How music and a notebook helped me through my marriage breakdown
There are two things you need in a break-up - a notebook and a good playlist. One to master the practical and the other to nurture the emotional. Back in early 2006 I found myself in the midst of a marriage break up, with a small baby on one side of me and a mountain of 'what the hell am I going to do' on the other. I can credit most of the anxiety-induced fog of those early weeks to my whirring brain, spinning out of control each morning as I woke. It hitched a ride with me as I took my daughter on long walks in her pram and then there it was again each night, sidling up to the shadows when the house was quiet, whispering; taunting me in my loneliness.
Pete Murray held my hand on the couch those nights. Not that he knew it. He was there as I stumbled around the adult-less house trying to drag stuff to cover the places where the other half of the furniture once stood. I flicked through the left behind CD collection searching for anything to create a noise that was soft enough to not wake the child but loud enough to drown out my fear. And there was Pete. His words echoed over and over again, so I found that each time the thoughts ran away with me I started to sing them out loud. To make myself hear them,
'Don't be scared of what you cannot see. Your only fear is possibility, never wonder what the hell went wrong. Your second chance may never come along...'
I have no clue what Pete meant when he wrote those words, but when I heard them? Well they told me to hang on for the ride, to keep my eyes fixed ahead, to be grateful for what I had, to be optimistic about what might come next. And so I wrote down the lyrics, in the practical notebook that I'd started to keep that listed outstanding debts and plans to move house. I was channeling the teenager I used to be who saved her pocket money for Smash Hits magazine just to get the song words at the back - the words gave me an out. They still do.
Neuroscience blogger Dr Sarah McKay agrees, that the words of a song are tied to the way the brain interprets emotion 'the lyrics appear to be crucial for defining the sadness of a musical piece' she explains, that the activation of that part of the brain that processes what's going on around us takes note of acoustic cues like tempo and rhythm and 'they have a stronger role in determining the experience of happiness in music' but music can play a part in emotion regulation when it comes to our mental health too, ' It allows a person flexibility in how they respond and react to situations and moments of distress or heartbreak' she concedes.
That baby, now 9, sits beside me in the front seat of the car each morning. She switches from station to station trying to find her favourite song on the radio. I watch her sing with conviction, despite her genetically gifted lack of musical talent and I wonder if separation came to visit me these days what songs would become my anthem, what words would carry me through?
Would it be a Katy Perry classic, would I be roaring to myself in the mirror each night, willing myself to sleep, to tell the world that I would find my voice, that Id stop being scared 'to rock the boat'. Would Paloma Faith heal my broken heart letting me tell the world that only love can hurt like this? Who knows?
I turn down Pete's songs when I hear them these days. I spent too many hours staring in the mirror singing them. The separation playlist is a miraculous bridge to the life you want desperately to arrive at, but when you cross it the scars that come from looking back still hurt like hell. That's when you go searching for the new playlist, and the less you play the old one the more you realise your exit was there, you just had to sing your way through it. No matter how tone deaf you were.
Have you got a break up anthem?
Sarah Wayland is a researcher and freelance writer.