“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”
– Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
I didn’t intend for this blog to become a dedication to my eventual climb out of the abyss but here we are.
I am doing a lot better. I knew I would be, eventually. Four years ago when I was first punched in the gut with the lethal combination of anxiety and depression, I thought I’d never be happy again. I was really scared. I was scared of living, scared of dying, scared of absolutely everything. It took me a long, long time to come out of that place but once I was out, I knew I could get out and that knowledge has saved me a few times since. Depression isn’t a regular occurrence for me these days but it does rear it’s ugly head when things get dark. I can’t seem to go through a hard time without dancing with depression briefly.
Anyway. Hurrah. I’m out.
Another thing I use to help myself maintain functionality in these times is finding snippets of comfort when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It might sound a bit weird but hiding in the toilets or the kitchen at work for 5 minutes with a book helps to bring me back down from wherever my mind was taking me. As well as this, spending lunchtimes away from my phone/computer screen also helps. We have a comfy couch in our office and I have spent plenty of lunchtimes curled up on it reading. Reading, though, is a massive luxury and I know that I’m lucky to be able to concentrate and absorb books. Mental illness tends to make that harder but sometimes books break through the cracks and Holes definitely did that recently.
Another trick, and this one is far more versatile and generally doesn’t require hiding in a communal toilet. It’s common, and I know I’m not the first but I tell myself ‘you only need to get through the next five minutes’. And repeat. Sometimes, I know that I’m 2 hours away from home and I remind myself what happened over the past 2 hours and how fast they went by. Just repeating what’s already been. Then comfort.
Finally, and I’m sorry because this is corny but during my lighter days, the days I don’t feel swamped by my own demons, I practice gratitude. I have a hell of a lot to be grateful for. I live in a flat in my favourite city, with my favourite person and two gorgeous, affectionate cats. The area we live in isn’t the best but it’s not the worst, either. I have a loving family, both inner and outer that has dealt with all my phases and struggles admirably and I have a job. I like what I do, I’m very good at what I do (I think…) and I’m constantly learning. As well as this, for the first time in my life, I have a solid group of friends that I trust without question. I’ve finally got it made and while I allow myself to feel sad when I am sad, I don’t let myself forget how lucky I am. I think that’s really helped me stay afloat many times. I wasn’t always grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve created and been presented with, I’ve built the life I wanted to live and how many people can say that? I’m not exactly where I want to be but I’m past the half way point and that’s something to be proud of and grateful for.
Sometimes though, depression is ugly as fuck and so is the rest of the world. Sometimes, there’s no good to be seen. Everybody experiences depression and anxiety differently and I’ve suffered, really, for as long as I can remember with the great dip of 2011 being my lowest point. I’m not trying to sound preachy or as if I know how to cure depression (I wish!) but this is how I found my own feet and I wanted to share my story.
On Thursday night, after being in a car for 7 hours and trying to get to the entrance to Download Festival for an hour and a half… this is what I walked into (pictured). The photo could probably be filtered to make it a little more beautiful but really, no need. It was a beautiful, warming sight to see and was a perfect way to start the weekend. It had been a long, long day punctuated with a poorly boyfriend and a very long traffic jam. I was carrying more than I could really handle, my friends were carrying more. We were all tired and annoyed at the prospect of still having to find somewhere to pitch our tent (which took another 2 hours) but this, this was incredible to walk into. I knew I was about to have an absolute ball and the worst was over.
I’ve been quite open about the fact that this year has not been all that great for me but I’ve not been quite as open about how I’ve coped. I coped by counting down the days til I had 5 days away from stresses, from work, from everything with great music and even better company. I wanted to use this festival to relax and recover as ridiculous as that may sound. Rock festivals aren’t the first thing that people think of when they think of a relaxing break but music has always been my biggest vice and I knew I’d made the right decision. I had.
Friday was made up of seeing All That Remains and Hell Yeah before running back to the tent to find wellies as a rain warning had just hit in. All That Remains were pretty excellent live- I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to listen to them but I certainly wouldn’t turn them off, either. Hell Yeah aren’t really up my street but I see the appeal and at least appreciated that I was watching a cult favourite. The evening was made up of Clutch who I had a personal, petty grudge against because they performed poorly when I was a teenager. It was a blip, and I know that now but the grudge was strong. They gave an incredible rock n roll performance that was fairly impossible to slate, to be honest! The grudge has been shrugged off and they’ll now be making appearances on all future playlists. My apologies, Clutch, I was wrong. It happens sometimes. Another pathetic grudge I held was towards Five Finger Death Punch. Gavin used to drive and we’d always listen to Rock Radio in the car. Rock Radio could not stop bleating on about FFDP and by the time I actually heard them, I was sick of hearing about them. Live, they were great. They were fun. They even brought kids on stage to rock out with them! They were cheesy as hell but hey, that’s not always a bad thing. Their cover of Bad Company is nothing to be sniffed at and was something I’d been looking forward to so of course, when I ran to the grimy portaloos that’s what they played. Ah well. Next up, Judas Priest. Now, the rest were good but Judas Priest were something else entirely- I’ll never forget that performance. Rob Halford still has it, he absolutely OWNED that stage and his age has done nothing but make his performances all the more intense. From staggering on to the stage with a cane only to chuck it away 2 songs later like a heavy metal Willy Wonka to bringing a motorbike on to the stage… the showmanship was well and truly flowing. Title track of their most recent album, Redeemer of Souls was a personal highlight but the entire performance was mindblowing. Finally, Slipknot. Unlike Priest, I knew I’d love Slipknot. I knew they’d be a favourite of the weekend and I knew I’d sing along to every song. They were intense and chaotic in the very best way. The set was tight as fuck and the overall performance was again, unforgettable. Personal highlight for me was actually the opener- XIX from The Gray Chapter. I knew they’d open with it and under dark skies surrounded by like-minded fans made it all the more incredible.
