Songs carry words, ideas, and even us at times. We find it hard to recite a few lines from our favorite book, but give us a song—even one we may not have heard in years—and how easily the words flow. Music evokes, awakens, and moves us emotionally, mentally, and literally.
Lately, I’ve had a song on near-constant repeat. It’s left me gasping for breath. And as I lose myself in it, I am confronted with a younger version of me—someone once lost. Someone who stuck around but who never really felt able to tell the tale.
In the late ’90s, in my mid-twenties, the wheels came off unexpectedly. External circumstances left me more than exhausted, longing for eternal rest. My body reacted with a rare skin condition and the loss of clumps of hair. Whilst I consulted a doctor about those outward manifestations, I couldn’t broach what was going on inside. I’d often drift off to sleep thinking of how to pull off the perfect disappearance, the path I would wind on foot to the Forth Road Bridge under the cover of darkness. I’d have recurring dreams of laying down to sleep in a sunny field under a huge oak tree or of paddling out to sea until my arms simply gave out.
Twenty years on, and as real and huge and all-consuming as I know those thoughts and feelings were, it seems as if all of that happened to someone else altogether. It’s alien—like some sort of out-of-body experience—and I barely recognize that as being me at all. Maybe it’s a combination of the people, things, and dreams that have come into my life and of those that have departed in the subsequent years. Just like you, I still get stuck in moments. There are days I wake to that can seem overwhelming. Mostly, however, I find today—the present—to be a gift.
Sometimes we need to change our tune. Other times, we need to face the music. Right now in my headphones, a song builds with emotion in the delivery of the lines, “Am I ready to leap? Is there peace beneath the roar of the Forth Road Bridge?” And ebbs, “…and fully clothed I’ll float away. Down the Forth into the sea.” And then a fresh set of waves appear, full of grunt and new-found pulse, “Take your life. Give it a shake. Gather up all your loose change” and the wave crashes, “I think I’ll save suicide for another year.” As the power dissipates, there’s a beautifully uplifting musical arrangement—the cinematic score of rising on the wings of the dawn, of first light and of how the dark night of the soul cannot understand it.
The tragedy, as those familiar with the lyrics will know, is that the person who vocalized all of these realities for so many people was himself found floating in the Forth in the shadow of that bridge. A song that saved him and countless others on infinite occasions was not enough one fateful May night.
We may not all be singers or writers of songs. But, like you, I have a voice and I can give words to my thoughts. Hard as I find it to admit to the way I once felt, I know the stigma. I know the shame of confessing to these things and the fear of what people might think or where that may lead. It quickens me to note that two out of three people wrestling with such thoughts never seek help. I was one of those two.
Sometimes we need to be the ones to be honest and brave—to offer the long-view, a fresh perspective to help ourselves and others see that things can look different to how they might sound in our heads. At times, all we may hear is “no hope” when really others are cheering and longing for you to “know hope.”
The lyrics referred to in this piece come from the song “Floating In The Forth” by Frightened Rabbit.