There’s nothing new I can say about the healing properties of music. There’s no transformative way to contribute to the miles of lyrics and prose and various turns of phrase collected on such a thing.
What I can say is that I decided my life was worth something as Florence Welch cried, “It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back.”
I graduated community college because of Big Little Lions’ assurances that I was “gonna get there soon.”
I revisit my adolescent angst in the dramatic throes of Linkin Park’s “Numb,” and I cringe at my compulsory desire for heterosexuality when I hear the Jonas Brothers sing “When You Look Me in the Eyes.”
I mourn the loss of my brother every time I listen to Sade’s “Mermaid.” And when I wrote my own lyrics — “Chloe, are you there?” — I articulated my own insurmountable pain at the loss of a dear friend.
I found my voice in music, found a home in it. For every experience I had, for everything I wanted to do and for every moment I regretted, music was the safety net that caught every ache and celebration.
Any significant moment in my life has been attached to a song — be it one I wrote or one I happened upon. I’ve both nursed new wounds and reopened old ones with music. I’ve forced myself to see beauty in pain, and vice versa. Music is a boundless sea — always there and always full. I’ve used music as a means of healing because music has met bigger troubles than mine, has been here longer than I have and will be here after I’m gone.
It’s a kind of escape that places the world on your shoulders in a way that feels like a gift rather than the burden it so often is. My music choices are curated to my tastes while simultaneously informing them. It is general, ubiquitous, omniscient, specific and personal.
Music has always been a bit like a mirror. Reflective as it allowed me to be, it could only go so far. It could provide perspective and could be the seed of grand change, but that was only if I let it.
And I don’t mean that in a bullshit, cliched “music can save your soul” kind of way. I mean it in the sense that the Big Little Lions song I repeated over and over encouraged me to keep going till graduation because I was already on my way there. Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out” gave me a reason to believe life was worth living, but I chose to wait it out and see.
Music is all about choice.
I choose to listen to Sufjan Stevens when I want to feel my hurt. I choose to blare ABBA when I need to feel like a dancing queen. I choose the flavor that suits my mood, which is rarely predictable and very easily influenced.
So if I’m on the edge of a mental breakdown, music is right there to give me a little shove in either direction I want to go. And when everything feels like it’s crumbling, music lets me feel like it is until I have the wherewithal to remember it isn’t.
Music creates a reality where I can be anything I need to be, and then I can choose to make that real or I can choose not to, but either way, I get the chance. And that has been incredibly important in my own battle with depression.
Curating a more-than-300-song playlist titled “songs that make me feel not nice,” and it’s much shorter relative to “songs that make me feel nice,” lets me exist as the person I am — deeply sad but with the means to push through it.
I don’t write this in the hope that someone will read it and think, “Wow, music sure is powerful,” because I doubt you need a depressed stranger to tell you that. I write it because while music is powerful, that power looks different to everyone who listens. To me, it means I get to pretend I have it all together, even on the frequent occasion that I don’t. Music gives me the confidence to stand up in a room full of people I don’t know and pretend like my voice actually means something. Music lets me be someone I love when I hate myself the most.
And if I let it, music lets me be anything, and while it likely won’t ever be the answer to my problems, it’s the best damn band aid I’ve ever used.
Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].