Listening to music is one of the best things that makes me feel better when I’m sad (which not too long ago was most of the time). I think that’s the case for a lot of people, but I’m finding that we rarely share music with one another these days.
When I was in high school, my best friends and I would send each other music and actually have conversations about it. We’d change our MSN screen names daily – sometimes hourly – to contain different lyrics that reflected our moods at the time. It’s a wonder that we didn’t know every single thing about each other. I had entire conversations with my boyfriend via song lyrics this way, or on Twitter in later years.
Now, I still have a habit of posting lyrics on Twitter, which probably annoys all of my followers. It’s my way of saying, “HEY! This is an awesome song that I’m really feeling right now! You should check it out!”
I’m getting better at expressing myself, but there are still many times when I feel like lyrics written by other people express exactly how I feel better than I can. Sometimes they’re sad songs that make me feel less alone, but I wanted to share my top motivational and empowering songs. 22 of them, one for each year of my life.
I’d love it if you shared yours with me too in the comments! 🙂
You can’t tell me what I’m never gonna be, you can’t hold me down if I wanna be free. Who said you’re allowed to rain on my parade? You can’t tell me not to fly ’cause I gotta, every time they put you down, you get up stronger. Don’t bring around the clouds to rain on my parade.
Nobody does self-loathing better than Hedley (except possibly Marianas Trench) so it’s nice to see stuff like this from them. Makes me happy.
Also recommended: Invincible, Anything, Never Too Late
And now I know the truth, that anything could happen, anything could happen. Baby, I’ll give you everything you need, I’ll give you everything you need, but I don’t think I need you.
This song is like a double edged sword – it makes me want to dance (I can’t help it really) and it reminds me of all of the great things that have ever happened to me out of the blue, that no one really saw coming. It also reminds me of all of the bad things that have happened to me out of the blue. Anything could happen. Nothing is off limits.
Also recommended: Little Dreams
I got my fingers laced together and I made a little prison, and I’m locking up everyone who ever laid a finger on me.
Because sometimes, you just need to be angry.
Boy I think you know who runs this house, I ain’t thirstin’ for no bae, cause I already know whatcha tryin’ to say.
You say that you a baller and I see you trying holla but that ain’t how I was brought up, next! Working for the money ’cause that’s what my mama taught me, so your ass better show me some respect.
Ok, this song is ridiculous. Yes, I know that. It also decides that Michelle Obama is the epitome of powerful women, which is a little silly because it’s her HUSBAND that’s the president – she’s still awesome, but I would have picked someone else, just sayin’. But ladies, listen to this song and just TRY to tell me that you don’t feel like a boss. You do. Admit it.
I need a break, but I’d rather have a breakthrough. I’m losing my sleep running after you, but still I’d rather have a breakthrough, so I don’t stop making moves. I need a break, but I’d rather have a breakthrough. I’m tripping on hurdles running after you, but I can see it right at my fingertips, isn’t it classic?
A song about keeping your eyes on the future that actually acknowledges how hard the present is and why things are the way they are.
Also recommended: All I Have, Walls, Just For a Moment Forget Who You Are, Underrated
17. By the Grace of God – Katy Perry
By the grace of God (there was no other way), I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay), I put one foot in front of the other, and I looked in the mirror and decided to stay. Wasn’t gonna let love take me out that way. No, not in the name of love.
When I was suicidal it was largely because I thought that I lost the love of my life, and I didn’t want to admit it because I didn’t want to believe that my life could be so entwined with someone else’s, but I also knew how stupid that sounded to other people. This was the first song I ever heard that explicitly acknowledged that heartbreak can cause legitimate suicidal ideation and influence mental illness. I’m not religious in any way so the song kind of makes me feel weird but I still love it.
Also recommended: Firework, Roar, Fingerprints, Love Me
It took a long, long time to get here, it took a brave, brave girl to try. It took one too many excuses, one too many lies. Don’t be surprised, don’t be surprised, if I talk a little louder, if I speak up when you’re wrong, I’ve been under you too long. If you notice that I’m different, don’t take it personally. Don’t be mad, it’s just a brand new kinda me.
