Autobiogramophone: six songs of a bipolar life

Here are six songs.

I’m not making a story from this list; there is no beginning and certainly no end, just some songs, songs that represent a feeling, a mood state, a moment in my bipolar-filled life.

I haven’t gone the full Desert Island Discs eight because I waffle on too much. (What, me? Surely not?)


Play Dead

Björk – Debut (1993)

No other song encapsulates for me the pain of the depressions I went through during my university years.

I didn’t really go away to uni. In 1992 I chucked away a place at Cambridge and enrolled in the local, bottom of the league university to be with my 18 year old fiancé. I was just desperately afraid that I couldn’t manage without him so we moved in together.

Turned out I couldn’t manage with him, either. He was out of the flat 9-5 while I had just a few hours of classes a week, giving me little chance to make friends, and anyway everyone else seemed to know each other from living in halls or shared houses. Our flat was cold and mouldy.

By the end of the first term I was so crushed by depression I was on the verge of dropping out and thinking seriously of suicide. The GP at the student practice agreed that I needed specialist input, so I was referred to a psychiatrist for the first time – and that is a whole other story. A long story.


Break and Enter

The Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation (1994)

But of course between the uni lows there were the uni highs. I’d already worked out that there was something different about my “happiness” – I stopped drinking, not feeling the need for booze, let alone pills, because my brain chemistry did it all.

Lots of the good times involved, in the absence of uni buddies, a tight set of friends from school . I was the only girl in our little gang of four, which included my husband (we married at the end of our first year) and I milked it. I milked it in a way I remain guilty about, as there so were many boundary issues and so much inappropriate behaviour when I was hypomanic. Meanwhile clubs or parties just increased my opportunities to flirt and enhanced my grandiosity.

I have a very vivid memory of this track. I am standing with the three boys, wearing skin tight leggings and nothing above the waist but a plunge bra and a couple of necklaces, posing with my friend’s pellet gun (a replica Heckler and Koch which I’m sure would have him instantly nabbed by counter-terrorism police these days).

There’s the whole gamut of hypomania there: the focused energy; the heightened sexuality; the sense of power and invulnerability; the edge of aggression; the delight at being the centre of attention.


Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

This song represents all the wellbeing and stability I can sometimes be lucky enough to experience. While I was pregnant with my first child I entered a surprising period of… happiness. I felt good. I felt calm. I felt serene. I was not high.

It was a gift of a period, one of the best in my life. The pregnancy was “textbook”. I worked part time in the university library, something I enjoyed, and had plenty of time for yoga and planning my hippie birth.

for usI had a tape of Innervisions, supplied probably by my ex-father in law, someone who introduced me to a lot of music. In other words, he recorded stuff  from vinyl (for anyone under 35, that was our equivalent of illegal file sharing). I loved the whole album, but this song with its repeated refrain about not worrying, about allowing someone to step out and try something new while being supported from the wings, seemed both a great message for me as I moved into motherhood, and a great message for my unborn child.



Travis – The Man Who (1999)

My daughter was born in the last month on the 20th century. I remember this song was playing on MTV while I was spreading out old blankets and sheets on the living room floor in readiness for my home birth.

My waters had already broken and I was having very mild contractions. I was crawling all over the house because she was in a somewhat unnatural position known to make labour harder. I had been advised that being belly downward might help her to quite literally turn in time for labour proper, but she didn’t, and the labour was infinitely worse than expected. But I don’t hold it against her. Anymore.

But the lyrics also seemed to speak to the antenatal depression I’d been silently experiencing for the previous couple of months. Postnatal depression I knew about – it was a bullet I felt I had dodged after my son was born –  but who could admit to feeling suicidal with new life within? I felt like a monster. We’d recently moved and I felt trapped and lonely without a social network of other mums. The lyrics speak of wanting to feel like I felt before, about wanting to live in a world where I could belong, about wanting to survive – but could I? Could I live in a world where I could be strong?

Not for a long while. No.



Faithless – Reverance (1993)

I feel like I’m sort of cheating here, because this song wasn’t as important to me at the time of its release. In fact I wasn’t that keen on Faithless in general. To say that it has grown on me though is a huge understatement; in fact it is now, and has been for a good while, my Mania Anthem.

I recently suggested to someone that the narrator was manic, she said that was “an interesting way of looking at it.” I felt like, come on! The guy can’t sleep for weeks despite taking sleepers. He feels under the control of some energy inside him (“the beast in his nature”) and he’s in a sexual frenzy, tearing off his girlfriend’s tights with his teeth in an open space. Hello???

Anyway. That little keyboard riff after “I can’t get no sleep” will forever make the hairs on the back of my neck ripple and come hypomania, you’ll find it on a loop with the volume up.


Move in the Right Direction

Gossip – A Joyful Noise (2012)

Anyone who knows me also knows I’m not big on the recovery model – but this song kind of gives me hope. The narrator (could be Beth Ditto, but I’m assuming a character) doesn’t talk about a specific state, just about continual forward motion towards a point that is closer (rather than close to or at) to an unspecified form of perfection.

It represents to me my stronger days or weeks, times when I can hold back the tears, days when I can have motivation to push forwards in my life, ruminating a little less. Of course I have reached this point a million times in my life only to lose that sense of baby steps forward and be hopeless and helpless again, but I still find this song meaningful (and I love to belt it out).


About purplepersuasion

40 something service user, activist, writer and mother living with bipolar disorder. Proud winner of the Mark Hanson Prize for Digital Media at the Mind Media Awards #VMGMindAwards
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Mental health, Mood disorder, Recovery, Suicidal thought, The arts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Autobiogramophone: six songs of a bipolar life

  1. jazzmanhenry says:

    Obviously, being a Music Therapist, I’m always fascinated by people’s choice of songs. A client of mine has shared some very dark stuff that really resonates with her experience. As an elective mute, music is one of the best ways for her to communicate. A colleague once put together a compilation of “Survival Songs”, and I have done the same. They are all songs that have particular meaning for me, to express and acknowledge my own feelings, offer comfort, suggest that maybe other people have some idea of my feelings too. I like variety of your list, and the stories behind them. Stories and songs are intertwined – the original writer would have no idea of your life experience and vice versa (unless they are very public about it), and yet they both meet in the song. Thanks for sharing.

  2. jazzmanhenry says:

    One song the client shared was this:

    Happy Song, by Bring Me the Horizon

  3. LucyG says:

    Music has always played a very important part in my life. I have memories flooding back when I listen to certain songs. Some bring good memories and lift my spirits as I think of the better times. Some bring really bad and very emotional memories. However I often play music to distract my mind from my disturbing thoughts. I enjoyed reading your blog and it made me realise how important music can be.

  4. Claire says:

    I may do a post like this for my borderline songs. So many relate to me and tell a story from times in my life.

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