You know how I know how there’s no God? Comfort Eating. What a bullshit concept. There’s very little comfort in it, if you ask me.
(Or: Why life seems so much better with sad songs in it)
Are you one of those people who listens to upbeat, happy tunes whenever they feel down in the dumps? Or do you dive headfirst into a heart-rending ballad, wallowing in the sadness, letting the melancholy melody wash over you in a wave of blissful catharsis?
Well in case you haven’t guessed from the description above, I’m a fully paid-up, card-carrying member of the latter. I live for this shit. I need it – to quote Bon Jovi (yup, you read that right) – like a poet needs the pain. At the ripe oldage of 37, I’m still a moody, grungy overemotional teenager at heart. In some sick, twisted way, it makes me feel light years better to hear all those churning, dark, magnetic, gut-wrenching feelings from a position of ‘once removed’; like if Eddie Vedder can perfectly describe how I felt about a particular breakup or a jaunt down the one-way street of unrequited love, then it saves me the work.
Many an hour would be passed in secondary school by me simply writing out lyrics pertinent to my emotional situation. From a wide assortment of artists, I would fill page after page with the works of the great masters such as Hetfield, Di Franco, Morrison, Dylan, Amos et al. I was, and still am, a bit of a Rain Man when it comes to retaining song lyrics, so I could go on unchecked for tens of pages at a time, depending on how boring I found the lesson. Pity the auld Leaving Cert was never presented in song form; I’d have been a 600-pointer for sure.
I’m quoting Nick Hornby a lot while discussing this topic, but he’s got the best take on it in his book High Fidelity:
No contest for me, I was of the former. I was a clinically depressed, miserable, tormented, stereotypical teenage child of an ugly divorce, so much so that while my parents were in the middle of taking a verbal sledgehammer to the crumbling walls of their marriage, I stuck Pearl Jam’s Ten album on at full blast to drown out the anger outside my bedroom walls and give me a dose of the anger I felt within. To this day, I can’t listen to the song ‘Once’ without being transported back to the blood-red walls of my teenage bedroom and feeling the sky fall down around me.
My music gave me a lovely soft place to fall. I didn’t have to make sense of or verbalise what I felt, or try to ignore it – I just needed to (apologies to all the young folk out there) stick on the right cassette. It was like having your favourite musician as your own personal well-being advocate. Imagine Axl Rose sitting your feuding parental units down and roaring at them, telling them to get their shit together and stop fucking with your head or else he’ll fuck their telly out the window. How fun.
Some folk find it worrying that someone could be so immersed in sad melancholy music – to them, I say ‘CHILL’. Better that it’s out there rather than being buried deep down, only to resurface when you least expect it. Your brain is a dickhead for that sort of thing. Trust me.
I suppose it depends on how each of us uses music. Some use it to help transform their mood; others like me use it to express & enhance the mood I’m already in. To each his own.
I wonder why it’s so much easier to become attracted to dark, depressing music and poetry? Along with those aforementioned musicians, all of the great classical poets that have etched their initials on the tough, bark-like exterior of my heart were all a bunch of miserable, Emo, navel-gazing bastards. And oh, how I loved them for it. Dickinson, Plath, Woolf, Shelley, Poe – I’d sit them all at my fantasy Dead or Alive Dinner Party any day. Hopkins and Wordsworth with their daffodils and fawning over nature’s glory can fuck off back to Disneyland. There’s no room at my dinner table for Shiny Happy bastards.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a rollicking good peppy-as-fuck tune on occasion. Show me ‘Footloose’ in the club, and I’ll show you dance moves that would make Kevin Bacon vomit with jealousy. Happy tunes have their place in the world, obviously. However, there’s something far more visceral, dark and delicious about a deep sad song that pulls you in for a slow, languid embrace, telling you it’ll all be okay. It tells you they’ve been there where you are, they feel it too, and they’re going to save you the trouble of having to put words on something, the description of which evades you. They have it worked out already through the medium of song – and it’s utterly perfect.
