Wednesday 30 June 2021

Twelve Songs That Remind Me What Caring Is All About

I was listening to some of my favourite tracks on YouTube and Spotify a few weeks ago and realised many capture aspects of what caring means to me. Here’s a selection in no particular order, each with a note explaining why it resonates for me. Maybe they’ll resonate for you, too. Links are to my favourite versions of the songs on YouTube.

I’d like to acknowledge my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson of I’m NOT Disordered who encouraged me to explore what the songs mean to me, rather than simply sharing the lyrics as I’d originally intended. It added hugely to the effort involved in putting this post together — but she was right! I learned a good deal about these songs, their artists and backstories, and the article is far stronger as a result. Thank you, Aimee!

1. You Will Find Me

You leave me room for my imperfections
I’m a mess and you jump right in
If I drift in the wrong direction
You turn the tide and you calm the wind
Anytime, every time I get lost
You will find me

Alex and Sierra — You Will Find Me

This is a recent addition to my playlists. I’m not sure how I came across it, and know nothing of the artists beyond the fact that they won the third season of The X Factor US. I like the song because it stresses allowing people to be themselves, with all their (our) “imperfections” and “mess,” rather than trying to fix or change them.

The line “any time, every time I get lost you will find me” echoes something a friend once told me: “It doesn’t matter how dark it is, Marty. You’ll always find me.”

There’s another line that means a lot: “It could be a late night call — you take it all.” It’s a basic tenet of my friendship with Fran that I’m there for her any time day or night, but that goes for other friends too. I have other things going on in my life and can’t always take a call at a moment’s notice, but I do my best to be available for my friends when they need me/

2. If You Need Me

When you’re happy and when you’re scared,
I can still be your shoulder,
I’ll be by your side even if I’m not next to you.

Julia Michaels — If You Need Me

This song reminds me that being there for someone isn’t just about supporting them through the bad times. Aimee once told me it means a lot that I want to spend time with her when she’s well, as well as when she’s struggling. It recalls something I said to Fran a long time ago: “No matter what is going on, whether you’re having a good day or a bad day, whether I’m having a good day or a bad day, I never don’t want to be here.”

The line “I’ll be by your side even if I’m not next to you” is relevant to all my caring friendships, especially with Fran who lives 3000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic. Technology means there’s little excuse or reason to not be present. As we like to say, no one is too far away to be cared for or to care.

3. I Won’t

I won’t let you down, my friend
I won’t let you fight alone
I won’t leave you in the cold on your own
I won’t let you down, my friend

Calm down, come and sit with me now
Pour out whatever is weighing you down
I’m here to hold you up again
Calm down, calm down

Richard Walters — I Won’t

This is another recent find. I recognise the commitment to stand with your friend, to be there and not abandon them, no matter what happens. The “calm down” line sits uneasily with me — I hope I’d never say that to someone anxious or struggling, because it’s unhelpful and condescending. Apart from that, the lyrics capture the essentials of a caring and attentive friendship.

4. How to Save a Life

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

The Fray — How to Save a Life

This song means a great deal to me. I remember it playing when I was out with a friend in the early days of our friendship. We both knew the words by heart and sang along together. The lyrics express the rawness of being there for someone who is really struggling — and the fear you might not be there or know what to do when it matters most.

The song was inspired by a meeting singer Isaac Slade had with a teenager struggling with drug addiction. In an interview, Slade explained: “Here I was, a protected suburbanite, and he was just seventeen and had all these problems. And no one could write a manual on how to save him.” I’m reminded of something Fran wrote years ago about wellness and recovery:

It’s as if your body/mind is a spaceship and you are creating the owner’s manual. You are the only one who gets to make those choices. You can then share this manual with others who can support you in your process.

We wrote High Tide Low Tide to help others write and share their manuals. There is no more important work. As Fran again writes, unconsciously evoking this song, “Stick around. It may not be easy but you can help someone make a life worth living. Maybe even save a life.”

5. Take Me Home

Came to you with a broken faith
Gave me more than a hand to hold
Caught before I hit the ground
Tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now

Jess Glynne — Take Me Home

Jess Glynne wrote Take Me Home about a time when she was at a very low point. She’s written, “I was reminded of who I was as a person by someone who cared so much and wouldn’t let me break.” The song “is about being grateful and taking advice from the people who care, and who are there for you when you are in need.”

For me, it’s a raw and very real account of someone reaching out for help, and finding someone willing and able to offer the help they need. The challenge is not to be taken lightly: “Could you take care of a broken soul?”

Supporting a friend is most often about helping them help themselves, or sitting with them until they’re ready to take the next step. But sometimes, we’re called on to prevent further harm, and reassure our loved ones they’ll be okay. The line “[you] caught [me] before I hit the ground, tell me I’m safe, you’ve got me now” captures this perfectly.

6. I Will Be Your Friend

I know that lately
Things haven’t been so good
I always said
If I could ever help you, I would

Sade — I Will Be Your Friend

This has been a favourite of mine for many years. It’s perhaps the first “how to be there for a friend” song I came across. There’s a simple warmth and honesty in the lyrics — and in the singer’s performance — that feels like being hugged; like being held close against whatever it is that’s hurting. Sometimes, that’s what we need.

