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Music – the medicine of the mind

Anti-Flag and antidepressants, Propaghandi and Prozac! The healing powers of the punk community.

‘Ello. You don’t know me, but my name is Scott.

You don’t know my band and that’s cool too, although I do actually hope you get to know both at some point.  I’m one of those people who is genuinely overjoyed to meet you and that I’m interacting with a new human, who may one day become a really good friend. Like I’m almost over-enthusiastic about it and I want to be best friends and just make you happy. I like making people happy. I’m not always good at it but I try.

But like many people, there is an often crippling feeling of unhappiness underneath and sometimes the happy exterior is a mask. The mask isn’t for my benefit (trust me it takes SO much energy to hold a smile and even a conversation sometimes) it’s because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or make anything awkward. Inside I probably want to run out of the room and climb into bed or somewhere dark and away from people, not talk to anyone and just be alone with sad thoughts.

Depression, anxiety and many other mental health issues are STILL misunderstood, ignored, misdiagnosed, certainly not discussed enough and generally a frontier of science, medicine and even spirituality that is yet to be fully conquered.  There is however something in my life which has never failed to help me when I’m in that dark hole – my music, and its wonderful community of people who make me feel at home and alive and like I have worth and a place in this world.

The point to this article

I’ve I suffered from depression since I was nine years old, which is ridiculous really I mean what has a nine year old got to be depressed about? Well nothing. There doesn’t need to be anything. In fact a lot of the time it’s simply a lack of happy chemicals being produced in the brain, that’s all. So my first bit of advice to people suffering is to never search for a reason as you’ll only stress yourself out more.

 

It has however only been over the last 4 years that I’ve actually begun to experiment with medication and also to heed that age old piece of advice – it’s good to talk. It really is. I can’t tell you how hard it was to start but once you do, you’ll discover that every time you open up to someone it’s like turning over a rock and there’s all this stuff underneath that you never would have encountered if you hadn’t. People close to me have suffered without me knowing, and I’ve been genuinely taken aback not only by who, when and how badly but also by the support that I’ve received. So that’s my second piece of advice and also the very point to this article. If I can write something for the whole of the internet to see where I bare more of my soul than I ever thought I could, you can let your friends know how you’re feeling. Trust me, it’ll help.

I’ll tell you a little bit more about my experiences and then I’ll stop banging on about me because I don’t want this to be an article of self-pity. I do however think and hope that what I say might resonate with some readers and at least help them in some way

I simply did not and do not ‘fit in’. In school I didn’t, in some workplaces I didn’t, in everyday society I just feel I have completely different views and opinions that even some of my family members and closest friends don’t understand and admit to mocking me for. When that happens, it’s the most isolating feeling ever, and you begin to question everything about yourself. Am I normal? Do I have something wrong with me? I don’t seem to think like them so I must have. I don’t really want the same things or same lifestyle my family have. It doesn’t appeal to me or excite and stimulate me. I can’t sit and watch TV so people look at me strangely when I tell them no I’ve never seen Game of Thrones and no I really don’t care what the football score was. I’m cynical of every single news article out there – I don’t know if I’m a conspiracy theorist or whether I just question everything but I just do not trust the media. Then I’m accused of being miserable which as someone who’s actually depressed is hard to hear because it makes it all sound so trivial, and I’m telling you it isn’t. It’s hard to live with. REALLY hard to live with. Hard for me and for everyone close to me. I’m asking those people to try and understand something that I don’t, and that even health professionals struggle with.

But whilst we might never fully understand mental health issues, we can certainly help with the symptoms. This is where for me, the music comes in.

 

Back in the early 90’s when I was in my early to mid teens, I began to discover bands that resonated with the social inadequacies that I felt and echoed my thoughts on world issues. Bands like Rage Against The Machine made me (dare I say) ‘Wake Up’ to the fact that there was a political alternative, and Suicidal Tendencies showed me that it wasn’t just me who was lambasted for feeling so different whilst ironically being raised to society’s ideal standards and well-oiled system.

Music made me sit up and think. It made me research. It made my listen more closely than to anything I’d ever heard before. It gave me an outlet for my frustrations and it gave me a warm hug when I felt at my worst. That continues today which is why I hate the term teen angst – for some of us it runs way deeper than being a hormonal teenager.

