Music to mope to

 

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“Stop wallowing!” “Lethargy breeds lethargy!” “Crying doesn’t help!”

If you’ve been through depression you might recognise some of these well intentioned but severely unhelpful platitudes. And while keeping your mind and body active is an integral part of battling the black dog, being told to stop ‘moping about’ when you’re feeling genuinely terrible is about as useful as instructing a plant not to grow towards the light.

Sometimes you just need to fester in your own misery a little. Roll around and get utterly disgusting in the filth of your own sadness and self-pity – then dust yourself off and get on with the day. Got a pounding headache? Stiff shoulders? Ringing ears? It could be your body’s way of telling you to release all that accumulated tension through a good old fashioned weep. It helps me, every time.

When I crave release through tears I like to listen to melancholy songs. Thinking about your favourite aardvark dying, or what life would be like if Hollyoaks was axed from TV just doesn’t do it for me – I need mournful, anguished crooning to send me into a watery abyss. Here are some of my favourite tracks to listen to when I need to get in touch with my inner sad:

 

Al Green – How can you mend a broken heart?


Remember that bit in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant and his floppy hair are sad after Julia Roberts chooses her arsehole boyfriend over them? Cue lots of dark, dolorous shots of poor Hugh moping around London by himself, being mournful, to the tune of Al Green. Which is just the perfect song to soundtrack the misery of unrequited love. “How can you mend a broken heart? How can you stop the rain from falling down?” You can’t, Al, you JUST can’t.


Bonnie Raitt – I can’t make you love me


This song’s been covered so many times people are often surprised when they hear the original. It’s my favourite version anyway – romantically tragic, beautifully sung and a real tweaker of heartstrings.


John Martyn – May you never


Of all John Martyn’s down-tempo songs, this one reaches deep into my soul. It’s just so tender and full of love. And that guitar… Sigh.


Michael Bolton – I said I loved you but I lied


I didn’t say they were all respectable songs, did I? The song always manages to get me a bit emotional, but really I wanted to share this one for the music video. Ponies galloping on the beach, flames, EAGLES. Michael Bolton’s lustrous golden locks blowing in the wind while he does his Jesus-standing-on-a-big-rock pose. It’s magic.


Elliott Smith – Needle in the hay

Elliott Smith was a man who truly knew darkness and depression. You wouldn’t think it possible for this song to become more saturated with despair, unless you check out the Kermit the Frog cover…


Songs Ohia – Farewell transmission


This gently lilting song conjures up slowly meandering rivers and flickering moonlight. To me, anyway. And the lead singer, Jason Molina, tragically died last year after a long battle with alcoholism – making it all the more poignant.


Tony Rich Project – Nobody knows


There is no-one sadder than Tony Rich (is that his name?) in the known universe. That is all.


Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Swim and sleep (like a shark)


There’s something eerie and spine chilling about this song that has my tear ducts overflowing in no time. I think it’s just too beautiful for me to handle.


Regina Spektor – Somedays


I’m a sucker for a bit of melancholy piano and this is one of my Spektor favourites. I like to listen to this if I’ve had a particularly shit day and just need to revel in how truly rubbish it’s been, just for a little while.


The Dresden Dolls – The jeep song


I love this song more than words can say. The singer is haunted by the spectre of  a past love – in the form of his black jeep – and belts out fantastic lines like “I guess it’s just my stupid luck, that all of Boston drives the same black fucking truck”. We can all relate to feeling awful every time you see something that reminds you of an old flame, and this song’s the perfect distillation of that one very particular, uncomfortable emotion.


Robyn Hitchcock – End of time


Sadness tinged with hope, beauty touched with despair…it feels like I should be swaying with a glowing lighter in hand when this song plays. Maybe it’s a bit weird to do that in my living room…


Eva Cassidy – Songbird

The first few chords of this song kill me every time. The rest of it is pretty damn tear jerking too…

 

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I think, therefore I’m depressed

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On the dangers of wading into the murky waters of philosophy, my dear old Dad once quipped: “Aristotle spent all day pondering life, death and the universe but I bet he didn’t let any of it put him off his tea.”

He was of course right, but I was in the throes of severe depression at the time and couldn’t even cope with the basic tenets of existence. Try talking to me about the infinite nature of the cosmos and you would have had the misfortune of witnessing my brain cave in on itself.

I did a joint degree in English literature and Philosophy and spent many an hour debating the deep questions of the universe with my fellow students and teachers. Why were we here? What happens when we die? How can we know we’re not just dreaming? If a tree falls in the forest and the only one to hear it is a lonely stoat, did it really happen? It was scintillating, wonderful and generally a weird experience but that’s why we all loved it so much. After all as the man Socrates said himself, a life unexamined isn’t one worth living, and if we’d examined our space in the world any harder we might have rubbed it out entirely.

So it’s safe to say I was comfortable navigating the Big Questions. Until severe depression arrived at my door a couple of years ago. The sheer vastness of the universe terrified me, I simply couldn’t handle the fact that one day everyone I loved would perish and my fear of the unknown threatened to consume me. I can vividly recall a conversation with my brother about the possibility that nothing was real and we were all living in the matrix.  It suffices to say his response that it would be ‘awesome because we’d get to wear capes and jump about like Keanu Reeves’ didn’t lift my spirits. I then went on to ask what would happen if I went blind, then deaf, then somehow lost my arms and legs…and he slapped me upside my head. And I deserved it.

Because that’s what depression does – it makes you project all sorts of potential terrible situations and fixate on them until you’re so far gone you’re scared of a bowl of porridge. Rational thought leaves the building. I remember being terrified every time the phone rang because I assumed someone had died. The telephone handset, to me, was a doomed harbinger of all kinds of awful news. I had absolutely no reason to feel like this, it was just my warped, poorly brain telling me to fear the worst in everything around me.

I can happily chat about philosophy now. Of course there are still things that frighten me, I’m vulnerable as every other human being on the planet is vulnerable. Life can be difficult. But my less depressed brain is much better placed to cope with what the world throws at me, and I’m aware that when things get tough I’ll probably have at least most of my arms and legs to help me get through it.