Standing in the darkness, laughing with my heel on its throat

(This might be hard to follow. Today is August 16th. I began writing this blog post on June 6th and titled it “GTFOOYH,” a reference that you’ll read below. I finished the post, which was primarily about some mental and emotional struggles I’ve been going through and how a song by a new band I love has helped me cope. I showed the post to my wife and she said it was great, but I didn’t publish it. I guess I was afraid.

Much has changed since I finished the original post, and I’ve thought about scrapping it and starting over. But that would give me an excuse to edit out some of the stuff that I found difficult to write about; I don’t want to do that. So I’m going to leave the original post in tact below and then write a lengthy postscript that brings the story to its current status today. And I’m changing the title to reflect where I am, not where I was. Apologies if this is hard to follow and a bit messy. That’s how life is sometimes….)

[Note: This is what I began writing in early June.]

Every once in a great while, a song comes along that changes your world.

It happened for me a couple months ago when I heard a song called “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane.” I was listening to this new band called Gang Of Youths on Spotify and stopped what I was doing as this song played. I knew I’d found something special.

My wife and I were having lunch recently at a hotel restaurant when I told her about this song. I began reciting some of the lyrics. My voice cracked. I started to cry. I told her, “This is the most important song that’s come into my life in at least the past 20 years.”


Not long ago, a friend emailed me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: A ticket to see U2’s intimate show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem on June 11. What U2 fan wouldn’t jump at the chance to see his favorite band in a small, historic theater with only about 1,500 other fans?

I thanked this friend profusely and did some quick research on travel and accommodations. Within an hour, I used frequent flier miles to book flights to New York City on Alaska Airlines, and booked a reasonably affordable hotel, too. I was gonna be able to see this once-in-a-lifetime show for about $600.

Twenty minutes later, the excitement had worn off. I realized I was going only because I felt I should, not because I really wanted to. I canceled the flight and hotel bookings.

It was the latest weird twist in my longtime U2 fandom. I wrote about some of this a couple months ago — not buying new albums, not chasing down new vinyl releases and so forth.

My wife is pretty alarmed by this lack of interest in U2. The band, after all, has been part of my life for longer than she has. They’ve been part of my identity. A constant. She wonders if I’m suddenly walking away from them, what else am I willing to walk away from?


I’ve never talked about this with anyone until that aforementioned lunch with my wife:

I’m deathly afraid of dying. The thought of leaving this earth — of leaving my wife (if I die first) and kids — scares the hell out of me. This started probably 10 years ago or so, and has slowly gotten worse over time.

It’s gotten to the point of being mentally paralyzing for almost entire days. There was a day about 3-4 weeks ago that I couldn’t stop thinking about dying, and how afraid I am of it, and I was unable to think about anything else — couldn’t get any work done, couldn’t do anything. I was stuck inside my head and totally gripped by this fear. It was awful.

Somewhat complicating the matter is that I’m a Christian and I know I’m supposed to welcome death with open arms. For Christians, death is an opportunity to finally see our real Father and spend eternity with Him. We’re taught that this world isn’t our home; Heaven is. And we’re taught that death isn’t to be feared.

So, in addition to the general fear of sharing this with anyone, there’s also been the idea that talking about it with any of my Christian friends, or even a Christian counselor, would be pointless because I already know what they’d say. They’d be supportive and caring, for sure, but I already know what the Bible says about death and this world not being our home. I know. It’s not helping.

All of this has been noticeably worse since both my mom and dad died in the past few years — my dad in 2015 and my mom late last year. I’m still not used to being without both parents, and I’m starting to wonder if I ever will be.

My mom died nine months ago. For the first 6-7 months after she died, not a Sunday went by that I didn’t mistakenly think, “I need to call Mom today,” like I’d done pretty much every Sunday for the past 10-20 years. For the past month or two, I’ve stopped thinking I need to call her, but I haven’t stopped wishing I could.


I’ve spent most of the past couple years in what I call turtle mode. My tendencies towards introversion have been in full bloom. I’m consciously avoiding many things and choosing to stay in my shell. Earlier this year, I took some initial steps toward becoming a small business mentor with SCORE, but soon decided that I’m too busy these days to make that commitment.

