The Most Powerful Songs in My Life


Music is an important element in every culture in the world, & I strongly believe that it is the greatest art form because of its potential to influence our lives.  Think about it: we listen to music in the car, at home, at the gym, & even at work sometimes.  And we carry around ipods so we can listen to music wherever we go.  What other art form so transcends our daily lives?

A few years ago I got the idea to write down what I considered the most powerful songs in my life.  Not necessarily my FAVORITE songs but the songs that I feel like have had the greatest impact on my life & capture the ideas that I believe are most important in life.  Today I was thinking again about the power of music in my life, so I decided to revisit that list & update it just a bit.

I would love to hear what songs have most influenced you & why, so please feel free to comment & share your thoughts.

Please note these are in no particular order.  I only numbered them so I wouldn’t lose count.

I’ve included links to YouTube for each song because I’m awesome like that.  🙂

  1. I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack: This is such a simple song but the words are so powerful.  Every time I hear this song, it makes me stop & really think about how I’m living.  The metaphor of “I hope you dance” is so perfect for expressing the need to live actively rather than passively letting life pass us by.  I also love the fact that this song reminds us of the importance of standing in awe of nature, taking a chance on loving others, & never letting our hearts grow bitter.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-Z1YwaOiw&ob=av3eI hope you dance
  2. Fifteen by Taylor Swift: You can go ahead & laugh at me for having Taylor Swift on this list but I seriously love this song.  I’ll be the first to agree that her voice is far from perfect & that everything she’s released over the past two years or so has been absolute CRAP, but to me that does not diminish the power of her song-writing abilities earlier in her career.  In this song she expresses exactly what it’s like to be a teenage girl.  She captures the feeling that we all had in high school that this is your whole life & every little drama that comes along feels like the end (or beginning) of your world.  Yet she reminds us that in the end most of these things are but insignificant trifles in a life full of so many things so much bigger than we ever dreamed at fifteen.  She reminds us that despite what we thought as teenagers most of us had no idea who we really were then, much less how to really love another person.  I love how this song encourages girls to aspire to be so much more than the high school quarterback’s girlfriend even though when you’re fifteen that seems like the epitome of success.  In this song she also encourages us to think twice before making any big decision & reminds us that time can heal all wounds, two very important life lessons.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb-K2tXWK4w&ob=av2n
  3. Life Ain’t Always Beautiful by Gary Allen: This is yet another very simple but profound song that speaks of both the extreme joys & sorrows of life.  As the song teaches us, life isn’t always beautiful but the hard times & the changes give us strength & wisdom so that at the end of the day, life really is a beautiful journey.  I think Gary Allen’s deep gravelly voice perfectly demonstrates that something that isn’t perfect can still be wonderful.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VDNMtn0t2A&ob=av2elife aint always beautiful
  4. Best I Ever Had by Vertical Horizon: When I first discovered this song I listened to it over & over & over again.  This is such a sad but beautiful song that expresses the sorrow that so many of us have known in life when we have lost someone we love, whether through the end of a relationship or through death.  Initially I thought of this song as strictly about the loss of a romance but the more I listen to it, the more I believe the emotions expressed in this song could easily be translated to the loss of any loved one.  The song speaks of how we so often don’t realize the value of a relationship until it’s over.  I prefer the Vertical Horizon version simply because that’s the one I knew first but the Gary Allen version is hauntingly beautiful also. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bOCEp2lETI
  5. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (all four movements): There’s a reason this is Beethoven’s most famous work.  All four movements of this symphony are truly incredible.  The first & most famous movement is simply awesome.  The simple four-note theme begun in this movement is continued throughout all four movements, though cleverly disguised at times.  I’ll never forget hearing the third movement for the first time in a music class freshman year of college & how vividly the piece conjured up images of knights & castles.  To hear the transition into the fourth movement when the key switches from the angsty (Did I make up that word?) C Minor to the victorious C Major is truly heart-stopping.  Beethoven’s greatest strength as a composer was his ability to, without words, capture all of human emotion in his music, & I believe this piece is the greatest expression of that ability. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z4KK7RWjmk
