Soundtrack to recovery: music and mental health

My dad didn’t understand what I meant when I said I felt “numb.”

“Are you bored? Or tired?” He’d asked, and instead of answering, I played him “Car Radio” by Twenty One Pilots. The haunting lyrics “Cause somebody stole my car radio/And now I just sit in silence” had come to describe depression to me: an unnerving silence, numbness, like I’d lost myself. If I felt alone, at least I knew their lyricist understood.

I listened to that song my third morning in the psych ward, when I finally got computer privileges to email my professors. The nurse who took me into the back room to use the internet let me log into my Spotify and play whatever I wanted, confessing upon hearing the first chords that this song meant a lot to her too. The second verse played over the click-clack of my fingers on keys as I tried explaining why I wasn’t going to be able to take that exam or hand in that paper. “I ponder of something terrifying/’Cause this time there’s no sound to hide behind/…/Oh my, too deep, please stop thinking/I liked it better when my car had sound.” I knew I wasn’t alone.

A month earlier, I’d made a playlist I’d titled “A Few Moments of Self Care.” I still listen to it when the world is overwhelming. My heart consistently swells with Mako’s lilting “let me be free/let me whole again/let me be me/let me take hold again,” and Florence + The Machine’s “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” can get me out of bed in the morning.

Music means the world to me. “(Un)Lost” by The Maine reminds me to remember “how lucky you are to have yourself,” “26” by Paramore reminds me to “hold on to hope, if you’ve got it/don’t let it go for nobody.” “Alive” by Sia reminded me of how far I’d come with the emotional “I’m still breathing, I’m still breathing, I’m alive.” As someone who lives with depression and anxiety, and who is in recovery from PTSD, music has created space for healing by taking me away from the present. Bands who will never know my name have guided me to live the life I want to, have pointed me in the right direction, and have kept me going with their music.

All Time Low’s “Missing You,” will always have a special place in my heart. Their frontman, Alex Gaskarth, told me that “if you need a friend/I’ll help you stitch up your wounds.” He made it okay to ask for help, gave me courage to keep on fighting, and inspired me to take my life back from illnesses that were eating away at my perception of myself. Feeling like Alex had my back let me leave the house on days when I didn’t think it was possible.

I know I can always hold out until the next concert: to see these people in person as they perform songs that have saved lives, feeling their music in my bones. There’s no feeling quite like the one you get in the front row of general admission, tired and sore but singing your heart out. These are the moments I remember when it’s hard to go on.

These musicians will never know how they’ve touched me, but I’ll be forever grateful. When things get tough, I know I’ve got to stick around, because, in the words of YouTuber Hannah Hart, “there is so much music you’ve yet to hear.”