The outlet became even more effective when I started playing an instrument, getting into bands and going to gigs. All of a sudden I was fully immersed in what I really felt was like an underground world, where people came together through a community in which self-expression was the absolute essence.

“Researchers found that music releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical in your brain. It also found that dopamine was up to 9% higher when volunteers listened to music that they enjoyed.” – www.mind.org.uk

I’ve never really dressed that outlandishly; spiky bleached hair, jeans round my ass and a couple or piercings and ropey tattoos are about as far as I’ve ever gone. But it’s what I like. I’ve even been verbally abused at a gig for having a neat hairdo whilst wearing a Minor Threat t-shirt and told I wasn’t a punk but a boy band lookalike(!) which to be honest I just find funny as I’m guessing the mohawk’d aggressor didn’t care for being judged for they way he looked. I don’t even know if I AM punk and to be honest I don’t really care!

However for that one guy, there has been a million others who have been nothing but friends, drinking buddies, shoulders to lean on and even like a family in all the time I’ve been playing in bands, going to shows, working in an area of the music industry and now in the short time I’ve been contributing to The Punk Lounge.

Playing with my band gives me focus and enjoyment and releases some of the good chemicals that I struggle to produce sometimes. It has gifted me with some of the goofiest and stupidly hilarious people I could wish to be in a band with. They are also, underneath this, brotherly, understanding, forgiving and aware. I’m not the only one in the band who has had mental struggles and perhaps that’s one of the things that brings us together.

We were lucky enough to be asked to feature on Vol. 1 of  Top Of The Punks last year, a charity compilation to which us and 15 other bands such as Stiff Little Fingers, Angelic Upstarts and The Filaments amongst others donated our music for free to an amazing guy named Simon Turner who worked tirelessly in putting this incredible project together. All the proceeds go to the UK mental health charity Mind, and you can get yourself a copy here: http://topofthepunks.bigcartel.com/product/top-of-the-punks-volume-1

I genuinely rely on the community spirit in punk and my band along with the music and friendship that it offers, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. So for anyone else reading this, don’t be afraid to talk about it or express it through your music. You have all the support you need around you. You just need to let people know how you’re feeling. It’s hard to do but it’s worth it.

Some useful links:

https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/

www.mind.org.uk

https://turn2me.org

www.samaritans.org

http://www.musicsupport.org

https://www.nami.org/

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.gamian.eu/

https://www.fondationdefrance.org/en

7 comments

  • Jenni Bickers

    Amazing and heartfelt piece of writing. So proud of you for putting yourself out there xx

  • Fantastic insightful piece, written with brutal honesty. Always happy to support the ‘musical wing’ of mind. Re: the above video – was a fan of The Music from the debut LP & always thought they should’ve done more, but now I know why. With artists like Jake Burns being so candid about depression it’s somewhat ‘opened the door’ for more (musical) artists to open up.

  • Andrew Smith

    I share your pain been on anti deps for seven yrs at least mirtazapline 30mg for the last few months since becoming homeless, now in interim accommodation still feeling bad thoughts regularly. Music and trying to read when I can munster the concentration gives me hope of a worthwhile life regardless on how I feel. Starting therapy after my impending operation on my left leg.

    • Scott Bickers

      Andrew your life is UTTERLY worthwhile and as impossible as it may seem to be able to do, please never think otherwise. Surround yourself with as much music and as many people as you can, be kind to them and you’ll have that kindness returned I’m confident of that. Stay strong and keep in touch bro.

  • Sue Stone

    This is brilliantly written Scott, having had the “demons” in the past I can relate to the way your music lifts you. Being of a different generation my music tastes are quite different, but nevertheless does the same job. I find that “distraction” – occupying my brain with something it enjoys doing – is the best tool I have. I also have wonderful friends (your sister is one of them). Good luck in everything you do.

  • Jen Daymond

    Such a down to earth piece that resonates! That feeling of difference and otherness is difficult to reconcile within this society, let alone within yourself. Staying strong is a daily mission. Thanks Scott x

  • Thanks for sharing and putting into words what so many others can’t. Music has always been a way for me to exercise my demons, and I know it helps so many other people as well. Hearing someone else put lyrics to the feelings that you share can be so cathartic. Be well!

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