The power of music and my depression
By Lizzie Barrow

An open letter to Florence:
I can’t really believe I’m doing this. I’ll probably mock myself for doing this… in fact I already am. But something just compelled me. Standing there in the shower, stressed and desperately trying to shake off the stress, I felt compelled to get out, full lobster, climb into bed and put this down on paper. Or electronic paper, whatever, if you’re going to be pedantic…

Slippy soapy slide

Adolescence and young adulthood are far from a walk in the park for anyone. Actually, it’s more like scrabbling up (this is the image in my head so bear with me…) one of those big inflatable assault course things and it’s super soapy and slippy. And there’s some bugger at the top chucking buckets of icy water in your face, consequently propelling you backwards. It’s the period when you learn who you are, or who you think you might be and that in itself is a pretty big task.

Now I can’t say my grapple has been any harder than that of my peers. I’m grateful for a pure wicked family who have always been quick to give me a little kick up the tush to get up that slippy soapy slide. I’ve been given a great education. I’ve never wanted for anything. So where am I going with this?

The black dog

Well, there’s been a little glitch in this formative period of my life. When I was 16 the doctors first mentioned that horrible little D word (behave yourselves). The bloody black dog. Depression. I’ve worn that burden for six years of my life now. Secretly. Under many other concealing layers. Like puffa jacket on puffa jacket, full Michelin man style. Sometimes he’s popped on his jollys for a wee while and given me a bit of downtime, but when he’s been yapping at my ankles, boy has it been rough.

In all seriousness, there have been some terribly tough times. Times I couldn’t get out of bed. Times I wanted to leave my degree because I just ‘couldn’t’ do it anymore. Those times I’ve let myself believe that I am not, and have never been and never will be anything of worth. It’s manifested itself in manic fits of tears and panic attacks and often even worse…

Florence’s music…and my mum

So why am I writing to Florence? Music. Her music. It’s taken a flipping long time (I’m talking years) to get my head round how I can and might cope with this heavy, disabling feeling. But music has always been there, as has writing, as a means of catharsis.

Florence has always been one of my favourite artists. That ethereal voice and presence. But in times of need I have played and replayed and fallen asleep in a bed of tears to that voice. My love for Florence (in a non-creepy way) came from my mother. My mother has always been my rock. The (I quote) Florence to my Machine. She’s an unmovable, unshakable foundation of my life, of my existence.

I remember my Mum saying to me when I was about 18, ‘Do like Florence, become the lion hearted girl.’ And she hasn’t stopped saying it since. Any time it’s gone tits up, we’ve always fallen back on that. Be brave, be lion hearted. Be ready for that storm. (Side note – I will get it tattooed on me – shout out to Messy Makeup at Afflecks for doing a beautiful job of brandishing it on my arm in henna.)

To feel free

My dreams became a reality when I saw Florence live in Manchester two years ago. I wept. I lifted my hands up in the air, let go and let a tear or two break free. (It is categorically amazing when music can do this to you.) I specifically remember writing in my journal, a journal which I’d just started as I was going through another chapter, moving away to a new country, how I’d felt when Florence had burst out, ‘’Tonight Manchester, you are free.’. And I felt free.

Living with depression, I don’t always feel free from my illness. I’m going through a pretty ropy episode at the moment. (I’m living in fact just around the corner from where I stayed the night of that concert… weird, eh!) Life is throwing me lemons and I’m trying with all my might to turn the damn things into lemonade, or just chuck them with tequila if all else fails (although that might not be wise!).

BUT what I don’t stop telling myself, is that I can be the lion hearted girl. I can be brave. I am the master of my own ship and so it might not be on course right now but, armed with the force of Florence to drive me up and calm me down, I can and will take it in the direction of somewhere beautiful whether that would be geographical (no offence Manchester) or more importantly, emotional. It is always darkest before the dawn and I can’t and won’t forget that.

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