10 Songs About Mental Illness That Won’t Make You Feel Worse

I have always been a massive believer in music and it’s power to heighten, crush or inspire any particular thoughts or feelings you’re having at any given time and yes sometimes there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa in a fluffy jumper with a hot cup of tea and a candle flickering next to a rainy window, listening to Tom Waits and feeling thoroughly shit about everything and somehow at peace as a result of that realization but sometimes – you just want to be told that you’re not alone and that yes, one day, things are going to be better than they are now.

So you can go the route of listening to Don’t Stop Believing and drinking a bottle of wine whilst you burn photographs of people who have wronged you and plan a two week detox to get your life back on track, or you can listen to some of the songs below all of which will tell you that you’re awesome and that it’s okay to feel like you can’t breathe because well, it’s just okay. Loneliness is one of the most hellish feelings that can be bestowed on a human being. Some days its liberating, some days its irritating but for the days that it’s suffocating – you can always put on your headphones and spend some time with your friends that have always and will always be there to tell you that it’s okay to not be okay.

Here are just a handful of songs to listen to on those days when you’re tired of being tired and when you need your depression to just be that little bit less depressing.

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One of my favorite bands of all time, Matchbox 20 still sound as good to me now as they did then, two decades later. This song came out around the time that my parents got divorced but that didn’t matter because in my adamant eleven year old mind, me and Rob Thomas were going to get married and live happily ever after (offer is still on the table Rob, just so you know…) It wasn’t until I got older and the depth of understanding about the inherent fuckedupness of everything around me starting to sink in that this song, and so many of their other songs, finally made sense to me.

I’ve spent many a jaded afternoon screaming along with the incredibly catchy (and incredibly understandable) chorus and still find myself looking for this reassuringly comforting song from a time in my youth when I didn’t think that anyone would ever understand me or the way I felt about anything and exquisitely sums up the paranoia that comes from constantly thinking that people are judging you or making assumptions about you based on your mental illness.

Once you hear the opening few seconds of this song, though it’s about being mentally unwell and unable to fully articulate how you feel to people without sounding crazy to them, it will become synonymous with feeling better about feeling unwell. It’s a true pick me up on the grayer days of living with a mental illness and promises that even people who are living in the shadows of their disease have more than one side to them, that they used to be a different person, a happy person and will be one day again – should you have the patience to wait for them to return.

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“But I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell
I know right now you can’t tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see
A different side of me
I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired
I know right now you don’t care
But soon enough you’re gonna think of me
And how I used to be, me.”

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If there was ever a song that hid its true meaning behind a chaotic beat and an anthemic set of lyrics – this is that song. Anyone who is familiar with the band or Simon Wards lyrics in general will know that this song, however jaunty it may seem, was written about depression and the desperation that comes from all sad people secretly wanting to feel better regardless of how it may appear to the outside world.

The meaning of the song has been interpreted and disemboweled via a whole host of media and forums but I think it still boils down to personal interpretation and the meaning that each individual takes from the lyrics. That’s when a song, and a songwriter, manage to surpass the limits of story line music – if you can write a song that is so deeply personal to you and still have it reach each and every person that hears it on their own deeply personal level – then you’ve managed to avoid the vague generic nature of “sad song” writing i.e my girlfriend left me, my dog died, help me I’m alone – and tap into a mutual feeling of disassociation, pressure, fear and determination that unites everyone who lives with anxiety and or depression.

It’s best served loud and The Strumbellas often accompany me on long walks to work in the rain, managing to draw my back a little straighter and keep my eyes high even when the weight of the world sits on my shoulders and goads me to look down. This song to me speaks to the frantic energy of depression – the constant second guessing, the niggling voices in the back of your head that threaten to undo those little victories that people with depression still see as absolute failures because they weren’t absolute victories, the constant beat of negativity and deranged thought – and, at the end, which we all hope to meet one day – unrelenting determination to be better than we were yesterday and a refusal to return to the “night”.

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“And I don’t want a never ending life
I just want to be alive while I’m here
And I don’t want a never ending life
I just want to be alive while I’m here
And I don’t want to see another night
Lost inside a lonely life while I’m here.”