Saturday was actually mostly spent in the Download Festival village. The village is full of quirky stores, cafes, fairground rides, charge up points for mobile phones and top ups for the cashless system. The village is absolutely lovely to be in, actually and is one of the best things about being at Download. After having a breakfast of pan au chocolat and a latte, Gavin and I headed into the village to spend some time together. After trawling around a few stalls, we finally settled at the cinema for a showing of Airheads. Given that we’d woken up with a slightly damp tent and it was set to rain all weekend, our spirits were pretty high. We cuddled under a tent on logs with around 40 other people and giggled through the whole movie. Airheads is a classic and I will hear no criticism of it. In the early evening, we finally strolled down to the arena to see the only acts we were really fussed about – Faith No More and Muse. Now, I’m sorry, don’t hate me, but I never thought a lot of Faith No More. I listened to their newly released album Sol Invictus during the week leading up to the festival and I did LOVE it but I still didn’t expect much from their performance. Gavin, on the other hand, couldn’t wait. I think they were pretty much what sealed the deal for him when we were deciding whether to book the festival or not and, well, I understand now. Woooowwwww. Their set, their crew and themselves were all white. The set was also covered in flowers. I think the words I used were ‘some kinda fuckin’ Clockwork Orange shit goin’ on here’. I really wasn’t that excited. I loved them! They were charismatic, they were funky as anything, their performances were incredible, I was gutted when they left the stage. Personal highlight for me was Easy which I didn’t actually know they’d covered (I know, I know). Another highlight was Mike Patton pointing out that a girl hadn’t smiled during their entire set cue the camera focusing on her… still refusing to smile. Brilliant. Stubborn, moody people have my heart. I danced the entire way through their set and occasionally looked over to Gavin’s beaming face- it was a dream come true for him and a total treat for me.
Next up, Muse. Muse weren’t exactly the weekend’s most anticipated act from what I was gathering. A lot of boring elitists groaning about them not being ‘metal enough’ and suchlike. I barely saw any Muse merch, either. I was worried. Muse are incredible live and I was looking forward to seeing it first hand but I didn’t want them to be bottled or ignored. They’ve earned their audience. Well, Muse fans were a silent majority. The crowd was enormous. Muse played a lot of new tracks which I admit, I’m not as familiar with and I was that prick who really just wanted to hear older tracks. That being said, I danced and I screamed my whole way through their set. I surprised myself yet again. The highlight for me was Uprising which was introduced by Matt Bellamy saying a massive fuck you to Leicestershire Police for the face scanning debacle. The other highlight, though was Hysteria. Now, look, I cry a lot. Unashamedly. I cry A LOT at gigs- usually because of lyrics or the sheer glee of finally seeing an act I’ve loved for a while. I cried at Hysteria because Matt Bellamy’s vocals moved me to tears. I was speechless and so, so moved. Absolutely gorgeous performance and I genuinely feel for anybody who missed out.
Quick sidenote- I’m not pleased about the face scanning mess. I don’t really believe if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried. I believe in basic privacy rights and explicitly telling people that their faces were being scanned would have been an improvement on us finding out on the day we travelled down. The cashless system worked absolutely fine for me and saved me a lot of anxiety around money etc but it probably could have done with a test run to save people waiting for hours on end to get their tags sorted…
And finally, sadly, on to the last day. By Sunday, my spirits were well and truly soaring. I’d spent more time with Gavin over the weekend than I had in months, I’d danced to some incredible acts and I really had nothing to worry about. I can’t remember the last time I felt so light. My feet were in agony due to TERRIBLE wellies, my endometriosis was flaring up something terrible and I was shattered but I was still in high spirits. Still declaring that I’d happily do it all again next year. Sunday was basically the reason I’d gone to the festival. Mostly classic rock for 12 hours? Yes PLEASE.
