Exactly three years ago in 2020 I was obsessed with Panic! At the Disco. I was convinced Brendon Urie was communicating with me through the lyrics in his songs. Every single song had a personal meaning meant for me and together we would conquer the fate of the universe. Only trouble was, it wasn’t real … I was having a Bipolar episode.
See that’s the trouble with Bipolar, it’s a tricky little customer. It disguises itself as something enjoyable, something innocent and ten out of ten times the onset of mine is a fascination with music.
It starts off as a song, and in 2020 it was…
…I looked on iTunes and over the course of two months I downloaded every song, every album, every collaboration Brendon Urie had ever done on to my iPod and listened to Panic! at the Disco and Panic! at the Disco only. I’m serious, every bus journey, train journey, lunch break; even the working day was consumed by Brendon Urie’s voice and his disjointed lyrics that I made sense of in my head to suit my purpose…my mission.
I know it sounds crazy. I know it’s impossible to comprehend and I’m not sure I can even explain it; but this isn’t the first time and it certainly wasn’t the last.
I have always been addicted to music. When I write stories I have music in my ears that helps me to set the scene and create the personalities and sometimes the appearances of my characters. When I was at school I would sit in my bedroom and listen to the Top 40 just waiting for a song by Ocean Colour Scene or Kula Shaker to place. I went to sleep listening to Meat Loaf through my headphones and in PE I would internally sing the words to…
“Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”
…to help get me through the bleep test (remember those?).
Music has always been there, it’s something constant, something dependable that never failed to pull me out of the holes I was sucked into.
When I was bullied I’d close my eyes and picture Crispian Mills knocking on the door of my house and saying to parents…
“I’ve come for your daughter and I’m going to take her away and make life wonderful.”
When I listened to Simon Fowler sing…
“The Riverboat Song”
…I wasn’t the spotty swot people picked last for their hockey team. I was clever and popular with perfect skin.
The music I listened to made me feel everything I wanted to be and as a result played into the hands of Bernard the Bipolar brain.
When I was fifteen my GCSE English teacher gave the class a piece of homework. He said…
“I want you all to go home tonight and pick a song, look at the lyrics and tomorrow I want you tell the rest of the class what they mean.”
…Well I had a whole cheerleading squad in my head shaking their pom poms because this! This was my idea of homework. I didn’t care about Shakespeare, MacBeth was grim and as for The Lord of the Flies, well, William Golding badly needed to up his game if he was going to compete with my entire cassette tape collection of Indie and Rock music!
I must have sat with my Walkman for hours, listening to every Meat Loaf song word for word, writing down the lyrics, reading them, thinking about them and pondering what they meant. In the end I couldn’t choose just one song, so the next day I went to my English lesson which of course was the last lesson of the day; the only lesson I’d been looking forward to all day! I sat in my seat next to my friend with three A4 pages completely covered in Meat Loaf Lyrics.
I was ready!
But the rest of the class were not so ready. It turned out there was only a handful of us who had done our homework. Not only that but I happened to be the only kid in the class who had more than just one lyric going spare.
“Katerini, how many songs have you got?”
“Give us a song Kat, you’ve got loads there.”
“Kat, can I have one of your songs?”
Out of the kindness of my heart and probably revelling in my sudden albeit temporary popularity, I ended up dishing out five or six of my songs thinking…
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll definitely get asked for a one.”
…purposely I saved the best one for myself because I’d had every single word under the microscope the night before and by now I was…
A musical genius.
….so there I sat, all smug and excited; pleased with myself that not only had I done my homework to the best of my ability, but as my teacher asked everyone in the class I’d donated a song to, to then dissect their chosen lyric, I very quickly realised that I had done everyone else’s homework to the best of my ability too.
I have never forgotten my disappointment. The disappointment that no one in the class said…
“Actually Sir, this is Katerini’s work. I didn’t do my homework so I stole part of hers.”
I was disappointed that I didn’t get picked, again, only this time instead of being on a hockey field, it was in a field where I saw myself as an expert.
Back in 1998 I could not have foreseen my Bipolar diagnosis and I would never have imagined that the one thing I’d always loved and believed kept me safe, would sometimes play out to my detriment.
Sometimes the noise of my own thoughts is too loud to bear so I put my headphones on and drown out the chaos with the voices of…
Four Norwegian singers (Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Alejandro Fuentes, Askil Holm) who I later imagined were talking to me through their live albums…
“Hallelujah Vol 1” and “Hallelujah Vol2”
…together the five of us were going to save the world.
I would listen to the same song constantly, memorising the lyrics, writing them down, translating them into meaning that was only visible to me.
