I am at a bar. I am on your phone. I am live at Wembley. I am-in-your-head. I am an irritating advert. I am that anthem. I am your sorrow. I do not judge and I will not abandon you. I am everywhere and your heart keeps...keeps...keeps time. So, tell me...ARE YOU READY??!
As technology advances it offers us heady tide of information that is continuously streamed to our brains via screens/phones/tablets/digital radios/TVs. Music is always high in the mix – tapping our shoulders, disrupting conversations, distracting, embracing, comforting and inspiring us as we go about our daily business. Imagine your favourite film with a completely different soundtrack. Imagine “Jaws” without the “duh-duh, duh-duh, duh-duh” that, more than ANY rubber shark, quickens the viewers’ adrenaline rush to a state where we feel real fear well before we actually witness any of the horror that the music signals? Music is an emotive tool that we seem to be invulnerable to and that, I would argue, is no bad thing.
I recall sitting in the TV room of an acute psychiatric ward listing to music, as I often did, through my headphones. A nurse popped her head in the room and came over to sit beside me. We were the only people in the room and, as the TV was off, she asked me what I was listening to. I passed over my headphones and she found herself immersed in the (rather dark) world of Soundgarden’s “4th of July”. “Maaaan” she said, “NO wonder you’re depressed – that’s HORRENDOUS! Hey, you need to listen to something positive...maybe some upbeat dance music or something?”
I smiled. That, for me at that time, was pretty much ALL I could manage. I just didn’t have it in me to explain to her that this music, THIS MUSIC, was telling me in a clearer voice than ANYTHING else that was swirling in my head, that it was possible to be in THIS place – a place that God help me, I could not find a single chink of light from which to believe that there, just might be, a way out of this alive – was NOT forever, NOT the “always” that I expected it to be with every single breath that my worn lungs grudgingly coughed. This music spoke words and rhythms of empathy, comfort, compassion, comradeship and, yes, even the distant spectre of hope. Upbeat dance music??! That could have, quite possible, been the death of me.
As with so many things, context, in music, is EVERYTHING. We are all different and, in this arena, NO ONE is wrong. It’s absolutely okay to like, or not to like, the kind of music that your best friend insists will change mankind and bring about World peace. It is okay to be YOU. Music is intrinsic in times of joy, of celebration but also, in times of suffering and confusion. It can be the crutch that helps us stand. Lyrically, melodically and rhythmically music can reach us even when chaos abounds elsewhere and, for me, it is then, when all seems lost, that music – the music that I NEED/YOU NEED – is a welcome companion on the loneliest of roads.
The call and pull of music takes me further. It is a cornerstone, not just of my life, but of how I express myself when I feel my mental health slipping away. I play the guitar/bass and (kind of!) sing. And, over the years, I have taught myself to record my songs on my BOSS porta-studio. These songs are never going to make me rich, but to dismiss their value to me on those grounds would be remiss! These songs are long forgotten pages of a diary filled with emotional frailty and dangerous impulses. They help me. And as many people who suffer from mental illness know, ANYTHING that (realistically and beneficially) helps is a very valuable tool to have in your mental health arsenal! Catharsis is, indeed, a wonderful thing!
So, noisy/quiet/emotional/upbeat/miserable/rock/pop/classical/hip hop/country, WHATEVER you like to listen to – even if it’s silence – take the opportunity, when you’re well, to find something/ANYTHING that makes even the slightest positive impact on you because, as you listen, and maybe mouth the words or tap your foot, that music becomes a part of your physicality and your mental health. It becomes a reason to stick around – even just to listen until the song/piece of music ends. And THAT, crucially, can be the most IMPORTANT thing of all.
Suzy is a director of The Cairn, who provide mental health education and help programmes for a wide variety of audiences.