My Favorite Songs About Mental Health – Part 1

You wouldn’t peg many modern songs as promoting good mental health, or sending messages specifically about the mental health field. But as I learn more about the field and the infinite ways positive and negative thinking patterns intersect with real life, I’ve started to find just these messages in all sorts of music. So, with that in mind, I want to start this series of posts highlighting some songs that (in my opinion) have contributed to my improved mental health.

The Patient – TOOL

That being said, the first artist of the series might surprise some people. TOOL, an alternative metal band led by singer Maynard James Keenan, is well-known for producing controversial and usually very dark lyrical material. The band is probably most well known for their song Sober – a song bemoaning the losses and regrets that one’s struggle with the monster of addiction can bring.

In contrast, the song “The Patient” is calmer and more contemplative (if that’s possible). We find the singer in a place that many of us have been before, regardless of whether or not we struggle with mental illness or addiction. He is in that emotionally drained, exhausted place you come to when you’ve pushed and pushed towards your dreams with almost nothing left to show for it except another day of grinding:

A groan of tedium escapes me
Startling the fearful
Is this a test? It has to be
Otherwise I can’t go on
Draining patience, drain vitality

As a graduate student, I know I’ve felt this way before. All those hours of studying, reading, and writing that seem to drain you of any hope of life after textbooks. This is an apt description for the office as well. Although Maynard is almost certainly talking about creating art here, it’s easy to imagine the singer puttering away at some unfulfilling desk job, or even waking up to face another uncertain day.

And yet he perseveres:

But I’m still right here
Giving blood, keeping faith
And I’m still right here

Wait it out
Gonna wait it out
Be patient (wait it out)

Why wait it out? Why keep grinding day after day when the effort itself seems to only be grinding down your spirit? If you’ve ever had a dream, you know why. There’s that something you need to accomplish – that cause that calls your name the minute you wake up to the second you fall asleep. Hell, it might even permeate your dreams. And if you’re lucky, you’ve got people behind you for support.

If there were no rewards to reap
No loving embrace to see me through
This tedious path I’ve chosen here
I certainly would’ve walked away by now

Gonna wait it out

If there were no desire to heal
The damaged and broken met along
This tedious path I’ve chosen here
I certainly would’ve walked away by now

Maynard knows what his goal is. He knows why he has to keep digging, keep pulling that material out from inside himself to write that next song. He knows his music helps people because he’s able to grasp and express the deepest sorrows that people can experience, then help them heal from it. And honestly, it parallels the journey of becoming a mental health professional. I didn’t join grad school for the fun of it. Getting through this degree without losing my mind has been one of the hardest, most tedious things I’ve ever done. I don’t want to become a therapist to get rich (obviously, haha). Social services are paid terribly.

No sir. I am in the process of becoming a counselor because (gasp) I want to HELP people. I have a passion for it. And I bet you have (or had) a passion about something in your life too; that visceral force that keeps you pushing forward towards something even though the progress is slow and grating. But you know what? Sometimes with all life throws at you it’s easy to lose sight of why you started on this journey to begin with. You get to a point where you ask yourself, “Why even bother? Nobody cares. Nobody’s watching. Nothing I do matters.” But the singer urges himself to remember one thing:

Be patient
Be patient
Be patient

I must keep reminding myself of this
I must keep reminding myself of this
I must keep reminding myself of this
I must keep reminding myself of this

And here we have the climax of the song. The guitars scream out, the drums roll, and Maynard chants his mantra over and over. We all get impatient. We all want to give up at one time or another – usually many times over. It’s okay to get frustrated. But the key to success is to never give up, even if you have to take a break to remind yourself why you started. I know I’ve had to ask myself many times over the course of the last three years, “Why am I doing this again?” But if you look closely, and remind yourself to be patient, you’ll find the answer. Every time I see clients I remember why I went into this career. I want to help people heal. I want to help them help themselves, because I know that each and every person has the strength to do that. I want to help each person discover their own potential, whether they realize they have it or not. And that takes patience.

But like any TOOL song, Maynard can’t simply end with this. This is reality! And the reality is, we can’t always be optimistic about the future.

And if there were no rewards to reap
No loving embrace to see me through
This tedious path I’ve chosen here
I certainly would’ve walked away by now
And I still may
And I still may
And I still may
And I

Gonna wait it out
Gonna wait it out
Wait it out
Gonna wait it out

We don’t have control over everything, and sometimes all we have to do is keep faith and wait it out. And maybe the initial goal we had isn’t what we ultimately decide to do. Maybe it stops being worth the effort. Maybe we achieve what we needed to all along and choose to walk away. Or maybe we just need to rest, wait it out, and see what the future brings.

For me, the takeaway of this song is having patience in the midst of hardship. It may seem like a cheesy message to grab out of a TOOL song, but reading into it what I do, I have to say this is one of my favorite songs of all time. In the end, patience and the willingness to move forward is what a strong person is made of – I must keep reminding myself of this.

2 thoughts on “My Favorite Songs About Mental Health – Part 1

  1. Great analysis! I’ve never really listened to this song, I’m glad one of us did. I listened (and still do) to Try by Colbie Caillat. Very different genera, and message, but something that got me through every imperfection in school and life.

    Liked by 1 person

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