I suppose it would appear strange to some, including many of my friends and even my younger self, that I’ve started this blog about music and health given that I am an authority on neither. Sure, I’m studying mental health nursing but I’m only just going into my second year. And I have accomplished very little in my musical career, aside from a few cool gigs, certainly nothing tangible. I am not an expert on health, and I am not an expert on music. However, I am an expert on me and my life, just as you are the only true expert on you and your life.
On my first day at uni, all of those embarking on a course loosely related to health congregated in a large auditorium before being cowed from lecture hall to lecture hall, dividing each time into our various fields until our class finally settled into what was previously a student union bar and was now being used as a large teaching space. We each picked seats and sat eagerly facing the 4 or 5 lecturers waiting for the low rumble of muttering and chair shuffling to subside before they began their introductions. Amongst all the usual induction material, housekeeping and a brief rundown of what it will be like to study and graduate, and the doors that will be opened to us, there was one word that stood out to me…
Our lecturers confessed that they took part in the nerdy pastime of receiving a ‘word of the day’ (something I admittedly also partake in via daily emails from Grammarly). Their faces were, quite rightly beaming with pleasure as they taught us this word. They told us that ‘sonder’ was the realisation that every person in this world is at the centre of their own world. The vivid, lead character in their own lengthy Netflix series. That just as you and I are a product of every interaction we have ever had with another human. Of every lesson we take part in within traditional education systems and general life outside of the classroom. Of every TV show we’ve ever seen and every song we’ve ever heard. Of every cruel, kind and neutral act we’ve committed and had committed against us. Everyone you know, everyone you pass in the street, every shopkeeper and taxi driver, and everyone you will never meet has a complexed, individual set of circumstances that has and will continue to shape them like waves that carve intricate, unique patterns into coastal rock.
Our issues are hard. It’s important that we appreciate just how difficult they are and how they affect us in daily life. It’s also important to translate that into other people’s lives. I have issues with smoking and eating and many would tell me to get a grip. To stop smoking and to stop stuffing food into my face, as though I hadn’t the cognisance to have considered that an option. I have caused irreparable damage to myself in pursuit of a rock n roll lifestyle and watched in despair as my singing voice deteriorated over years of neglect for my body. I now yearn for the vocal control and aptitude I had as a 16-year-old. It’s also becoming increasingly clear to me how these vices will have a detrimental impact on my physical health in the not so distant future. Partly down to my ongoing education in health and the increasing international understanding of health, but also having lost my mother to cancer. And yet I continue to engage in these harmful habits. Not because I’m lazy or complacent, and not due to a lack of education (though that certainly plays into this conversation).
It is difficult.
It is difficult to change learned behaviour.
On top of this, we all have these subconscious hierarchies for the validity of social health issues. Some view drug users as lesser. Some are disgusted by those who are overweight. Some consider the unemployed or the homeless to be at the bottom. But no one ever aspired to be fat, or homeless, or unemployed, or any of the things that someone might consider to be worthy of their judgement. No child ever said, “when I grow up, I want to be on benefits, subjecting myself and generations of my family to poverty and its devastating implications”. It is socio-economic health inequalities that exposes people to these options, not apathy, not indifference.
I didn’t want this belly. I didn’t want these blackened lungs. I didn’t want the increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, strokes and deep vein thrombosis. I am trying to get a grip and I have been for years. You might read this and shudder and cringe at my shifting of blame and unwillingness to accept accountability for MY lifestyle choices. Or you might empathise with what I’m saying. Regardless, I aint here to change your mind. What I personally am going to do, is endeavour to afford everybody in this world the compassion I have for myself and my issues. I’m going to put guitars in people’s laps and show them how to hit them, so that neurons erupt in every corner of their brains. I am going to put pens in people’s hands and encourage them to acutely describe exactly what they feel, so they might develop a better understanding of those feelings. And I’m going to listen to what people have to say, because I know that I don’t understand everything and I think it would be naïve and harmful for me pass judgement on another person’s life, when I literally have no idea what it’s like to be anyone else but me.