Lyrics: “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” ~ Frank Turner, 2021
Two weeks or so ago, I came across a YouTube video of Frank Turner playing the song “Muhammad Ali” live at a gig. I was wondering if it was just another working title for the song “Punches”, you know boxing and all. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t. Instead it was this song that absolutely blew my mind, because I could relate to the lyrics so much. Later in this post I will talk about how my reaction to those kind of songs has changed a bit over the years, but let’s delve into this one first. Or maybe just state how much I needed THAT song to be released yesterday, when emotionally I had hit the lowest point I experienced in a long time. I was so grateful I could blast this song on my car stereo and sing and scream along, because that does feel cathartic. And it does help to know that there is at least one other person in the world – who wrote these lyrics – who knows so well how this low point feels and thus also shows me that I’m not alone in this.
This title alone. Come on! I don’t know about you, but my usual reply to “how are you?” is “fine”. If I’m really not doing too well, I say “Oh, I’m ok.” Even if I’m not really. I find it incredible hard to say to friends or coworkers or any other person I know: “I am not doing so well right now”. Why is that? I mean, my brain knows why: Fear of rejection, fear of not being understood, fear of being a nuisance or a killjoy.
The family stuff going on at the moment might have helped a little to be more open and say “It’s hard. I’m struggling with this [emergency].” And *this* is just the tip of the anxious iceberg, but that’s a topic for another post maybe.
It’s a day with a Y in it, so obviously I’m over it.
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.
And I’ve tried not to worry, and I’ve tried being sorry for being
Born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So many times have I thought and felt and possibly blogged about how I’m sick and tired of feeling this way. Annoyed by my own apathy. And yet still unable to change much of it. Though that’s not true, there have been positive changes over the years. But it’s hard to remember those sometimes.
Being sick and tired of being sick and tired feels like a nod to I’m young and bored of being young and bored (“Once We Were Anarchists”). Nice!
Because I’ve been
Messed up, stressed out, talking to myself again,
Locked up, left out, terrified of everything,
Wound up, found out, waiting round for something to give.
Messed up, stressed out…. often enough by my own thoughts and the critical voice in my head. Spending too much time in my head, talking to myself, anyway.
Lockdowns and the whole pandemic and how we changed as society might have also impacted me more than I thought possible. Or maybe there were other things impacting my sense of self. Being in charge of a big project at work didn’t boost my ego either. On the contrary I still feel overwhelmed by it more often than I should. Found out, waiting for something to give for sure.
Don’t you ever wake up and suspect
That you were simply never cut out to be
The kind of person they expect,
The person you intended to be.
This! 100% ! Right now and for most of my life, when I look back on it. Always expecting the least of myself. And always, always waiting for other people to find me out as the imposter that I clearly must be.
And I keep it all in with my idiot grin,
And I’m doing my best, but there’s very little left,
I would rather say “nondescript smile” instead of idiot grin :-), but the effect is the same. I put up a facade of being fine and ok and just dandy. And yes, that can be exhausting sometimes. Maybe that’s one of the many reasons why I’m so knackered these days. Though I assume the general worrying at the moment exhausts me even more.
So cut me some slack if I crawl back into my shell:
I haven’t been doing so well.
I always found it hard to be outgoing. I might have gotten a bit better with it over the years – also thanks to some lovely experience in the Frank Turner community – but it’s still hard for me in general, especially if I’m not feeling well. So I tend to not initiate contact with friends and to neither suggest plans. Just let me be. Here. Wallowing in my own misery.
I got a brand new name for an old, old friend:
The doctor said it’s “anxiety”.
And it makes a lot of sense because I’ve been so tense
Some days I find it difficult to see.
I won’t even try to self-diagnose myself only based on the various self-help books I’ve read over the years. But I feel anxious a lot and I have self-esteem issues and all that. I know that much by now. For the longest time, till my early 20s I thought, that was just the way it was. That feeling this miserable was how I was supposed to feel. Only when I started reading some of the many available self-help books on issues like self-esteem etc, I realized: Hey, you don’t HAVE to feel this way. There is reason you do, but you could work through that and feel better. Or at least not as bad. 20 years on I’m still working on that. So yes it’s an old old friend, but at least I have some more understanding of where those issues might stem from.
Because I’ve been
Hemmed in, penned down, struggling to find myself,
Caved in, cut down, scared of everybody else,
Dragged in, dragged down, searching for a reason to live.
Couldn’t you tell?
