Saturday, 7 May 2016

It beats....I am I am I am I am

On her recent tour, Kathryn Williams described the song 'Beating Heart' as the "underdog of the album - which is why I like it so much" encapsulating the British cliché of supporting the less lauded participant - in this case of her 2015 album 'Hypoxia' based on characters in Sylvia Plath's novel 'The Bell Jar.

Personally I don't see the song as the weakest or less important on the record - it is perhaps the quiet, eye of the hurricane that is the main protagonist Esther's mental state. Ed Harcourt's inspired production of the album contains subtle and effective atmospheric touches which frame the songs perfectly and 'Beating Heart' is no exception. Kathryn's own ghostly backing vocals and the echoes at the song's coda along with the eerie childlike piano is delightfully dreamy. It's stealth and stillness is it's steely strength. Kathryn's central vocal is perfectly judged in it's loving understatement as if the lyric is a shameful secret or admittance of weakness and brings to mind Kurt Cobain's spine-chilling performance on 'Something In The Way'.

'Beating Heart' deals with two of Esther's suicide attempts in the novel - one by drowning, one by sleeping pills and how despite her best efforts that her body, her spirit and her heart endure. The reverbing repeating "I Am I Am I Am, I Can, I Can I Can I Can" are flipped into self doubt "Am I? Am I? Am I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?" as her heart and mind battles over her sense of reality.

The album and this song in particular have been a foothold in life for me recently which I guess is why I am sticking up for the underdog, the quiet moment, the silent prayer and the less trumpeted. I will explain why but must say two things (1) it's taken me about a dozen goes at writing this and it still might not be how I want it but I have to get this out of me and 2) this is to let you know where I have been NOT where I am heading.

So I had spent about a week just coasting zombielike through work, barely talking to anyone, just existing, driving miles without the radio or CDs to interrupt the constant negative self talk in my head. The antiseptic nature of social media had separated me from my friends where a "like" or "retweet" covers for any genuine effort at contact.

In my time off and because sleeping was becoming harder by the day I wrote letters to people. Full of things I wanted to say, things I wanted them to know that I couldn't say because people aren't open to such sentiments until a person dies. I always find it unfortunate that people only stand up to say good things about their friends at their funerals, rarely to them when they have the chance. There was a lot of regret but also love and thankfulness in those letters. Plus of course suggestions of how to deal with all the records - let's face it.

So I was pretty much set to go.

I'd decided just to act like it was a normal day, although a bit abnormal for me as I was commuting into London for work, not something I usually do or dread like those who have to do it 5 days a week, like, forever. I left home with notes and letters laid out where they could be easily found.

Standing on the station platform I had chosen the time when a non stopping Paddington bound train was due. I can't recall hearing or feeling anything as I stood near the edge, not close enough to arouse suspicion but ready. I was just numb.

It was still dark so I saw the lights of the train as it rounded the bend. The "this train does not stop here" announcement must have been made but all I could hear was my own blood pumping in my ears. It really was the oddest feeling. But there was something else as I looked down at my feet on the yellow line. I was scared.

All week I had felt a sense of relief and longing when I thought about not being here anymore - wanted to be free of the pain and agony in my head. Yet at this last moment I knew that I couldn't and wouldn't do it. Maybe I was caught up in a self pitying drama of my own making, I don't know. I did think of some of my friends and this added to my doubts.

So I stepped back and the train whizzed past.

The rest of the day was a bit of an autopilot daze but when I returned home I shredded the letters. Over the next week my depression withdrew and I started to look back in horror at what had nearly happened. The self doubt that had pushed me towards that end now punished me for thinking of it in the first place.

I've done some thinking and writing (both personal and to medical professionals) since then and have a much firmer grasp on what I should do if I feel myself sliding to dark places again. It's an on-going process but I need to get the balance right. I still have the same feelings of loneliness, lack of self worth and rejection but am trying to do what I can about the things I can change.

I'm sure any of my friends reading this will scold me for not reaching out to them for help but it's not a thing I can do easily. I'm naturally shy, inward looking and self isolating i.e. my own worst enemy. This is why the suicide rate is so high amongst men of my age because we can't say "help" without it sounding like failure. We only break when it all gets too much and often no-one can stop us taking a fatal step.

But that's not where I'm heading.

And I promise to all that have offered me support that I will get in touch if I feel I am unable to cope on my own. I won't feel good about doing so but I won't let it get that bad again

So although 'Hypoxia' isn't an album about metal health, it and particularly the song 'Beating Heart', for me, is a rallying call to you sense of self. That whatever life throws at you, your body, your spirit, your chi, your mojo, your life force will not let you throw away this improbably amazing gift that is your life.



Because a heart beats on its own
Plotting out the times to come
It knows it can
It beats
I Am, I Am, I Am, I Am, I Am




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