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YOUR VOICE: Music to my ears (and mind)

For a while now I’ve wanted to write something about music. I never feel I’m really qualified to write on the subject but given listening to records is my one escape from my depression and OCD, I’m going to have a go anyway. I listen to music in three ways: the radio is permanently set to BBC Radio 6 Music; whenever I’m out I have Spotify playlists pumping through my obscenely expensive, noise cancelling headphones; and then at home I play records. Oh so many records.

The truth is that without music I’d be compete lost. When I’m depressed, if I do nothing else, I listen to records. In therapy I’ve been told I need to learn acceptance and that at my lowest I should be able to just tell myself to accept the current situation for what it is and know that a better day will come along soon.

Music can be the perfect accompaniment to that state of mind.

I don’t believe in the notion of ‘background music’ – I think music is too important to be something that simply accompanies our lives but doesn’t constantly impact them. At my lowest music is so much more than the soundtrack to my depression. It pulls me away from my intrusive thoughts by making me focus on the lyrics being sung. It stays in my head long after I’ve listened to it.

I’ll tell you this, the seven dwarves had it right: any chores I have to do seem so much easier when I whistle while I work. When I leave the house once a week for my therapy session I’m totally dependent on music. I suffer from high levels of anxiety and the noise of traffic, bustling crowds or kids shouting is something I find very disturbing. So with headphones on I have my music up loud and I have something to hold my attention whilst my brain tries to leave the outside world behind.

I say that I don’t like ‘background music’ because I find lyrics are too important to not deserve my complete attention. The first band who really drew me in with what they were singing about, rather than the tune were Blur. As a 14-year-old suffering from undiagnosed depression and OCD, I listened, almost constantly to a song called For Tomorrow from the band’s Modern Life Is Rubbish album.

He’s a 20th century boy, with his hands on the rails
trying not to be sick again and holding on for tomorrow

Those opening lyrics seemed to sum up my life completely; my daily anxiety and depression and that constant desire that I held onto deep in my heart that tomorrow would be a better day. How amazing is it when you suddenly feel that connection to a band. That moment where it feels they wrote that song just for you. I love making those connections.

As I’ve grown older I’ve obviously found lyrics in all sorts of music that I can relate too but it still sends a shiver down my spine to be introduced to a band now that can have that same effect. Sleaford Mods have burst onto the music scene over the last year or two with lyrics that seem to  perfectly sum up a nation’s mood, railing against government policies, austerity and a general feeling of protest against the status quo. They have a song called Jobseeker that goes like this: 

Can of Strongbow, I’m a mess
Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression
Supplied to me by the NHS
Its anyone’s guess how I got here?
Anyone’s guess how I go?

It’s followed up by:

Mr Williamson your employment history looks quite impressive
I’m looking at three managerial positions you previously held with quite
Reputable companies, isn’t this something you’d like to go back to?
Nah, I’d just end up robbing the fucking place,
You’ve got a till full of 20s staring at you all day,
I’m hardly going to bank it?
I’ve got drugs to take, and a mind to break

Now when you are unemployed, suffering with depression and in your youth you stole £15,000 from a major coffee company to blow on drugs, that’s a mighty specific set of lyrics!

Lastly I wanted to mention Kimya Dawson, a lady I’ve really been listening to at the moment. She’s someone that sings so beautifully about her life that you can’t fail to make connections to her lyrics. Her work often deals with mental health issues but also addiction problems and sometimes even death. Her song Year 10 is just a beautiful reminder for anyone trying to leave behind a past of addiction and depression. 

‘Cause if it’s not one thing, don’t you know it’s another?
You can be sober and not recover
And the soul that’s hurting just keeps on searching
For ways to fill the emptiness but the pit is bottomless
You can’t fill it with hugs
You can’t fill it with drugs
You can’t fill it with booze
You can’t fill it with food
You can’t fill it with isolation
You can’t fill it with self-mutilation
You can’t fill it by always running away
You can’t fill it by finally deciding to stay
if you’re like me, an addictive personality
then you got to admit that you’re powerless
over everything you’re compulsive with

As a former drug user who still struggles with his addiction problems, it feels so perfect that someone can sing your feelings back to you. That music can hold a mirror up and show you that you are still struggling but you aren’t alone. All to often I need reminding that it’s ok to feel powerless.

Lastly I’m going to throw back some more Kimya Dawson words that I always want to post online to tell people they are’t alone (which I guess is exactly what I’m doing now.) They are from a song called Loose Lips that people may recognise from the Juno soundtrack a few years ago.

So if you wanna burn yourself remember that I LOVE YOU
And if you wanna cut yourself remember that I LOVE YOU
And if you wanna kill yourself remember that I LOVE YOU
Call me up before you’re dead, we can make some plans instead
Send me an IM, I’ll be your friend

I absolutely adore those lyrics, I sometimes feel that they are dressed up as advice for the rest of the world but secretly aimed at Kimya herself. I know I’ve written articles before that on the face of it are me telling other people how to cope with mental health problems but are really just the advice I’d like to give myself if I could only stop beating myself up and give myself a break.

I listen to music all day every day, I really would be lost without it and I can’t recommend it enough if you are struggling with mental health problems. Don’t just put a cd on in the background and go back to your depression. Find bands and artists that speak to you, listen to songs that truly move you because I promise you, the right songs can help to move you right out of depression.

Ant Meads

Photo by Toni Rosado. License here

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