A Song Of Depression

Music has the potential to evoke powerful emotions and remind us of experiences from the past. A few years ago, I heard the song Uncomfortably Slow by Newton Faulkner for the first time. It was as though someone had condensed a part of my history and turned it into song. The lines that first struck me were from the chorus:

So don’t take my photograph
‘Cause I don’t wanna know
How it looks to feel like this
As cars and people pass
It feels like standing still but I know
I’m just moving uncomfortably slow…

My first episode of depression descended when I was about fifteen and lasted for years. I did my best to hide it from my family. I felt ashamed and wanted to sort it out myself. The voice of depression told me I wasn’t good enough; I was a waste of space. I grew my fringe and hid behind a curtain of hair so no-one could see my eyes. I could fake smiles and ‘normal’ conversations but there was no way of taking the darkness out of my eyes.

About this time, I learned how some cultures believed photographs could steal your soul and therefore should be avoided. The idea grew as a kind of superstition that if someone took my photograph perhaps I would be trapped in a perpetual state of melancholy. I was also afraid that if someone captured my eyes in a photograph, they would be polluted by my darkness. The potency of seeing “How it looks to feel like this” felt like a danger to others.

In the Mayan religion and culture, mirrors were believed to be portals from the Underworld into the world above. By looking into a mirror, you risked releasing an evil demon. Women were forbidden to look into mirrors and men did so as a sign of courage. These anthropological stories backed up my sense of the dangerous quality of seeing my depression reflected back in whatever form.

Ironically, photographs became a way of me keeping myself safe in social situations at that time. During my teenage years, I would take a camera to parties and whenever I went out. It allowed me to appear involved with whatever was happening whilst protecting me from engaging with people fully. I felt on the outside looking in and having the camera legitimised this in a way that didn’t draw negative attention to me. I documented the teenage experience without living it. I analysed and studied behaviour, much as an anthropologist might with a newly discovered tribe. It was all very separate from my experience of the world but presenting them with trophies of their exploits won me some level of acceptance in the group. In those days, there were no camera phones or digital photographs so capturing memories on film meant paying for each picture to be developed. This made pictures far more precious.

I did have fun with some of the photos I produced. At one party, I took a picture of the Head Boy of the local boys’ grammar school crashed out on a sofa wearing only a pair of grimy grey Y-fronts. The following week, I forged the letterhead of the sixth form I attended and typed him a letter, supposedly from the Head of our sixth form. It started with her expressing her horror and disgust at his debauched behaviour and then went into a lengthy tirade on his choice of underwear. ‘She’ offered to take him shopping and advise him on some suitable alternatives. I wish I had been there with my camera to capture his face as he read the letter.

Another aspect of Newton Faulkner’s song that chimes is moving “uncomfortably slow”. When I’m depressed, it feels as it the world is carrying on around me at a pace and I am crawling, struggling to move enough to keep breathing. The heaviness that the song conveys to me is so familiar with these periods of my life. Performing the simplest of tasks seems to take forever as my mind has morphed into cotton wool and refuses to help. My limbs are leaden weights and all movement takes immense effort. Even my speech feels laboured as the words no longer feel available and have to be sought out and delivered ponderously. The song provides me with comfort that someone else understands and I’m not alone in this experience. I don’t even know if the song was written about being depressed, it doesn’t really matter. The meaning I take from it is my own.

What songs speak to you and mirror experiences from your life? Put a comment below to share your connection with songs and give other people the chance to discover them too.

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