  6. Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini: Forgive me if I sound crude, but those of you who appreciate music as I do will understand my meaning here.  This piece is my musical orgasm.  Those last few notes at the end of the piece never fail to send chills throughout my whole body & have quite often brought tears to my eyes.  Words feel so inadequate to express the glory of this piece.  If you don’t know it, listen to it NOW, & I hope you’ll experience it as I do.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbGKQ8YASCY
  7. Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas: Yes, I have a Disney song on here.  I’ve never been a big fan of the movie, partly because it’s so historically inaccurate, but I have always loved this song.  In today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced world, it’s extremely important to remember the beauty & frailty of nature & that the world is not a limitless supply of resources to fulfill our desires.  Yes, we have smart phones that can do more than computers from ten years ago.  Yes, the internet has connected the world in ways that our ancestors never even dreamed.  None of this is bad, but what is it worth if we destroy our Earth?  We must never lose touch of the joy & knowledge that can be found in a simple walk through the woods or gazing at a flower.  As the song points out, we are all connected to each other & to the Earth, and thus all of our actions ultimately affect everyone else as well as this planet we inhabit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkV-of_eN2wcolors of the wind
  8. How Can I Help You Say Goodbye by Patty Loveless: I remember hearing this song as I drove back to my hometown on a break from college one year.  I ended up with tears streaming down my face more than once as the words of the song kept running through my head & I thought of how much I missed my grandmother.  This song has been special to me ever since.  Perhaps it seems odd to like a song that can so easily make me cry (it still does sometimes), but I love it because it covers all of the major losses in life that we all experience at some point or another: loss of a childhood friend, loss of a spouse or romantic partner, & loss of a parent.  I love how the song highlights the importance of learning to say goodbye & that it’s ok to grieve when you’ve lost someone important.  Yet it also reminds us that eventually we must learn to put the past behind us while always cherishing the memories we’ve made. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4F_cXGQN9k
  9. Bleed Red by Ronnie Dunn: This is one of those songs that I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  The whole theme of this song is that we are all human beings who experience pain, joy, sorrow, & pleasure.  We all make mistakes, we all bleed red.  As the song says, “If we’re fighting, we’re both losing.”  In a world filled with turmoil, strife, & incessant war, I can’t think of a better message. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVSOOBQB6I0&ob=av2nbleed red
  10. Born This Way by Lady Gaga: To me this is the ultimate “feel good” song.  If you feel down on yourself, listen to this for an instant “pick me up.”  The message of this song is that regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual persuasion, etc, we are all beautiful creations & should thus be confident in our existence.  I think that’s something we all need to be reminded of once in a while. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BsLd4Y060Q
  11. I Can’t Make You Love Me by Bonnie Raitt: Here’s another song I fell in love with the first time I heard it.  Bonnie Raitt’s hauntingly beautiful voice combined with the jazzy piano phrasing makes this song unforgettable.  You can clearly hear the pain in her voice as she comes to the realization that so many of us have had to understand in life: you can’t make someone else love you no matter how much you love that person.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW9Cu6GYqxo&ob=av2e
  12. Sangre Por Sangre by Hellyeah: Well, here is yet another song I fell in love with upon first listen.  The musical composition is nothing short of brilliant & the message makes it all the more powerful.  This song is not for the faint of heart for sure, but the band’s name alone ought to tell you that.  In any case, the lyrics so brilliantly describe how war & violence inevitably only lead to more war & violence & how futile this cycle really is.  The singer has stated that he wrote this song initially after losing a friend to murder, but he has also stated that the song has larger implications for wars & violence across the globe.  The visuals in the music video are a bit gruesome & haunting but they only serve to reinforce the power of this song.  I can never listen to this song just once; I have to listen to it two or three times in a row.  There’s just so much to absorb that once is never enough to take it all in.  (And just to clarify, the song is not in Spanish; there is only the one phrase “sangre por sangre” which means “blood for blood” that is in Spanish.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=keZ-GsRRVlQsangre por sangre
  13. 100 Years by Five for Fighting: This song talks about all the major stages of life & how each one is beautiful, terrifying, & wonderful all at the same time.  It also highlights how quickly life passes by & how important it is to enjoy every minute of it.  To me, this song also encourages us to never forget the vitality & strength of youth no matter how much the responsibilities of life seem to weigh us down as we age. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR-qQcNT_fY&ob=av2n
