Modern Loneliness

By Phoebe Chen

Part 1. Finding meaning in the madness through music

There is always this distinct something that I feel but can never quite articulate…like breathing out a sigh — where all it leaves is a certain hollow emptiness in your body which sinks in your chest and amplifies with silence. On a low-key Friday night, it settles in as the world goes quiet, the lights have dimmed, and all that remains in your mind is the company of your own thoughts.

The mood blends between the grey sonic echoes of Billie Eilish’s when the party’s over and the blue weariness of Lolo Zouaï’s Here to Stay. As it seeps out, the melancholy fades into numbness, and evaporates by the next morning.

Isolation is introvert heaven, drawing you into a strangely comfortable embrace, yet subtly unsettling — pulling you deeper until you can’t tell whether you’re really okay or not. Last week feels like a month ago, and the days blur into one another, until that feeling lasts much longer than a night.

Even when it did end, I knew it had never really gone. It was just wavering in the background, ready to appear once the screen went dark and all the Netflix and YouTube and TV critic reviews couldn’t keep it at bay any longer. It was poised to return once the conversations ended, exacerbated by a quarantine-induced asocial crisis, so that I couldn’t even be bothered messaging in the first place.

Ever waxing and waning, it had already been with me for years. I was reaching for a stone I couldn’t turn. And eventually, you give up, you withdraw, and you don’t talk about it; because even though support is within reach, you don’t ask because it doesn’t help at all.

We’re never alone, but always depressed

Love my friends to death

But I never call and I never text

— Lauv, Modern Loneliness

Those lyrics hit a little too close to home. When you’re alone in the crowd, but surrounded by people, you can lie to yourself and say you’re fine. But in isolation, physically separated from others, you are forced to confront the truth and face it alone.

When you don’t even know how you want to help yourself, it’s much harder to believe you can even ask for it to begin with, let alone find others to help you. Because the biggest thing holding you back is that you don’t even know how to say what you feel.

So what do you do when nothing seems to overcome that lingering apathy?

~

When it comes to emotions, I have always been naturally inclined to compartmentalise and put them aside, which is really just a form of denial — so it takes more conscious effort to recognise my own state of mind in the first place.

There are moments in life when I viscerally feel this something, but can’t find a single word to capture it; even though labelling it is the first step to reducing its intensity. So the next step is externalise what you experience, to lower the volume of confusion and frustration beginning to roar inside you.

That’s when you turn to the rhythm and the beat.

Even though there’s a 76.95% chance that a moody RnB song is playing in my head at any given time, there’s something to be said about how therapeutic they are for the catharsis they bring.

In the midst of a low, Drake really captures the atmosphere in my feelings through the dark gloominess of Don’t Matter to Me, as the hauntingly beautiful falsetto of The Weeknd brings out the beauty behind the madness. Because whilst you might be Alone Again, the smoky and soulful vibes hold up a mirror to your mood in the moment; reflecting your emotions with sharpened clarity. Paradoxically, once you are acquainted with your frame of mind, you feel more put together, less empty, so you can begin to let it go.

Then you turn to the lyrics to channel how you want to feel.

Drawing on gratitude from the dreamy whispers To Me, Alina Baraz reframes life with lenses slightly rose tinted — it’s self-care in a song, a spa day and a pink clay face mask, a reminder to get in touch with myself again; before raising the Tempo with the self-love of Lizzo for a boost of confidence to lift my spirits.

Stirring at those inklings of strength, Faouzia elevates it to a soaring crescendo through the intensity of Tears of Gold with the motivation of facing This Mountain. Hitting those high notes in all the glory of cinematic pop, shining triumphant and hopeful rays — it’s the equivalent of recalibrating a compass, feet to the ground, sights set once again on being the best version of me.

That’s why I love music — not just because of how it sounds, but because it helps you get in tune with how you feel, regardless of the baseline of your own emotional awareness.

If you look at your own playlists, you’ll notice the music that truly resonates with you can be classified into two: the relatability of who you are, and the aspiration of who you want to be. That’s why you love them, that’s why they’re on repeat; the only thing you need to do is pay attention.

~

There’s a lot of reasons at play when it comes to modern loneliness. But the first step is realising you’re well within your power to make it right.

Rather than being chained to your feelings, think of it this way.

Pretty early on, as med students we learn to use vital signs to get a brief snapshot of health. We pay so much attention to the body — you wouldn’t want to ignore a low blood pressure — so isn’t it the same principle to extend this to your own mind?

It’s simply checking in with yourself, which you can do in the same amount of time as taking a blood pressure; because your emotions are the personal thermometer of your wellbeing. So there is nothing shameful about having them — even the negative feelings — because you’re human, and we all have them too.

If you’re feeling low, you have to acknowledge it before you can begin to feel okay again. Like taking an antihypotensive to bring your blood pressure back to homeostasis, a dose of music is a Happy Little Pill when you’re feeling as blue as the Troye Sivan song, where both make you feel much better once it’s flowing in your veins.

Sometimes you just need to wait it out and let it pass, knowing you’ll feel better when tomorrow comes. But if you’ve been chronically low, definitely talk to a trusted friend or seek a professional.

You can’t always choose how you react, but you can always choose how you respond.

So to sum up, Rx: adjust your dosage according to emotion and change regimen as required.

Now the stone has been turned, and I have found my inner peace — it’s just about balance. The highs will be high, the lows will be low, ephemeral yet everlasting, so it’s a matter of finding the equilibrium in the emotions.

All you need is patience and practice, because if you listen closely, you realise it’s just a musical with reprisals that will play for the rest of your life — where you get better at leading the symphony.

Listen to Phoebe’s Spotify playlist for all songs mentioned. 

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