Since I was as young as I can remember, I’ve always had varying degrees of social anxiety. At my best, throughout my childhood and teenage years, I could interact with people without them having the slightest hint of just how hard it was for me to even hold a short conversation with them. At my worst, in early 2008, I dropped out of my first year of college after barely scraping through my final two years of high school. I didn’t have an adequate support system throughout my formative years, and I never knew how to articulate what was happening inside my mind, so my social anxiety increased to the point where I could barely cope with leaving my own bedroom for a number of years. I have a much better handle on my social anxiety now than I did back then, but over the past few years I’ve also developed a more generalised anxiety due to a chronic physical illness. At the end of 2014, after fighting through worsening symptoms for twelve months after a chest infection, I became bed-bound with persistent nausea, migraines, muscle weakness, erratic heart rate, joint pain, light and sound sensitivity, exercise intolerance, food allergies, nerve pain, insomnia. The list goes on. I’m no longer completely bed-bound but I seldom leave the house except for rare doctor and dentist appointments or short shopping trips. My family try their best but can’t truly empathise with my situation, and the friends I have left are understandably busy living their own lives. I won’t sugar-coat it: every day is a challenge. Some days each hour is a challenge. If I listen to my body and don’t overexert myself, I can avoid severe symptom “flare-ups”, but there are many times when I do everything right and my body still doesn’t cooperate. I can go from being physically active a few days a week to being bedridden for weeks at a time, which makes planning anything tricky to say the least. After years of being told I’m “delusional” by doctors at my GP surgery, they’re finally beginning to accept that I do have an underlying physical condition causing my symptoms – though they still don’t have a clear-cut diagnosis to offer – instead of some sort of psychosomatic syndrome caused by anxiety. It’s difficult for me to escape my situation physically, but there’s one thing that helps me to escape at least mentally: music.
I honestly don’t think I’d still be alive if it wasn’t for music. It’s the one thing that’s never let me down. It doesn’t judge me for being the way I am or pressure me to be “normal”, it doesn’t dismiss my problems, and it’s never abandoned me when I’ve needed it most like a number of my friends and family. There’s music for every high, every low, and everything in between. My taste in music ranges from folk to r&b, rap to pop, classical to rock. There are too many genres to count. I tend to find out about most of the music I listen to through other media or via friends online. I’m always open to recommendations. For me, there’s nothing like the excitement of falling in love with new music, and there’s nothing like the nostalgia an old song can evoke. If I had to pick, I’d say television and film scores are my favourite kind of music to listen to. I grew up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a kid and LOST as a teenager, and part of the reason I love both is down to the music. There’s something about an orchestral score – with or without vocals – that moves me like nothing else. The earliest film score I remember being drawn to was Howard Shore’s for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which remains my all-time favourite film and score. I was eleven at the time Fellowship was released and I still remember the first time I heard certain themes play throughout it that made me feel like I could overcome anything. When my physical symptoms are flaring up, or my anxiety is high, Shore’s Fellowship score is usually my go-to.
I find it extremely hard to talk about my mental and physical health struggles publicly because, let’s face it, most people don’t want to hear about things that might make them uncomfortable, especially if they can’t relate. There’s also still a lot of stigma surrounding health issues, but in pushing myself to share the reality of my own alongside other people in similar situations, hopefully we can bring about positive change. I have a huge amount of respect and admiration in particular for artists who acknowledge their personal struggles in their music. One of my favourite artists, Raleigh Ritchie – Grey Worm if you’re a Game of Thrones fan – often sings about his own mental health experiences.
No matter your age, race, walk of life, I think something almost everyone would agree upon is that music is one of if not the most universally loved thing there is. What I love most about music is how it can connect you to people you might never have known otherwise. My all-time favourite Netflix series, Sense8 – in which 8 strangers living in different parts of the world suddenly find themselves telepathically linked after a tragic event – uses What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes as a perfect example of this. In what’s considered the most iconic scene in the show’s first season, the main eight characters – sensates – sing along to What’s Up in their first shared telepathic experience as a full “cluster”. The song not only became an integral part of the series after that but also a way for fans to discover and relate to each other the same way the characters do. It became a rallying cry when we campaigned against Netflix last summer for cancelling the series after just two of its planned five seasons. After facing non-stop protesting online and in person, Netflix commissioned an extra 2-hour special episode to wrap up certain storylines of the series instead of leaving it on what is arguably one of the most frustrating cliffhangers in television history. When production on the 2-hour special started towards the end of last year, thousands of fans from all over visited the cast and crew during filming throughout Europe, chanting the song as a way of showing love and saying thank you for bringing so many of us together. What’s Up will be one of the songs I listen to ten, twenty years from now that will evoke some of my happiest memories.
No matter what I have to face, music will always be my constant.