I started the day by trudging down to the arena with Gillian. I was SO excited to see The Dead Daisies and they delivered. 11am is early for any concert but it was the ideal start to the day. Good ol’ 70s style rock n roll. Amazing. After strolling around the arena, mooching around various stalls and cringing at people on the bungee bounce.. ride.. thing, we finally settled down on the hay (the grass had been successfully turned to mud, thanks British weather) to watch Tremonti. I’m a huge Alter Bridge fan so naturally, I was very keen to see Tremonti and they delivered well. Mark Tremonti is far more confident than I expected and although I was surprised at the main stage slot, they definitely owned it. Next up, The Darkness. I LOVE The Darkness, I always have. When they broke up maybe 10 years ago(??) I was so upset that I cried in my room for the entire day and my mum bought me ice cream to console my broken heart. They are one of the best bands I’ve seen live and their flamboyant stage shows are right up my street. They were announced only 6 days before I saw them and I squealed in the street when I got the news… you get the idea. They were on the third stage and, expecting a relatively large crowd, we left Tremonti early to ensure that we were near the front. We were 3 rows from the front and apparently, thousands of people were crammed outside just to hear them. The Darkness owned the stage, big time. I’m only going on other people’s word here because I’m short and couldn’t see but Justin Hawkins was carried on to the stage by men dressed as barbarians before they broke into Barbarian- the first track on their new album Last of Our Kind. It was predictably over the top and incredibly fun. Personal highlight for me was ballad Love is Only a Feeling. An old favourite that truly showcases Hawkins’s wild vocal range. Dan Hawkins was also delightful to watch and it was nice to see him being so confident compared to the early days. Then, lord help me I was so excited, Eagles of Death Metal. I can’t keep up with their nicknames (apart from Baby Duck because I’m a pathetic Josh Homme fangirl) but Jesse Hughes was one of the most engaging frontmen I’ve ever seen. He’s on the right side of American- obnoxious but not to a fault and entertaining without being over the top. Just how I like it. Hearing all my anticipated favourites was special but the highlight for me was definitely Cherry Cola. Absolute belter of a track but even better live. It’s a shame they had such a short set because they were a lot of fun. No sign of my beloved Josh, though. Then, after a short walk and a lot of waiting around (during which I thought my legs were going to fall off from the pain they were in), Slash. Guns N Roses are one of my favourite bands of all time, Slash is naturally a hero of mine and Myles Kennedy always gives 300%, what could go wrong? Well, apart from my horrifically sore feet and legs, nothing. Slash was incredible but Myles was the real treat to watch. He swaggered, he interacted a LOT with the crowd, he gave a stunning performance and overall- I think that’s the best I’ve seen him at. Myles Kennedy is a humble guy and it’s always been evident but seeing him finally come into his own was genuinely one of the best parts of the weekend for me. The highlight for me was a cover of the Guns n Roses track You Could Be Mine. It’s one of my favourite GnR songs but Myles’s take on it may actually be better than the original, for me. Then, Motley Crue with their last ever performance at Download Festival. I know these guys hate each other and I know there’s a lot of drama behind the scenes but honestly? They should have headlined because they were incredible and probably my favourite act of the weekend. They have all still got it, entirely and as final performances go, it was probably the best we could have gotten. I’m sad to see them go but I’m also pleased they’re calling it a day on such a high note. The highlight for me was Looks That Kill but I can’t fault any of the set. Apart from. APART FROM. The very delayed, and I’m talking 7-8 minutes later, encore of ballad Home Sweet Home. Neil performed this with a piano on stage and it sounded stunning but I couldn’t see it because I believed they were done and had found somewhere beside the stage to rest my achy feet… AHHHH!!!! So much RAGE! I don’t care how petty I seem, I was absolutely gutted that he waited so long because by the time I’d have stood up and walked over, the song would be almost over. Great song to end your final UK festival appearance with, though. Kudos, I guess. Sulk. Finally, my most anticipated act, KISS. I’m really sorry to say this but I don’t get it. I’m all for huge stage shows, for being flamboyant, over the top, etc but KISS were so formulaic, so obsessed with staring into the stage cameras, so… bored looking that I really couldn’t get into their performance. It was absolutely surreal to see it but not in a good way. I understand the appeal but I really found their whole shtick offputting and disappointing, to say the least. I left after an hour because I really wasn’t having fun and I didn’t think it was worth putting my feet through more pain for an act that were superficial all over and so extremely bored looking. I love classic rock, I don’t think they’re entirely past it but I think they need a break to bring back the zest that must have been there before. As we walked out, we were surrounded by hundreds of others who were echoing our thoughts. A very disappointing end to what was a fantastic weekend.
If you’ve gotten this far thank you and well done! It was a beautiful weekend for me and it brought Gavin and I a lot closer together. A lot of cobwebs were blown away and a lot of sweet moments were shared. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, achy feet and soggy sleeping bags included.
‘Til next time, Donington- thanks for the memories.