7. Monsters

I see your monsters
I see your pain
Tell me your problems
I’ll chase them away

I’ll be your lighthouse
I’ll make it okay
When I see your monsters
I’ll stand there so brave
And chase them all away

Katie Sky — Monsters

With its talk about chasing monsters, this song might come across as light and unrealistic, but it rings very true to me beneath the surface. Sometimes, we’re aware of our friends’ pain and want to help, but we know we can’t fix things from the outside. All we can do is let them know we’re here. The line “I’ll be your lighthouse” reminds me of a quotation by Anne Lamott:

Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.

Another important aspect of supportive friendships is expressed in the line “I will be here like you were for me.” The healthiest relationships are founded on mutual support, encouragement, and care.

8. Fight For It

Don’t tell me that you’re gonna run away from it now
You’re gonna stand here and fight for it
Don’t tell me that you can’t
And that you’re gonna back down
You’re gonna stand here and fight for it

Lucy Spraggan — Fight For It

I’m no advocate of “tough love” but occasionally something more than gentle encouragement is needed. Fran and I write about this in our book:

Challenge arises naturally between us, as it does in any relationship based on honesty. If something does not feel right, we let the other person know, even if they might initially be hurt or distressed to hear it. This degree of emotional maturity is very important.

Lucy Spraggan’s Fight for It expresses this perfectly. She challenges her friend to stand and fight for herself, when it would be easier to run away and hide. Most importantly, she lets her friend know she will be there too, fighting alongside her. That commitment to stay in the ring and not turn away when help is needed most, is the raw, dirty, bloody truth of what it means to be there for another human being. There have been times in the past when I’ve failed to be there for people who had a right to expect better of me. This song reminds me why I vowed to do better and be better from now on. As Lucy Spraggan sings, “I’m gonna stand here and fight with you.”

9. Sober

Momma, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore
And daddy, please, forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor
To the ones who never left me, we’ve been down this road before
I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore

Demi Lovato — Sober

Most of the songs I’ve included express things I’ve learned first-hand about caring for others, but this one is different. I have no personal experience of alcohol or drug addiction, nor of supporting someone through these conditions. Like Suzanne Vega’s Luka, Love The Way You Lie by Eminem, and Pink’s Perfect, this song drags me outside my comfort zone. It provides a small insight into the life of someone who fears being judged and abandoned for what they perceive as failure and weakness. I’m grateful for that insight. A month after the song’s release in June 2018, Demi Lovato was hospitalized due to an overdose.

10. Keep Holding On

You’re not alone, together we stand
I’ll be by your side, you know, I’ll take your hand
When it gets cold and it feels like the end
There’s no place to go, you know, I won’t give in

Keep holding on
‘Cause you know we’ll make it through
We’ll make it through
Just stay strong

Avril Lavigne — Keep Holding On

I don’t know if there’s a backstory, but this song was used as the musical theme for the 2006 film Eragon. (The video I linked includes clips from the movie Bridge To Terabithia). I’m a big fan of Avril Lavigne which is reason enough for me to include it, but in addition, the song captures the essence of a close, caring relationship. Throughout the lyrics, the use of “we” resonates strongly. That’s what caring means to me: a mutual connection and commitment.

11. Avant Gardener

The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar
I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying

Gordi — Avant Gardener (song by Courtney Barnett)

This song is based on a true event. Its writer Courtney Barnett decided to do some gardening one day but started having trouble breathing and ended up in hospital. The lyrics shine a light on what it might mean to live with a chronic physical health condition, but it’s the simple, almost naive, exchange between singer and paramedic that stands out for me. It’s easy to applaud those in the caring and health care professions, but this past year has taught us just how vital — and undervalued — those roles are. The song reminds me we owe a great deal to those who, literally, stop people dying.

12. Don’t Give Up

Don’t give up ’cause you have friends
Don’t give up you’re not the only one
Don’t give up no reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up you still have us
Don’t give up now we’re proud of who you are

Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush — Don’t Give Up

Written by Peter Gabriel, Don’t Give Up was inspired by the Depression-era photography of Dorothea Lane. The lyrics describe the despair of someone brought to the edge by circumstances outside his control, and the response of someone who cares for him deeply but perhaps doesn’t know how best to help.

Some of the “Don’t give up” lines work better for me than others. It’s not always enough — or helpful — to be told you have friends, that you’re not alone, that there are people who care and would be devastated to lose you. But one line gets me every time: “Don’t give up now, we’re proud of who you are.” No matter what has happened or what we are going through, simply making it from one day to the next is courage, and courage deserves to be acknowledged. It is the antidote to the stigma that labels mental illness, despair, and suicide as weakness and failure.

In this article I’ve shared some of the songs and lyrics that remind me what caring is all about. What artists, songs, quotations, or writers inspire you? Fran and I would love to hear from you!


Photo by Genessa Panainte on Unsplash


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