At the ripe old age of seven, I realized something was wrong with me. The unfaithful ending to my parents’ marriage as a result of my cheating father disintegrated my perception of my favorite human and what semblance I had of a nuclear family. At the time I couldn’t process all of this, and I didn’t know how to feel or what I was feeling. I was sad, I felt empty, I felt alone, I felt misguided, I felt angry. My mother had to take up two jobs to keep us afloat, and with no guidance on what to do with my emotions, I ate. I gained more weight, and I grew sadder as my confidence plummeted and my perception of myself was low. By age eight, I had come to terms that whatever fate lay ahead wasn’t going to be better than what I was living through. But my sister stopped me from committing suicide. I don’t know at what point things started to get better, but I do remember at the same time there was Bob.
The sweet drums that began every song woke me up each morning, and the next thing I heard was the sweet voice and redeeming lyrics of reggae legend Bob Marley. After discovering his discography in the rom-com “50 First Dates,” I was hooked. His lyrics about the struggle of love, freedom, redemption, peace and life filled the emptiness I felt. Simultaneously, life was improving. I began to do soccer and lose the weight that had crippled my happiness, and I got to see my mom more.
However, the feelings of emptiness and sadness still haunted the back of my head. That’s when I discovered System of a Down in the fifth grade. I can remember the first time I heard “Lonely Day.” It struck me to my roots; a counter to Bob’s positive rhythms, it helped soothe the anger and sadness that I did not understand. After this, I began to look more into the lyrics of other System of a Down songs and learned about things like the Prison Industrial Complex, Armenian Genocide, drug addiction, Tiananmen Square and American global militarization. I began to question the significance of my issues and began to focus on the struggles that communities across the world face.
As I grow older, I have begun to unpack the emotions I’ve suppressed and grown with, and how it has made me who I am. I continue to deal with my depression, but music continues to put melodies and words to emotions that I cannot. It continuously shows me that I’m not alone and helps me put a skip to my step on the mornings when I don’t want get up.
–– Ivan Gonzalez
The most common form of music celebrated in America today is recorded music played from a phone or laptop. Recorded music is a valuable tool that can guide you out of one mindset and into another. Some songs are so intimate that they have the ability to validate your emotions with their lyricism. Songs that echo your emotions can be an incredible source of comfort in times of distress. Both a good friend and I each have our own Spotify playlists following the theme “comfort music.” These playlists are filled with songs from artists like Keaton Henson, The Smiths, Daughter, Chad VanGaalen and Sufjan Stevens. For an old friend of mine, listening to Sufjan Stevens was the only way to guide him out of a panic attack.
An incredibly unifying form of music is live music. Live music not only has the power to bring groups of otherwise incompatible people together, but it also possesses the ability make people dance. Dancing is a way to find peace of mind; when moving my body in synchronicity to music I find it hard to have a stream of thoughts. To dance is to be expressionistic and aerobic at once, blending athleticism and artistry. I once attended a House Music concert and danced for nearly eight hours straight, completely absorbed in the beat, sound and the moment. I believe it’s really important for people to find time to silence their mind and be present with their bodies and live music provides an excellent opportunity to do so.
Creating music, though, has to be my favorite way to find either calmness or expression. I feel in this way you can really feel the energy of the music flowing through you. Writing a song allows me to transpose my own emotions into a set of chords or a melody. If I am feeling especially expressive, I might add lyrics to fit the song. I find that I am able to express myself more completely in song than I would be able to on paper or in conversation. Articulating how I’m feeling in such an engaging way is incredibly healing.
Creating music with other people is also so important when it comes to mental wellness. Entering an intimate space with a group of other people, even strangers, is unifying. Harmonizing with other people, especially in singing, has always been an absolutely connecting dynamic for me. In times of loneliness and despondency, a person or group of people that can harmonize together can be incredibly uplifting. Music in its many forms provides a gateway to mental wellness. A reason why music can make you feel good is partially because of the way it resonates with you — both physically in the form of sound waves and mentally in terms of melody, chord progression and lyricism. Sound waves themselves are incredibly healing agents which, when used with the right skill, can bring people out of moments of incredible emotional trauma.
–– Melody Pezeshkian
One notable part of my childhood was the fact that it was literally accompanied by constant background music. My parents’ massive CD collection, which took up an entire wall of shelves in my house, was taken advantage of to the fullest –– our house was never silent except during the depths of the late night and early morning. Hours of subconscious listening to great musical geniuses from Miles Davis to Beethoven to Brian Eno created the template that shaped my childhood and cemented music into my very existence.
This subconscious appreciation and gravitation toward music as a necessity rather than an embellishment offered itself as a revitalizing force when my personal struggles with anxiety peaked and pummeled me to the ground. Whether by offering analog nostalgia –– or rather the grounding sense of relatability –– music was, above all, a consistency. A consistency in times where I was drowning in sea of inconsistency. Regardless of where I was, what I was doing or how I was feeling, I could always turn to the euphoria and consolation that music provided me.
Having a very broad taste in music, it is interesting to look back on playlists and albums that I wore out during times of significant personal mental-health struggles. Songs varied from sappy Frank Sinatra love songs to the most aggressive tunes that Death Grips has to offer. In these difficult periods of my life, my subconscious gravitated toward music that I could (even if entirely unknowingly) relate to. As the styles and artists that I indulged in changed, one thing stayed the same: I never stopped listening to music.
