Written by Sarah Williams. Part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music. Trigger warning: depression, self-harm.
During an especially dark and turbulent bout of depression I endured recently, I found a familiar Iron Chic lyric rumbling round my skull:
“We all fall apart at our own pace.”
That one cadence repeating itself over and over; an old, beloved song suddenly taking on new meaning. I was wrapped up in my own personal apocalypse, but that one line reminded me of the importance of reaching out to my friends.
For me, depression comes in waves. Some days the sea’s calm and I’m stood on a beach in the sunshine, digging a moat around my sandcastle and enjoying a Calippo. Other days there’s a light ebb and flow, lapping round my ankles. Sometimes it’s choppy in the waves but my head’s above water, I’m staying afloat.
In this particular period, it was like a tsunami had hit. I’m toppled by giant waves, levelled by the force of it, choking on salt water, crushed by the weight of it on my chest. This is as bad as it gets: I can’t eat, I can’t speak, I can’t get out of bed, I can’t wait to get the courage to kill myself.
Sometimes depression just feels like a part of regular life, like an itch you can’t scratch but you can just about ignore it. But on these occasions, it becomes frighteningly apparent that it’s an illness. It’s utterly, hopelessly debilitating.
I lie still and wait for it to pass. It takes days.
What’s most difficult in this time is that I can’t speak to my friends. They’re all still there, but I just cannot reach out to them. In the back of my head there’s a voice shrieking ‘I need help’ but I cannot ask for it. I contemplate calling my GP but I haven’t got the courage.
It feels humiliatingly narcissistic to admit it, but in the depths of despair I become fixated on this one idea: I need someone to ask if I’m okay.
I’m not okay. I need to tell someone that I’m not okay, but I can’t just tell someone that. But maybe… if someone asks me if I’m okay, then I can tell them that I’m not.
There’s a weight of unread Facebook messages glaring at me from my lockscreen. It’s my normal conversations: gig invitations, album promos, questions about interviews and releases. A few messages asking why I’ve not replied to their other six messages. All of this is fine and normal; I love what I do. But no one’s asked if I’m okay.
As the hopeless hours lag on, I think about it a lot. I don’t expect anyone to ask if I’m okay. I also don’t expect anyone to read my mind; I make a constant effort to outwardly appear like I’ve got my shit together. It’s not in my nature to post inflammatory Facebook statuses begging for a ‘U ok hun?’ response. I’ve got a practical relationship with a lot of my friends, where we talk about music rather than feelings.
Eventually, I start to see glimpses of light on the border of this mushroom cloud of depression. And a thought comes to mind: “When was the last time I asked someone if they were okay?”
Sure, there’s plenty of the regular, “Hey, you alright, mate?” “Yeah, I’m great thanks,” conversations. But I haven’t reached out and asked someone how they actually are in a long time.
My first thought was: Wow. I’m an arsehole. My second thought was: It’s okay, I’m just like everybody else.
As I start to climb gingerly out of the pit of darkness in my head, and reach the stage where I can actually converse with people again (hallelujah!), it occurs to me that my friends are all going through their own shit: breaks-up, injuries, unemployment, funerals and family catastrophes.
Moreover, the vast majority of us have a job that we tolerate and at least one music project (whether that’s a band or a blog or a label) that we invest our remaining time, energy and headspace into. That doesn’t always leave a lot of time for looking after ourselves, let alone recognising when our friends are falling apart. Especially when, like me, we’re all making every effort to appear outwardly ‘fine’ most of the time. Even more so when conversations are held via WhatsApp or Messenger, where you hear only what that person wants to you to hear, rather than what their expression might give away in person.
This is where the Iron Chic lyric rumbling around my head started to make sense: I realised that all of us are falling apart in our own ways, and at our own pace. Everyone’s on this path of struggling with their own anxieties and fears, tackling the roadblocks that life leaves for us alone. We’re each fighting our own battles, and sometimes we’re losing.
In this moment of clarity, I resolved to make an effort to ask more of my friends how they’re doing more often. But, let’s face it, I’ll soon get wrapped up in my own shit again and forget.
If there’s a moral to this sad essay, it’s simply this: remember to ask your friends how they are. When you can’t ask for help, that small connection may be the one thing you need.
P.S. Do you want to know what lifted me out of this bout of depression?
After hours of lying in bed, unable to move or listen to music or sleep, just crying intermittently and trying not to harm myself, I got a message: “You sure you’re okay mate?”
All of a sudden, for the first time in days, I felt like I could sleep.
Written by Sarah Williams, cover photo by Josh Sumner. NB: This is just an essay, not a cry for help – you do not need to suddenly ask me if I’m okay. Thanks to those who did, though.
Explore our #MentallySound series for more articles about mental health in music.