Depression Is Like a Song Stuck in My Head

Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Do you ever have a song stuck in your head and can’t get out? The song plays over and over. Sometimes it’s just a single verse, or maybe a single line. Sometimes, you don’t even know the words. It’s just a tune that feel inescapable. When you get a song stuck in your head, you can go and listen to that song, or maybe another song, or call a friend, and it seems to go away, even if for a little bit.

For me, depression is like having a song stuck in your head, except the song is full of self-doubt and self-hatred. I can’t simply go into my iTunes library, my Spotify playlist or YouTube and listen to the song to get it out of my head. I can’t call a friend to distract myself and instantly be cured of this mental chaos. It feels like there’s no escape. The thoughts continue to swirl in my head, but sadly these songs do not even have an uplifting beat or steady base. These songs can’t be shared with others. We don’t enjoy the despondency of my mind on a road trip.

While these intrusive thoughts seem to linger in my head in what can somewhat be compared to a song, at least the lyrics of a song can be happy, entertaining or at least neutral. The song of my depression leaves me debilitated. I feel so full of all these negative emotions towards myself, yet I somehow still feel hollow.

These songs are internal, incapacitating and inaudible. They feel like me, my true self, because how can we understand life if not for our thoughts, perception and experiences?

My thoughts cloud my perception, and therefore influence the way I experience my life. Objectively, I know I have a good life with supportive family and friends. Even for someone without mental illness, that can be rare to come by. I know this makes me lucky.

My head has a playlist full of questions. Why am I not happy? Why am I afraid to fall asleep? Is it because I know it means I’ll have to wake up and live another day? What’s so terrifying about waking up? Biologically, shouldn’t I want to wake up? I feel like intuitively there should be a drive to want to live. Because if there isn’t one, then why are we all still alive? Everyone struggles with something, ranging in degrees of seriousness. But every person in their life has already gone through the biggest obstacle he or she had to face so far. And that obstacle, 20 years later in that person’s life, will not longer be the biggest obstacle he or she had to face. So, why do we keep trying?

My depression makes it hard for me to understand why people have this drive to live. And as a person with mental illness, I’d never want another person to struggle to understand this drive in the way I struggle with it. The way I’ve pushed myself to keep going, to keep living, is to try and keep those people who see and have a purpose in life away from the way I experience life. As much as I want people to understand me, my mental illness and my experiences, I don’t want anyone to truly understand, because that means they must have experienced something similar to me, and I’d never wish that upon anyone.

A close friend of mine recently asked me, “Who cares about literally anything we’re doing” and it hurt me to know she also struggles with this notion. The mindset of well if I’m stuck being alive, I might as well try to enjoy it is not a particularly fun way of approaching life. I knew I couldn’t say any broad responses like, “It’ll get better soon” or “There’s meaning in life” because I can’t make those promises.

I routinely get those broad responses, and it led to an unhealthy futuristic way of thinking. I used to think if only I did this, or if only I got this, or once I accomplish this, that suddenly I would be cured. I would be happy. It took me awhile to accept my mental illness. And by “accept,” I do not mean passively coming to terms with a dismal life. What I do mean is I can stop fighting the reality of my situation and accept it. The reality is I have depression and all I can do is my best to get better. I can do what treatment I know works for me, which is a combination of medication and weekly therapy visits. After going through intensive outpatient therapy for 12 weeks, my therapists exposed me to a dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT) tool called “radical acceptance.” This tool, while one of the most difficult and frustrating adjustments I’ve had cultivate, mentally prepared me to tackle my mental illness.

We often use music to try and understand the parts of life that are hard to explain. Artists are often able to explain the human experience through metaphors that sound beautiful to the ears and validating to the soul. Whenever I get an actual song in my head, I feel lucky and grateful. For while it may be a nuisance to many, it is an escape for me and my intrusive thoughts. It is an escape from my own consciousness to momentarily “Shake it Off” with Taylor Swift or learn what it means to be the “Eye of the Tiger.” With the typical playlist my brain involuntarily repeats for me, I’m hopeful that one day, my biggest mental battle is another pop song on the radio.

Getty Images photo via william87

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