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Okay, so the style of this song may not be to everyone’s taste but the definition of this list is songs that won’t make you feel worse – and it’s impossible to be sad when you listen to this song. It’s fast, it’s insane and if you have the patience to slow it down and sing along – you won’t be sorry. In just over four minutes, quicker than any pain killer or mood stabilizer will ever take to kick in, this song speaks to the idea of self sabotage, holding onto anger and ultimately looking at all the good shit that happened as a result of all of the bad shit that happened.

Optimistic, understandably angry and guaranteed to get you out of bed on those mornings when you just want to melt into your mattress and disappear, the violent vocals have always echoed the rawest parts of my mental illness and mirror the frustration that comes from trying live a controllable life when your mind is out of control. This song doesn’t let you feel sorry for yourself but instead tells you that yeah, it sucks but you have to just get up and get on with it – so get the fuck up.

With so many sad songs speaking to the poor, broken, victimized pieces of those of us that live with a mental illness, sometimes it’s just nice to be told that we are stronger than we think we are and that we have to be harder on ourselves in the right ways if we’re ever going to make it to the other side of the river of shit that is even the best of lives. Truly inspirational stuff here, ladies and gents.

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“And if I wasn’t a fat kid in high school, I would have never listened to punk rock.
And if I knew how to throw a football, I would have never played any music.
And if never got my heart broken, I would sing, “Blah blah fucking nothing.”

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To say that a song saved your life is such a cliche that I almost don’t want to say it now, but I will because it’s true. There are two versions of this song – the studio version (above) and the acoustic version that doesn’t fit on this list because, well – it will tear you apart. And that’s not what we are about on this list. We’re about owning pain and screaming at the top of our lungs that we’re not as alone as we think we are and that yes there will come a moment, if we allow it to arrive, that we will be able to comfortably refuse to go back to our dark places.

Jake Burns has one of the most emotional (and sexiest) punk rock voices available to fall in love with and I fell in love with this man, his band and their music when I was sixteen after a brutal accident that almost killed me and in many ways – kind of did. This album came out in 2014 and I was lucky enough to see them perform it live in December of 2015 on their No Going Back tour. Standing in a room, feeling the pressure drop as everyone took a collective breath when the first few chords hit them shouting, sweaty and free, a mantra of refusal to fall apart again with two hundred complete strangers who all felt the exact same liberation from the song – well if anything is going to make you feel like you belong, it’s going to be that.

Razor sharp lyrics that drip with anarchic realism, this song was written with the honesty of someone who knows how we feel. There is a unity in this song and a hopefulness set to a choppy drum beat and a skin tight bass line that satisfies me even in the most uncertain of times and coupled with the defiant refusal to be a passenger on the road to progress this song will put steel in your spine and goosepimples on your skin.

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“Well the days drag slowly by
All you want to do is cry
Nothing makes sense nothing has a reason
And the world is not the same
And you’re the one to blame
Before too long you feel just like a prisoner
Some days you really feel like screaming
Some days you swear you’ll never smile anymore.”

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I often find myself wondering what teenagers listen to nowadays when the blues kick in. To me, who listens to this song at least once a day (ask the people I work with!) it’s a must have for any Fuck The World playlist but on closer inspection of my copy of the album Bleed American that this song is from, to say I made strangled a little scream when I saw that it came out almost twenty years ago would be an understatement.

A massive part of the soundtrack to my youth, this song has pulled me out of more funks that I’d care to remember. Stupidly reassuring lyrics delivered by Jim Adkins (who was right up there with Rob Thomas as contender for my husband circa 1999) whose voice is desperate and calming all at the same time, this song does exactly what it says on the tin and centers you somewhere in the middle, away from total annihilation or unstable ecstasy and better yet, tells you that you’re not going to be there forever, and after that, once you learn how to walk that spectrum of happy and sad, paranoid and confident, broken and whole – everything, everything will be just fine.

Jimmy Eat World will always remain one of my favorite pop punk bands of the nineties because they surpassed the shallow pitfalls that the likes of The Offspring and Sum 41 fell into and their music aged with their fans because sometimes, it doesn’t matter if you’re seven or twenty seven, you just need a beautiful guy to tell you that everything’s going to be alright. The kicker with this beautiful guy? I still believe it when he says it almost twenty years later.