Go on, press play again. Let it wash over you once more.
Someone pass me a tissue…..
SIX SONGS SO SAD THEY’LL GIVE YOU AN EMO-BONER
(click on the song title to give your ears a tearful hug)
1: Bon Iver – re: Stacks
2: Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat
3: Pearl Jam – Black
4: Ben Howard – I Forget Where We Were
5: Tori Amos – Silent All These Years
6: Ani Di Franco – Both Hands
About a year ago, I bumped into a very dear friend one Saturday in the Milk Market (Hi Una). Now, for us and many other friends of mine, if you’re in the Milk Market in Limerick City of a Saturday morn, you’re winning at Life. It means that no matter what state you were in the night before, you had the foresight to set your alarm for a weekend morning to get down there to sample all of the lovely food & hot bevvies to soothe your weary soul. AND YOU MADE IT DOWN THERE. High fives all round.
But, all that aside, after we’d shouted, embraced and congratulated with each other, we got to chatting about how it’s the little things like going to a gorgeous market like this that make life a little more bearable. Gods love us, we’re a bunch of deep-thinking bastards.
It was during this conversation when Una said “You know what else is brilliant? Making your bed.” I stopped, blinded by the lightbulb moment that flashed in my brain. Una is right. And a genius. She was bang on the money. When it comes to taking stock of the little things that help keep you sane and give your mental health a wee boost, getting up and out of the bed on a morning when you don’t feel like you have any reason to is a pretty big fucking step.
It’s the first proactive thing you’ll do all day, and even if it’s the only proactive thing, then so be it. But – if you have the clarity of thought to baby-step the day ahead, you could do a lot worse than turn around and simply make your bed.
It’s like putting a full stop at the end of a nighttime sentence. It signifies so much, when you really think about it (and I do a lot, this is the joy of my brain). Making your bed tells your brain to wake up for the day, so don’t even THINK of rustling up that duvet or flattening that pillow. On the flipside, it lets you know that you love yourself enough to feel that you deserve a nice, warm, inviting, freshly-made bed yo dive into at the end of a long day of dealing with – well, simply just living. It’s your little reward to yourself for surviving another 24 hours.
I’d been thinking about that a lot lately, which brought me back to one of my favourite blogs from back in the day, called 1000 Awesome Things (click on title to check it out), which I’d found after watching this TED talk:
Both the blog and the talk are almost magical in the feelings they can conjure up from deep within. The blog is all about seeking out the little regular ordinary things in life that can bring you even the teeniest glimmer of light in an otherwise dull day. Nothing grandiose or out-of-reach; just incidental stuff that would normally slip by unnoticed while we’re too busy getting on with the business of living & dealing with our daily worries and problems. Taking stock of small things that go well helps keep us in the moment, and out of the dark cavern of self-doubt and anxiety into which some of us can tend to get sucked in. Who wouldn’t want a respite, however brief, from their daily inner beat-down?
Nowadays, the blog has waaaay more than its original 1000 awesome things for you to take a look at, but I’m going to give my own list a go this week. If you want a nice cheerful exercise, try it out with friends next time you’re sitting around having a coffee. You’d be surprised at how contagious those little bursts of joy can be. By stopping to take note of something nice that has happened or something I’ve noticed in my day, I find it easier to be grateful for where I am and how far I’ve come. Look, I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to seeing the bright side of things – my default mode is cynicism and crippling self-hatred the vast majority of the time. I tend to tell the world to go and fuck itself on a regular basis so I’m no self-help guru, that’s for damn sure. But I just thought I’d share some bits and bobs I’ve come across online that give me pause for thought, in the hope that someone else might find it useful. Must have a think tonight and jot some of my own ‘awesome things’ down.