Music is the most reliable, most adaptable and possibly most entertaining companion to have when dealing with mental health problems. Although others may not have the same childhood experience as me, music is a universal force that shapes many people’s lives. In times where stress, anxiety or depression are controlling you in every sense, music can be the light at the end of the tunnel, an element of consistency and the companion that always appeals to what you truly need the most.
–– Sonya Sherman
I am a person who hides things. All my life, especially throughout high school and the beginning of college, I have always hidden things from my friends, parents and, to some extent, also from myself. It took me about three years to admit to myself that I was not okay in the normal sense, and when my C.A.P.S. counselor told me I had depression, I wasn’t shocked in the slightest.
The same day I had my first C.A.P.S. appointment, I bought Spotify premium. I didn’t plan this; it was just something that happened. I had been using regular Spotify for a while, and the ad interruptions just weren’t cutting it for me anymore. I started making playlists and, like almost everyone else, I created one playlist full of sad songs. I called this playlist “Happy Music” because sharing emotions still wasn’t my forte. As I added more music to this playlist, it slowly became a soundtrack to my feelings. This soundtrack was the only way I felt comfortable externalizing the inner goings of my mind.
In denying my depression from myself, I had never let myself be sad. I couldn’t allow myself to feel down on the weekends because those were the days I volunteered. Forget Mondays and Thursdays from 9-12; that was when I had dance practice. In this fashion, I gave myself very limited time periods during which I let myself stop hiding my emotions. It was at these times that I listened to my “Happy Music” playlist. The music let me just sit with myself and take a deep breath. Yeah, it’s cliché, but it was when I was listening to music that I wasn’t forcing myself to put up a façade to the outside world.
Music didn’t help me by making me happier all of a sudden; music helped me take the first step in letting myself accept that I was depressed. I still have depression. The numb feeling that I’ve associated with almost everything hasn’t disappeared. However, I’ve taught myself that it’s okay to listen to my “Happy Music” playlist between classes, when I’m doing homework or just working out. Music brought my out of hiding and taught me that my depression isn’t who I am, but it is currently a part of me, and that’s okay.
–– Anushna Patel
Anxiety. It’s the toughest feeling to pinpoint and gives the most bizarre sensations throughout my body, whether that be pains in my head or shortness of my breath. For years, I have set out to discover personal temporary cures to my anxiety, and one of the most crucial, consistently useful tools is music. Music possesses a power like no other, brandishing the ability to influence our heart and breathing rates. As the perfect tool to combat anxiety, it’s unbelievably reassuring that putting my earphones on and listening to music can soothe unwanted anxious feelings.
Years ago, I experienced a panic attack so severe that I was positive I was going to die. Despite the shortness of breath and heart palpitations, I decided to sit on the couch, take deep breaths and turn on the TV to distract myself. Thankfully, I somehow came across a channel playing bits of Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and James Taylor concerts. Enveloping my attention in the tranquil, simplistic beauty of these songs immediately soothed my anxious thoughts, compelling me to understand life’s underlying simplicity and the sense that everyone else possesses uncertainties in their lives, just as I do.
Certain artists such as The National, Billy Joel, The Smiths and Van Morrison hold immense power in helping me pinpoint the core of my anxious feelings considering that at times, I feel as if they’re writing songs about my life instead of theirs. I personally believe that it’s insanely important for people (especially those suffering from anxiety) to identify the artists that move them and influence their emotions in a way that makes them feel less alone. My anxiety always fades away when I realize that I’m not alone in feeling the way I do, and what better way is there to feel this way than to simply listen to music?
–– Sam Sakamoto
Music has helped me live for at least the past ten years. It’s a medium that’s unique in its promise of total privacy; when you’re walking alone with headphones in, there is no one in the world who knows what’s in your mind. This escape saved my life as a kid, as a teenager and as a young adult more times than I can count.
When I was little, five or six, I would bury my face in the pillow upon waking and mash my closed eyes into the fabric, seeing which shapes I could make. I don’t do this anymore, but I listen to music. It is very much a pillow. It has a way of making the pit inside you seem scalable, realer and therefore less scary. It helps the you part feel real, too. Stronger. More there.
I’ve struggled with depression on and off since I was 12. Depression — it’s part of a conversation now and more accepted than ever before. But it wasn’t back then. Depression had nothing to do with neglect and serotonin and cycles and medicine, but it did have everything to do with Thom Yorke moaning, “I’m not here / This isn’t happening.” When you have nothing to hold onto, the voice in your ear becomes your world. Everything after that was colored by the strange richness I felt knowing that someone else shared that feeling of dissociation. I felt the words and sounds inside my brain: they were mine. I carried them into the day.
A couple months ago, during spring break, I went to a U.S. Girls concert in San Francisco. It was at a tiny club — Rickshaw Stop. By the time Meg Remy took the stage, it was packed. For over an hour, she wove a stratosphere of feeling. The place was purple with love. I don’t know how she did it, and I don’t remember every song. What I do remember is the final 10-minute jam, when she kneeled at the edge of the stage and put her hand out into the void, looking at everyone at once, saying, “I love you. I care about you. I love you.”
–– Andre Bouyssounouse