Combatting my listening anxietyWhen I was growing up, I always found myself feeling engrossed in my own widely absent mind. I was there, but only in body. My mind was elsewhere. Always deeply absorbed in the music I was listening to.

I guess that’s something that hasn’t vastly altered much about me. I did, however, find my mind sometimes harder to manipulate with music. Not often, but enough. That’s the thing with mental illness though. Specifically, depression. It has a surprising and tedious way of making the things you love and find comfort in abundant.

I am lucky, I suppose, that it doesn’t affect my love of music as often as it alters my enjoyment in other interests.
Painting and socialising for example. Most of my friends over the years have fallen away, but my favourite albums have always remained for me to find solace in.

There was a time when I was struggling to enjoy these crucial albums though. Over the years, I have discovered a few things about myself. And usually, while embarking on various journeys through my mind with a pair of headphones on. I always had a pair of headphones on during my high school years. And my world fell apart if and when my teacher confiscated them. If I was unable to enjoy the journey, I started to wonder why. This started happening when I was studying sound engineering. So what was making my musical voyage less enjoyable?

It wasn’t the source material. I had been listening to certain albums for many years. Even pre-dating my own purchase of them. Albums like ‘Abbey Road’ by the Beatles were known backward and forwards to me. Same with ‘A Night at the Opera’ and ‘Queen II’. These albums hadn’t changed for me. I had, however, learned about the recording and mastering of music. About frequency response. About the science of sound and how different technology can massively affect the ability to reproduce sound accurately.

At this time, I was using the earphones provided with my iPod, but it was massively affecting my enjoyment of music. It was changing how I was absorbing it. And I found myself, for reasons I still don’t understand, getting more and more anxious. I had to take the earphones out and have a break. And I couldn’t listen to volumes even half that of full. This became tedious for me. As someone who had always used music as a means of escaping and of finding strength in day to day life, this just wouldn’t do. So, I went and brought my first pair of decent headphones.
My parents had a pair in the living room when I was much younger. They had long since broken though and weren’t of a particularly high quality if I think back.

While doing my degree, microphones and headphones by a company called Sennheiser were typically always used. The headphones were of a larger, over the ear variety. Open back, which allowed sound to pass in and out. This massively opened the soundstage and provided a more significant, natural sound. And what’s more…I never had any listening anxiety. They were similar to those owned by my parents all those years ago in style. That was what I needed. And that’s what I chose to get.

I found I could enjoy my music again. I could disappear back to my own little world once more, transcending to the aural landscapes put down on tape all those years ago. I could listen for hours again, no fatigue, and able to escape and use my music once again to help me as and when I needed it. Over the years, as things slowly progressed and my mental state got worse, my music has been my one constant friend.

I have found new poets to relate to, their lyrics a reminder that I am not alone in feeling like this. My music library is always there when I need to find motivation, and strength to carry on. Bands such as Pearl Jam especially. They are now my most listened to band, and as each album is so vastly different, and covers such a vast, varied number of topics, there is always a song I can turn to.

I still listen to the same albums as I did when I was ten. Small and nervous about going to school. Awaiting my mum to take me and drop me off. Headphones on in my living room and connected up to my parent’s stereo. However, now I have my own catalogue of discovered music. I have also invested a lot of money over the years in trying to find the perfect pair of headphones. And I always find myself using Sennheiser stuff. It just sounds better.

And I find my mind is much easier to manipulate again. And I can close my eyes and go on a journey for a while longer.

Read Darrell Smith’s first blog post in our series about music and mental health.

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