I knew it was getting bad when I couldn’t stop listening to The Smiths. I needed to fade away into “Asleep” and “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” constantly. As soon as I’d finish one album, I’d move on to the next and repeat the process as many times as it took to fill the day. Then days. Then a week. Then another week, and still the only music I craved was Morrissey telling me how heartbreaking life is over and over.
Since I started listening to them, The Smiths have always been the music I turn to when life feels like a big black hole that’s swallowing me (is that #basicwhitegirl enough for you?). Never a fan of 80s music, I had never been introduced to New Wave bands like The Smiths until college. (Thank you, Stephen Chbosky.) But once I found them? They were the soundtrack to the worst point of my anxiety-turned-depression in college. You don’t ever really forget that feeling once you’ve experienced it or the music that helped you get through it. If you’re lucky, you learn how to deal with anxiety and depression and how to tone it down when it starts so you don’t fade away completely. But I don’t think it ever really goes away – once it has gripped you, it’s always lurking at the fringes of life, waiting for you to fall.
And that’s where I’ve been since late July: allowing myself to ebb and flow through lots of bouts of anxiety, listlessly drifting through life not really sure where I’m headed.
I’ve been a little lost.
In the beginning, I was in denial that’s what was happening. After all, I’ve basically spent the last five years trying to piece my life back together after moving back to Texas. My only three goals were to: find a full time job I enjoyed that would put me back on the career path I wanted to be on, buy a new car and find my own place to live again.
By April 1 of this year, I had all three of those things. So why did I suddenly feel more lost that I had in years?
It wasn’t all that listening to The Smiths that showed me the answer, though.
It was Jack Antonoff’s summer anthem, “I Wanna Get Better”, written for his side project band Bleachers. It was a constant soundtrack that led from where I was in mid-July to where I am now.
The beginning of this song’s impact on me can be traced back to just before I quit writing in mid-July. I chose it as my #bestsongallweek pick, explaining that I felt this need to get better, be better, do better – at everything. When I wrote that post, everything just felt bad and I didn’t know why. I kept looking around thinking, what the hell is the matter with you? You have absolutely everything you’ve been working towards – why do you feel this way?
In that post I talk about how life was messy and it felt like I was in the process of learning something – but I didn’t know what yet.
I realize now I wasn’t learning. I was busy breaking.
I didn’t know I was broken…
When I came home from a two week vacation in early August, life felt even worse. Not in an all-consuming way – it was small, but it kept nagging at me. I fell back into my daily grind, but I was just going through the motions because that’s what was expected of me.
And then, slowly, I started realizing all the things that felt wrong and all the ways I was breaking down:
I was feeling sad that I didn’t have a tight knit group of friends that I could go meet at a bar and talk through all my problems with – a direct result of watching the entire “How I Met Your Mother” series approximately three times in just eight months. (I have a Netflix addiction.) I have friends, and I love them dearly, but we’re all just so spread out and busy and living our own lives that if I’m completely honest…I feel like I’m just a bother to them if I want to talk about serious stuff. And I don’t know how to stop that feeling.
I was letting money and budgets stress me out as I finally fell into a rhythm after moving and realized how tight things were going to be. I knew I’d have to give up a lot of my extras to afford to live on my own, but going back to the post-college watch-every-penny-I-spend mindset wasn’t one I was anxious to revisit. Yet that’s right where I ended up thanks to a few huge unexpected expenses like a crazy parking ticket.
And when you’re watching everyone around you to see how they’re living, and it suddenly hits you that they can afford the luxury apartments or houses and all the extras because they have a significant other to split the bills with, well…it makes you feel like a downright failure for not having the same in life – and wonder what you’ve done wrong to not have accomplished that as well. (Most days it doesn’t phase me, but every once in a while guys…it gets me because this single girl thing is harder than it looks.)
I was desperately missing my family all being together. I knew moving would cut down on how much I see them (I mean, hello – I was a boomerang kid living at home again until late March!), but with everyone scattered across the city and country – and across the world, now and again – over the last few months, there’s been few opportunities for the Saturday night dinners I’d grown accustomed to. Throw in the fact that from mid-March to the end of July I saw my mom less than seven days total, and I just felt overwhelmingly sad that we were all so spread out.
