Seeing as mental health is such a personal issue, we thought it was only right that we talk a bit about our own experiences with both mental health and music. Each month, we'll write a blog-style piece where we open up about something personal to us. This is a little daunting, but we hope it will serve to highlight the importance of expressing your worries and emotions, rather than feeling like you have to deal with them alone.
Ok, as far as fears go, I think we can all agree that the fear of death is pretty rational. We’re all, to some degree or other, afraid of what lies in wait for us after we die. It’s also a fear that can be incredibly positive. It drives humanity forward, because in knowing that our time on earth is temporary, this gives us a sense of urgency, and an eagerness to really seize the day.
But since a young age, I’ve always been especially afraid of this looming darkness that is continually on the horizon. While for most people, I think this fear is at the back of our minds, for me it’s always been at the forefront. Every time I'd leave the house, every time I'd drive anywhere, every time I'd think about going to sleep without turning off all the charger sockets - it would rear its ugly head. My first thought would always be ‘wait, what if someone attacks me’ or ‘what if I crash’ or ‘what if the house burns down’. And while these are semi-rational thoughts, when it gets to the point that you’re having to think twice about leaving the house, just because you’re scared of somehow dying while you’re out, it becomes a problem.
For me though, this fear of death doesn’t just apply to my own death, it extends to the deaths of my loved ones. If I’m being honest, this fear is a lot greater than the fear of my own death, because it’s out of my control. I can have some control over which dangerous situations I put myself in, but I can’t do the same for my parents, my friends, and so on.
I think this fear and anxiety started just before secondary school, when I began to become more aware that my dad is a bit older than most dads. I told him about how scared I was of him dying, but he reassured me and told me that by the time we have to worry about that sort of thing, they’ll have created some magic anti-ageing pill that everyone will be taking.
So around then, I became obsessed with anti-ageing research. I emailed professors from around the world asking for more information and a timeline of when the treatments would be available. I came up with wild theories about how to speed up the production of these ageing cures, such as scientists doing their research whilst in lucid dream states, because you can go through a week-long dream that only equates to a matter of seconds in real-time. At school, my strengths were always humanities-based, but I seriously considered pursuing Biology at University instead, with an eye to going into biogerontology.
My parents were fully supportive, but cautioned that I shouldn’t be opting for this route purely to try and make them live forever. My mum gently pointed out that what if halfway into my 4-year Biogerontology PhD, one of my parents - Heaven forbid - died. Then I would be lost. And I realised that this career trajectory was based on an attempt to control what couldn’t be controlled, and that was something I’d have to come to terms with.
Fast forward to the present, and I’m now bungee-jumping off bridges and taking part in 100mph road races!
I kid, of course. I won’t lie, I’m still terrified of death, especially of the deaths of those I love, because I still can’t imagine how I would be able to deal with the gaping void that would be left. But I have a number of things that help me with this fear, and that help me to ease my mind. I try to use my fear to fuel my gratitude for the fact that I have these loving relationships, that in turn drive me to keep them alive so obsessively.
A key thing that I lean on to help me with this fear is music. Artists reflect and express typically inexpressible aspects of the human condition, and the inevitability of death is a huge part of the human condition. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of music grapples with the finitude of our lives.
I find EDM is especially pertinent in expressing these fears and also giving courage as to how to overcome them. EDM seems to have in its DNA an amazing capacity to take something dark and completely flip it on its head into something jubilant. I maintain that Avicii’s ‘The Nights’ is my all-time favourite song, and it’s a song that my dad and I both love. He will still send me a message before any big event in my life saying ‘Remember…these are the Nights!’, just to remind me to make the most of the moment. And this mentality is crucial to me dealing with my fear of death, because if I’m constantly worrying about what might be lurking on the horizon, then I won’t be fully present and it’ll encroach onto my enjoyment of the here and now. Songs like Avicii’s ‘The Nights’ and ‘The Days’; Axwell ^ Ingrosso’s 'Sun is Shining’; Swedish House Mafia’s ‘Don’t You Worry Child’; and Martin Garrix’s ‘No Sleep’, to name a few, really emphasise the importance of making the most of this day, of this second, of this moment.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that this presence and sense of here and now is something that I’ve been seeking since I first acknowledged my fear of death. During school, I was infatuated with new music, and I remember going through a period where I would refuse to listen to anything that hadn’t come out in the past two weeks. At the time, I thought I was just being uber-modern. But in reality (as my friends repeatedly tried to show me) it was a pretty narrow-minded way to listen to music.
However, I think the reason I was so keen to only listen to new music was that it made me feel firmly planted in that moment, as though I was worried that listening to older music would make me lose sight of the present and I’d get caught up in the past. For me, each song felt like a photograph, it was a snapshot of a particular moment in time, of a particular feeling or emotion. And the beautiful way that a song can capture a single moment, just as a camera can freeze a single scene in time, represented to me an opportunity to get lost in the ‘moments’ that new music offered. If I was always in those moments, then I wouldn’t be able to worry about the future, because the future is where death lives.
Thankfully, I soon realised that it was ridiculous to limit my music scope so much, and I now listen to a variety of music from a variety of time periods (otherwise this magazine would be a 30-page tribute to the current Number 1 and nothing else…!). Nonetheless, I still believe it is amazing how music can capture these moments in time. I’ve realised that whatever time period the music you’re listening to is from, each song still represents a moment in somebody’s life, because a song usually expresses one overriding emotion that someone is feeling at one particular time. I try to use these song-moments as little reminders to stay in this moment. At the end of the day, that’s all we ever have. Music is helping me to accept this, and to turn my fear of death into an appreciation of and gratitude for the present.
I want to finish on this great quote from the TV series The Good Place, where Michael is attempting to understand why the immortals living in ‘The Good Place’, which is a version of Heaven, have all become lifeless and dismal:
"You said that every human is a little bit sad all the time, because you know you’re going to die.