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Why This Ed Sheeran Song Made Me Put Him in My Self-Care Kit

Since receiving treatment for my anxiety and depression, I’ve discovered that listening to certain songs and writing about my mental health are strategies that promote my self-care. And, full disclosure: I’m way “late to the party” when it comes to Ed Sheeran.

I’ve heard the name for years. I know he’s a “pop star” but I didn’t know he was the top male vocalist in the world for a time. I had heard snippets of songs here and there, though the style was just not my spot-of-English-tea at the time, so I didn’t pay much attention. Then came one song that was all over all the radio stations, and basically unavoidable. Even so, it took months for me to learn that Ed Sheeran was the artist because the style and lyrics were so radically different from my assumptions about his music. That song was “Shape of You.”

I abhorred the song. I was philosophically against how I interpreted the meaning of the lyrics (jumping to conclusions, for my anxious comrades) and it just rubbed me the wrong way. Just, yuck.

Then, one day, my biases were challenged during a grocery shopping trip with my son, who was 5 years old at the time. When I was ready to turn down the next aisle, I looked around to see where he’d gone off to, and I found him dancing like nobody was watching. This was my highly anxious son — who certainly wouldn’t dance if you asked him to — only feeling the music on his own terms. He was bustin’ a move without a care in the world. And then I noticed what song was playing on the grocery store’s elevator-music tracklist. Uh, huh. That one.

And by golly, that incredible music-emotional-memory-brain-connection thing happened. Now, every time I catch “Shape of You” on the radio, I stay on that channel, sing-along, sway and enjoy the blissful feeling that overcomes me. I feel the memory of seeing my happy child. You know what they say: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

More recently, I’ve even given the lyrics of “Shape of You” a second chance. Maybe it’s my medication talking, but I took a new perspective and actually acknowledged how the song could be sexy and romantic, not just lustful and objectifying. Indeed, there are multiple lyrics that allude to an honest relationship, like “my heart is falling too,” “we let the story begin,” and “we talk for hours and hours … how your family is doing OK.” My re-examination of the song, through a more flexible lens, allowed me to also attribute the song to feelings toward my partner.

Speaking of my partner, I’m not the only one in the family who’s experienced the music-emotional-memory-brain connection thing in the context of Ed Sheeran. My husband surprised me one night, as we were watching music videos together (one of our favorite weekend night pastimes as an introverted anxious couple with young kids) and selected “Perfect.” Though my husband has a highly sensitive personality, I didn’t know he was amiable to the Ed Sheeran fan base. Remember, I was “late to the party,” and had not ever given “Perfect” much of a chance. But, as I paid attention to the lyrics and was struck by the haunting melody, I realized the song undoubtedly reminded him of us. We were kids when we fell in love (ages 15 and 17), and it took years and some trials to appreciate what our love was. Between our differing religions (or lack thereof), politics, career aspirations and other cultural rifts, it did seem like our relationship was a matter of defying the odds. But I think that must’ve been how it seemed from the outside. From inside the relationship, I don’t remember feeling like our differences meant fighting against all odds; it gave us something to talk about and room for personal growth.

For all the times he has told me I look beautiful or perfect when I feel I’ve hardly taken care of myself. For all the times he has just looked into my eyes. For all the times he has said he just wants to be close to me, hold my hand, kiss me, and hold me between his arms, in the dark. I’m not sure how someone about seven years our junior managed to write the story of our love, having now reached 10 years of marriage, but well-played, Mr. Sheeran. My partner’s love languages are physical touch and quality time, and they are well mirrored through the lyrics of “Perfect.”

And holy lyrics, Batman; as I was listening to Sirius Radio during a drive to work, I came across the acoustic version of Ed Sheeran’s “I Don’t Care.” Keeping in mind I still wasn’t on the Sheeran bandwagon, I was definitely attracted to the song even though I had not remembered feeling the same way toward the duet version with Justin Bieber. Perhaps it’s because the acoustic version allowed me to appreciate the melody and, more importantly, I could understand all the lyrics.

I found myself feeling delighted every time I happened across the song for the coming days. Once I realized I was actually feeling frustrated those times the song didn’t play during a drive, I caved and purchased the single so I could perseverate and listen to it over and over again, sing it, learn it on guitar and listen to it in my earbuds while I follow my toddler around the yard. The impact of “I Don’t Care’s” lyrics is all the more powerful because they sound like exact quotes from either my husband or myself. I know my husband doesn’t care to be at parties. Yet, he has told me that as long as I am with him, close to him, he’ll still go anywhere with me.

The song is basically an anthem for the socially anxious, as highlighted in another post on The Mighty. It conveys the critical point that “socially anxious” doesn’t mean “antisocial;” it means needing to find that deep, authentic connection with those few people who allow you to be yourself.

So, that’s it — Ed Sheeran is officially my new, go-to self-care routine. At the time of this writing, I’ve been listening to his songs every chance I get. My husband is totally on-board because my mood has been consistently elated. My 2-year-old is on-board because he enjoys all the extra dances he’s shared in his mom’s arms. And my now 8-year-old? Well, he still likes the sound of “Shape of You,” but he doesn’t hide the fact that he could do without all of mom’s constant, embarrassing singing and dancing.

Getty Images photo via BartekSzewczyk