Sammy talks about her year of mental health and the soundtrack that has seen her through tough times.
This year has really done a number on me. After years (maybe my whole life?) of tumultuous mental health stuff, 2016 decided to properly chew me up and give me a death wish the likes of which I’ve never contended with before. But I’m still alive, and that’s probably because I’m highly medicated. Surprise. Another thing that kept me alive this year was the power of music. Yes, I might be depressed, but I’m still cheesy as hell.
Here’s my year in music and and meds. And before you jump down my throat, old music dudes, release dates might be a bit squiffy because I got advance copies of albums at my old job. So there.
January: PUP ‘The Dream Is Over’
PUP captured the rotten mesh of fear, doubt, anger, and gallows humour I was expressing at around this time with their second album, ‘The Dream Is Over’. A bout of depression, sniffing around since Christmas, had steeped inside me long enough that I thought about killing myself a lot. I could hardly feel anything, and I was crying almost every day on my way to work. My bones felt empty and cold, and my skin was grey and sallow. I felt like I could feel the space between my muscles and my bones flapping loose and hollow, and I often couldn’t recognise my face or body in the mirror. I gave up on large parts of looking after myself physically, and often cried in the shower as I recoiled from the warm water. I found the sensation of it hitting my skin overwhelming, because I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel good.
This album, played at ear-splittingly high volume as I travelled to and from work, was distracting. The title is what a doctor told the lead singer when his voice gave way after they finished touring their first LP. The bitterness he felt in the aftermath translates into perfect acid on record. I especially liked the bone-scraping honesty of the lyrics: ‘Following familiar patterns, I’m falling back into ruin…’ goes ‘Familiar Patterns’. ‘I’ve never felt so shitty before, I’ve never felt so miserable’. Hi, January me.
March: Big Ups ‘Before a Million Universes’
As you can imagine, my state of mind was not helping my relationships. I flipped out at family members, my friends, and my boyfriend in this month, and I was not only angry – I was hysterical. I would leave rooms dramatically to scream into pillows, and would weep in the most outrageous way possible. Hot, fat tears streaked my ashen cheeks. It felt like a normal thing to do in the moment, and then the second I stopped I would feel deeply ashamed and burrow even deeper away from the world.
I love this album. Big Ups are powerful – their wiry, intensely angry sound felt very good in parallel with what I was feeling in March, and their nihilistic view of politics made me feel less crazy. I went to see them live at the Louisiana at the start of April, too, and it was great, except there was a moshpit. I felt incredibly physically weak at the time thanks to the depression and it felt humiliating to be thrown theatrically backwards every time the girls locked in the pit knocked me. I felt jealous of how easily they lost themselves in the music. I hadn’t felt like that in a long time. I hadn’t really felt much of anything for a long time.
April: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith ‘EARS’
The majority of the albums of this list are shouty punk things – my favourite – but this one, awash with cosmic waves and interplanetary chirrups, probably had the most lasting effect on me. Utterly numb, and crying again (as I often was this year if you haven’t noticed already), I was walking home from work late in the evening in April and it was dark. I always walk home down Bristol’s Harbourside, which is remarkably pretty, unless you’re massively depressed and then it’s just as boring as everything else. Tonight, though, with Kaitlyn’s strangely organic slash celestial arrangements in my ears, the whole place lit up. Lights across the river reached out towards me, rippling on the tiny waves. For a fleeting moment, I felt like I could see the world again. Of course, I started crying all the harder. I could see it clearly now: I had to do something or I would die.
May: Camp Cope ‘S/T’
I’d applied for NHS mental health services in February after going to my doctor in Totterdown and telling her I wanted to kill myself and I didn’t know what to do. She gave me a number to call, which I did, and they booked me in for a telephone assessment two months later, during which time all I wanted to do was die. The lady on the phone, when I finally talked to her, was lovely. With my answers to her delicately worded questions I maxed out all the scales of anxiety and depression they measure you on, and I was told I would have eight sessions of weekly CBT. A month later and I started. My CBT practitioner was very kind and nice. However, I kept on bringing my mood diaries back full of hideously-overreacted-to situations, and we decided that since I still wanted to die, I should go on antidepressants.
This album helped me a lot around this time. Camp Cope is a band from Melbourne, and this is their first album. The first line of the first song goes, ‘It was the hardest ground that I had ever walked on, and just like everybody I kept on walking on,’ and if you like dramatic things like that, you’ll like this a lot as well.
September: Fear of Men ‘Fall Forever’
This album was a comforting presence. It’s all about taking control of your life and shedding your skin. There’s lots of chat about dissolving and starting again.
At this point, I loved my antidepressants. I took one a day for a week, and I could feel myself inhabiting my body again. However, there were a lot of side effects. The ones that have passed are: nosebleeds, feelings of weightlessness, headaches, memory loss (particularly with people’s names, which was sometimes embarrassing), uncontrollable laughter, whistling, looping thoughts, muscle spasms, insomnia, a white film on my bottom lip, and a chemical taste in my mouth. I’m still on them now and the ones that have stuck around are: serious motion sickness (I have been more sick this year than any other I can remember), and wanting to eat way more than before.
But it’s so worth it. All these things were happening at once and while they would have sent me spiralling with worry before, now I don’t mind because… I just don’t. It’s hard to explain. I feel so completely different. I’m able to get out of bed, stop obsessing, and stop indulging in hating myself so much. It means I can leave the house on time, get in the shower, have conversations without needling myself about them endlessly afterwards. It’s amazing. I feel ‘normal.’
October: Martha ‘Blisters in the Pit of My Heart’
It was this month that I went freelance full-time, which was both a good and bad idea. When you all of a sudden feel a lot better, things like this seem like a very good decision. The truth is, I didn’t have a plan or a clue, and I did a lot of lying around the house, cursing myself. But at least I was able to get out of bed and do things. The washing-up, at least, was always done. The antidepressant that I’m on (Sertraline) takes the edge off any alarm you might be feeling, so I felt numb in a different, fearless sort of way that is very unlike me, but at least I wanted to live, and even enjoyed it some days. My bank balance, however, was perilously low.
I had a really good week in this month when I actually did some exercise. I am pretty grimmed out by my body at the best of times – it usually feels heavy, lumpen, and ultimately surplus to requirement – but I pulled some running shoes on and listened to this Martha album in full as I alternately ran and walked around the park by my house and I didn’t feel shame or hate. I love this album. It brims with all the things I love – boy/girl harmonies, extreme accents, and incredibly upbeat pop punk with a dark side. The autumn leaves fell, the air was crisp, and I felt happy.
December: Mannequin Pussy ‘Romantic’
December is happening right now with all of its craziness and I still feel pretty good. The rush of immediately feeling better has worn off a bit, and I’m settling down. I’m probably drinking too much, and I’m still not exercising properly even though I know it would really sort me out, but in my notes for this section I’ve written, ‘it’s possible’. And that’s how I feel now. I’m not terrified of the forever stretched out in front of me.
I knew I wanted to conclude this with this album, but I didn’t realise why until like, yesterday, and the reason is so cheesy I could put myself in the bin. Basically, there’s this song on the album called ‘Emotional High’, and to me, it’s what joy sounds like. And I’m ready to hear more.
If you or a loved one are struggling you can get help, support and advice from these organisations. Off the Record has also just opened Inspiration Works, which will be hosting free sessions on grief, self-harm and numerous other issues. Check out what they have to offer. Most of all, know you don’t have to do this alone.