part of being an artist.

However, as time progressed, I could tell that people felt uncomfortable being around me. This isolation and loneliness led to a series of very dark suicidal thoughts, self-hatred, and erratic and dangerous behavior that caused my partner to ask me to seek professional help for my mental health.

At first, I didn’t.

Instead, I talked to a few “friends” casually about their opinions on what was happening. I figured talking it out with a friend would be good enough. After the shame, guilt, loneliness, and terror of confronting the demons in my mind, I still had a small contingent of friends and acquaintances who told me I was just making it up, that it was all in my head. I even had one person say that they’d love to be happy for me but they believed that that I was just making up my sadness to pander to fans to gain more notoriety.

As someone who is an insufferable people pleaser, even the idea of someone not liking me is crippling, especially when it’s someone who knows you. It was terrible.

Eventually, I started to believe what that “friend” told me. I felt like maybe the thoughts, mood swings, and feelings were in some way connected to the art that I made. I thought maybe that’s what made it interesting. I feared that, if I sought out help, I would begin the long and painful path to mediocrity, normalcy, and boredom, and that no one would like me anymore. I was scared to death that treatment, therapy, diagnosis, and recovery would steal the special “magic” that helps me create art, music, and literature. I was afraid of losing the good parts that make me unique by healing the parts of me that where broken.

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However, my relationship with my partner was suffering. I was being mean, raising my voice, and was not practicing kindness, generosity, or thoughtfulness. To me, everything was starting to feel like a chore. I felt like our little family was crumbling due to me, but then I’d have to put on a smile and dress up in character for everyone else. Finally, my partner stepped in, called a therapist, and drove me to my first appointment. My procrastination and denial finally came to an end.

For me, the very act of taking the first step and seeking help was the most important, even if it was partially forced. Finding a therapist I trusted, making a routine, going to treatment, doing the work all seemed to come pretty easily to me. It was as if, as soon as I got diagnosed with bipolar and confronted what was going on, I was able to put my energy into figuring out what was going to work for me. Meditation, self-care, and accountability have been game changers on my road to recovery.

Sure, there are massive bumps in the road, and I feel lonely and sad, and I want to give up from time to time, but, overall, the act of receiving treatment and doing the work has helped make this journey called life manageable and maneuverable. At times, I have to get out of my own way and let the worry and tension melt away.

The biggest thing I was able to realize is that healing broken parts won’t make me less of an artist or less creative. In fact, I now find I have the mental clarity to show up better for the art I want to create. It was through sharing my struggles with other punk kids that I started to find some of my own healing. I can now use my voice to share my experiences with others at shows and encourage them to not give up. And, most importantly, I feel like being me is good enough.

If you’re feeling weird or sad or odd, there is no shame in talking to someone. If your friends make you feel guilty, ashamed, belittled, or embarrassed by how you are feeling, FUCK THOSE PEOPLE. They are NOT your friends! Go out and get help, and start living the way you need to in order to make yourself feel better. There is a whole ocean of great people out there in need of a good friend, so GO MAKE SOME NEW ONES! And don’t ever give up!

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

Derek Zanetti, also known as The Homeless Gospel Choir, is a protest singer, author, and artist based out of Pittsburgh, PA. Through his on-stage humor and vulnerability, Derek creates an atmosphere of inclusion and community. He engages with the audience in a way that allows them to know that they're not alone.