  14. Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls: This has been a favorite of mine for many years now.  It’s always struck me as an achingly sad song for some reason, though I’m not sure exactly why.  To me this song is all about feeling really “at home” with that one person you love & how no one else in the world can really understand you the way that person does & how you yearn for that person when you’re separated for whatever reason.  I think deep down we all have a need to be 100% open with someone, but that comes at the price of making yourself very vulnerable which is why most of us can only find that sort of comfort with one person.  “I don’t want the world to see me because I don’t think that they’d understand . . . I just want you to know who I am.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdYWuo9OFAw&ob=av2e
  15. Hello World by Lady Antebellum: I’m not sure how anyone could listen to this song & not be affected by it.  It’s simply gorgeous.  I love how the song starts out very soft & gentle but gradually builds up to a thundering, dramatic finish.  It’s even more amazing when you hear it in person.  To me this song is all about rediscovering the true beauty & meaning in life which is found in the simple things that money can never buy: family, friends, etc.  We all have times in our lives when we get caught up in the day-to-day frustrations & forget the bigger picture.  This song reminds us of that bigger picture.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CUccxMOVHUhello world
  16. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This by Marilyn Manson: The first time I heard this song I was driving over to visit my then-boyfriend/now-husband one evening during my senior year of college.  It was dark outside & I remember getting goosebumps as I listened to this song.  I was both terrified & intrigued.  I was pretty sure it was a Marilyn Manson song, so part of me was screaming “He’s crazy!  You can’t like this!”  As soon as I got to a computer, I looked up the song on YouTube because it interested me so much.  I’ve been hooked on it ever since.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHRyMcH6WMM  (Note: The real video is pretty creepy & YouTube requires you to be 18 to watch it.)
  17. Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sara Groves: This is technically a religious song, but I don’t think you need to be the least bit religious to understand & appreciate it.  This has been such a powerful song in my life that I have a whole note on Facebook about it.  (I’ll have to make a blog post out of that sometime soon.)  This song speaks about the longing to go back to an easier or happier time in life & the fear of stepping out into an uncertain future.  (The metaphor is related to the Israelites missing Egypt when they left for “The Promised Land,” in case you’re wondering about the references to Egypt.)  This is something we all experience in life at some point or another.  What we have to realize is that like an old pair of shoes, the past no longer fits us anymore so we have to try on our new shoes & move forward in life.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUYAmVYnC-Y
  18. King of Anything by Sara Bareilles: The sarcastic attitude of the lyrics combined with the infectious beat made this song an instant favorite of mine.  This is the song to listen to when you’re tired of people telling you how to live your life or what’s best for you.  After all, “Who died & made you king of anything?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7-AUmiNcA&ob=av2eking of anything
  19. Justice by Rev Theory: Yet another song I loved immediately upon first hearing it.  This is just a fun hard rock song all around & it’s especially fun to listen to if you’re angry or frustrated.  (Which of course makes it a fantastic song for the gym.)  But more importantly it speaks to the need to find justice for all the many wrongs & abuses in the world.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5N80tNDCGg&ob=av2e
  20. We Were Young by Honor By August: I first saw Honor by August as one of the opening acts for Third Eye Blind at a street concert in downtown Raleigh this past spring.  May I just say that they blew Third Eye Blind out of the water by a longshot?  I don’t think I’ve ever so immediately fallen in love with a band’s music the way I did with Honor By August that night.  I had never even heard of this band or any of their songs before that night, but it was evident from the very first note they played that there was real emotion & wisdom behind their music.  It’s hard for me to even classify their music, but I guess you could call it soft rock, which is not typically my favorite genre.  But as I said before the EMOTION conveyed in their music is just so REAL that you cannot help but be drawn to it.  It’s hard to pick just one song of theirs that has really impacted me because there are so many, but We Were Young has to be one of the best.  This song conveys so many truths about how we tend to rush through our lives, especially when we’re young, only to realize later on how precious each day really is.  It also speaks of how life can change so much over the years but real love will last in spite of all the changes.  I saw Honor By August again this summer & I was just as impressed as the first time.  Seriously, you need to look up this band & find a live show to attend.  You won’t regret it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Qq0JpnNpM
honor by august