I have a hard time standing up to people – I always know what I SHOULD do or SHOULD say, but love gets in the way. I’ll always be more of a giver than a receiver, but I’m getting better at speaking up and defending myself – demanding the respect that everyone deserves and not caring if someone is upset about that. If someone wants to be in your life they will respect you for it, even if it means a little more effort on their part.
Yeah, I know it’s not easy, I know that it’s hard. Follow the lights to the city. Get up and go, take a chance and be strong, or you could spend your whole life holding on. Don’t look back, just go.
I’ve always had a hard time with change and letting go, but now my past truly haunts me. It will always be a part of me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stick around, idly hoping that things might all of a sudden be different.
14. Face Up – Lights
The times you don’t wanna wake up, cause in your sleep it’s never over when you give up. The sun is always gonna rise up, you need to get up, gotta keep your head up. Look at the people all around you, the way you feel is something everybody goes through. Dark out, but you still gotta light up, you need to wake up, gotta keep your face up.
I listened to this one a lot in high school and I remember that the idea that there could actually be people around me, in my own community, feeling as unloved as I did blew my mind. Like that literally never occurred to me, because everyone seemed happy and didn’t wear their pain like I did.
Also recommended: Child, Up We Go, Everybody Breaks a Glass
I’m criticized, but all your bullets ricochet. Shoot me down, but I get up. I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away. Ricochet, you take your aim, fire away, fire away. You shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium.
I distinctly remember listening to this song during one of the most difficult times in my life, driving around with this playing on full blast because for those few minutes, singing at the top of my lungs, I was strong. (And every time I listen to this song I remember how my best friend turned up the volume without me even having to ask. It’s the little things.) When you lose all of the love that matters to you most and all you have is you, you’d better hope that you have some kind of titanium core that you can tap into. I guess I do, however fragile.
Wish I could somehow go back in time and maybe listen to my own advice. I’d tell her to speak up, tell her to shout out, talk a bit louder, be a bit prouder. Tell her she’s beautiful, wonderful, everything she doesn’t see.
I was so insecure in high school it’s painful to even remember now, and I remember feeling ugly because I had freckles and straight hair and glasses and my eyes get wrinkly when I smile and I was tiny and flat chested (I once even referred to myself as an alien because, apparently, NO ONE ELSE is a 32AA). I look at pictures of myself from back then now and I think I might have been prettier then than I am now (and I think I still look pretty, though I still have/am all of those things). I just didn’t know how to work what I got. I have a lot more confidence now but I had to be taught that by a boy – what if I never needed a boy to tell me I was beautiful? What if I could tell myself that and just innately know it? No one is ever going to appeal to everyone, but everyone will appeal to someone. Even tiny flat chested girls like me. There is some guy out there who is into that. (And PS, your boyfriend loves you, and you’re only terrifying him more by claiming that you are an extraterrestrial life form.)
Also recommended: Wings, See Me Now
Only silence as it’s ending, like we never had a chance. Do you have to make me feel like there’s nothing left of me?
You can take everything I have, you can break everything I am, like I’m made of glass, like I’m made of paper. Go on and try to tear me down, I will be rising from the ground like a skyscraper.
Years ago, when this song came out, I used to walk around my apartment singing this at my former high school bullies. What can I say, it helped.
Also recommended: Warrior, Fire Starter
10. The Great Escape – Pink
The passion and pain are gonna keep you alive some day.
Something that I find with people living with mental illness (well, Mood/Anxiety disorders mostly) is that they wish that they could just feel less of everything. I’ve certainly felt that way many times. Like, why do I have to get SO sad about stuff? Why do I have to love people like they’re my entire world? Why can’t I just feel things a moderate amount like everyone else seems to? But the truth is that my capacity to feel so much is what makes me special. It’s rare that I connect with people on a deep level but when I do, I often hear that it’s because I’m more genuine and honest and ‘real’ than other people. I’ve always kind of been baffled by that because I’m just being me, I don’t know how to be anything else. But this is why, and it’s also why I’m a good writer and a good blogger, specifically. I feel too much and that is special and should be protected.
Also recommended: Try
Every night I try my best to dream tomorrow makes it better, then I wake up to the cold reality and not a thing is changed.
But it will happen, gotta let it happen.
It’s just a spark, but it’s enough to keep me going. And when it’s dark out, no one’s around, it keeps glowing.
