‘I remember looking at myself in the mirror and hearing a voice say: You’re worthless. End it.’ – Matty Mullins
When talking about anxiety and suicidal thoughts, Matty Mullins doesn’t mince words.
Yet despite these gifts, Matty Mullins was hit with a supernatural reminder that fear, panic, and chronic depression can humble even the most steadfast of believers.
I’ve had the chance to get to know Matty Mullins over a series of interviews, Warped Tour hangouts, and club shows. He has a gentle laugh and a huge heart.
It was my pleasure to welcome him as my guest on the very first episode of No-Prize From God, a podcast that features conversations with creative people about belief, unbelief, and everything between. Matty’s mom sat beside him at his Nashville home studio as he and I talked about childhood, high school, discovering heavy music, marriage, and our shared history of panic attacks, anxiety, and chronic depression.
He told me about his first panic attack. We talked about God, the Devil, antidepressants, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) psychotherapy.
Music with a message.
As frontman for one of the premiere bands in the modern metalcore genre and as a newly emerging pop rock solo artist in Christian Contemporary Music, Matty encourages crowds with a mixture of relatable, personal confessions and positivity. Memphis May Fire’s 2014 album, Unconditional, debuted at Number 4 on the Billboard 200. Its follow-up, This Light I Hold, broke through at commercial rock radio.
Mullins honors his gift by offering fellowship and cathartic expression to a diverse audience with his abrasive and loud metalcore band while pouring equal passion into the more stunningly spirit-filled anthems of a different sort that color his solo work. His second solo album, Unstoppable, was released by BEC Recordings last year.
What follows are some excerpts from our podcast discussion. You can listen to the entire thing HERE. Subscribe to No-Prize From God to hear honest and agenda-free conversations with guests like Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage), Tim McTague (Underoath), Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter), Ihsahn (Emperor), Karyn Crisis (Gospel of the Witches), Max Cavalera (Soulfly), Sister Kate (the “weed nuns”), and more.
‘I felt like I was going to die.’
MATTY MULLINS: So this is how it all started. I flew to Orlando on a day off [from tour] to track a guest vocal for a Sleeping With Sirens record, for the song “Congratulations.”[Flying] always made me kind of nervous. But never had it caused full-on panic or anything. I flew like a 737 to Orlando but on the way back, I actually made a joke about [the plane, which] was so small that they didn’t have one of those things that you walk down to get on it. You actually had to go outside of the airport to walk up the stairs. I took a little video of the airplane and I sent it to my boys, ‘Hey guys, pray for me! I’m about to get on this pea shooter.’
It was like a ten or 12 seater, a tiny little prop plane. We took off and this insane storm was in the sky. I can’t even believe that planes were allowed to fly during it that day.
‘Lord, save us!’
MATTY MULLINS: It started out with some pretty bad turbulence. I got kind of nervous. Then the plane was violently thrown from left to right. It felt like there was no possible way that the pilots could have control. The flight attendant was holding on, screaming, ‘Lord, save us!’
It’s so hard to explain. It was such an intense moment. It was the first time in my life I ever had felt like I was going to die. It’s something I’d never experienced in my entire life, that feeling of being in fight or flight, where your body is basically preparing to die. It was this crazy feeling. 30 minutes later, the plane lands, but my body won’t let me get out of that moment.
I’m still in that moment, 30,000 feet up being thrown around thinking I’m going to die. I walked off the runway thinking, ‘what’s up with my body? Am I dizzy? Something’s wrong.’ I felt like I was going to pass out. I thought that landing would give me so much relief, but it didn’t; I felt anxious for the next couple of days, like I’d never gotten off the plane.
‘Suicide? I was just eating soup 20 minutes ago!’
MATTY MULLINS: A few days later, I woke up, had a cup of potato soup, and was watching TV in the front lounge of the bus. All of a sudden, I was certain that we were going to die.