Struggling to find myself, scared of everybody else, searching for a reason to live… yep. Once again feelings I know so very well. Feeling lost more than found (see, what I’m doing here?) and like I don’t really fit in anywhere, because I’m so uniquely messed up. Though searching the reason to live might be a bit harsh, it never went this far for me. But the reason to be… more active. To just do things!
If self loathing was a sport, I’d be Muhammad Ali,
Because I can sting like a butterfly and sink like a bee.
But they don’t hand out medals to monsters like me…
I haven’t been doing so well.
Maybe I could do with some help.
Again. 100% ! Sometimes and maybe even too often I excel at self-loathing. And I can’t stop myself, because… I don’t know. Maybe because feeling bad about myself is something I’m familiar with and feeling good about myself is not and the unfamiliarity might scare me? I have no idea! The “monster” bit? Yeah on my darker days, that’s a feeling I also know so very well.
Can I just for a moment leave my self-indulgent psychoanalysis of the song and praise the beauty of these lyrics? Because we all know that Ali’s line was float like a butterfly, sting like a bee and neither do butterflies sting nor do bees sink, but I guess that’s the point. Of not being able to do anything right. Or at least to feel like you’re not able to.
Every day I wake up and suspect
That I was simply never cut out to be
The kind of person they expect,
The person I intended to be.
Because I’m not Joe Strummer, not Muhammad Ali,
Not a teacher, not a builder, just uncomfortable me,
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll admit that I could use a little help.
I haven’t been doing so well.
Uncomfortable me: another nod – possibly – to another song (“Josephine”)?. I like it. And yes, maybe, just maybe, I’ll admit that I could use a little help, because I haven’t been doing so well.
What an absolutely perfect song! And not just the lyrics, but also the sound of it all. Banger!
Moving away from this single song, I’d like to elaborate on the whole idea of songs I can so absolutely relate to. By now I try to not consider Frank’s songs as magic solution to all my problems. Because they are not. They can’t be! It also would be unfair to put that pressure on Frank as a songwriter. But I admit that there was a time – in the early years – where I thought “If I just long enough or often enough listen to this guy articulate my anxious emotions in beautiful lyrics, I will get better”. Of course that’s not how it works, but it was so easy and tempting to revel in the idea of being understood and seen and validated in my feelings. Finally! Because this has been quite the revelation to me, when I worked my way through Frank’s back catalogue after “discovering” him in the summer of 2013. And I am so so grateful to Frank for finding the often perfect words in his lyrics and for being so open and raw in his songwriting that he could and still can make me feel this way. Seen and understood and having my feelings validated.
But… of course music is not (always) enough. Which I started to realize when after a few years of having his music as a constant companion, being to many shows and experiencing the community of gigs and fandom, I was still anxious and full of self-loathing and still beating myself up a lot. To be fair all those gig experiences and being part of the Frank Turner community did at least help me to overcome my lack of self-esteem quite a bit. I’ve talked to so many lovely people at gigs, I have met so many like-minded (anxious and self-loathing *g*) people on- and offline and made some very dear friends. But many of the anxious emotions still remained.
Frank again hit it home for me in recent years, when he so openly talked about how he came to the same realization: music is fine, but it’s not enough – and that he needed professional help.
And that’s what I’ve been trying to do over the past few years as well: using some help, not professionally via a therapist. Yet. But by trying to establish better routines for my mental health. (not always as successful yet as I would like). By trying to be more mindful. By trying to read more about it. To work through it on my own as good as I can. It often feels like 3 steps forward, 5 steps back, but when I look back on all those years since that first “OMG you don’t have to feel this way” moment in my mid-20s, I know I’m doing better. I’m a work in progress…
With all the heartbreak going on in my family recently I also reached out a bit more than before or was a bit more open to talk about how I really feel. And it does help to be more open about it. Or at least there hasn’t been any negative reaction to it. I’m trying to ignore the nagging “but if they don’t really care? / didn’t really mean it?” voice inside my head.
For example I did reach out to some friends I hadn’t talked to in a while and told them how hard the current situation is for me. They got on the phone with me and we made plans for next week. Asked another friend if they’d like to spend some time with me this weekend. And of course they said yes. They are my friends. They do care. Today I also talked about the whole difficult situation and how it makes me feel more openly with a colleague. On the phone which does help, because face to face is hard. Especially as talking about it makes me cry so quickly these days. And of course my colleague also was lovely and supportive.
I am surrounded by lovely and kind people. And it’s ok to tell them “I’m worried. I’m scared”. To say “Maybe I could use a little help, I haven’t been doing so well”
Thank you Frank, for writing a song that gives me this little push to try harder to say these words more often.