Work turned into work. It wasn’t fun anymore. I know it’s a job and it isn’t always going to be fun, but for the most part I’ve always enjoyed the work I do – it’s why I picked a writing career. I like writing articles and piecing together content like a puzzle. I like being behind-the-scenes, working on the details to help make something come together. My position has basically been a jack of all trades type, where I’m constantly doing different projects. But suddenly work was nothing like that. I lost a clear vision of how I fit into the larger picture. I hated everything I was doing and had little to no motivated to do it – and that showed. It definitely showed.
Top it off with barely going to shows this year and while I was writing a ton of posts I was really proud of and enjoying, I felt like I was being a big faker somehow. That plus having little desire to stand for hours on end, listen to too-loud bands and deal with badly behaved concert-goers left me feeling like maybe music and I were breaking up finally.
And that’s how I got to being broken.
…’til I wanted to change
Then one evening I was having a conversation with Melanie, and she told me something that made everything click into place in the following days.
“10 years ago me would be so disappointed in who I am today.”
When she said it, I replied with a lame, “Yeah, I don’t think 10 years ago me would like me much either.”
And the longer I allowed that statement to sink in, the more I realized how incredibly true it was. Ten years ago me wanted present me to be writing about music, writing a book, traveling to see her favorite bands as often as she could. She wanted me to have a cute apartment and a job I love. But above all else, she wanted me have a little confidence and not be afraid to just be me instead of being the wallflower and observing until she knows how she fits into a situation or setting. (Introvert to the max.)
Ten years ago me had goals, a little drive and some ambition.
Present me had forgotten all of that.
I wanna get better
Back in July, I knew I wanted to change – I just didn’t realize it was because I was broken. And after that conversation with Melanie, I realize it was because suddenly I had no more goals I was working towards. The last five years were all about regaining everything I felt like I lost when I had to move home to Texas. Now that I had all those things – I had no idea what was next.
So here we are: right now me, the girl whose fingers are flying across this keyboard typing out her heart and soul to a heartless Internet who could care less, is trying to put it all back together. She’s trying to get better.
There’s been little steps in the right direction. I’m trying to be better about picking up a phone, writing an email or talking with friends about the real things when I need to – because I have some truly amazing friends who say all the right things and all the tough things when I need them. I’m a better person because of the people I know. I have a better grasp on my budget now that I have those unexpected expenses behind me, a little bit of a raise and some new freelance writing projects in progress.
My family will once again all be in the same city in a week’s time, and we have some BIG, exciting things happening – I’ll become an aunt for the first time in a little more than a month, which I am SO excited about. After a lot of good, but tough, conversations work is fun again – I helped rewrite content for an entire website, migrate it and am now learning how to manage it all which I am loving. (Even if the CMS is a pain in the ass sometimes.)
And just a few weeks ago, I had this fantastic moment when I was laying on my bed listening to “Rubber Ring” by The Smiths that brought me back to music. I knew the lyrics, but these lines hit me like a ton of bricks:
But don’t forget the songs that made you cry,
And the songs that saved your life,
Yes, you’re older now and you’re a clever swine,
But they were the only ones who ever stood by you…
This defines my relationship with music so perfectly – I love it because there have been times when it felt like the only thing I had in the world was music. And it saved me. That isn’t hyperbolic or overstated. It’s, quite simple, the damn truth. And for that reason, music will never not be a vital part of who I am.
I didn’t know I was broken until I wanted to change.
I thank the musical gods that Jack Antonoff wrote “I Wanna Get Better” because without him telling his story, I’m not sure I would have realized I needed to get better too.
That’s why last night, in anticipation of writing this, I came home from work, changed into the boots and black pants that are basically my uniform these days and walked to the freeway overpass a few blocks from where I live now to snap the photos for this post as the sun was setting.
And before I left the overpass, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and screamed at myself, “Hey! I wanna get better!”