In my mind, it goes like this: I'm standing at a cocktail party. I feel comfortable, I'm drinking my favorite drink. I'm wearing my favorite dress. Then suddenly the host says, "Oh my friend X is arriving, he just texted that he's down the block." I imagine them walking down the street, rising in an elevator, ringing the door bell. I get nervous. Then I see them crossing the party to greet me, and I fear that when they do I might not live after they shake my hand.
This is what depression feels like for me. I've been diagnosed so many times that I know what it looks like from far away. I can anticipate it coming through progressive shifts in my attitude. Something as small as how many times I leave the house on the weekends, the amount of sleep I get, how much I start to neglect my hygiene.
In my younger years this felt like quicksand. After some acclimation and age, it feels like an old frenemy.
With everything that has happened the past two months, its been the kind of time where a simple task like, talking to customer service about my New York Times subscription, can leave me in tears. I don't leave home on the weekends. I sleep the days away, burrow on the sofa under a pile of mail, dirty socks, tissues, five-day old water glasses and under-the-door menus and watch Korean Dramas until I fall asleep.
But this isn't about depression at all, but the small things that make it better. This is a love letter to my consolations. Specifically, Travis (and Fran Healy).
Sometime in December I went to the audiologist per referral from my ENT. My last visits to my ENT had not been positive. I sat down once and he said the most alarming things: that I could lose my hearing, soon. We did some tests that were OK, but he needed to know more. He needed a specialist.
I got to the audiologist early and she sat me in a white booth and attached a bunch of plugs and things inside my ears. The booth had a clear glass window, where the audiologist would sit and at a bunch of futuristic computers give me sound prompts. Easy stuff, like, "raise your hand if you hear this word."
I was nervous. We began. It was the most horrible feeling in the world to look through the glass window and see her saying things that I couldn't hear. My knee jerk reaction was to panic, cry, and suddenly say the name "Fran Healy". The human voice that I believe, personally, is the most beautiful singing voice in the world. What if I couldn't hear that voice?
My results were fine.
"There are some low tones you can't hear," she said. We would retest in a year, to be certain that it wasn't getting worse. I left her office, wandered north up Madison Avenue back to work. I ran through the list of things in my life made better with Tchaikovsky and Travis and Fran Healy. It was a long list. It was the first time I'd realized how strongly I relied on them in times of pain.
When I write about Tchaikovsky (which is often) I write about how I have been listening to him since I was as young as seven years old. I write about what it feels like to get taller, to advance to the next grade, to graduate, to move to New York and always have Tchaikovsky as the constant accompaniment. The most magical thing is that pieces I heard and loved at 10 years old, I can revisit at 31 and feel like 10-years-old was yesterday. It's a strange and beautiful phenomenon. Like having a lifelong friend.
The band Travis has an equally important relationship, but a shorter one. I was introduced to them through MTV when I was a teenager. This heightened my interest in all the music coming out of the UK at the time. I added Starsailor, Coldplay and Oasis and other Brit-Pop to my Napster playlist. Then suddenly (this was pre-Google, mind you) I was using my library card to check out books about Scotland and England, and by junior year, was ready to go to university there. To the optimistic melody and sad lyrics of "Ring Out the Bell" I daydreamed about being somewhere else. A very beautiful, imaginary world came to be though those songs on their "The Invisible Band" album. An album I still listen to once a week. Its like a safety net or a bowl of ice cream. Always pleasant, always enjoyable.
Even then, at 17, when I received horrible news and my world felt stationery, large and unreachable, the same was true. Things felt better just by listening on repeat. (This was much to my sister's chagrin, who was subjected to it every morning when I wasn't praying the rosary. "This is so boring. This is mall music," she would say. I felt very vindicated a few years ago, while on a date with an Irish polo player [!!], he said, "I love Travis, a lot of people don't know this, but they paved the way for Coldplay and Keane.")
In 2012 things were dire for me. Dire enough for daily doses of Prozac. In response, designed a trip to Paris just from listening to Travis' "Somewhere Else." The song has the sort of sparkle and twang of all their other songs and ignited my imagination. I used to imagine walking the steep streets around the Sacre Coeur even though I'd only ever done it on Google maps. I started taking French lessons that year when I thought a trip could save me from depression. Read: it doesn't and it won't.
Fast forward to now: 31-years-old with a raw break-up wound and a $180 "accidental" trim turned haircut. This is the time where I crave feeling like Ariel. Instead, I feel like I'm wearing a costume. Every night I go home, climb in bed and listen to Travis' "Afterglow" until I can't stand it anymore. At the end of the song, Fran Healy's voice ascends higher and higher and the melody repeats itself enough that in a relaxing way, you're being lifted.
In June of last year, I was at Sing Sing Chinatown for my sisters birthday. It's a basement karaoke joint.
"You should sing something?" One of her friends said. He caught me flipping through the big book of songs. I've never sang karaoke before.
"I sing karaoke at home by myself, but I only sing Travis songs."
"You could do that one, what's the one? 'Why Does it Always Rain on Me?'" he said.
"Yeah, I could," I said.
"His voice is so..." he said. I didn't hear the rest of his sentence, but I knew he must have said something highly complimentary, like "ethereal" or "magical" or "unadultered". I closed the song book. I decided I was too chicken to sing.
One of my sisters friends stepped down off the stage and pointed at me.
"Get up there! You're lame."
She was drunk but accurate.