I am busy — no doubt about that. But I also feel like, if I was in a better state mentally, I could’ve stuck it out and figured out a way to make it work.

There’s a line in “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” that really hits home for me:

And it’s strange, all the things that I’ve run from
Are the things that completeness could come from

Deep down, that’s exactly how I feel — like I’m running from things that I’d really enjoy.


As I sat at lunch that day with Cari, telling her about all this — the new song I love, the sometimes paralyzing fear of death, the continued sadness I have about my mom’s death (and my dad’s), I cautiously said this:

“I feel like I might have some kind of mild form of depression.”

She started nodding in agreement before I finished the sentence.

I was — and still am — super reluctant to make that kind of self-diagnosis because I don’t mean to diminish the struggles of people who are really battling through something worse than my current struggle. Depression is a serious word, a serious condition — and I don’t want to be accused of blowing some ongoing sadness out of proportion. On the other hand, I keep seeing lots of messages on social media about how you can’t keep it inside, you can’t be afraid to share what’s going on. And so that’s what I’m trying to hold onto as I type this.

As Cari nodded, she reminded me that she went into a state of depression in 2008 after her dad died. She even went to counseling for it. (I confessed that I’d forgotten about that.)

She told me that one of the common expressions of depression is that you reject things you love. After her dad died, she stopped reading. And if you know my wife, you know that reading is just about as important to her as breathing.

I’m sure there are people who would say the same thing about me and U2.


I wasn’t there when my dad died. My sisters were, and they called me to share the news. I went back to Pennsylvania for the funeral, but I never had the chance to say goodbye to him.

That changed a few months later when a completely unexpected series of events fell into place at the last minute, and I found myself at a U2 concert in Chicago. In the middle of the show, I felt compelled to put my camera away and let the music wash over me. As the band played “Bad,” I saw my dad sitting in our house as we watched Rattle And Hum together. I cried a river of tears and, in that moment, was finally able to say goodbye to him.

I think I went into U2’s current tour expecting the same kind of catharsis about my mom’s death. I saw three of the early shows this year, and that moment never happened. There was no “Bad” moment this time around. I knew it wasn’t (isn’t) fair to put that kind of pressure and expectation on a band, but I also knew that U2 had never let me down before in that way.

Since then I’ve realized that it wasn’t only unfair to ask a band/concert to do that for me, but it was also unnecessary. I did say goodbye to my mom already. I was at her bedside last year when she died. Now I just need to work on accepting that she’s gone, and that I said what I needed to say before she died. Baby steps.


In “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane,” Gang Of Youths’ singer/songwriter Dave Le’aupepe tells the story of a dream that he had regularly in which his imaginary wife/girlfriend and their kid die in a car accident while he’s drunk in the basement of their home.

The song title is a take on a Charles Bukowski line (“As the spirit wanes, the form appears”) and Le’aupepe has referenced a philosopher named Martin Heidegger when talking about the lyrics … all of which is, for me, very reminiscent of U2 and Bono’s lyric writing over the years. So, I love that aspect.

The chorus is an encouragement — or maybe a reminder — to not waste time, and not waste the gifts that grace has bestowed on us.

Do not let this thing you got go to waste
Do not let your heart be dismayed
It’s here by some random disclosure of grace
From some vascular, great thing

It’s an important message and one that I’ve tried over the years to impress on my kids. But it’s at the end of the song, in the last chorus, when the song cuts right to my bones.

Get the fuck out of your head if it says
“Stay cold and be deathly afraid”
Do not let your spirit wane

“Get the fuck out of your head.” That’s the lyric that I’ve needed to hear more than any other lately. Because I have been telling myself to stay cold, and I’ve been deathly afraid of my own death for so long now. Too long.

GTFOOYH.

I’ve made that acronym my Twitter profile, and every so often (1, 2 and 3) I’ll tweet it with no explanation … just a reminder and encouragement to myself.

If you see one of those tweets, now you’ll know what’s going on. It might mean I’ve caught myself having a moment. Or it might just be me encouraging myself not to have a moment. I’m not looking for sympathy, but I’d obviously welcome the prayers and support of anyone reading this.