Honor By August

Slaying the Anxiety Monster


Yesterday I did something I’ve been pondering for years . . . literally years.  I got a prescription for anti-anxiety medication & started taking it.  I’ve considered doing this for YEARS now but every time prior to yesterday I’ve backed out due to fear: fear of what others might think, fear of how my opinion of myself might change, fear of side effects, fear of “giving up,” & just basic fear of the unknown.  Growing up in a society that quite literally tells people with anxiety, depression, & other mental health issues that they “just aren’t thankful enough for God’s blessings” & other such nonsense coupled with my own perfectionist personality makes admitting that I might need medication for my anxiety incredibly hard to accept.  But yesterday I finally said “Screw you!” to the fear & admitted that, for right now anyway, I need more help than I’ve been able to give myself.

anxiety meds

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while or if you know me in real life, then you probably know that I’ve been struggling with anxiety issues practically since birth.  I can be pretty good at hiding it because outwardly I am so “put-together.”  In reality my life really IS quite together.  It’s just that my brain is always on “overdrive” which makes it very difficult for me to truly relax because my mind is always thinking, thinking, thinking about a million things.  It’s a blessing & a curse as I’ve detailed on this blog in various posts from time to time (see: https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/07/28/shut-up-brain-part-2/ & https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2014/02/06/shut-up-brain/ & https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/08/17/inexplicable-anxiety/).  But lately due to a variety of external factors in my life, it’s been more of a curse than a blessing, & my usual coping mechanisms have not been enough to keep my head fully above water.  I’ve been drowning myself in music & essential oils & all the other things that normally help me . . . and they just haven’t been enough.  It’s not that these things haven’t been helpful at all . . . but the anxiety has not receded significantly like it normally does in response to these coping mechanisms.  If anything my anxiety has continued to grow steadily over the past month or so.

I really can’t describe to you how hard it is to admit this.  I’ve been seeing a therapist for just over a year now & this is honestly the first time in that year that I’ve felt like my anxiety has truly taken a turn for the worse.  I’ve had a few bad weeks here & there but nothing like this.  Until the past month I’ve felt like I’ve been steadily climbing upwards, steadily improving.  But somewhere around the end of June I feel like I hit a brick wall, tripped over a boulder, & slid all the way down the mountain.  After all the progress I’ve made over the past year, having my anxiety overwhelm me again is incredibly devastating.  I really felt like for a while I’d slayed the beast that is my anxiety.  But I guess the reality is that I had just put it to rest for a while.  And the truth of the matter is I should be rejoicing over how well I did for so long.  Instead of berating myself for struggling with this issue, I need to remember that like most chronic health conditions, either mental or physical, unfortunately anxiety rarely goes away forever, despite preventative measures & the best treatment.  The sad reality is that no matter how many times you fight the anxiety monster, every new battle is still frightening &  sometimes overwhelming.  

hello-my-name-is-anxiety

I know there are some people who will say I’m “giving up & taking the easy way out” by taking medication for my anxiety.  But the truth of the matter is I’ve tried everything in my power to control this on my own for YEARS now . . . basically my whole life.  I also REALLY don’t want people to think that I’m saying therapy isn’t helpful because I literally cannot express to you how incredibly helpful it has been for me.  Finding my current therapist was one of the greatest decisions of my life.  And the essential oils I’ve been using are also amazingly useful & have helped me tremendously as well.  And music has been my lifeline for most of my life; there is no question about that.  There is no doubt in my mind that for many people these kinds of coping mechanisms are more than enough to manage their anxiety or other mental health concerns.  But unfortunately I’ve just reached a point where these things aren’t enough for me anymore.  I sincerely hope to get back to the point at which these normal coping mechanisms are sufficient for me.  But the fact of the matter is I’m not there right now, & I shouldn’t feel the need to apologize or explain myself for that.  If I had any other type of health condition, almost no one would question my need to take medication for it.  But if you have mental health concerns, far too many people, even well-meaning people, expect you to just “get over it.”  Would that it were that easy!  Trust me, if I could just will myself out of my anxiety, I’d have done it a long, long time ago!!

