Disclaimer: I realize that this post is “Meaningful Music Monday,” and that it is, in fact, Tuesday. I worked on this post for much of Sunday evening and Monday morning, and then I got hit with a migraine headache like I have not had in YEARS and spent the rest of my day in bed. I sincerely appreciate your understanding! Now, on to the post!
There are three things you need to know before you read this.
One, music is one of the things that I firmly believe that I could not live without.
Two, I both write words and listen to music, to manage my anxiety disorders and depression. I’ve struggled with them both my entire life.
Three, in my world, almost no genre of music is off-limits. If the lyrics, or simply the musical rhythms behind the lyrics speak to my heart, say what I want to say, or cause me to find healing somehow, then it’s on my playlist. I have everything from classical (think Motzart), to heavy metal, to country, to Christian, to rap and hip hop on my favorite playlist.
I feel that there are at least two meanings to every song. The one that the writer intended it to have, based on what they were going through/thinking/feeling/ etc. when they wrote it; the actual, literal meaning. And the ones of the people who hear the song. The same song can mean different things to different people, based on their life experiences and what they were going through/thinking/feeling/etc., when they heard it for the first time.
As I think about the concept of the “first time,” I think about how you can hear a song many times, have every word memorized even, and then at a certain point in your life, you HEAR it for the first time. My husband and I were recently listening to our music streaming service, and a particular sappy love song came on. It was a song that I have been listening to since I was in middle school. If I remember correctly, it was “I Cross My Heart,” sung by George Straight. I recounted how that song would play at the skating rink on Friday night, and I would “couple skate” with my little boyfriend, and sing that song, and think I JUST KNEW what it meant. I roll my eyes at myself, even now, as I type this, at almost forty years old and nearly half of my life married to THIS man, I feel like I have HEARD that song for the first time again, and this time…I KNOW what the words mean. I’ve lived enough life to have LIVED it. It talks of enduring, unconditional love, commitment, living life together, getting beat up, fighting with and for each other, and “making it,” so to speak. My 14-year-old self did not have a clue!
Music is a lifeline. It has a way of feeding my soul in a way that almost nothing else can. Turning on a worship song, and meditating on the music and message, has gotten me through more dark-twisty nights than I very well care to count. I have a love/hate relationship with how music can take you right back to a specific place in time, with memories that are so vivid and powerful they can overwhelm your senses in the here and now.
Last year, after my major anxiety episode (read about that here), I was tired. I was tired mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Tired of the racing heart, never-ending racing thoughts, and the inability to catch my breath. Tired of the tingling that happens in my face, chest, and extremities. I was tired of being anxious. On the occasion that I was not feeling anxious, I was tired of the “waiting for the other shoe to fall” feeling that plagued me constantly.
For several days afterward, I was weak to the point of my husband having to help me out of bed and to the bathroom, dress, etc. I was exhausted to the point that I slept for most of that week; there is much that I don’t quite remember about it. Emotionally and spiritually, I felt completely and utterly empty.
Avril Lavigne co-wrote and recorded a song called “Head Above Water.” I believe it was written in 2015 and released on her album in 2018. It is the title track and one of the three singles for her sixth studio album. She wrote the song during her tumultuous battle for her health against Lyme Disease, and it tells of her struggle, both physically and mentally. Avril came to the point that she genuinely believed she was going to die, but instead found herself praying, “God, keep my head above the water,” it became the thing that she held on to; the thing that gave her hope enough to keep going. Not to mention it was the inspiration for the song/album.
I heard “Head Above Water” for the first time shortly after the “panic episode” mentioned above; while I was lying on my bed in the dark, fighting my anxiety one of the only ways I know how; listening to worship music and praying. I had been singing along with the song before it, so I know I was at least partially aware when the song started. Yet, still, those first two verses caught me off guard:
“I’ve gotta keep the calm before the storm
I don’t want less; I don’t want more
Must bar the windows and the doors
To keep me safe, to keep me warm.”
“Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for
Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore
And my voice becomes the driving force
I won’t let this pull me overboard.”
Wait. What did that say?!?!
I started the song over. I needed to hear that again. This time, I listened much more intently “must bar the windows and the doors; to keep me safe, to keep me warm. Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for,” and my eyes started to leak. And then…the chorus came:
“God, keep my head above water
Don’t let me drown; it gets harder
I’ll meet you there at the altar
As I fall down to my knees
Don’t let me drown, drown, drown
Don’t let me, don’t let me drown.”
I heard that line, “God, keep my head above water. Don’t let me drown…” and I…I straight up lost it. That was precisely how I felt; like I was drowning. I was drowning, there was no person that could save me, and no matter how hard I kicked, I couldn’t break the surface. I was curled up in the fetal position on my bed, fighting for breath, bawling like a baby, and praying those words “God, I’m drowning. I’m going to drown in this mess of mental illness. I can’t hold myself up anymore. God, at least keep my head above the water so that I can see You. I can’t do this without You. Don’t let me drown.”
The rest of that evening and probably a few weeks after, I listened to that song repeatedly. All. Day. Long. I held on to it like it WAS my lifeline, and if I let it go, I would drown in the anxiety and depression, and it would win.
After a few days, the first two verses and the chorus weren’t standing out to me as much. It was the part where Avril sang:
“And I can’t see in the stormy weather
I can’t seem to keep it all together
And I, I can’t swim the ocean like this forever
And I can’t breathe
God, keep my head above water
I lose my breath at the bottom
Come rescue me; I’ll be waiting
I’m too young to fall asleep.”
that spoke to my heart. I listened again. Again, I prayed the words as I sang them. “God, I lose my breath at the bottom of this anxiety, depression, and despair. Please, come, rescue me. I am waiting and ready. I’m too young to fall asleep. God, I don’t want this to kill me, so I need you to rescue me from it before it does.”
The thing I have come to realize (most of the time) is that these last verses are simply the truth. It’s true; I can’t see in the stormy weather. It is true that I, on my own, can’t keep anything (much less “all” things) together. I indeed can’t swim this ocean of anxiety and depression forever, and when I try, I can’t breathe. I need God to rescue me, teach me, and guide me daily! He frequently has to save me daily or even multiple times a day! When I see how God is working to use my life long struggles with anxiety and depression, it makes it seem worth it.
All of those dark days and nights were for a purpose. They were not a waste of years. They were so I can be right here today to tell you that God loves you and that He can, and will, keep your head above water no matter what you are facing. No matter if it is personal, financial, relational, emotional, mental, physical, etc., there is nothing that He can’t get you through. He requires only that you ask.
Here is the music video for “Head Above Water.” My prayer for you today is that even in the multitudes of your anxieties, that you allow God to comfort your soul. Psalm 94:19
~Forever In His Grip,