Before we dive in, I want to let you know that this post touches on the topic of suicide. It is a mere glimpse of my experience, a simplified version of a more nuanced story. I am also just one person. Please take care of yourself while you read, and I hope you find something hopeful or encouraging in these words.

In general, I have a profound desire to be alive. I want to feel and do and be everything. The depth of my curiosity and caring is a gift, and it often fills me to the brim with goodness. But sometimes I feel burnt out and crushed by the too-muchness of it all. There are times when I don’t want to die per se, but I also don’t want to exist. I just want nothingness for a while, until the overwhelm subsides enough that I can breathe deeply again. And then, occasionally, I want to die.

During 2020, I moved through the full spectrum of wanting to live and wanting to die numerous times. Most days, I was riddled with panic, fear, loneliness, hopelessness, anger, and grief. I oscillated back and forth between white-knuckling and dissociating, and I thought about death a lot. I have experienced suicidal ideation before and since, but this moment in time feels like the right place to introduce you to one of my ways of clinging to life when things feel hopeless. It feels a tad dramatic to say that music saved my life, but it’s also true, at least in part.

One day in 2020 (please don’t ask me which day, time is a lie I can’t keep straight), I was introduced to Joe Pera Talks With You, a wholesome show about an awkward Midwestern choir teacher who takes pleasure in the mundane parts of life. The whole show is great, but there is a particular episode in Season One that was a game changer for me. At the beginning of the episode, Joe shuffles up to the pulpit at the end of mass and starts reading the church announcements. He stops mid-announcement and says to the congregation, “I’m sorry. Have you guys heard of The Who? They rock. They’re unbelievable! I heard them for the first time on Thursday and I haven’t slept since! I was in my kitchen doing my kitchen chores, and I was listening to this classic rock station because my hands were soaped and I couldn’t change the channel…” We’re transported to Joe’s kitchen on a Thursday night. The song Baba O’Riley comes on the radio, and Joe stops in his tracks mid-dishwashing. He begins slowly bobbing his head to the beat, and as the episode unfolds, the viewer gets a front-row seat to the magic of someone falling in love with a song for the first time. Joe calls several local radio stations to request the song, and mild chaos ensues. He jumps on couches, eats ice cream out of the tub, tosses Kleenex like confetti, and dances with the pizza delivery guy as the song plays on repeat over the radio.

As a white girl who grew up in a small town in the Midwest, I have heard Baba O’Riley roughly a million times without ever intentionally seeking it out, usually on the local high school’s radio station. This song is not my vibe, generally speaking. It was also baffling to me (and pretty much everyone else in the show) that Joe had gone his whole life without hearing it, but watching Joe be fully present and engrossed in the music shifted something in me. His unabashed delight made me want to want be alive, to appreciate the small things again, and it reminded me that there is so much goodness in the world if I only open my eyes.

I was inspired to start a list of songs that filled me with a similar amount of feeling and made me want to not die. I have made countless playlists in my life, many of which have gotten me through some rough times, but this was the first time I put together a tracklist with the explicit goal of keeping me alive. And I put Baba O’Riley at the top of the list. Not because I love the song all that much, but because it reminds me of the childlike wonder and deep appreciation that Joe invoked in me as he ungracefully danced around his tiny house.

I also can’t listen to that song without thinking about my best friend Mo, who got me into Joe Pera in the first place. I am so privileged to have a small group of very best friends whose love is just as vital to me as romantic love. I can confidently say that my friends have helped keep me alive over the years, and Mo is one of those people for me. So every time I hear Baba O’Riley, I am reminded of our weird and wonderful friendship.

Many of the songs on my playlist are reminders of my people who love me. The lyrics and the rhythm transport me back in time to moments when I have felt incredibly alive: Sweatily dancing to Whitney Houston at the Backer with Mo and Goose. Taking study breaks in Rome while singing nonsensical lyrics to late 90’s tunes with Grace. Falling in love with Paulie as he shares his favorite South African artists. Going to a concert with Tash and being overwhelmed by the beautiful complexity of humanity. Singing off-key as I rock my friends’ babies to sleep.

The music reminds me that it’s not quite time to go yet – there is still life to live. I want to wake up so I can bring my love coffee in the morning. I want to go on road trips and dissect lyrics and have long conversations with pals. I want to help raise my friends’ kids. I want to hold and protect the stories of my clients. I want to dance with reckless abandon in a grimy bar with my best friends. I want to continue to fall in love with all versions of myself. I want to watch my brother dance with his baby in the living room on a sleepy Wednesday morning. I want to go out in nature and be absolutely delighted by trees and mushrooms and birds. I want to keep learning how to be tender with myself and others. And so, I turn up the volume and drive on.

Below is just a sampling of my stay-alive playlist to help inspire you as you create your own. Some of the songs on my playlist have elaborate backstories, while others are simply bops that make it hard to stay sad. Some of them are actually kind of depressing, but for some reason, they still make me want to keep going. They are all specific to me.

My encouragement to you is to curate your own playlist. Choose the songs that make you feel alive, whatever they are. Your playlist can include bubbly songs, sad songs, a hundred songs, or the same song on repeat. Don’t be shy to add your guilty pleasures.

Your playlist can change over time (I know mine has). We get to make the rules, my loves.

Songs That Make Me Want To Not Die (A Sampling):

Baba O’Riley – The Who
I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston
Fuel Up – Stornoway
The Parting Glass – The Wailing Jennys
The River – Manchester Orchestra
We Are The Tide – Blind Pilot
Make Me Feel – Janelle Monae
Down South – Jeremy Loops
Sweetness – Jimmy Eat World
Without You Without Them – boygenius
Crawled Out Of The Sea (Interlude) – Laura Marling
Far Rockaway – KAMAUU
Kiss You On The Cheek – Desmond and the TuTus

A final note: I believe that art in its various forms can save us. I am also acutely aware that many risk factors for suicide are due to systemic issues such as lack of access to basic needs, discriminatory policies, oppressive laws and practices, and various forms of trauma. Decreasing our risk of suicide will take much more than a few songs on a playlist. This post provides one coping mechanism on an individual level. Yes, let’s listen to good music, love our people, and remember there are reasons to stick around. Let us also continue to work towards liberation at all levels for all people.

If you are experiencing a crisis, please contact one of the providers on our Resource page.

You can also contact the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.