Close your eyes, dearest reader and picture this – it’s 3:43 am on a surprisingly balmy evening and the only audible disturbance is the sound of my own breathing. This breathing, however, repeatedly punctures the piercing silence and the twilight hour’s temperate climate, as a vigorous panic attack begins to consume the entirety of my tall, fragile frame. I sigh. I cry. I sigh…then I cry a little more before I reach for my phone to turn up the volume ever so slightly. As my Arctic Monkeys playlist moves from the previous song to the next, I try to convince myself that my heartbeat has started to mimic Matt Helders’ throbbing drum solo in time to Do Me A Favour, as it plays from underneath my pillow. I begin to rebalance, almost. Yes, reader, I am aware that a track comprised entirely of swiveling guitar licks and thunderous riffs is not quite as relaxing as say, classical piano, but somehow, these Monkeys are my Mozart – their music seems to send my chronic insomniac self to sleep, however trivial and paradoxical this routine may seem from the outset.
Six years ago, I was diagnosed with severe Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and acute anxiety. As a residual result of these conditions, over the past year, I have also developed symmetry-based Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, y’know, for good measure, as my ill-mannered doctor once joked. Although I have willingly and openly spoken about my mental health in recent years, until now, I have relentlessly avoided each and every opportunity to discuss how vehemently following, supporting and listening to Arctic Monkeys has continuously been my coping mechanism, out of sheer worry – (yes, worry – no surprise there) – that I wouldn’t be able to do the topic justice. Whilst my formative years have mostly been shrouded by these conditions, which have, at times, become utterly debilitating, my love for my favorite band has gradually and naturally transcended from a teenage preoccupation to a ubiquitous, visceral force, one much greater than my shoddy feature writing could ever describe. There is one thing, however, that I am certain of; this may be a bitter pill to swallow, but quite frankly, my affinity with Arctic Monkeys has managed to act as my medicine, by opiating my hyper-conscious, hyper-aware and hyper-sensitive mind much better than the nigh on useless forms of medication that I have been forcibly prescribed in the past.
I was brought up on a set diet that consisted exclusively of 80s pop and post-disco, therefore, I didn’t have the faintest idea that the band existed until I reached the tender age of ten years old. I encountered Arctic Monkeys for the first time via a now-distant friend, who was a fair few years older than myself. A year and a half after its 2009 release, said friend was still engrossed in their, so to speak, oddball album, Humbug. She would often flit between tracks in a passive manner, reducing its brilliance to nothing more than background music, wholly unaware that I was picking up on what she was playing. The album’s opener, My Propeller, was a definite favorite of hers and through repeated listens, I was, for sure, naive enough to be oblivious to not only the track’s probable innuendo, but to the fact that my sparked interest in the track was the first inkling of how this band was going to change my own life trajectory. Sure, at that age, I was beginning to enter an epoch of self-discovery, where I would, perhaps, be prone to infatuation, so my connection with the band during my early teenage years was often seen as ‘a phase’. In fairness, it would have been easy enough to follow in a similar fashion to my friends, whom progressively ebbed away from the influx of bubblegum boybands that populated the charts in the early 2010s and as such, those around me were convinced that Arctic Monkeys would merely be my band du jour. God, were they wrong.
Humbug was not only the catalyst that sparked my bond with the band – it also features quite possibly the most life-affirming lyric I have ever come across. “But she’s never been the kind to be hollowed by the stares..” croons Alex Turner, over the spidery, swirling guitar lines of Secret Door, a woozy, waltzing love letter to his then-amour, model and presenter, Alexa Chung. Though the song may be about how Turner admired the way in which Chung handled the evils of fame – paparazzi and the press – it embodies a completely contrasting meaning for myself. The idea of being ‘hollowed’ by something is one that can be associated with my anxiety; the sheer intensity of a standard panic attack is enough to often wipe out my own physical energy, causing my body to feel encapsulated in a wave of worry and as a consequence, fall completely numb. But, on days where I am able to ride that wave out, I do, deservedly, feel invincible. Each time I recover from a panic attack, or a nervous breakdown, I feel recharged, as ultimately, I haven’t ever been ‘hollowed’ by my mental health. Yes, the minuscule monsters in my mind may often scream and shriek even when I attempt the most straightforward of tasks, such as getting on a bus, but with my Monkeys on my side, I have managed to fight back every single time. It is this idea that I have the ability to reverse the lyrics and make them into something personal that has kept me going, as irony strikes, I do struggle to string my own sentences together.
To care for someone with GAD is quite the burdensome duty, so those who suffer from the condition, myself included, often isolate themselves into what they call their ‘personal bubble’, where the things that are of utmost importance to them orbit the periphery of their personal safe space. This safe space ultimately has to adhere to the secretive nature in which it exists, so going through the motions and sharing my innermost thoughts is something that has almost always been unheard of for myself. Yes, counselors have managed to come and go, but thinking out loud and talking about my anxieties in such a claustrophobic, confined space has always resulted in the opposite of the initial goal. The solace, however, that I have always found in their songs has forced me to get up and out of my personal bubble and face my everyday anxieties, whether that be an exam, a shift or another behemoth. Call me crazy, but my ardent devotion for Arctic Monkeys has guided me through both convalescence and adolescence. Obsession doesn’t always have to be seen as a dirty word. Obsession, in my instance, is a form of self-care. Between being fairly in touch with my disorders and as a self-confessed lisztomaniac, you’d be more likely to see pigs fly than you’d see myself sidling around without my earphones in – no brownie points for guessing who I would most likely be listening to, though. By oscillating between each subsequent album, my fervor for the four-piece has only grown to become evermore zealous, so much so that it hangs like a shadow over my each and every move.
Quite unashamedly, I have become an Arctic Monkeys aficionado. But, that crowning title belongs to an alter-ego that isn’t riddled with anxiety, one that successfully seizes each day by using weapons against their worries, soundtracked by their favorite band. My connection with Arctic Monkeys has meant that I have been able to force myself to forgive and accept my idiosyncrasies and disorders, to dance through the storm that is my mental health and to see that I am more of a person that my mind lets me believe. So, why should I be ashamed?