I live with bipolar disorder and that can mean that my life is all over the place. However, one of the great places of refuge that I have is music. When my anxiety rises, I turn to music. When I start to feel manic, I turn to music. When I’m depressed, I immerse myself in music. Not only do I listen to music, but I play music. And that creativity and immersion in the musical world gives my mind enough release that I am able to function and focus on something else other than the pain, the anxiety, the euphoria that I feel. 

Now, to be totally honest, not all of these songs function the same way or have the same effect all of the time. There are some that I can always turn to, but when I’m depressed, certain songs just don’t speak to me. Similarly, when I’m anxious, I can’t listen to other songs. My mental state does dictate certain things to me and that’s ok. But, the following are songs that I consistently come back to as sources of hope, inspiration, commiseration, or a combination of them all. So, without further ado, here’s my “13 Songs that Make My Life a Little Less Scary.” 

1. 311 – Beyond the Gray Sky
311 is a band that has been with me since they first landed on everyone’s radar with their song “Down.” My best friend and I used to hang out at his pool and listen to their “Blue” album. It was a summertime event. So, 311 has good memories for me. But then they came out with “Beyond the Gray Sky” after I had been (mis)diagnosed with depression. The song is really about a lot of things, but the middle verse talks of finding anything you can to stay alive, to stay beyond the gray sky. And, for me, in the midst of my deepest depression, it is a clarion call to hold onto whatever is there to keep my grip on reality and not let myself slip into the suicidal ideation that is so dominant at those times.

2. Jimmy Eat World – For Me This is Heaven
Jimmy Eat World is a band that I have loved since high school. Their album “Clarity” still gets regular play on my iPod. And my favorite song from that album is “For Me This is Heaven.” This song is important to me because it is my wife and I’s song. In fact, she had some lyrics from the chorus engraved on my wedding ring (“Can you still feel the butterflies”). It’s become a song, for me, about being in love and allowing that love to be something that carries me on from day to day.

3. The Cure – Friday I’m in Love
The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” is just a fun song that I love. I remember watching the music video when I was younger and just loving it. And this song opened me up to The Cure. Their music continues to inspire me because it struggles so much with themes that are prevalent in my life, like acceptance and isolation and feeling through where you belong. 

4. Earphorik – Over The Walls
Earphorik is an up-and-coming prog/funk/ jam band from Fort Wayne, Indiana that I have had the opportunity to get to know a little bit. They don’t have a music video, so this is the link above is to their entire album. But, lately, their song “Over the Walls” has been a real source of good vibes for me. I’ve written before on my love and feeling of belonging in the jam band community. Earphorik continues to give me a sense of belonging as I can get lost in the music and the lyrics speak of an attempt to reconcile and fix a broken relationship, something that I often need help with after a bipolar episode. 

5. Phish – Tweezer
“Tweezer” functions in no way for me other than it is Phish’s “signature” jam song and I love Phish. It is a song that just brings a smile to my face. And, because it is a “jam” song, it can take many twists and turns, going into dark territory or staying with a fresh, light atmosphere. In all, it’s just a song that gives me a good feeling.

6. Phish – Prince Caspian
“Prince Caspian” is one of Phish’s more interesting songs. It’s a little more low-key and they do not often “jam” on it. But, it is a crowd favorite. I often feel like Prince Caspian, though, as I just float upon the waves and return to the demons in my cave (as Phish interprets the story). It’s a song that can often function as the yin to Tweezer’s yang, although the two are not really played together (except here). In all, “Prince Caspian” is a song that when I am depressed offers the kind of vibes that are necessary to express my feelings while also offering a way out.

7. Umphrey’s McGee – Hajimemashite
“Hajimemashite” is another song in the jam band world that is not a happy-go-lucky tune. And, in all honesty, I’ve been following Umphrey’s McGee since about their beginning in South Bend, IN and this song is one that has always stuck out to me. I don’t know what it is but it speaks to me. It speaks to me especially as a song that gets what it is to deal with problems that come from having a mental illness (their original drummer had an undiagnosed mental illness at the time this song was written and I wonder how much that played a part in their thought process). The singer Brendan really brings out the lyrics “It’s all right was all I heard, It will blow away, away.” This is often what I’m told and, yet, Brendan and the music behind his voice know that this is not true and that he’s been lied to.

8. Queen/David Bowie – Under Pressure
“Under Pressure” is the first bass line I ever learned (it’s the sample used in Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”). And it’s a song about being under pressure. It talks about being kicked when you are down and not being able to get back up. And the song ends by saying “This is our last dance”. It’s not a “happy” song, but it reminds me of the brilliance of both Queen and David Bowie, along with their ability to put their finger on the pulse of a feeling. It’s not a feeling of depression or anxiety, but of a world crushing in on you. 

9. U2 – Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
U2 is always an uplifting band to me. Even when they are pointing out the injustices of the world, they do so in a way that points to the possibility of good in the world. And this song is one of my favorite U2 songs. It shows the struggle of life while the music makes us want to be better, to strive for more than just being mired in the world that we find ourselves in. 

10. The Beatles – Dear Prudence
This version of “Dear Prudence” is from the movie Across the Universe because I could not seem to find an acceptable version of the song. With that set aside, I love this song. I mean, love. It’s positive and it’s a beautiful Beatles song. It asks us to set aside the problems we face and look into the big beautiful sky and just embrace our world. It asks us to open our eyes and see, see the world that we have before us with all of its good and bad and flaws and grace. 

11. Lucky Boys Confusion – Mr. Wilmington
“Mr. Wilmington” is by the Chicago pop-punk band Lucky Boys Confusion. This song is tough for me. It’s a guy telling the father of a suicide victim that it’s not fair and he’s sorry. We hear the story of a son that got into drugs and couldn’t get clean and eventually takes his own life. It’s a sobering song that almost makes me cry every time I hear it. But, it’s also a reminder that the pain I feel is real and that others have experienced it and that I need not give into it. I can’t make my parents Mr. Wilmington.

12. A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario
I love A Tribe Called Quest and “Scenario” is probably my favorite song by them. It’s just a song that gets my juices going and makes me feel good. Their use of jazz and rap and other beats just make me feel good, as does the way that Q Tip, Phife Dawg, and Busta Rhymes let loose on the song. It’s just a good song that makes me feel good. And sometimes we just need those in our lives.

13. The Grateful Dead – Scarlet Begonias
The last song I am going to talk of is The Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias.” I think this is one of the deeper songs that Robert Hunter penned for the Dead. But, really, the lyrics don’t get me as much as the music and the way that the band explores the song. There are untold numbers of the song out there, all doing something different. And this makes the song a great one for me because it always contains an element of the unexpected. But, in my opinion, it is also one of the most beautiful songs the Dead has. So I love listening to it because the jam is always interesting and spontaneous, and it also explores the beautiful themes already present therein. Again, it’s a song that just makes me feel good. And I often need those.

So, that’s it. That’s my list of “13 Songs that Make Life a Little Less Scary.” I’d be interested in hearing what songs you find making your life a little less scary.