Nostalgia can be such a pleasant, hazy thing, brought about by a smell or sight which dislodges a memory buried under the mental memorabilia that piles up over time. The taste of a favourite childhood candy, or the smell of a blanket you slept with on your bed for all of elementary school, these are tender memories that make you feel warm and fuzzy.
Like with everything, though, there’s a less desirable side to nostalgia, one that creeps up alongside darker feelings I’ve experienced lately. These feelings, as well, are not new, but ones that I thought I’d lost with my early adolescence. Turns out they hadn’t been lost, just tucked away in recesses of my brain, and as they rear their ugly heads, an urgent sense to rediscover things I used to cling to also arises.
My mental health (a term which now feels like a disingenuous buzzword and nothing more) has taken a sharp downward curve in the past six months or so. I hesitate to wax lyrical about depression, something which has been romanticised and trivialised, but also been the subject of so much sub-par adolescent scribblings, and so I’ll do my best to steer clear of the specific feelings of depression (heaviness, numbness, terrible sharpness etc…) But with these latest bouts of depression I’ve noticed myself turning back to music that I listened to when I was 14 or 15. The band Waterparks, in particular, has been plaguing my Spotify the past few weeks. Awsten Knight, the vibrant haired, devastatingly angular frontman, veers between lovesick, bitter, sincere and tongue-in-cheek with his lyrics, liberally sprinkling in references to his mental health. Many of these lines are etched into my memory from inscribing them in journals, in Sharpie on pairs of Converse and on my own skin, classic teenage girl phenomena.
As I grew a little older, I began to scoff at both myself and the band, thinking myself terribly cosmopolitan and mature to have grown out of such a silly boy band. So, for a space of about 3 years, I abandoned them, removing them from my Spotify and letting my Waterparks records gather dust at the back of my shelf.
But here I am, at nineteen and a half, feeling many of the same feelings as I did when I was younger, and I find myself circling back to Waterparks, feeling more sympathy for my fifteen year old self than ever before. I remember how low, how desperate I had felt at that time. It’s like some sort of sonic time capsule, catapulting me back into my poster-pasted room in my parent’s house, faint echoes of misery thrumming through Knight’s lyrical agility and bringing me back to fifteen with a sharp bump. And even though I have much better support now, even though I know better in a lot of ways, in many ways the feelings haven’t changed. And I’m not saying Waterparks are some sort of gurus of mental health or adolescent depression, in my better days I feel a bit uneasy about the kinds of lines fifteen year old was resonating with (‘Maybe if I kill myself you’ll know I’m sincere’ from Entertainment’s ‘TANTRUM’), but I do like the self aware way Knight talks about mental health, (‘Would it be worth it to write songs/About everything I’m not?/I could invent a thousand problems…Because people only like boys in bands/Who’re plagued with troubled thoughts’ from Black Light’s ‘Easter Egg’). But for me it brings up the issue of vulnerable audiences. Without trying to belittle the band, their main demographic is adolescents, a group who is already highly emotionally charged. Many people have been a lot more open about talking about their experiences with mental health, and while this is undeniably a positive, I do worry about the message that a lot of young people might glean from it. I myself felt like that because I wasn’t alone in feeling like this, it was fine to feel that way. And it is fine, up to a certain point, it’s fine in that it’s natural and not something to be ashamed of, but it’s not fine in the sense it’s something to revel in. Suicidal ideation is not the best trait to share with someone you admire.
I've changed a lot, I hope, since 15, but in my darker moments I have still turned to the Texan trio that I used to be so hot on. It’s a kind of nostalgia, for me, albeit not always a pleasant one, and sometimes a certain song, or even a single moment in a song, will spit up violent recollections of being awake the wee hours of 2017, lungs and eyes exhausted from tears with a relentless hollow feeling filling up my chest. It’s like falling back into familiar territory, the music hand in hand with the feelings. And maybe the music isn’t helping, maybe it’s encouraging me to cleave to the sensation of being sad, a bitter reminder of a well covered area. But in a way, this familiarity brings some comfort. I made it through these feelings once already, soundtracked by the electronically tinged, pop punk inspired melodies, and now, older and wiser as I am, I’ll be able to do it again. It’s nice to know that even my depression has a soundtrack, that's uncharacteristically down with the kids at least.