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Mental Health, Music and Me

Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

Until recently I was employed in a role that I’d describe as near to my dream job (corny, I know). As you can imagine being told that the job no longer existed didn’t have a positive effect on my mental health. Losing a job you have a great passion for is always going to hurt, but for this moment to occur both just before Christmas and in the midst of a global pandemic… to say stress levels are high would be a significant understatement.

I have naturally experienced numerous emotions since receiving this news – anger, confusion, dread, worry, fear, bitterness, rage, sadness, regret and despair to name a few. My mind of course has considered many negative connotations of this outcome including financial, vocational and personal concerns.

One positive repercussion however is that through one particularly difficult sleepless night, an urge to write emerged. What did I want to write about exactly? Music. My biggest passion in life has always been the combination of “guitars, drums and desperate poetry” as Frank Turner so eloquently put in ‘I Still Believe’. After all, life is full of ups and downs and in-betweens and so is music, with a song for every occasion and every feeling.

My relationship with music started early. I still hear certain songs (see ‘Sultans of Swing’ by Dire Straits) that immediately place me as a small child in the back seat of my parents’ car with my dad driving. The thing with music is that it is visceral. As I listen to the song even now, not only can I picture sitting in that car, I can smell that car, I feel as vulnerable like a child and feel a connection to my father.

We probably all have that one song that they just can’t listen to anymore. You know the one that takes you back in time to a painful moment. Simply walking through a shop, the background music can suddenly put us in a bad place – a traumatic memory, a breakup, the loss of a loved one or perhaps relevantly the loss of a job?

The power of music to control our emotions is immense, it’s uncontrollable even. The right song at the right time can pull you out of the darkest pit of despair. Equally, the wrong song in the wrong moment can destroy even the best of moods. For me it is all about engaging with the music and learning what songs or albums help. Just as we all have that one song that we can’t listen to anymore, I bet we all have that one song or album that is our go to tune when we need a pick-me-up.

I personally have a rather eclectic taste in music, driven mainly by guitars. Put my playlist on random and you’ll find mellow acoustic numbers intermixed with heavy metal numbers so noisy you struggle to decipher the lyrics. No matter my mood, no matter the environment or occasion I find myself in, I can pull myself back with the right melody. Music truly is a powerful elixir.

Live music has particularly played a huge role in fighting the darkest periods of my mental health. I can now openly concede that music has saved my life on a few occasions. In the depths of my despairs, in times gone by, the calendar entry for a potentially great gig has been just the light at the end of the tunnel I’ve needed to step back from the ledge. This may seem irrational to some, but often there is no rationale with mental health. We all need to grab onto the one thing that can centre us when the rollercoaster of life (Ronan Keating – told you my taste was eclectic!) threatens to go off the rails.

Standing in a crowd, watching a band, and getting lost in that moment is a magical experience. It can strip away all the worries in the world, if only for one night. At times of struggle, live music has provided solace to me. Now I find myself in troubling times; job worries, the world in turmoil and a family to support. What I would give to stand in a crowd right now; to watch a band and get lost in the moment. Sadly the universe has other ideas and the very industry that my mental health relies on is standing precariously close to the ledge (thoughts on this situation coming soon!).

Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Well, the moral of this story is that where there is a will there is a way. As my desire to blog manifested from a dark place, the music industry has found a way to adapt within its dark place. The concept of livestreams and socially distanced gigs would have sent shivers down my spine just six months ago, but now they are a beacon of hope. Hope that we can evolve and rise above any challenge.

Our mental health is a cruel mistress and it will play tricks on us. We can learn to help ourselves however and importantly we can learn to help each other. To quote Mr. Turner again – “Be More Kind”. It’s a simple message but a mantra which benefits everyone and can’t be argued. When the world is cruel, we evolve, and with kindness we can heal wounds, mend relationships and eventually emerge from this mess.

For me music is a crutch. It supports me when I falter. It keeps me going through rough times and it offers hope that things can and will get better. I however am the first to admit that I struggle to talk about mental health. This hasn’t been easy to write, but it’s been cathartic. Talking helps and support is available:

SAMARITANS: Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen

MIND: Mind | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems

I’m hopeful that everything will work out for me. Things seem bleak now, but I have hope.  

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