katy perry

I’m going to end today’s post with the incredibly eloquent words of a very dear friend of mine who has provided so much encouragement to me over the past few years.  In fact she is the person who encouraged me to find my therapist last year.  I have so much to thank her for.  This message she sent me yesterday describes her own experiences with mental health over the past few years & was a courageous (& very effective) effort to assuage the guilt & fear I had regarding “giving up & taking medication” for my anxiety.

What I have learnt over the last six years of this bullshit is that it matters less & less what people think or what box you fit into: bipolar, depression, anxiety . . . We are all damaged in one way or another.  We just have to survive.  And maybe that sounds cynical, but to me it makes me want to find balance even more, because I’m determined to find the joy that remains somewhere & live it.  And all this is just part of getting there.

My anxiety might make my life a bit harder at times, but it also means that I appreciate the good times all the more because I know how it feels to be really down.  I may never truly slay the anxiety monster, but I CAN find ways to keep it in hibernation for as long as possible.  And as my friend expressed in her message yesterday, fighting the anxiety monster makes me all the more determined to enjoy every second of this precious life, “to find the joy that remains somewhere & live it.”    And if taking a medication is part of getting there, so be it . . . Hopefully it won’t be forever, but for right now it’s worth a try.  

Finding Peace When Times are Hard


There was a shooting in my hometown today (about three hours away from where I now live).  Being a very small town in a very rural area, this isn’t exactly something you expect to read about when scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed.  But sadly this isn’t the first time there’s been a shooting in this supposedly peaceful place.  It’s the second hometown shooting I’ve found out about via Facebook just in the past four or five years.  In any case it goes without saying that this is a horrific tragedy that has no doubt affected countless individuals.  It’s ironic to me how so many people have this idea that small towns are inherently safer, more peaceful, and generally more moral than the rest of the world.  I can tell you from personal experience that they are not & that small towns are exactly how Agatha Christie used to describe them in her books: they are a microcosm for the larger world.  All the evil that exists in the world as a whole exists just as strongly in a small town.  It just might not seem quite as apparent if given only a cursory glance.  This isn’t a rant against small towns (even though I’ve long since realized that small town life just isn’t right for me anymore, at least at this stage of my life).  I’m just trying to say that evil is everywhere.  There’s no running from it.  No hiding from it.  However, despite what I often hear, especially at times like this, I don’t believe the world is getting any more evil than it’s ever been.  First of all there is absolutely no scientific way to measure that.  And second of all, I truly believe it’s only due to technology such as TV & the internet that we are more aware of so much of the evil in the world, which of course makes is seem like the world is getting worse & worse.  Perhaps if good news received even half the attention that bad news receives, we wouldn’t be so convinced that the world is “going to hell in a handbasket,” as it were.  But sensationalism sells . . .

times are hard

Anyway, at times like these, I find myself slipping into the cynicism that inevitably rears its ugly head whenever such senseless tragedies occur.  I did not personally know the victim but I interacted with her a handful of times growing up, as she worked in the local school system, & her son was involved in a teen group at my church when we were growing up but I haven’t seen or heard from him in many years.  The alleged perpetrator as I understand it, who at this writing is still at large, was a barber in town for many years & as such was well known in the community (somebody correct me if I’m wrong here).  I believe my dad used to go to his barber shop.    Point being, I don’t have a strong personal connection to this tragedy, but even so it is a shocking event that sends the mind reeling with questions about the uncertainty & unfairness of life.  I like to think of myself as mostly a positive person but I think at heart I am actually a realist.  I cannot help but see reality for exactly what it is most of the time.  For example as a nurse, I cannot help but realize how completely futile the care I provide is at times.  Or when I think about becoming a mom, I cannot help but realize how difficult & tiring of an undertaking that will be.  I often hear women say “Babies are cute but I just had no idea how much work this would be.”  When I hear such things, part of me wants to slap them in the face.  How could you NOT realize how much work a baby will be?  To me it’s just so obvious.  Just as it’s obvious to me that a 90 year old who cannot speak, eat, or care for herself in any way & generally has no quality of life should be a DNR and should not receive a feeding tube to prolong her misery.  But I’ve strayed from the point . . .

