By Calum Robertson, November 24 2018 —
Anxiety is unfortunately common among students. There are as many different ways to deal with it as there are those who wrestle with it. My recurring battle began in high school, but tendrils of it still seep into my current days at university. When it comes to mental health, each person’s story is unique and each story their own. While anxiety cast shadows in my life, I know that others face total eclipses.
Whether it’s severe or minor, anxiety negatively impacts mental health and overall well-being.
When anxiety first reared its head, to me it deprived life of its richness and vibrancing. Clear thinking became difficult as my mind filled with an ever-present chaos, making mush of any material I tried to intake. Stress lurked around every corner, which led to panic attacks, in turn leading to doctor’s visits.
These appointments, along with and the support of parents and teachers, were helpful, to a degree. Anxiety was now a part of my life, at least for this period. It seemed the strategies suggested to me were less about defeating anxiety and more about making life livable. They had never worked as well as I wished. Perhaps part of that was my own individual makeup, but it meant I would need to find other strategies that would better help me.
Photo courtesy Greg Neate
A few years ago, I found a unique weapon to add to my arsenal in my fight with anxiety, music. In my school basement, I found a box of CDs from bands I had never heard of. One that stuck out to me was Distance by Flying Saucer Attack. The name was strange, the album appeared to be a lost artifact from another dimension. Each song had a strange, captivating titles. I did what any rational teenager would do in that situation — I took it home.
Listening to Distance, I was transported. The album is a prime example of space rock and shoegaze genres spiralling out of the United Kingdom in the late ‘80s. But I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that the myriad of swirling sounds I was hearing, the feedback and rhythmic static, haunting, whispery vocals and disorienting guitar, were entirely new to my ears. The captured chaos — melancholic, sweet, primal and otherworldly — seemed to mirror my inner feelings. Sounds would, almost randomly, flit across the airwaves like stray thoughts.
The madness I was hearing was raw, moody and reflective. To me, I heard a chaos orchestrated, an insanity made beautiful. Tiny details jumped out to me as lush and stunning. I felt calmness begin to enter my being, calmness to a degree I had not felt in recent times, stemming from the obscured melodies and prevailing distortion blasting from my speakers.
My anxiety, when manifested, often tasted of tumult and disorder, leading to a fuzziness in my mind, doing away with clarity of thought. This left me feeling confused and out of control. On Distance, it sounded as if the band had lost control, yet somehow still guided the songs, standing calmly in the centre of maelstrom. I wanted that control, that ability to take cacophony and shape it into something stable.
My conception of my relationship with anxiety went from that of a hapless victim along for the ride to one of a rider harnessing a wild horse, directing it slowly towards tameness. The album became a touchstone for me throughout high school, a place where I could escape, realign and find a firmer place to stand. From there, I could return to the ‘real world,’ push back anxiety and find the calmness.
I again struggled with anxiety upon entering university. However, I had many tools at the ready, including Distance, and each day I can feel anxiety’s grip lessen. There is a prevailing sense of calm in my life, part of which can be attributed to the disorienting beauty found in the music of Flying Saucer Attack that sparked something within my mind a few years ago.
Each person is different, as is each battle, so what will work to win depends on you. Music, not just Distance, remains a stable aid in my life. To those out there searching for help, reach out. Seek something unexpected. Who knows what good may come of the strange.