In this article, I explain how my fascination with music, and certain records in particular, has helped me confront my struggle with clinical depression.
I was 18 when I got diagnosed with clinical depression. I’d always been an emotionally unstable child. Before, I always thought it was just a product of being an easy target for bullies at school; I was small, never particularly good at any sport and in love with Ancient Roman history from the age of five. For a long time my mechanism was to just kind of devolve into myself- embrace all my interests and just let myself be who I thought I was. The problem was that I always cared far too much about what other people thought. This anxiety and paranoia showed no signs of diminishing by the age of sixteen, and probably the endless pressure of teenage antics like being cool enough to be invited to underage house parties and looming GCSE expectations accentuated this more fervently than I realised.
I’m now twenty-two, and as may have been obvious by the tail-end of the last paragraph, making excuses and finding reasons as a cause to pin-point specific feelings is still a natural defence for me. People who battle depression every day will know that they themselves find the disconnection between life-circumstances, no matter how seemingly positive, and mental happiness to be completely illogical. In fact, no matter how unfeasible it might be to others, when you’re coping with your own insular mood-swings and self-deprecation all the time, it’s the frustration of not knowing how to combat the black spots, the dark moments- those that rise up out of nowhere, at any second, and can seem insurmountable for weeks on end. In those moments, how worthless one feels is only interrupted by the knowledge that it’s not true but can’t be reasoned with.
There are a vast array of coping mechanisms offered to us by psychiatrists, doctors and those closest to us, and indeed, there’s a huge amount to be said for exercise, organic nature and practising mindfulness in terms of their healing qualities. The unpredictability of the darkness is what hits the hardest though. Depression and anxiety disorders are experienced differently by everyone, but for me, the hardest aspect to combat is the sledge-hammer weight of the swings. The fact that you can be out having a wonderful time with friends one second, and the next feel like you’re being held under water before slowly being released only to be dragged to the bottom by lead weights tied to your wrists. There don’t have to be any warning signals- sure, if you’re in a dark place anyway then going out and sinking six pints is ill-advised- but it could be your best mate’s birthday and it could get to 11 o’clock and you’d want to fall over and never get up.
I have a number of things I do to try and keep those thoughts and experiences at as far an arm’s length as possible. Despite the fact that I’m surrounded by loving family members and wonderful, understanding friends, I almost always feel like I can’t talk to anyone about it. I’ve always been someone who has shut people out, but I’m now experienced enough to know that this is mitigated by a sense of post-chat achievement. By that I mean that talking to people, whether friends, doctors or complete strangers, can be the most cloud-busting recess of all. Overcoming the initial fear and approaching someone is always the hard part, but once you’ve hurdled that then the rest comes with surprising fluidity. When I don’t feel like talking to anyone at all, walks around my village and the surrounding fields deal with those feelings sumptuously. Reading, whether specifically about mindfulness or escaping into entire worlds created by the likes of George R. R. Martin can offer a reality so detached from your own that you almost forget you exist.
For myself though, as will come as a surprise to absolutely no one, the greatest source of release is music. I could write for pages about the healing quality of music and include the details of many a scientific study into the power of music and why it makes us feel the way it does, but I’ll spare you that. Instead I’ve decided to pick five records which have helped me (and I’m sure will continue to help me) through the darkest of times. Those records which feel like friends when I feel like I have no one else. Those which may not be personally relatable but convey emotions and atmospheres that make sense in different lights and approached from different angles. These are the records that I’ll always return to whether for comfort, to wallow, or just to become something entirely different for an hour or so. Of course, this is a highly personal list and meditation, so whether the “healing” powers of these records will hold any weight with anyone else, I have no idea. Since it seems that our generation is closer to accepting the individuality of these struggles however, maybe that’s why I feel these records are so important for me.
A huge enormous thanks to everyone who has supported me and helped me in every way they can over the last few years (and throughout my life generally). Know that everything is immensely appreciated. And thanks for reading, as always! In some respects, just having a quick skim-read of this is the greatest kindness of all.
