7 Songs My Mental Health Is Grateful For


They are a somewhat embarrassing musical map of my mental
health. But I’m grateful for them.

Posted on October 07, 2017, 14:01 GMT

At this moment, I have 87 playlists on my Spotify account. In
the past, I had over 600 songs on my iPod shuffle. There are
countless others that I will refer to as ‘my favourite song’
when I hear the first few seconds begin to play in a
restaurant, or the supermarket, or in someone else’s mouth when
they start to sing at the top of their lungs. And it sounds
annoyingly cliche to say I just like music, or to answer the
question of ‘what do you listen to?’ with ‘well, just a bit of
everything, really.’ But it’s kind of the truth.

It’s how I work things out. My many playlists have something to
do with trying to name a feeling and then turning that feeling
into a radio station. My own body and its history are what I
rely on to pick up a good frequency.

They are the songs that I can place difficult mornings, panic
attacks, existential crises, and sleepless nights with. They’re
a somewhat embarrassing musical map of my mental health. But
I’m grateful for all 7 of them.

1. What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes

this video on YouTube

This song has always had a special kind of healing power over
me. It’s an immediate calming force when the tendency to
overthink kicks in and the significance of tiny details is
exaggerated in my mind.
It spans subtly hurtful
interactions and the inability to breathe in spaces that seem
daunting and scary and intimidating. And it doesn’t even have
to actively be playing in my headphones to calm me down
anymore. My brain, as charmed by it on the first listen as it
is on the fiftieth, has stored all the details away.

The repetitive guitar strokes, both gentle and insistent. The
lyrics that sound like they belong to the entire world. The
unifying question of a chorus (‘what’s going on?’), and the
passion in Linda Perry’s voice. After a few years of playing
it on walks I took on particularly anxious evenings, my body
now knows it by heart. There is a feeling of understanding
that ripples through What’s Up: the weight of the world and
the smallness of who I am in comparison made much easier to
bear as it plays.

2. Street Lights – Kanye West

this video on YouTube

‘Let me know. Do I still have time to grow?’ The
opening to Street Lights reminds me of a winter walking home
alone during my final year at university. It reminds me of
uncertainty and fear over the unpredictability of what
happens next. The anxiety of the next chapter. But there’s
something in the way the song climbs over electronic
discordance, the fuzzy edges of Kanye’s voice, and the
stabilising drum beat in the chorus that make it feel
helpful. Street Lights is poignant, and careful. It questions
itself, and though it sounds lonely, I like that it also
feels like the content of everyone’s mind at some point:
needing to know what happens next, being terrified of things
not working out, and knowing that all anyone can do is wait
to find out.

3. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – Car Seat

this video on YouTube

I used to listen to this song every morning. It starts off
small, the tiniest voice, almost suppressing itself, before
it gets big and strange and beautiful. There’s something
about the way that it opens up. There’s a raw honesty there,
one that always made me feel a bit braver about waking up and
facing the day.

Singer Will Toledo talks about his experience of mental
health and depression. His thoughts are spread out over
metaphors about cars and whales, but the feeling prompted by
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales isn’t confusion. It feels more
like being seen in your weakest moments, like hearing
feelings that don’t often leave the mind be acknowledged in
. There’s an intimacy, one that is beautifully
brought to life by glittering electric guitars. On those
difficult mornings, that feeling of being seen whilst you
struggle, and implicitly encouraged by those that sound like
they understand, always helped.

4. White Ferrari – Frank Ocean

this video on YouTube

Something about White Ferrari, the quietness, and the
delicate peace that’s created in those 4 minutes, makes it
feel other-worldly. It’s the exact feeling that’s needed
when everything feels like too much and very little makes
Like, that time I had a panic attack in a public
library and disappeared into the bathroom to collect myself.
Taught to recognise working hard and productivity as measures
of my own self-worth, it was a good thing that day to return
to my desk, pack up my things, and just go home. I kept my
head down and shuffled my music, playing the quietness of
White Ferrari at full volume in my headphones. As if I could
switch out how loud everything else felt: friendly voices all
around me, and the beat of my own heart. In my ears though,
Frank’s voice looped over itself, the rhythm of his words
easy and comforting. When the pitch of his voice rises and
falls away, giving way to Justin Vernon’s vocals, it’s
difficult to focus on anything else. Especially when you need
to not be thinking for a few minutes. Especially when you’re
looking for something to disappear into. White Ferrari helped
me with that.

5. Vienna – Billy Joel

this video on YouTube

Vienna by Billy Joel plays in 13 Going On 30 when Jennifer
Garner’s character returns to her childhood home and is hit
with the fact that she’s an adult now. Or, a 13 year old in a
30 year old woman’s body. Either way, the scene is pretty
emotional and the metaphor at the heart of the film is shown
more obviously. Jennifer Garner slumps down in her closet and
cries for her inner child. She cries for all the mistakes
that are exposing her as a pretend-adult. It’s one of those
‘I-can’t-win’ moments. It’s also incredibly relatable because
it captures the aimlessness of growing up and not having all
of the answers provided for you anymore.

I think there will always be moments that make you feel
like everyone else is much better at being an adult than
When they arrive, I’m reminded of Billy Joel’s
words, and the sentiment in that one scene: ‘Slow down,
you’re doing just fine, you can’t be everything you want to
be before your time.’ It makes me cry every time. Vienna
feels less like a song and more like an older, instructive
reality check from someone who cares about you – who
recognises your efforts even if you don’t yourself.

6. Now That I’m Older – Sufjan

this video on YouTube

One time, I played this song multiple times a day for an
entire week. Slammed with work, social events with new
friends, first encounters with important people, plus my
family calling me to talk through some big issues, and my
sisters’ wedding on the cards, I was anxious as fuck. But
there was something about this song. There was something
about the first time I went back to it after almost a year,
and how it made everything feel less pressing.

Sufjan’s understanding of the difficulty of things changing
really shines in the complexity of Now That I’m Older. The
long intro sounds like it’s coming from an empty church
corridor. It leads into the soft whine of his voice. The
intersecting layers took me out of my body and my worries for
a little while. lt almost made the horror of growing up,
of balancing a billion things, and attempting confidence in
doing that, feel manageable.

7. Sun In An Empty Room – The

this video on YouTube

This is the first song I listened to after I went to my first
counselling session for my anxiety. Even though I cried
throughout that hour, and said like, 3 intelligible
sentences, I knew that showing up for myself that day was
something that I could always be proud of.
Hearing this
song as I left the building made the moment even more
precious.The constant repetition of the phrase ‘sun in an
empty room’, referencing an Edward
Hopper painting, made me understand all the good I’m
capable of, no matter what I falsely thought of myself then.
High-spirited and stuffed full of springy guitars, to me, Sun
In An Empty Room is now even warmer than its own imagery.
That warmth doesn’t die, no matter how many times I replay

To learn more about
anxiety, check out the resources at the National Institute of
Mental Health here.

And if you need to talk to someone immediately, you can reach
the National Suicide
Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and or the
Crisis Text Line by
texting HOME to 741741. Suicide helplines outside the US can be
found here.

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