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“Hey
Don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on
Just try your best
Try everything you can
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away
It just takes some time
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride
Everything, everything will be just fine
Everything, everything will be all right.”
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Anyone who ever listened to this Rembrandts classic beyond the first chorus that played alongside the title credits of the TV show Friends, will know that the lyrics to this song get a whole lot more serious towards the middle, meatier part of the song and unlike many of the entries on this list, they don’t dwell on the strength needed by an individual to fight their own demons but put more emphasis on how important it is to have someone who understands you when you feel like you don’t understand yourself.

Really listening to this song and taking it in for what it is, much more than just a catchy theme tune, if you’re lucky, it will remind you of that one person that you have that always has your back, doesn’t judge you for constantly bailing on plans or not changing your clothes for days, bursting into tears in the supermarket for no apparent reason and generally just being a bag of torn up nerves almost constantly.

This song is about your support net work and how important it is to feel like you’re safe to be yourself and that someone will always have your back. Recovery is rendered almost impossible to do alone and for those of us lucky enough to have at least one person that we can always be our honest, genuine, hurricane like selves – this song is a constant, cheerful reminder of just how incredible having that person in our lives is, even if we sometimes forget.

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“No one could ever know me
No one could ever see me
Seems you’re the only one who knowsΒ 
What it’s like to be me
Someone to face the day with
Make it through all the rest with
Someone I’ll always laugh with
Even at my worst, I’m best with you.”

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Now this is the song I’m sure you were all waiting for. From their 1994 album Dookie, Basket Case has transcended the years and appealed to the mentally stable and unstable alike for over twenty years. This song has all the twitchy psychedelia of anyone who has ever endured a haloperidol come down and speaks to the more medicated side of mental illness and asks in a very real but entirely organic way whether or not you’re better on or off of mood altering drugs.

Being aware of my own idiosyncratic tendencies, often induced by either not being on enough medication or being on too much, the chaotic confusion of the song, coupled with the burning image of Billie Joe Armstrong’s gaping green eyes that don’t seem to blink for the entirety of the three minute video, peaks the blood and makes you question your own sanity in a shit-I-feel-like-that-too kind of way rather than a I-feel-like-shit-too kind of way that many more morose songs dealing with the same subject matter sometimes emit.

Whilst all their songs sing to very real and raw parts of me, Basket Case always draws a special amount of energy out of me when I blare it loud on a Sunday afternoon, content that I no longer feel the crippling paranoia of the overly medicated that I did feel when I was younger and less able to cope with my mental illness in other more sustainable ways.

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“Sometimes I give myself the creeps
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me
It all keeps adding up
I think I’m cracking up
Am I just paranoid?
Am I just stoned?”

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Still one of my favourite bands of all time, the grungy vocals of Rivers Cuomo paired with the funky pop punk sound make Weezer absolutely unmistakable should you stumble into one of their songs in a dark alley way. Not well known for their “upbeat” style, there are more than a few of their songs that I could put on an antithetical list to this one.

This song took on an awful lot of meaning to me late last year when listening to the song casually on a Thursday evening whilst reading a book, when I really heard the lyrics and I felt something close to my heart start to hurt. The idea behind this song is that being depressed makes you feel older than you are – you’re always tired, you don’t like to stay out too late if you can get the courage up to go out at all, you spend most of your time sitting, alone, killing time before it kills you, you don’t make any plans, the future is not worth planning anymore – anyone else ever get that feeling?

Well I know that I’m not the only one that feels aged by my mental illness. Halfway through last year my relationship spontaneously broke down seemingly overnight and it took a while for the aftershock to wear off but it did and in the aftermath of what was some of the happiest years of my life, I found myself centering on the idea of our age gap, twenty seven years, suddenly becoming an issue, as I was told, it had. I found myself listening to this song and wondering if that sudden realization wasn’t necessarily sudden after all and that maybe the reason that my ex-partner felt so old all of a sudden was because his own mental illness had drained what was left of his youthful outlook. Hearing someone else say the same thing that in essence he did, made me look at the entire situation in a different, much more forgiving light. And, like Rivers sings, I hope that one day the old man that loved me gets back to the good life too.

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“And I don’t wanna be an old man anymore
It’s been a year or two since I was out on the floor
Shaking booty, making sweet love all the night
It’s time I got back to the good life
It’s time I got back, it’s time I got back.”
And I don’t even know how I got off the track
I wanna go back.”

