“All I was searching for was me…”
A fact of life is that we all change. Whether it’s due to events that have happened, people you’ve met, relationships formed, decisions made…we all change. Sometimes that can be for the better, sometimes for the worse, but all these changes go in to creating the person that you become. It’s not very often you meet anybody who, aged 30, would say “I’m still exactly the same person I was when I was 15.”
My late teens to my late twenties was a period of huge change for me. As mentioned in previous blogs, I spent most of my teenage years as a very shy, very quiet boy. When I had finished at sixth form, my next step was to go to university. This was the message that had been almost forced on to me by the school I was in; to not want Uni as a next step was to want failure. Or, at least, that’s how it felt for me.
It was completely wrong. By the end of sixth form, aged 18, I felt lost. I’d had enough of education and I didn’t feel ready for University, but I didn’t feel that there was all that much to keep me at home in Lowestoft other than family. Job wise, there wasn’t much to go for and then there was the fact that several of my friends were heading to different Universities up and down the country. Feeling forced in to university gave a feeling of hopelessness when, deep down, I knew I didn’t want to go but was being told that other paths meant a poorer life.
I contacted the uni I’d been accepted in to and asked to take a gap year. I worked three jobs, at one point all at the same time, and began to build in confidence. I almost exploited the fact I had friends in uni by going out on several fresher events even though I wasn’t a student. I was enjoying the uni life but without the lectures or the student debt and it was great. The gap year was enough to make me decide to go to uni and embrace the next change to my character.
Going to uni was an experience I will never forget and one that I absolutely loved. By the end of the third year I felt I’d developed in to a different man, a more confident person and someone that had ‘a plan’. I knew what I wanted from life, whereas three years prior I had no idea. Uni allowed me to meet some great people; some of whom became some of my closest friends.
Before uni, I’d not really had any relationships. Two weeks in, just turning 20, I was in a relationship…a relationship I stayed in for nearly 10 years. Going back to what I said at the start of this post, people change and after several turbulent years full of personal struggles and tragedy on both sides it was enough. I certainly wasn’t feeling it any more and a culmination of those tragedies – Mum passing away, for example – and a change in my own emotions towards the relationship as well as other factors just made me feel it had to end, definitely before we were married. In all honesty, I’d fallen within myself for much of the last year or so of the relationship and as bad as it sounds stayed in it for perhaps longer than I should have. It was easier that way. I stayed at work longer than needed, went for drinks with fellow colleagues and just stayed out of the house. I was unhappy but afraid to really do anything or even really face in to it.
“I spent my time watching the spaces that have grown between us…”
When I moved to a different work place I started talking to one of the team leaders and developed a great friendship. I found a person I could confide in, a person I felt comfortable talking to about my own personal ‘demons’ and unhappiness. It opened my eyes when we talked about issues in our relationships as I realised that many of the things I felt were wrong in hers were actually wrong in mine. It was easier talking to her purely because she had no relationship with anybody in my inner circle so honesty became really easy. Neither of us really had anything to lose by being honest to each other, but we gave each other a person to talk to about things that were deeply playing on us – something that I think neither of us had beforehand.
On the day that I ended the relationship I drove to Bakewell in the Peak District and, as ridiculous as this may sound, I took a notepad and pen and just wrote out all of my reasons for wanting out. Despite knowing I needed to leave, the fact was that I’d been in a relationship for a third of my life and I knew that by actually leaving I was taking a giant leap into the unknown. It was scary, daunting and I had no idea how things would go. I’d contacted my friend, Dan, and sorted out a place to stay after.
Even though I knew I was doing the right thing for me, there’s still a hardship to ending any relationship and this was no different. I felt fortunate because I was still able to confide to the team leader at work, as well as speak to some of my other closest friends. I decided to take a step back from many of my University relationships and in time deleted much of my social media presence. This was a time for me to look in to myself, rebuild myself and develop new relationships. This was what I needed.
In that time, music continued to be a massive life saver for me. I devoted a lot of my listening to Ben Howard and, in particular, the song ‘Keep Your Head Up’. The chorus of “Keep your head up, keep your heart strong” was, and remains, motivational to the point that I would listen to the song at the start of every day to lift me up. The team leader I confided in was going through her own issues at home and we would share this song with one another. It was our mutual anthem. Our uplifting chorus. The motivational message we both needed.
Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.
How did the song change my life? It helped keep me above board during one of the most tumultuous periods of my life. Sofa hopping, staying in hotels – even contemplating quitting my job and moving back to Lowestoft with my Dad. Those eight words were what I needed.
Eventually the team leader ended her relationship, too. After a few months we decided to try as a couple. My life changed again, for the better, as it became clear that I’d met the person that would be the love of my life and, sooner than either of us would have thought, the mother of my children. The girl that was there for me when I needed to talk is now the girl I share my life with. Sometimes, life does work out.
Swimming In Darkness
There is a lyric in “Keep Your Head Up” that goes, “I tried my best to embrace the darkness in which I swim”. It’s a lyric that I relate to on several levels.
I’ve always struggled against low mood. I find it far easier to see the negatives than I do the positives. Self doubt is always intensely high for me and I over think absolutely everything. A by product of my over thinking is anxiety. I get anxious over anything. For example, if somebody messages me with just an “OK”, I’ll think something is wrong and I’ve maybe, somehow, upset the other person. Things said to me, whether in jest or in seriousness, can stay on my mind not only for days but for months or years. It takes a lot to really fight against the emotions that come with these issues but, over time, I’ve been able to learn how to control it and be alright. The support I get from Lori, my fiancee, is a massive help, and music is another help for me – music is an energy that helps me and that is why I believe that these songs helped changed my life. It may sound OTT, maybe it is, but I don’t know who I would be without songs like ‘Keep Your Head Up’ or the music of bands and artists like Biffy Clyro, The Smiths, Jeff Buckley and Nirvana.
Once Lori and myself had settled in to a relationship (which was incredibly easy – I do believe we were made for one another), we were placed in to a situation that neither of us could have ever foreseen.
My friend, Dan, who had put me up when I ended my previous relationship must have found himself swimming in darkness and, sadly, unable to control it. I detail the story of what happened in my post, ‘Tales Of The Unexpected‘.
From the moment the police came in to Lori’s flat, I sank deeper in to my own darkness. I always feel selfish saying that because the emotions I felt will have been nothing compared to the family of Dan’s murdered Dad, and there is no way that I would ever want to pretend my emotions would come close but I was distraught. I’d lost my best friend in one of the most horrific ways, realising I didn’t really know the guy at all, and due to that my self doubt, my insecurities…they all grew out of control. How could I not see it? How could I be so stupid, so gullible as to believe all the different stories? Why didn’t he tell me the truth? Why couldn’t I help him to get better? Could I have helped to prevent it? Will Lori leave me because, honestly, police raiding your flat because of your new boyfriend’s friend isn’t a great start…I was scared. I was confused. I was a mess.
Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.
The police found Dan on the night Lori and I saw Biffy Clyro in Birmingham. Biffy are an incredibly important band for me and I saw them perform both songs that I associate with my Mum (‘Folding Stars’ and ‘Machines’) together for the first time. My emotions were going. Over the next week, after doing police statements, a development would come that would change my life completely and forever.
Lori was pregnant. It was a surprise but the elation I felt was insane. People often talk of feeling the weight lift off their shoulders…that evening, I felt like I could float. I felt, as Ben Howard sings in ‘Keep Your Head Up’, the “comfort invested in my soul” from Lori and, importantly, in myself.
“Because I’ll always remember you the same…”
‘Keep Your Head Up’ has remained the anthem that I’ve needed. It has also remained the anthem that myself and Lori turn to in unhappier times. It reminds us that things may be bad now, we may be “embracing the darkness”, but things can get better. You have to try to keep the positivity, you have to try to “keep your head up”.
When Lori was faced with redundancy, she shared the song on her Facebook. Several others also facing in to redundancy reacted with love. They all got it. They all understood, and, I imagine, it’s the song that they will have all listened to at that point and have helped them to feel, even if only for those few minutes, a bit better. Music is really one of the only forms of media that can do that. It’s powerful. It does change lives because it gives you an emotion that can change your outlook on the way things are going. What else can really do that?
In loss, also, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ has been a song that has kept us going.
The simplest message can sometimes be the most important and the most life saving, the most life changing. That’s why, in those dark moments, I try my best to remember this song and follow what it says.
Keep your head up, keep your heart strong.
You can listen to ‘Keep Your Head Up’ by clicking HERE