It felt like a plane was about to crash through the window of the bus. It was like my body was saying, ‘Get out of the situation you’re in right now, you’re about to die.’ I got up and looked around at everyone. ‘Is everyone OK?’ Everyone was just watching TV like, ‘Yeah, what’s wrong with you?’ And I was like, ‘something really bad is happening! Something really bad is about to happen.’
My heart was racing. It came out of nowhere. I went into the venue’s bathroom to try to gather myself. I remember looking at myself [in the mirror] and hearing a voice say, ‘you’re worthless. End it.’ I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I had heard so much my whole life about demon possession, spiritual warfare. ‘I’m thinking about committing suicide? I was just eating soup 20 minutes ago!’ I had no idea what was going on.
‘Take me to the hospital.’
MATTY MULLINS: I come out of the bathroom and I start to think I’m having a full-on heart attack. So Cory [Elder], my bass player, he’s such a gentle giant. He wraps his arms around me. He’s like, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘Take me to the hospital.’ So the runner takes me to the hospital. Right as we get into the door of the hospital and the doctor comes up to greet me, all of those feelings flush away. My body starts to tingle and it starts to leave.
The doctor is like, ‘Listen. You had a panic attack.’ ‘Why would I have a panic attack? I’m fine. I’m not the kind of person that has panic attacks. I get onstage in front of a couple thousand people. I don’t have stage fright. I’m not the person that happens to.’
Having been so uneducated on anxiety and depression I had no idea why it would affect me. The doctor gave me a bottle of Xanax and I went back to the bus and took one. I think it was a really small dosage because I didn’t feel any different.
I was so terrified of that feeling [returning]. It was all I could think about. I would wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat, wondering what was going on.
‘Am I losing my mind?’
MATTY MULLINS: Every morning when I woke up all I could think about was, ‘Am I going to randomly lose my mind and kill myself? Am I going to die of a heart attack?’
I was consumed by fear for the first time in my life. I had all of these feelings and I had no idea where they were coming from.
Cory would take me on walks to try to get my mind off of it. But that gut-wrenching feeling… It’s almost like someone just told you that your mom or dad died. It’s like that feeling you get when someone gives you that news, but it never went away. I’m talking two years of that. I just kept trying to figure it out.
‘Can you overnight it?’
MATTY MULLINS: I was living in Seattle where there’s a massive homeless population and [many of them are] mentally ill. These guys would be walking around downtown punching themselves in the head; I’d look at them and I’d think, ‘That’s what I’m on my way to. I’m losing my mind because I can’t control my own thoughts or emotions. I always feel like I’m going to die.’ It was terrible.
One night this commercial came on. ‘Are you living with anxiety? Order our CD set. We believe that you can rid of it.’ Sign me up! I was like, ‘Can you overnight it?’ I went on long drives listening to the CDs.
It was people talking about what it’s like to have a panic attack, to feel anxious and to have anxiety day to day. ‘Sometimes I’ll think about killing my daughter.’ Just these absurd terrible thoughts that you would never think about that would never cross your mind. ‘Sometimes I think about my heart stopping.’ ‘I’m standing on a rooftop, I should be enjoying the view, I’m not a suicidal person, but all I can think about is jumping off.’
When somebody else would talk about these thoughts that were going through my head it would bring me relief, because I started to feel like I wasn’t alone.
‘I was thinking about the ceiling collapsing.’
MATY MULLINS: When I went to City Church, I felt so much relief from Judah [Smith]’s preaching because I felt so comforted by it. But at the same time, in my head, I was thinking about the ceiling collapsing. That’s where my brain was taking me. I was trying to enjoy the sermons but all I could think about was the worst possible thing that could happen.
That’s what anxiety does to you. If you get a little bit of a headache – ‘Oh, I’m having a brain aneurism.’ Or if your heart skips a beat, a normal heart palpitation. ‘That’s it! I’ve got to go to the doctor. I’m having a heart attack!’
