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Riding with the ghost & music
Posted by
9th Dec 2014

A fantastic post by triber RWTG who describes how music has tied aptly with his experience of mental illness. More blogs from RWTG can be found on their website!

"I’ve been riding with the ghost,
i’ve been doing whatever he told me"

I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost – Songs: Ohia

Kinda appropriate, yeah? When I started this blog, I always knew it was going to be anonymous, and thus I would need some sort of pseudonym. I spent a while coming up with various (shoddy) nicknames for this, but all of them seemed slightly bland.

This whole project is a big deal for me. It’s taken a lot of willpower to summon up the courage to speak about what I’ve been through, even though it’s anonymous. (To all the mental health bloggers who write about their illnesses without remaining anonymous, I salute you. Your courage is inspiring to me.) As such, I didn’t want my alias to be just a vague, throw-away name of no real significance. I wanted it to mean something, to be relevant – even if just to me, and not an obvious reference to my illness. This is the most personal thing I have ever done, and I felt that the name I used should be just as personal, even though it’s anonymous.

There is a singer of whom I am a big fan, and who is not well known. His name is Jason Molina, aka Songs: Ohia. The last album he released before he died, Magnolia Electric Co., is one of my all-time favourites. I was listening to it on my record player a few weeks ago, and a song was playing, called I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost.

It immediately struck me as the perfect alias, because it so succinctly summed up everything.

The Corner Man is my ghost. I love the way ‘riding with’ not only implies that he is a companion, someone to whom I am attached, but also that I am on some sort of journey with him. And, of course, the phrase ‘ghost’ has its own dark, brooding connotations. The second line, ‘I’ve been doing whatever he told me’ again plays nicely in to the hands of my experiences.

The other reference to Songs: Ohia is in my tagline: the sirens and the silence of my mental illness

"Now they’ll be working in the cold grey rock;
Now they’ll be working in the hot mill steam;
Now they’ll be working in the concrete;
In the sirens and the silences now;
All the great set up hearts
All at once start to beat"

Farewell Transmission – Songs: Ohia

There’s something about that imagery, that juxtaposition of ‘sirens’ and ‘silence’, and the similarity of the words that I love. Again, I think it ties aptly with mental illness. Sometimes it can feel like a siren – you’ve got so much crammed in to your head, voices are shouting, you feel like you’re losing control of yourself and you can feel like the whole world is chaos. Then, it can be a silence – the cold emptiness, the loneliness of it all. It can be desolate, barren and bleak.

And so it got me thinking about music in general. The beautiful thing about music (and it’s not a unique element, it also applies to art, to poetry, to literature…) is that it can speak volumes to one person, strike a chord (pardon the pun) with them, and to someone else it can be completely ambivalent.

I have friends who also like Songs: Ohia, and like those two songs. But due to the fact that they have not had the same experiences as I have, it means something completely different to them. Even though we all like a song, we like it for different reasons, and each of us brings something personal to it that they alone understand, and that song then means something unique to that person. It’s a beautiful thing, I think. The singer (or poet, or author) presents us with their canvas, and we colour it with our emotions.

I remember when I was first faced with the fact that I have a mental illness, there were two songs by the Smiths that both had lines that hit me as very significant.

"Does the body rule the mind, or does the mind rule the body?"

Still Ill – The Smiths

"I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, and now it’s happening in mine."

That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore – The Smiths

Now I’ve been a Smiths fan for a long time, and I had heard those two songs way before my illness set in. But again, it’s amazing how two songs that you like and have heard many times can take on a whole new meaning when your life changes. The colours that we painted the canvas with earlier have changed.

It can be so comforting. I know it’s a ludicrous thing to think, but when I was in the middle of my worst spell, I really did feel completely alone, completely isolated and cut off from the world. So hearing Morrissey croon those words (and How Soon is Now? is probably the best song for anyone who is feeling alone) really does help you to get away from that condemning thought process, and realise that there’s no chance in hell that you’re alone. That there is always someone who has been through what you’re going through and – frankly – there are people going through a hell of a lot worse.

(By the by, I’m not normally an advocate of the “people are going through worse” argument. In my book, it doesn’t matter how seemingly insignificant your problem is – it’s a subjective thing. Thus, if it affects you badly, that makes it a bad problem. However, when I was in my bad spell, that thought did give me a certain amount of solace.)

And sometimes, music offers a different escape. If you have read my story, you will know that I have problems with a voice in my head. Sometimes I can ignore it, but at others times, it is completely relentless and I find myself drowning in the self-loathing it inflicts upon me. Music is always the thing that I turn to. I still struggle talking to friends, I immediately feel unbearably vulnerable and uncomfortable, and ashamed – mainly because the Corner Man (see my story for details) becomes furious when I speak about him.

So it’s music that I find solace in. Sometimes I turn to calming music (War on Drugs, Sigur Rós, Mogwai, Real Estate and Songs: Ohia are great for this), and other times I just need to listen to something loud to drown him out. Case to point – today I was driving back from work and I was in a terrible state, so I listened to Illmatic by Nas on near full volume in my car. Sometimes, the crudest methods of escapism are the most affective.

I’m sure that everyone has ‘go-to’ songs when they’re feeling down. There’s something about music, it offers a completely different kind of therapy compared to, say, talking to a friend. I know the latter probably is better, as it involves talking through problems as opposed to escaping them, but nonetheless I think music really helped me deal with mine – if even on a subconscious level. There’s also the other aspect that friends come and go, and can betray you and let you down, whereas music is an eternal presence, consistently reliable and always dependable.

Play on, I say.

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