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Ah, Joe. You beautiful, broken bastard. One of those musicians that’s always been there in his many musical incarnations, this song always serves to dust the cobwebs of misery off of me when I’m having a particularly sluggish day when nothing seems to be going right and I can’t think of any other reason as to why my life is so irrevocably fucked up other than that I am the worst person on earth being punished for being so.

The spiral of self loathing only lasts a few bars into this song and this album in general, London Calling released in 1979, is full of songs that will get you through whatever day you’re having but if it’s a why-the-fuck-is-it-always-happening-to-me kind of day – I’m Not Down is the one for you. I’ve never really understood why people typecast punk/post punk music as particularly angry or violent but The Clash always seemed like home to me – a funky, shouty, echoey home. And your home is one place you can always be yourself.

It’s melodic, self empowering and catchy as hell. You’ll find yourself bopping around singing fragments of this song for days (I especially get the first guitar riff stuck in my head for hours!) and if you really listen to the lyrics, you’ll get some sound advice from the man himself, reassuring you that no matter what life throws at you, you must try your hardest to never let it get you down and that the possibility of rising above even the worst of days is just that – possible.

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“And I have lived that kind of day
When none of your sorrows will go away
It goes down and down and hit the floor
Down and down and down some more
Depression
But I know there’ll be some way
When I can swing everything back my way
Like skyscrapers rising up
Floor by floor, I’m not giving up.”

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If you’ve ever felt isolated or alone, and totally content that way (most of the time) then this song is for you. It’s about being alone as a protection mechanism that eventually just becomes your normality. There are some very brutal ideas in this song and lyrics that were they set to a more Bridge Over Troubled Water melody rather than a Mrs Robinson one, you would have penned as a seriously depressing little tune indeed.

However, because of the cheerful tune that follows these words around, you would be forgiven for not noticing until the very end when the song slows down and the last few words are spoken over the twang of a lonely guitar string that yes, that song you just listened to was sad and yes it’s okay that it didn’t make you feel that way at first.

It’s a beautiful song that neatly summed up how I felt as a fourteen year old who discovered that books were my safety net and that the trouble I could cause to my own mental health and the mental health of those around me was dramatically contained if I just locked myself away and read voraciously. At the end of the summer of 2007 I had lost two stone and fallen into a deep melancholy that took almost a year to shake off. Since that experience when I feel myself slipping back into what I now call the “womb” mentality, I purposefully force myself to go outside and talk to someone, anyone, just to make sure that I am never as hard as a rock or as lonely as an island even if rocks do feel no pain and islands never cry.

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“I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island.”

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I originally intended to do a more elaborate list but after much honing (and hours of listening to music to determine how it made me feel) I’m happy with this list. Mental illness is a difficult subject to talk about, even if sometimes it feels like it’s all you talk about, but for the days when you feel like survival isn’t enough I hope some of these songs make you feel like your life can be more than just that.

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I originally left this song off of the list because I thought that the others made more sense together but I had to tag Critical Hit onto the bottom of this list because there are few songs about impending doom that make me quite as hopeful as this song does. Ghost Mice are a duo from Indiana that I found in the summer of 2015 and have listened to almost every day since then, though I’ve never met anyone who has heard of them which is both a blessing and a curse.

In this case, the band use a game of what I can only assume from the context is Dungeons and Dragons, as a metaphor for life saying that when your backs against the wall and you’ve run out of resources and everything seems fucked you can’t give up because sometimes it literally just comes down to luck and the roll of the dice.

It’s spiky and pure and it just makes me smile like a fucking idiot and if that is not the definition of what music is supposed to do when it tries to communicate a message, I’ve missed the point entirely but regardless, if I have bands like Ghost Mice and songs like Critical Hit – I’m going to be just fine.

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“Cross your fingers roll the die
Let it go. let it roll. don’t give up yet, no, don’t ever quit
There’s always a chance for a critical hit
The biggest baddest beasts have easily been beat with one lucky shot
Dragons have fell and kingdoms have been saved
By people giving everything they’ve got
By people who never gave up
By people who know just to let the dice roll and see what comes up
No we should never ever give up.”

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