What I’m saying is I’m struggling right now to fight my way out of the darkness.  I know there are plenty of wonderful people in the world & I truly believe that good is stronger than evil.  If I didn’t, I don’t think I could keep going.  But when you’re presented with tragedies like this that quite literally hit close to home (the shooting occurred maybe two miles from my parents’ house), it’s easy to lose sight of that.  Having no strong personal connection to this horrifying event, I feel actually quite selfish being so upset by it.  I know the victim’s family & friends are suffering so much right now.  Yet I also know there are others like me who have no real connection to this story & yet are horrified just the same.

Certainly this is a time of grieving for my hometown & there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking our time to grieve & process such a horrific event.  As I wrote around Christmas, grief is a ghost that will haunt us forever until we learn to work through it (https://athicketofmusingsblog.com/2013/12/18/processing-grief-during-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year/).  We each must identify the coping mechanisms that help us to work through our grief and the cynicism that can naturally follow such a tragedy.  For me music is quite often the best healer.   Music along with writing is what helps me make sense of a senseless world.  Or perhaps I should say to come to terms with a senseless world.

As it turns out, earlier this week I was fooling around on YouTube, as I often do, & came across a new song by a band I discovered at Uproar Festival in Raleigh in September of 2012, shortly after we moved down here.  The song is called Times are Hard by Redlight King.  I have been listening to it almost non-stop for the past few days & I cannot help but feel like the timing of discovering this song was quite providential for lack of a better word.  The song talks about how when life is hard, when tragedies take us by surprise & there seems to be no balm for our wounds, we need to find someone to hold onto to keep us strong.  How appropriate at a time like this.  To me it’s an empowering song, yet it doesn’t gloss over how difficult life can be at times.  I don’t know if the song was necessarily written about this kind of horrific tragedy, but that’s the beauty of music: it can mean whatever you want it to mean.  It can speak to you wherever you are at this point in time.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics & a link to the song on YouTube.  Check it out.  It’s powerful stuff.

Sooner or later life will pull you in

Make you choose to either sink or swim

Somewhere down the line it’s gonna break your heart

Put you out & make you wear the scars

All these dreams, they come with all this doubt

When we can’t fit in we try to find a way out

Learn to fight so they don’t seal our fate

They say you never see it coming till it’s way too late

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

We build those bridges & we watch them burn

So quick to pull the trigger, so slow to take our turn

We’ve all been locked out & we’ve broken down the door

Some of us hit the dirt, some of us still come back for more

When the thirst gets so bad, you’re just dying to get a taste

When it don’t involve religion, when it don’t involve the race

And there’s everything to lose `cause we were never born to win

Willing to sacrifice everything we have just to roll the dice again

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

 

Life isn’t perfect, so it’s just what you make it

And that’s what they tell you

But it’s hard when they’re holding you down

Somebody out there for you

They’re praying it all gets easy

Someone you hold onto

These times are hard, feels like nothing’s gonna change

Nowhere to start, & you got nothing for the pain

`Cause when life moves fast, it don’t matter who you are

You gotta find someone to hold onto

Damn, these times are hard

10 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Life in 2014


Since it’s the beginning of a new year, naturally I have been spending some time thinking about how to make this a happier, healthier year than the last.  It’s cliché of course, but it’s important to think about these things because positive change isn’t something that just happens.  It has to be deliberate.  After some consideration I’ve come up with what I believe are the ten most important things for living a healthier, happier life in 2014.  Since physical health is only one component of overall health, I’ve included measures regarding emotional and spiritual health as well.