Things are starting to look better. I’ve committed to a speaking engagement next month — my first one in more than four years. My U2 malaise continues unabated, but I’m kind of excited by the progress we’re making on a new atu2.com website, so that’s good. And I’ve got this new song to remind me to GTFOOYH.

It’s a weird place I’m in. I don’t like it and I want to get back to normal. I just haven’t figured out how. Yet.


Here’s the song I’ve been talking about. The singer mumbles a bit so it might help to have the lyrics handy if you’re interested in listening.


[Note: This is the postscript that I started writing in late July.]

I flew to Dallas earlier this month for my first speaking gig in about four years. My first flight was a short hop over to Portland. It was a really early flight, which is always tough since I’m a night owl. Fortunately, I had a row to myself and decided to lean over against the window. I put on Gang Of Youths’ latest album, Go Farther In Lightness, and closed my eyes. I may have drifted in and out of sleep a bit.

I don’t know what song was playing, but there was a moment that I woke up and looked out the window. Mount St. Helens was right in front of me, like close enough that it felt like I could reach out and touch it. And as I looked at this beautiful sight and listened to this new album I love, the most incredible sense of peace washed over me. I said a little prayer of thanks, and suddenly sensed that my mom was okay and I would see her again in Heaven. The weight of her death was gone. Whatever difficulties I was having since I was at her bedside last October and saw her take those final breaths — I felt them leave me. It’s hard to explain even now; it was just the most wonderfully peaceful feeling.

I knew Cari would be awake and I knew I could text her since Alaska Airlines has that free-texting service while you fly. So I sent her this:

When I explained all this to her, she said that I’d felt the peace that transcends all understanding. Amen. That’s exactly what it was, and is.

That speaking engagement went really well. I gave two presentations and it was just like riding a bike; I felt very comfortable up in front of an audience again. And it was really good to see some friends from the marketing world that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I enjoyed taking a step out of “turtle mode.”

In the time since that flight, I’m still listening to Gang Of Youths as much as ever. But “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” isn’t my favorite song anymore; it’s been replaced by “The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows.” This song lifts up my spirits in much the same way that U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” did for years. Specifically, there’s one lyric in “Deepest Sighs” that I’ve clung to lately:

I will stand in the darkness and laugh with my heel on its throat.

For me, that lyric is the flip side of GTFOOYH. (I replaced it on my Twitter bio, too.) Once you’re out of your head, you’re not immune to the darkness and difficulties of life … but instead of letting it all get in your head, you put your heel on its throat. Strength over fear. Here’s a live performance of the full song below, and here are the full lyrics.

Since that moment on the flight to Portland, things are so different and so much better:

I no longer wake up on Sundays forgetting that my mom’s gone and thinking that I should call her. I still miss her, of course, but it’s not a missing of grief — it’s a missing of gratitude, of remembering all the great times and great blessings she poured into my life.

That fear of death that had paralyzed me for so long is gone.

I had the great experience getting back up in front of an audience in Dallas, and taking a step out of turtle mode.

I feel like that depression — if that’s what it was — is gone. Maybe it was something else, maybe just extended grief and sadness … I don’t know. Like I said, I’m really reluctant to use the D-word in this context. But the bottom line is that I’m in a much better place now than I’ve been for the past several months, if not the past few years, and I’m grateful for the discovery of a new band and new songs that have been a huge help in this turnaround.

So I’ll just wrap up this really long and really strange post by saying this: If I didn’t seem myself to you recently, and if that included doing or saying something that was hurtful or somehow inappropriate, I’m sorry. I haven’t been myself. I was in a weird place. But I’m getting back to normal now and feeling more like myself every day. I’ve got my heel on darkness’ throat. And I’m laughing.

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9 Responses to Standing in the darkness, laughing with my heel on its throat

  1. Melissa Fach August 17, 2018 at 2:27 pm #

    This is amazing. I am so happy for you that you have moved past it. You are awesome and always have been.

  2. Matt McGee August 17, 2018 at 2:45 pm #

    Thx so much, Melissa – that means a lot! Hope you and Paul are doing well.

  3. Richard Lamberti August 17, 2018 at 5:59 pm #

    I read and digested this Matt nd it’s very moving. I hope you are in a better space now. And keep the faith for u2 …I’ll be at a few of the European shows over the coming months and may see you there? Best wishes.

