How songs of the noughties helped me cope with my mental health
By Katy Leigh
Somewhere in the depths of the family VCR catalogue, there’s a recording of myself and my older sister attempting choreographed karaoke to S Club 7.
My sister is desperately channelling her inner Baby Spice, and I am a scarcely verbal toddler. From what I remember of the video, it’s a valiant attempt from the two of us, but I can imagine my dad, the cameraman, was relieved when the performance reached its conclusion. Or so he thought.
Twenty-odd years later, and S Club 7 remain, unashamedly, in the depths of my ‘happy dance’ playlists, for me to grace his eardrums with all over again. I can’t even pretend that this is an entirely nostalgic indulgence. It’s not quite ‘Dancing Queen’ but ‘Bring It All Back to You’ is the epitome of a feel-good pop song and you cannot change my mind.
‘Bring It All Back to You’ revives my soul in ways only the cheesiest of trashy noughties tunes can. However, as lockdown life continues, with the circumstances testing our resilience and emotional endurance to levels never exercised, I’ve found the lyrics grow increasingly relevant.
I have anxiety and have experienced severe depression too. Anxiety lets my thoughts spiral away from me, in a very rapid downward fashion. I’ve struggled in the past with intrusive thoughts, convincing myself of immediate, life-threatening dangers facing loved ones. Getting through this part of my life was like walking through solidifying cement, with each step feeling increasingly harder. Life began to feel more and more like a weight being pressed against me, preventing me from going further.
In 2019, the world not yet altered by Covid-19, I became so unwell that I could barely leave the house, and my entire being was consumed with the fear of my own existence. I can’t tell you how I got through it, because in all honesty, I don’t know. I nearly ended my life. My mental health still needs a lot of looking after, but I can wholeheartedly say from the position I’m in now, I am generally well, and happy. CBT, medication, and overwhelming support from loved ones have dragged me through bit by bit. There also comes a point where you have to do the weightlifting, to keep those rough bits at bay – you have to be able to depend on yourself, as well as others.
So, what have I learned from S Club 7 that could possibly be relevant to this? When my anxiety is mounting, manifesting in a myriad of (un)glamorous physical and emotional symptoms, there’s a mantra I will repeatedly remind myself of, and it’s a mantra I owe to Bradley, Rachel, Tina, Hannah, Jo, Jon and Paul. Simply: ‘When the world seems to get too tough: Bring It All Back to You’.
Bear with me.
A legitimate technique for coping with anxiety can be taking time to pause, take some deep breaths, and ground yourself. Literally, ‘bring it all back to you’ - focus on your immediate environment and bring back the anxious thoughts that are accelerating through your mind trying to make you run away from yourself. Taking deep breaths as you list objects you can see around you, sensations you can feel, or things you can hear draws you away from the anxious ‘what ifs’ and instead makes your mind focus on the reality of your surroundings. The S Club Mantra gives me perspective in what could otherwise escalate to a moment of panic. (I also wiggle my toes. I don’t think there’s any science behind this, but it makes me think about my feet, which is somehow enough of a distraction to temporarily divert my anxiety. Don’t ask. But hey, it works for me.)
The final lyrical verse repeats as the song fades. A metaphor, perhaps, for the coping mechanisms that you gradually begin to rely less on as your mental health improves, but you go back to again through the peaks and troughs of life. Maybe that’s taking it too far? Regardless, recovery is not linear, and you are not alone in going through periods of a ‘dip’ or downward turn, even after a stint of being in control and treading water. Beginning to struggle again after you’ve been through a good (or even just ‘ok’) patch can feel devastating, but this does not invalidate your experience or how far you’ve come. You got through the rough seas once, and you will do so again. Life is a balance of ups and downs. The rough patches are to be expected and it does not make you weak to be struggling, even if you were previously doing well. The repetition of the final verse reminds me of this – continue the metaphorical noughties dance-off, and keep going.
I realise that it can be easier said than done. These techniques do take practise. It will take some learning and adjustment, but it’s helped me endlessly. Anxiety can raise itself at any point, and I also realise that in some situations it may be easier to engage with these techniques than others. I recognise my privilege in having been able to access the therapy and support that I needed, but I sincerely hope that in sharing my experience it might at least affirm that if you are struggling with your mental health: you are not alone, and have nothing to be ashamed of. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and by talking about it more openly I hope we can continue to change the stigma towards mental illness.
We’re all carrying a lot of weight and worry right now – we may not be able to ‘smile and let it go’, but I think the main message of the song endures: hold your head high, let the world see what you’ve got. Even though your full potential may be restrained by the current circumstances, there is still so much you can give to those around you, and most importantly: to yourself.
No matter how bad things feel, don’t you stop trying – don’t stop, never give up. You’ve got this.