  1. If you’re trying to lose weight or eat/be healthier in 2014, be sure to set small, measurable, attainable goals.  It’s fine to have your overall big goal of losing 50 pounds or running a marathon or whatever it may be, but if you don’t set small realistically attainable goals along the way, you will never achieve your larger goal.  It will always remain some unreachable pie in the sky and you’ll end the year depressed and wondering why you never accomplish what you set out to accomplish.  Here are some good examples of small goals you can set:
    1. This week I will drink at least 4 glasses of water each day (instead of sodas).
    2. This week I will eat at least one vegetable and one fruit every day.
    3. This week I will walk one mile 3 days a week.  Next week I’ll do it 4 days a week.

The point is to make SMALL changes every day because if you try to drastically change your lifestyle you are almost certain to fail.  But if you take small steps every day, eventually you will be amazed to find that you have truly changed your life!  Indeed, this theory is true for so much more than just weight loss, so you can apply it to all kinds of goals you might have for 2014.  I can tell you from personal experience that this is how I gradually lost 15 lbs over the course of late 2012 into early 2013.  I was only trying to lose 10 lbs but by making small realistic changes every day, I ended up losing more weight than I even hoped to lose!  And I’ve consistently kept it all off, minus 2-3 lbs that I regained over the holidays, but I know I can lose that again quickly by making the same small changes for better health every day.

2. Find those people who you really love and hold them close.  Some of them might be hundreds or even thousands of miles away, but in today’s technology age that no longer means you can’t stay in regular contact (with some exceptions for the military or people in areas without consistent internet access, of course).  For example, one of my best friends is in England.  I have only met her once in real life and it wasn’t until a year or more after that that we actually became close.  But we have managed to BECOME and STAY close via Facebook chat & Skype, and I am now planning a trip to see her in England sometime this year.  As a nurse I am constantly reminded that what really matters in life more than anything is the relationships you build with your family and friends.  If there’s a relationship in your life that is broken or just isn’t as strong as you wish it was, make 2014 the year you try to repair and rebuild it.  Not every relationship can or even should be saved.  (For example a woman whose ex-husband beat her probably shouldn’t try to reignite that relationship in any way.  It just wouldn’t be safe.)  But if you have a relationship you think should be salvaged, don’t let pride stop you.  Stay in regular contact with those you love as much as you can, and never forego a chance to say “I love you.

3. Do something at work that scares you.  As a nurse for me this often means trying an IV on someone who seems to be an impossible stick.  If I didn’t try everyone I thought was going to be a hard stick I’d have started a LOT less IV’s than I have in my career.  In 2013 I also trained for and starting working as a charge nurse on my unit.  It was scary at first (and still is occasionally), but I’ve learned to really enjoy this new role because I see it as a way to help my fellow nurses.  So whatever it is at work that scares you, make a real effort to tackle that this year.  You might not succeed 100% at everything (I certainly don’t get every IV I try), but you will probably succeed more often than you think.  And your greatest confidence is built in doing those things you thought you couldn’t do.

4. Building on number three, don’t be afraid to speak your mind about things that really matter to you.  I started this blog as a way to share my ideas and observations about life, largely in an effort to clear my own mind but also to hopefully encourage and inspire others.  However, it has taken a lot of courage for me to write some of the things I’ve written, being unsure of what kind of reaction I might get even from those close to me.  For example my post The Purity Myth garnered a fair amount of disagreement and criticism (of the idea, not me personally) even from some people close to me.  That is totally fine of course because everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but writing that post was scary for me.  The ideas in it were so important to me but I knew they contradicted a lot of what my family believes, so it was difficult to share something that I knew many would not like.  But I did it anyway.  As it turns out The Purity Myth has been my most popular post to date (I guess sex really does sell, huh?  HA!), and no one has disowned me for having more “liberal” ideas.  I was also afraid to share a lot of my posts about anxiety, but those have all been fairly popular and I have received quite a few messages and comments from people (strangers & friends alike) thanking me for my honesty in writing about such issues.  Knowing that I have not only helped myself but also helped others through my writing is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever known in life.  Yes, I may have offended a few people from time to time by speaking my mind about something (whether on this blog or in “real life”) but that is somewhat inevitable in life anyway.  What I’m slowly learning is that as long as you have a loving, compassionate attitude towards others that will come through to your audience no matter what your actual message is.  The greatest regrets in life are often of what is left unsaid rather than what is said anyway.