  4. Jennifer August 17, 2018 at 8:49 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your journey through grief, Matt. I have always been so grateful that you created @U2.com

  5. Matt McGee August 17, 2018 at 9:34 pm #

    Richard & Jennifer – thanks for the kind words and support.

    No shows for me, Richard. Think I’ll be waiting until the Achtung Baby anniversary tour in 2021…

  6. Cody Baird August 18, 2018 at 12:01 am #

    Matt

    I love who you are! You were the first reputable ‘marketing guys’ to reference and link to one of my first blog posts 5 years back about Axciom Business Listing Manager.

    I remember feeling so validated. That energy split over into my business.

    You dont know this, but I am a stage 3 cancer survivor.
    2009 to 2011 were endless chemo treatments, cancer relapse and stem cell transplants.

    I fear, I cry myself to sleep countless nights worrying that I will die before my parents, before I fall in love again and have a family.

    I’ve battled with addiction and depression since my divorce 17 years ago.

    I cried myself to sleep a couple nights back after writing the following on Twitter of all places:

    Laying in bed. Can’t sleep. Confidence is low. 3rd startup, yr 6, triple digit growth last 3 yrs but 1500 miles from friends and family. 44th bday next mo. Ancestors Vikings, immigrants, later pioneers to the west. So I ‘burned my ship’ up on arrival to Austin & started new co.

    Diagnosed w/stage 3 cancer in 2009. Cancer in remission by 2011 after endless chemo and 2 stem cell transplants. Starting & exiting successful co has been my dream.

    Chasing that dream was my answer to ‘what to do with new lease on life’. Also my way of exercising faith for a full life. Not starting Co or staying close to home was an action that seemed to not exercise faith in a long healthy life.

    When fear creeps in, I worry. I think, ‘What have I done?’ or ‘What if cancer returns and I spent that last yrs of my life building a Co vs enjoying time w/my family?’ Isnt the point of Co to have more freedom, more time or upside for my family?’

    Depression and addiction have often been my companions. Sober this yr which has been amazing and brutal at the same time. A peer recently past away that delt w/similar issues. Making my fears more present. I don’t speak of or share these thoughts. Hoping to not give them power.

    For some reason it feels better to dump them on Twitter vs sharing w/family or friends and cause them unnecessary concern. I’ll get busy. Pour energy into the work. I’ll run 7 more miles tomorrow on the trail. The sun will come up again.

    My heart goes out to anyone in the ‘struggle’, anyone dealing with selfdoubt, depression, addiction, or so many other challenges in life. You’re not alone. Keep getting back up. I know I will. And if you’d like to have an attentive, non judgemental listener, I’m your Huckleberry.

    Despite life’s many challenges, disappointments, failures, and injustices…Life is wonderful. I am reminded that we must experience sorrow to appreciate joy and happiness.

    And to my friends and family, I love you. Thanks for your endless support, for being my rock, my foundation to follow my dreams.

    Sleep! Where are you my old friend?

    I hate the saying, ‘misery loves company’. Misery is desperate for compassion, for understanding, for love.

    I am also Christian, specifically L.D.S. aka Mormon. I want you to know that I too believe in God the Father and his son Jesus Christ.

    Longing for our loved ones can cause one to lose track amongst the gnarly emotions.

    You will see your mother and father again my brother. I know this with with all my heart. My testimony is that family’s are forever.

    Thank you for sharing something so personal. There is a healing process that happens when we open our soul and share with others. Much love bro! You inspire me.

  7. Matt McGee August 18, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

    Wow, Cody … I’m borderline speechless at this point. Thx so much for sharing your story. It’s amazing to think my words had that kind of impact. I’m honored and I hope you remain healthy and happy and successful in all you do. Thx again and God bless you.

  8. Denise August 20, 2018 at 7:43 am #

    Thank you, Matt. I’ve been a long-time admirer of yours, due to your U2 fandom and work on @U2.
    Thank you for this. Your willingness to share your journey is/will help countless people whom you don’t even know you’ve touched.

  9. Matt McGee August 20, 2018 at 9:03 am #

    Thank you, Denise – I hope you’re right.

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