Sometimes one last shred of hope is all you have, especially if you are living with a mental illness. But that still counts and it’s something to hold onto and build from.
Also recommended: Daydreaming, Holiday, Future, Tell Me It’s Okay, Hate to See Your Heart Break, Anklebiters
This is not the way I planned it, but someone else might come along. I don’t need you to pick the film now, someone else can write the script. This is not the way I planned it, some you lose but some you win.
I like this song because it acknowledges loss, failure and disappointment while also being optimistic for the future. It’s okay if you wanted a thing and didn’t get it, but it’s also okay if you do something else instead. It is possible to move on and be just as happy even after failure.
7. Little Black Dress – Sara Bareilles
It’s time to connect the dots and draw a different picture up
And paint it with the colors of everything I ever was
Return to the scene of the crime, the day I let the music die
And rewrite the final lines cause this time I,
I’ll get my little black dress on
And if I put on my favorite song
I’m gonna dance until you’re all gone.
Another Sara Bareilles song! I just love her. Never underestimate the power of dancing and a good dress. You can be whoever you want to be, and sometimes seeing it in the form of different clothes or hair or makeup makes all the difference.
Also recommended: Bluebird, Satellite Call, Brave, Uncharted
Cause baby I could build a castle out of all the bricks they threw at me.
Taylor Swift usually falls into the “sad songs that make you feel less alone” category for me, but that changed with her new album, 1989. Taylor Swift is known for playing the fairytale princess, as am I – or at least, everyone knows that’s what I’ve always wanted to be, metaphorically speaking. Taylor Swift wrote amazing songs and built a career that has garnered worldwide critical acclaim out of expressing herself, often feelings of pain and heartbreak, through song. I have built a career out of being honest about my experiences with mental illness and heartbreak. Maybe those things are just as meaningful as love, even if you never thought it could be.
So basically, the takeaway here is that I am Taylor Swift.
Also recommended: Clean, Shake it Off, Change, Mean
Soon enough you’re gonna graduate, start again when you turn the page. It gets better girl just you wait. It gets better girl just you wait…just you wait.
I just love the sensitivity and empathy that this song embodies. You listen to it and you really believe it.
Also recommended: Walls
I need more dreams and less life, I need that dark in a little more light. I cried tears you’ll never see, so fuck you, you can go cry me an ocean, and leave me be. You are what you love, not who loves you.
This song is one of the major things that caused me to start writing again, but more than that I like the idea that loving someone can bring YOU strength, regardless of their feelings or actions. I truly believe that – love teaches you to be selfless, to be strong for someone else, to be the best version of yourself. I don’t think that should be invalidated all because someone else doesn’t act that way too.
Hey, don’t write yourself off yet. It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
A classic. It needs no explanation. Though I will say that although I heard this song on the radio all the time as a kid, I never listened to the lyrics, but when I was experiencing a tough time in high school one of my best friends sent me a link to this song to cheer me up. Then I listened to the lyrics, and once I realized what the song was about it made my day, and now this is one of my go-tos.
If your heart wears thin, I will hold you up, and I will hide you when it gets too much. I’ll be right beside you, nobody will break you.
Despite the fact that this song is where my tattoo comes from, it’s #2 because I think it’s actually more comforting than empowering. It’s nice to know that someone believes in you when you don’t, or can’t, and feel weak. And it’s nice to know that you could be that for someone else. That can be strength, too.
Just in case nobody ever comes through, riding in to come to your rescue, you still have a chance, you don’t have to be asked to dance. I know how much you’ve been dying to say, ‘Look how much everybody loves me,’ but guess who gets left when everyone else fades away?
This song is #1 for me even though I just heard it two years ago because it is exactly what I’ve needed to hear for the past several years of my life. Exactly. It’s that perfect. And I need it now more than ever. If someone changes their mind about you, that doesn’t make them right.
Chelsea Ricchio is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the SPEAK OUT blog. She is also the Communications Manager for Healthy Minds Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 2015 with a BA in English Literature and Book & Media Studies. She was the former president of the student group Active Minds at UofT, which hosts SPEAK OUT events on campus (from which this blog takes its name). She was diagnosed with Dysthymia and Social Anxiety. She is 22 and lives in Toronto with her cat Genie and her roommate.