Music and the Memories of Depression

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From the baroque era to black metal, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t listening to some kind of music, first on a little cassette player, then on CDs, and now of course through online streaming. In fact, the world of streaming music has opened my library up to hundreds of thousands of songs that I would never have thought to listen to before.

According to my iTunes library, I’ve listened to the 10,000 songs in my library over 300,000 times. Some I’ve listened to only once or twice, of course, but the top ten percent of plays – 30,000 or so – are of just sixty songs – by just ten artists.

From Coma White by Marilyn Manson, at 450 plays, to Brief is the Light by Sentenced, at nearly 500, these sixty songs are an unintentional reflection of my mental state over the years. On average, I’ve listened to these sixty songs at least once a week for the past fifteen years (since I first built an iTunes library), although of course there’ve been days when I’ve listened to some on repeat for hours at a time.

You see, music is my memory. I don’t have the sharpest recollection for things, people or events, but listening to a particular song will invariably revisit the feelings I was experiencing when I first came to know and love it. For me, music is feeling, it is emotion, and frequently, it is depression.

When I listen to My Hope, the Destroyer by My Dying Bride, I am returned to the gloriously dark, gothic days of my teenage depression, candles and vodka late at night, wondering if I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life. When I hear Join Me In Death by HIM, I remember the blood running down my arms as I cut myself repeatedly, wishing I had the strength to cut deeper, harder, more finally.

These aren’t necessarily pleasant memories, but they are the foundation of who I am today – the essence of my soul. It would be a disservice to forget who I used to be, and how it led to who I am today. There are still days when I simply can’t cope, when I want to sleep all day and forget the world; there are days when I just want to cease existing. This last week has been especially hard, coping with the death of a dear friend and being asked to read his eulogy.

And in those times, I fire up my Depression playlist, and I remember. I remember what it feels like to be alone; what it’s like to be numb, and miserable, and to want to die. These are powerful memories, and they’re important.

Sometimes people ask me why, if I’m already depressed, I choose to listen to music that reinforces the feeling. They wonder why I don’t listen to happy music to cheer myself up. The answer is that I don’t use music to change my mood; I choose my music to reflect my mood. When I’m at my darkest, I need strength; when I’m at my lowest, I need reassurance. And the memories of past sadness is, in a way, just that: a reminder that I’ve felt this way before, and that I’m still here.

Music, in the end, is timeless and eternal. And in this, it serves as a reminder that all things pass, for better or for worse. I too will die one day, and I don’t want that day to come having wasted what’s left of my life.

That doesn’t mean I want to write a book, or cross off a bucket list; to me, that’s not the measure of a life well spent. To me, it’s about feeling. And feeling, be it happy or sad, alive or numb, is the essence of life. For some, they get their feelings from movies, or books; some get it from food, or family.

I get it from music. I am eternally grateful for the music in my life, and I will continue to rack up the plays on those top sixty songs for the rest of my life. Every time I need to remember, every time I need to feel, those songs will be there for me.

So remember to listen, and remember to feel: we aren’t long for this world.