The depression got to the point where if I had one negative thought I would spiral into this deep dark place that I couldn’t get out of for days. You hear people talk about that stuff but unless you experience it you really have no idea what it’s like. If you don’t know where it’s coming from exactly and you can’t pinpoint it, then you’re just living in this terrible spot without any way to get out. It’s awful.
‘I could see this dark, demonic figure standing over my body.’MATTY MULLINS: When we were in the studio working on Unconditional, that was one of the darkest times. I was living in a hotel by myself in Phoenix while we were doing the record. I would be at the studio all day exhausted because when I got back to the hotel I would lay in bed shaking. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I felt like I could see this dark, demonic figure standing over my body.
I wrote about anxiety and depression, but I also wrote about this newfound hope that I was finding in my relationship with Jesus.
‘God’s not causing these things to happen in your life, Matthew. He’s allowing it to happen so that you can grow closer to Him than ever before.’ I trusted in God in those moments.
‘I was angry with God.’
MATTY MULLINS: [But] I was angry with God because I was like, ‘I know that you can take this away. Why are you allowing it to happen?’
I believe now, looking back on it, the answer was because so many other people deal with it and He was saying, ‘Matthew, I’m going to use you to bring comfort to people who are going through it. I’m going to use you to influence people that are struggling with this, to be a beacon of hope for people that feel like there’s no hope.’
‘And also as an opportunity for you to feel so hopeless that you reach out for me in a whole new way so that I can show you how incredible it is to have a one-on-one genuine relationship with me, your Creator.’
My whole life, my dad was really against [psychiatric] medication. His idea was, ‘If you pray about it, God will handle it.’ He was very old school. So I was always scared to take medication for anxiety or depression.
‘I knew I had to do something.’
MATTY MULLINS: My sister, [Amy Alexander], is a therapist. She’s incredible. She has this amazing counseling center in Franklin, Tennessee. I would call her everyday and she would take time away from work to do these relaxation techniques with me to try to get me in a better space before I went in and recorded. She was like, ‘Matthew, I want you to realize that it’s okay to take medication to kind of level yourself out while you’re working through all these issues.’
I [knew] I had to do something because everything I’d done so far wasn’t taking it away completely. She wanted me to get on Zoloft for a year. It’s for depression and it also helps with anxiety [but] I was scared of it. I met with this lady that works at Refuge, Amy’s counseling center, to talk about the medication, what it can do for you, some of the side effects.
‘I started to feel like a normal person.’
MATTY MULLINS: She said it would take a few weeks to kick in. I took it with me to Phoenix and I swear, it was [only] two days before I started to feel like a normal person.
I could feel the warmth of the sun. When you’re in those bouts of depression and anxiety, nothing that brought you joy can ever bring you joy anymore. You’re completely hopeless even when things that are full of hope surround you. You feel so empty and so hopeless inside. I knew the medication had started working when I started to feel there was some kind of joy peeking through the crack in the door. It really did feel like it balanced me out.
I [could more easily] do the work to overcome anxiety and learn about it. [Zoloft] never made me feel overly happy or ‘high’ or anything like that. It made me feel like a normal person. I think that’s exactly what that medication is for; at the one-year mark, I called the lady that prescribed it to me and told her I knew I didn’t need it anymore. I tossed the bottle. I’m so thankful for medication in that season of my life.
MATTY MULLINS: While I was on the medication I did this therapy called EMDR, which was developed for soldiers with PTSD.
Basically you hold these buzzers in your hand that go left and right. You look at a dot on a screen that goes left and right. What you’re trying to do is recreate rapid bilateral eye movement that happens while you’re asleep at night. When you’re sleeping at night, that physical motion is moving situations that have happened from your frontal lobe – where you experience and feel things – to a different part of your brain where you can remember them [without having to] feel the feelings that are associated with them on a daily basis.
I went back to that flight which was my first experience with panic and anxiety. I talked about being in that moment while I was using these buzzers to try to move that memory to another part of my head.
‘Therapy is for everybody.’
