By Jade Curson
In the first class of my first year at university, our lecturer told us that there is a distinct difference between knowledge and awareness. There are a lot of things we instinctively know, without necessarily realising that we know them. She was talking about linguistic principles and grammatical rules, but five years later I’ve noticed that this basic principle applies in far more aspects of life than just Linguistics. Fittingly, this in itself seems like an example of the very distinction she was trying to make.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the records that I love, and why I love them. Verbalising it makes me realise that yes, I’ve always known this without knowing it, but the records that I love are very different to the records I would consider my favourites. My favourite albums sit within the genres I predominantly lean towards, the pieces of art that take an established sound I already like and turn it up to 11, or subvert that sound in some way that feels new and exciting. But the records I love are those I have a real emotional connection with – ones that are irreversibly linked to a feeling or a significant moment in my life. For instance: I am mostly indifferent to Jimmy Eat World. But Futures is one of my most-loved records because one of the last clear memories I have of my grandmother before she died was sitting in her room and playing her that album. I hardly ever listen to Futures now, but when I do it feels meaningful; it’s comforting to know I have this aural prompt to reflect, to reconnect with the kind, funny woman that played a huge part in shaping who I am today. In my life I have – through a misplaced desire to make my life as much like High Fidelity as possible – collected a lot of records to act as soundtracks to significant moments of my life. I don’t consider myself particularly superstitious or romantic but in this small way I am obsessed with the idea of fate, of kismet – or, in the words of that damned Nick Hornby, of the “spookily relevant”.
It’s been a little while since a record ensconced itself into my life in this way, and I thought perhaps I had naturally grown out of the need to pour myself into other people’s art. What I realise now (and by extension, maybe what I subconsciously knew all along) is that I was waiting for something significant enough. Much like love (or buses?), you can’t force it to happen; it will come to you only when you stop wanting it so much. Recently I added another record to that particular shelf: Nervus’ latest, Everything Dies.
Everything Dies is, first and foremost, a documentation of trans experience. From the portrayal of gender dysphoria in ‘Recycled Air’, the inaccessibility of trans healthcare in ‘Medicine’, to the commentary on the damage of enforcing gender binaries in ‘Congratulations’, it is an open letter to those who are struggling with their identity. I see you. Your experiences are valid. And most importantly, it gets better. Surprisingly perhaps, for a record called Everything Dies, it focuses as much on the healing as it does the pain – a narrative that is overlooked all too often. In this sense, the title is perhaps better interpreted as a message of hope for a disheartened youth – a reworking of ‘this too, shall pass’ for the millennial age.
This record is a collection of beautiful and introspective punk songs which tell a story that is both important and affirming; at the same time, as a cis woman I appreciate that the overarching message isn’t for me, and won’t resonate with me personally the same way it will for those who get to hear their own experiences represented. It would be totally remiss to not acknowledge that, but it would also be disingenuous for me to focus on that aspect of the record – that’s not my story to tell. My relationship with the album is necessarily different, and the themes present have taken on a new meaning as the fates intervened to make Everything Dies inseparable from a significant event in my own life – taking it from a favourite record to one that I will truly and eternally love. My first listen to Everything Dies coincided with a slow and slightly dazed walk home from my first therapy appointment, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a more appropriate soundtrack to recovery.
I spent the longest hour of my life in that room, reeling off the symptoms of my sadness and the many detrimental effects they continue to have on my daily life. I emerged from the building feeling a dizzying mix of utter defencelessness, and hope that my future might now take a different course. And as I walked home – the cold draining the feeling from my hands and the significance of that meeting threatening to drain all other feeling out of me to match – I made the effort to pull myself out of my head by focusing on the record. A fruitless endeavour; lines and certain chorus swells leapt out at me and placed me firmly back in my here and now. It should have been frustrating but it was actually grounding, reinforcing each time that the step I’d just taken was the right choice, the only choice, to claw my life back from myself. Those lines will stay with me for the rest of my life, a reminder of the day I started getting better.