I wrote stories where Alex Band (The Calling) was the definition of my lead character and his music was the soundtrack to the plot.
In my late teens and early twenties Puressence was the cure to my depression. When I closed my eyes and listened to…
“Standing in Your Shadow”
…I would feel less invisible.
At that age of twenty-two I had a second try at the third year of my degree and I stayed up until four in the morning putting songs on a tape that I would listen to while I tried my best to write an essay.
At seventeen Buffalo Tom were the only band I listened to for a month because I only knew one other person who knew who they were.
In 2014 I hugged every single member of The Overtones after their concert and they had no idea who much that meant because I was in a really dark place and their smiles made my cold heart feel warm again.
…by Astrid – a band I’d loved in my sixth form days and became part of the soundtrack to my first year at university made sense of the grief I had for a friend I’d lost.
City and Colour were my go-to in days of confusion because Dallas Green’s voice was like a whisper of comfort over a bed of rain filled clouds.
I have a rational reason for every single musical obsession I have ever had…
About four years ago Luke Bryan popped up on my YouTube feed with his song…
“Crash My Party”
…a few days later I downloaded every single song, album and music video he had ever done on to my iPod and I created a playlist that I added to and amended and over the course of two months I didn’t listen to anything other than Luke Bryan.
I’ve never been a big fan of country music, in all honesty it irritated me. All that talk of dirt, whiskey and riding bulls called Fumanchu, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t relate to it and I’ve never liked the look of cowboy boots; they’re really not my style. But I have to admit, country music itself, it’s actually a grower and Luke Bryan became my guilty pleasure.
In January I bought a digital radio and stumbled on Smooth Country. Well that was it, it was like a switch!
My little office at work was filled with an array of joy and misery combined. My world was consumed by husky male country voices all singing about Whiskey and God and ploughing fields of corn; and suddenly it wasn’t annoying. Suddenly country music was the best thing I had ever heard…
…and then it became the slippery slope of a musical Bipolar decline.
I fell in love with the voices of…
Florida Georgia Line
…and then I heard…
“God’s Country” by Blake Shelton
…an hour later I had downloaded every single song, album, collaboration he has ever done.
I made him his own playlist, in fact I made him three. I put the same songs on the same playlist six times so I didn’t have to wait too long to hear “God’s Country” again.
Then I made playlists for all of the country singers I’d downloaded. I had a…
A full list
A quick list
A short list
At work I waited for the same songs to come on my radio. It’s an obsession, a compulsion, it’s an addiction. It’s a feeling that leaves me empty and on edge if I don’t hear the voices of those singers singing the lyrics that I have to make sense of.
That’s when Bernard stepped in and took away every little bit of enjoyment of listening to music and gave me a mission that I had to complete but every time this happens I am never told what that mission is until I find it in the lyrics.
What Bernard doesn’t realise is, country music is fairly self-explanatory. You can’t find much more meaning in drinking beer in bars and picking up girls in pick-up trucks. Country music is about country life, it’s fun and it’s sad all at the same time.
People like to ask…
“What caused the episode?”
My answer is simple…
Maybe my brain wanted to get my attention. Maybe it was bored of being sensible and something to get its teeth stuck into something different. Maybe this time it was in the shape of a…
In the middle of my episode when I was desperately trying to find the meaning in Blake Shelton’s song…
“I’ll name the dogs”
“There are meanings in every song you’re listening to, just not the meanings you’re looking for.”
Three months after my fascination with country music started, I’m still downloading songs and making playlists but I don’t feel that Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton are trying to communicate with me anymore. But if I’m honest, that’s both a relief and disappointing.
My happy place is music. My version of serenity is relating to a singer’s words and finding comfort and distraction in their songs. My iPod is my journal, it bears my soul; it’s something that can put me at risk but more often than not it keeps me safe.
When everything around me is a maze of chaos and noise I can immerse myself in the idea of ploughing maize and catching crayfish. In my head I can dance in a barn and drink whiskey with farmers, drive pickup trucks and chew on straw. I can have faith, be comfortable in a checked shirt and not worry about the accidental holes in my old jeans.
I can drink beer out of dixy cups and party in a field of corn and as I sit here now, I find absolutely nothing wrong in any of that!
So now that my Bipolar episode is passing and my head is becoming clearer; now I can look at myself in the mirror and not wonder who is staring back at me because now all I am is a listener. I am a country music fan and I am proud to just be Katerini and…
…addicted to Blake Shelton.
Dedicated to everyone who helped me through this latest episode. Thank you for the late night messages, checking in, indulging my obsession and keeping me safe. If it wasn’t for all of you we could be looking at a very different picture xx