Kate Bush – Hounds Of Love
My gravitation to Kate Bush’s music wasn’t recognizably due to any feelings of depression or disenfranchisement, but it was synonymous with the time when I started to pick up on dark spells and low moods that occurred for no apparent reason. Perhaps predictably, Hounds of Love and ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ in particular were my invitations in, and since that day this is probably the record I’ve looked to most prominently for comfort. ‘Running Up That Hill…’ has become the calling card for feeling at home, feeling like there’s somewhere to belong and somewhere to hold on to. ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’ is universal in its representation of the power of relationships that run as deep and as indefinitely as is imaginable, and ‘The Morning Fog’ at least imbues ideas of the veil being lifted, even just for a second, before the distraction from the dark mood ends. For me, Hounds of Love is a complete compendium of solace.
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, Maad City
I’d never heard any of Kendrick Lamar’s music before purchasing Good Kid, MAAD City back in 2012. It was probably the first time I’d ever bought a record based on positive reviews alone. While the narrative of a young man growing up in Compton and ducking gang crime, unpredictable murder rates and dreams of escaping suburban poverty was never going to be compatible to me personally, I think it’s telling that on the front of the vinyl version of this record it’s described as “a short film”. With immense verbosity and wisdom, Kendrick approached themes of depression, isolation, self-deprecation, substance abuse and societal pressure with such a deft hand that all of them took on incredibly human characters and became an out-stretched hand to me when I was in a 3-day long spell of having all things tied around me in a suffocating bubble. “How are you gonna love somebody when you don’t even love yourself?” is a lyric that’s always lurking at the forefront of my mind.
Black Flag – Damaged
It sounds like a cliché now, but there’s a lot to be said for just sticking on half an hour of absolute fury and pretending to smash the shit out of everything when you’re in a pit, and Black Flag’s classic 1981 debut is, for someone whose preferred heavy music is that which I skated to between the ages of 15 and 18, the epitome of that. From the euphoric, knife-edge assault of the opening salvo of ‘Rise Above’ and ‘Spray Paint’ to Rollins’ animalistic, sardonic vocal delivery to the sledge-hammer-to-the-nose directness of the self-explanatory ‘Depression’, this record (for me) is the origin of the idea of anger and nihilism in punk being feel-good and soul-saving. The aforementioned ‘Depression’ and ‘What I See’ both make me feel capable of taking on a double-decker bus no matter what mood I’m in, so when they’re most necessary they’re completely cathartic.
Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
Another record whose reality is far removed from my own, and perhaps the epitome of what I alluded to as music as escapism. Based on the whirlwind debauchery of the travels of 19th Century French romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud, Kendal quartet Wild Beasts’ Two Dancers is a fascinating dialect to get lost in; one which indulges in some of the most natural advances of the human mentality- lust, vice, societal deconstruction and eventually death. Like the records of Kate Bush, or David Bowie, Two Dancers created a piece of art so insular and so much based on history and a literary sense of the human condition that it almost felt like reading Rimbaud’s work itself- audacious, brash and sumptuous escapism that presents a world to feel at one with.
Call Super – Fabric 92
There’s not been a record released so far in 2017 that I’ve returned to more than UK producer and DJ Call Super’s contribution to the Fabric mix CD series, which I reviewed glowingly on this very site. Joe Seaton intended the mix to be very personal to him in terms of technical style, and while it could only be put together so illustriously by him, it’s his selection which seems to run the gout of emotions and feelings. It’s this that imposes and distinguishes the relatability and evocation of his mix. Its fusion of Carl Craig’s near tear-jerking ‘A Wonderful Life (Epic Mix)’ with his own ‘Acephele II’ is one that conjures all the joy one feels on a great night out, or after finding a new love interest, while Tomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricoli’s ‘Plague 7’ conjures images of the nightmarish cage that can be so impending and so unbreakable when at the peak of a low spell, in turn ugly and friendly in its pain. Something about the fluidity of the 70 minutes here, no matter how deep or dark it sometimes looms, is just completely wholesome.