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The 80s Song That Saved My Life When I Was Suicidal

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It was 1986. I was a student at Buffalo State College. In many ways, it was remarkable I was even there. Five years prior, I experienced a major psychotic break resulting in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder type I. Throughout those years, I cycled in and out of local mental health institutions and hospital-based psychiatric wards.

One thing that kept me going, though, was music. While at Buffalo State, I was a member of the college’s radio station, WBNY. I was a Broadcasting major and aspired to become a radio producer. 

It was also in 1986 that Peter Gabriel released his biggest selling solo album, “So.” The LP had such hits as “Sledgehammer,” “Red Rain” and “In My Eyes.” These were all staples on MTV. However, the one song that resonated with me deeply was “Don’t Give Up.” This duet, performed with another of my favorite artists, Kate Bush, was the one song that helped me in my darkest days.

I knew what it was like to experience the major highs and lows that accompany this incredibly unpredictable illness that was formerly known as manic depression. There were several times I attempted to take my life in those early years. However, things changed when I heard this song.

It carries with it a great deal of emotion as Gabriel and Bush perform a responsive dialogue. In it, Gabriel is expressing despair and at one point he sings:

“Going to stand on that bridge / Keep my eyes down below / Whatever may come / And whatever may go / That river’s flowing / That river’s flowing.”

Replying to Gabriel’s cry of anguish, Bush pleads:

“Don’t give up / ‘Cause you have friends / Don’t give up / You’re not the only one / Don’t give up / No reason to be ashamed / Don’t give up / You still have us / Don’t give up now / We’re proud of who you are / Don’t give up / You know it’s never been easy / Don’t give up / ‘Cause I believe there’s a place / There’s a place where we belong.”

I recall listening to this song repeatedly and using it as a source of inspiration to help me make it through the depths of my depressed periods. It served to lift me up in a way no other song ever has. I dreamed of a day I would be free of the demons that kept me stuck in a cycle of never-ending hopelessness, and this tune provided a certain kind of courage and faith that things could get better. And they did.

What this song has done for me through its powerful lyrics is given me a motto to live by. It’s been over 30 years since the song was first released and I still find it to be powerful. I’ve listened to it innumerable times. While I have not had any suicidal ideation since that period, I still use it as a source of hope and a means to keep me buoyed when I feel like I’m struggling in the waters of life.

I know this song not only resonates with me but with others as well. I can’t think of any other that expresses the sentiment of perseverance in the way that “Don’t Give Up” does. Thank you, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.

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Originally published: May 24, 2018
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