“I’m scared about my future ‘cause you stole my past” (‘Congratulations’)
I’ve recently become acutely aware of another thing that I’ve probably always known on a subconscious level; I’ve experienced some form of mental health issue as far back as I can remember. The depression that I remember as kicking in at around 18 actually stretches back into my early childhood in various other guises. I was an anxious child. A tendency to overthink small questions and tasks – mistakenly noted as a sign of precocious intelligence – was actually a manifestation of constantly racing thoughts, which soon turned to obsessive thoughts. This in turn became a compulsion to lie awake forcing myself to imagine at length the worst nightmares and tragedies I could think of, believing at once that I was preventing those things from happening by doing so, but also preparing myself for their eventuality. Pretty heavy stuff for a 9 year old.
I imagine there’s a good chance I would have grown out of those obsessive tendencies, given the opportunity. Instead, a few years later I went all-in on my first proper romantic relationship. I picked someone with their own share of baggage, and who amplified those very worst thoughts I’d kept hidden and brought so many new ones into the mix that I gradually shrank away into a complete non-person; a hurricane of anger and fear and self-loathing barely contained in a loosely human skin, utterly devoid of any sense of agency or control over my life. Our relationship was drawn-out but intense in all the ways that a relationship should not be intense. A decade later, I’m still learning to let those things go, trying to step out of that shadow so I can finally see myself.
I tried to leave with no place to go, it follows me and it keeps me close. (‘It Follows’)
I didn’t know whether I’d ever be ready for therapy because this, as they say, was not my first rodeo. I had brief dalliances with antidepressants and talking therapies, dropping them again as readily when they did not provide to be the instant magical cure I had expected them to be. I wasn’t ready to work, I wasn’t ready to look at how I perpetuated by own self-destructive behaviours, instead shrugging them off as an inevitable product of my sadness. I expected to get better without ever having to work out what ‘better’ would look like for me. And as long as I tried to keep leaving with no place to go, it would keep following me.
Hope life begins at 29 (‘Sick Sad World’)
It’s disorienting to wake up in your late twenties and realise the infinite number of opportunities and chances you’ve missed simply by going through the motions of your life. I waited a long time for purpose to find me, something that would shake me out of my apathy. I dithered endlessly and instead of finding one path I wanted to follow, I just sat back and watched as my options seemed to dwindle. Or, to paraphrase the wise words of DJ Khaled: I Plathed myself*. I caught myself feeling bitter about my peers who had worked hard to be successful in their chosen field, as though they’d had some lucky break that I’d missed out on. At some point in the last year, I finally realised another thing which I had always known; that I’m the only person holding myself back. That was the catalyst for change, slow though it has been. I’m determined not to coast through the rest of my adult life the way that I wasted what were meant to be my best years. And I owe more to my first year university lecturer than she’ll probably ever realise, but I hope, on some level at least, that she knows.
I know her name, I know her face, and she is dying to get out of me. (‘Recycled Air’)
After spending too many years driven by a pathological fear of failure and an inability to commit to anything, it’s hard to shake off that image of myself. I have a nasty habit of viewing every success as inconsequential, or a freak occurrence, while any setbacks or failings are held up as representative of who I am. When I falter on my path now, I remind myself that I’m working towards an end goal: the person I want to be. I’m nowhere near that person yet, but I do my best to present myself to the world as if I am that finished product. Fake it till you make it, etc. Every time I finish a piece of writing or avoid bailing on something at the last minute, or grit my teeth and do anything that would be easier to flake out on instead, I move a little bit closer to being that person. I know who I want to be, and she is dying to get out of me.
As we grow old, it’s in our interests to remind ourselves: Nobody loses all the time. (‘Nobody Loses’)
The singular worst part about living with ongoing depression has been the constant feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It has made the utmost effort to suck the joy out of everything, with the creeping reminder that nothing gold can stay; that any celebration or moment of happiness will just make the subsequent lows harder to get through. Life has often felt like an exercise in micromanagement, of suppressing optimism and excitement just to avoid tempting fate, as though happiness were a tipped scale that would inevitably need to be set level again. It’s exhausting to live that way – and as I finally start to realise this, fate throws an impeccably-timed reminder to just that effect in the form of the new Nervus record. I’m determined to let go of the fatalistic idea of fate, and start embracing the version that leads me to a better place, such as finding these perfect records at the exact time I need to hear them. I want the good things in my life to carry me through difficult times, rather than letting the low moments dictate my outlook at all times. Because life is short, and everything dies.
* “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.