But first – I’ve got to go make my flippin’ bed. Any minute now…
This morning I got an email reminder about something I owed a payment on, and it was was all “GRRR ARGH WHERE’S MY MONEY BITCH OR WE’LL SEND THE BAILIFFS ROUND” in its tone. Okay, it wasn’t at all like that in real life, but in my anxiety-prone brain that’s exactly what I heard and saw. I threw my phone under my duvet and got up to make tea, ignoring the horrible tension in my stomach and noise in my head.
This is normally where the story would end, me being an ostrich of the highest order when it comes to being able to tackle regular adult trials and tribulations. I’d ignore everything and dread turning my phone on each day, wondering when I’d get a note under the door to let the bailiffs in, and other such catastrophic consequences, the thoughts of which would make me nauseous and say goodbye to any peaceful nights of slumber for the foreseeable future.
However, this wasn’t 2013 J-Ro. Heck, it wasn’t even 2014 J-Ro. This was ‘Straight Outta 2015 and Right Into 2016’ J-Ro; a woman who reads an email like that and thinks “I’d better sort that ASAP”. Well, about an hour after that thought I got it sorted. I’m not perfect.
Would you believe that all I had to do was call and update my card details? Would you believe that I knew that in advance of making the call? Furthermore, would you believe that despite having the card details and the finances at hand to get back up to date (my previous card had been hacked so I had to get a new one which put the brakes on my entire internet life), I STILL felt almost completely paralysed at the thought of sorting it out? If your answer to all these questions was a resounding YES, then congratulations – you’re almost fully versed in the machinations of a brain riddled with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Either you know it personally, or know someone it affects. Some craic, innit?
Anyway, I digress. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and spent a whopping two minutes with a very pleasant young man called Daniel who laughed at my ramblings as he updated my card details and basically sorted what was actually a COMPLETELY TINY INNOCUOUS VERY FIXABLE ISSUE. By the time the kettle was boiled for my self-congratulatory cup of tea, I had completed a basic adult task that would make no more difference to a regular grown-up’s day than wiping one’s arse in the loo. And I was SO PROUD of myself. For the first time in years, adulthood and I were on friendly terms.
Only I would really understand how far I’d come since what I call The Bad Time. Back then, I was completely broken. The phone ringing would have triggered a massive anxiety episode, letters arriving in the post would make me feel sick. Any appointments I had to attend sent me into spirals of terror and insomnia. To put it mildly, I was fucked.
Nowadays I’ve (mostly) settled into the driving seat of my brain, and those days are hopefully behind me. I’ve done countless regular adult-y things since then obviously; I know this because (a) I’m not homeless and (b) I smell fairly okay on a daily basis – I think. But today, I used this opportunity to take stock at how far I’ve come the last few years in terms of recovering from The Bad Time. The details of what / how / when / where / who was involved my recovery are for another time, but this post is about acknowledging victory over the little battles in life, so that by doing so, you can avoid an all-out psychological war with yourself. Again.
It’s nice to evaluate where you are in the world every once in a while. Apparently today is World Compliment Day as well, so fuck it – I may as well pat my own back as well as all the backs of all the poor souls who call me their friend and did whatever bit they could to, quite literally, keep me above ground when I could barely drag myself out of bed or up off the floor. Y’all know who you are. I’ll be coming to a hug near you very soon.
So if you’re up against the little battles, keep going. One at a time. And cheer the fuck out of yourself as you conquer each one. Don’t be looking at the status of others; if all you can handle right now is opening a bill without becoming short of breath, then that’s all you can do. Ask a friend to hang out with you while you do it. Seriously. Make a party out of it. Involve Tayto sammitches and tea if it’ll help. Whatever shit you need to do to slowly plug back into the world, DO THAT SHIT. You’ll be glad you did. In time, you’ll be writing a post just like this, with memes and all.
Fingers crossed, I’ll still be doing it too. See you there.
I’m writing this post on the back of a very shitty sleepless night, borne by a downward spiral of anxiety from somewhere deep within the pit of my brain. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks dealing with what for me is one of the biggest, and most visible, symptoms of my anxiety disorder.