I still remember the day I bought my first music record.
It was my 11th birthday and my heart was in bits.
My dad had walked out on us a couple of months beforehand, and this was the first birthday I would spend without him.
He had called that morning to wish me a happy birthday. The conversation was awkward and stilted—neither of us being able to say how we truly felt. I was trying to make it all okay for him, but he just wanted to cut the conversation short. He was clearly feeling emotionally uncomfortable.
When he hung up after a few minutes of meaningless small talk, I was heartbroken. My mum was at work but my wonderful, fun, and loving grandma was looking after us that day, and she was right there with me. She hugged me and pressed something into my hand. I looked down in surprise. She had given me the ultimate gift for an 80s child—a record token.
“Happy Birthday,” she said while giving me a wink. “Now, get your coat.”
The record store was just a short walk away from home. The shop’s front was a dazzling window display of the latest album covers, picture discs, and huge band promo posters. I had pressed my nose to this window many, many times, but never felt brave enough to go inside, as the interior was painted black and seemed small, claustrophobic, and a little intimidating to a young girl.
I could therefore barely contain my excitement as we stepped inside and beheld the treasures within.
There they all were. Michael Jackson, Prince, Duran Duran—rows and rows of the biggest hits of the day. But I walked right past them all. I knew exactly which record I wanted to buy, and there it was, proudly placed, in the “new releases” stand.
I approached it reverently and carefully took it from its display. Madonna’s brand new album, “Like A Virgin.”
It was beautiful—all “shiny and new,” to quote the lyrics from the song. “This one please,” I said to the surly shop assistant in the black T-shirt behind the counter, as I held out my token with a trembling hand.
When I got home, I put my record on and sang every word along with Madonna at the top of my voice.
“I made it through the wilderness, somehow I made it through…” The fresh pop sound and joyous lyrics soothed the pain of the soul-destroying phone call I’d had earlier. Suddenly, I realized, as I was singing my little heart out, that just for that moment, I had forgotten I was sad. And I danced wildly around my bedroom.
From this point in my life, I lost myself in music.
At first, it was a way for me to drown the constant sound of arguments, tempers flaring, occasional aggression, and chaos going on elsewhere in the house. But soon, it became a passion. I discovered that I had a natural ear for music and an okay singing voice. I spent all of my pocket money on records and taught myself to really sing. It gave me a sense of purpose, and I began to feel more positive.
My teenage years came and went. My first breakup, exam stress, the challenges of growing up, leaving home, moving in with someone, more breakups…but music got me through it all.
When I was happy, I sang and danced; when I was sad, I listened to love songs and cried; when I was angry, I turned up the volume and let it all out. I could express my feelings by singing along to those songs with lyrics I could totally relate to, and it made me feel less alone because someone else had experienced the same thing too.
Madonna, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Amy Winehouse, John Lennon, David Bowie, and countless other artists were all there for me through the years, teaching me about love, independence, fantasy, grief, sex—all touching my heart and mind, and resonating with me in some way.
When the pandemic struck, I had just had my heart well and truly broken by someone I really loved. Like everyone else, I was forced to spend a lot of alone time at home, so I had no choice but to surrender to the pain and go within. I was subsequently inspired to write and release my first ever song as a lockdown project, with the help of some talented musician friends.
I had been totally devastated by the way this person had treated me, but I had never fully admitted this for fear of how they might react. However, music gave me the courage to be honest, and I realized, for the first time that actually, my ex’s feelings were not more important than mine. It was not revenge by any means; it was vulnerability and pure honesty. It felt so liberating and cathartic to just sing those words out and share them with the world.
I began to grow emotionally and was able to find my own closure.
Later that year, I decided to take up guitar playing to give me something new to focus on. Little by little, my playing improved, and, as a result, so did my self-confidence. I plucked up the courage to take things a step further and joined a weekly online communal guitar jam.
On the day of my first session, my heart was racing. I was riddled with nerves and felt scared that I wouldn’t be a good enough player, but when I realized that everyone was a beginner like me, I relaxed, put my ego aside, and fully embraced the experience. There was no judgment; we were all there to have fun.
As we played our way through some basic Beatles classics, singing our hearts out, I could not believe how happy and alive I suddenly felt. There was just something amazing about sharing this joy with others. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger and gave me what we all crave—a sense of belonging.
As Madonna says, “Music makes the people come together,” and she was right. Every week, these sessions left me feeling uplifted for the rest of the evening and for the days in between, because I had felt a genuine connection with other people.
As a person who has experienced trauma, suffers from anxiety, and gets triggered, just like most of us do, I can’t stress enough how immensely beneficial music has been to my mental health. No matter what, music has helped me deal with whatever life has thrown at me.
I’m not talking about putting on my headphones, turning up the volume, and blocking out those nasty voices or difficult emotions. What I mean is that by listening to music, I can come right back to the present moment.
When I play the guitar, it demands all of my attention and totally focuses my mind, in a similar way that meditation does. I find that I can regain some perspective, make better decisions, concentrate better in all areas of life, and generally, improve my mindset.
If I feel low, music puts me in a better state of mind, and I can move forward and have a more productive day. If I need the motivation to lace up my trainers and go running, music will help me get my ass off the couch. And when I can share the joy of music with other people, it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.
Music can enhance all of our lives. It colors our days, lifts our spirits, and motivates us. It helps us express ourselves and connect with others. It won’t make the bad stuff disappear, but it can help us get to a place where we can face it head-on.
And it gave a brokenhearted 11-year-old girl a reason to smile again on her birthday.
So sing your hearts out, people.