MATTY MULLINS: I know it sounds weird, right? But I swear, I can think about that flight now and my palms don’t get sweaty any more. It’s like a miracle.
I can think about painful memories – traumatic family experiences and stuff from when I was really young — that I have worked through in EMDR and they don’t cause anxiety for me anymore.
When I think about it, is it painful? Absolutely, because it happened. But it doesn’t feel like I’m in that situation right now.
I think therapy is for everybody. TV and movies have made therapy out to be this thing that’s only for people that are crazy or whatever. That’s not the case at all. I’ve never met a single person in my life – everyone can use it.
‘Can Satan use that in his favor? Absolutely.’
MATTY MULLINS: When I was younger, I heard so much about demonic activity and demon possession and stuff like that. I do believe that demonic activity is real. I do believe that Satan is real. But through all of this, what I learned is that those feelings that felt like that, wasn’t that. I don’t believe that Satan is omnipresent; that if there’s one person in the world that he could attack it was me at that moment, that what I have struggled with was demonic activity.
I think it feels like that in the moment. What I struggled with is simply [that] the human body is imperfect. Can Satan use that in his favor? Absolutely. To make you feel like God doesn’t exist, to make you feel like God isn’t there, that He doesn’t care about you. But was what I was experiencing demonic activity? No. I think it was a simple imbalance that had to do with my body and with my brain, unaddressed issues from that flight and from my childhood, things that I had no idea were causing me to feel like an inadequate husband and like an inadequate frontman – only when I did therapy and I dug back into that really deep, and through EMDR therapy, was I able to pinpoint those things.
‘And finally, those dots were connected.’
MATTY MULLINS: It was like my brain had been waiting 25 years to connect these dots. And finally, those dots were connected. No longer do I have to live day to day with the symptoms of these issues that had never been addressed.
I hated it so much. I’d been such a carefree person and such a lighthearted person my whole life. When these things started to attack me, I remembered clearly what it was like to be happy. I remembered that there was something greater to life to fight for. That’s why I so ruthlessly fought to get back to that point. I always [said] I just want to get back to how I felt.
What I didn’t realize was happening to me was that I would get back to that peace that I had but with a whole new understanding of something that people, millions and millions of people, struggle with on a day to day basis. I could always be empathetic for people with anxiety and depression but I could never truly be sympathetic for those people.
‘You will come out on the other side.’
MATTY MULLINS: Now I think that God is using me so much in the music scene and with our fans to say, ‘Ask who has struggled with this in the room, I’ll raise my hand every single time. I know exactly what you’re going through and I also know that it’s possible to get to the other side of it if you fight it, if you go through the right steps to address whatever it is your body is telling you needs to be addressed, there is a way to get through it and you will come out on the other side with all of these tools in your belt with how to battle it if it comes back.
For whatever reason, driving has always made me feel just a little anxious, if not like panic anxious. I’ll feel that feeling coming on and with all of these tools that I learned in therapy, I’ll be able to bring myself out of that fake moment back into reality. Hey, whatever it is that you’re worried about, it’s something that either could happen in the future or something that did happen in the past, but not actually what is happening in the moment.
‘I’m able to bring myself back into the moment.’
MATTY MULLINS: I’m able to bring myself back into the moment and back into reality. Because I’m not scared of those feelings of anxiety, because I know that it’s not going to kill me and because of how much I learned about anxiety – it feels like your body is shutting down and it’s attacking your body, but you do ultimately have control over it. When you learn not to be afraid of it, it’s almost like a bully that just doesn’t come back.
I would say that these days I’m 90 percent anxiety free and a hundred percent depression free. But it’s because I would stop at nothing to figure out why it would happen to me. Even in my own life, I was like, ‘Man, I have everything that I want. What is happening?’ You don’t hear about that from people. You don’t hear about these people that ‘have it all together’ that are struggling with this. I didn’t realize I had so many things that were unaddressed in my life. NPFG
No-Prize From God:
Listen to the entire wide-ranging conversation with Matty Mullins HERE.