5. Listen to music that isn’t on pop radio.  I’m fully aware that I’m a bit of a music snob in some ways, but I’m a former band geek so I can’t help it.  But in all seriousness, do explore music beyond the Top 40.  There is so much more out there with so much more to say about life, love, and everything in between than Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, and One Direction.  If you don’t think you like country music, try Kacey Musgraves.  You might be pleasantly surprised.  If you don’t think you like rock, try Stone Sour, especially their latest two-part album The House of Gold and Bones.  Again I think you might be pleasantly surprised.  The point is music can be such a huge source of inspiration in life.  I know it is for me in too many ways to count.  So explore it.  Nowadays with YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes we have greater instant access to every kind of music in the world than anyone ever has before, so take advantage of it.

6. Do something for someone who can never repay you.  Whether it’s giving food to a homeless person or volunteering with disadvantaged children or something else entirely, just do it.  You will feel great and the world will be a better place because of it.

7. Don’t let strict gender roles define you.  But on the same token, if you find yourself fitting some gender role stereotypes, as long as you’re happy, don’t feel like you need to change things.  This is the 21st century.  If a man wants to be a stay-at-home dad, great.  But if you can’t imagine doing that as a man, that’s fine too.  If you have a master’s degree but want to be a stay-at-home mom, don’t let anyone tell you you’ve sold yourself short.  At the end of the day, you answer to yourself.  Don’t let other voices run your life when yours are the ones you have to sleep with at night.

8. Be honest about your emotions, with yourself and others.  Don’t bottle things up or try to deny how you’re feeling out of guilt or anything else.  If you’re sad, allow yourself to be sad.  If you’re angry, allow yourself to be angry.  Be an adult and learn how to have strong emotions while not ACTING on them in negative ways.  That’s the key.

9. Find what makes you tick in life.  In other words, the things you are really passionate about.  For me it’s music and writing.  For others it might be photography, dance, art, cooking, interior design, sports, or marketing.   Whatever it is, just find it and do it as much as you can.  Consider making a career out of your passions, but also remember that sometimes your passions can be just as therapeutic as hobbies.  The point is that you find out what they are and seek them out as much as you can.

10. As a follow up to number nine, remember that having fun and making good memories is what life is all about.  The world needs people who are passionate about life because these are the people who inspire others and inevitably make a positive difference wherever they go.  Try not to obsess over little things by asking yourself something like this: “In the course of a lifetime, what will this matter?”  It may sound morbid, but think about what will be important to you at the end of your life and remember that could be any time because none of us is promised tomorrow.  Make decisions and choices in life that align with your values, goals, and dreams.  Learn to cherish the little things because when you look back on your life you will find those were the things that mattered the most.  Take time to smell the roses, to cherish a beautiful sunset, to listen to the sound of the waves on the seashore, and to share it all with those you love.

I wrote this as much to myself as to anyone, but I hope this was of some inspiration to you as readers as well.  I hope 2014 will be a great year for all of us.  Just remember, life is what you make it.  No excuses, no exceptions.  This is both terrifying and exciting, but don’t let the fear of striking out keep you out of the game.

Things I Learned From Country Music


For those of you who don’t know, I am a huge music nerd.  I listen to music almost constantly & firmly believe everything in life is better with musical accompaniment.  I love all kinds of music though I usually spend more time listening to rock than any other genre.  However, I go through spells a couple times of year when I also listen to a lot of country music.  I suppose that is somewhat inevitable when you live in the South & grew up in a small town.  This past weekend I got a notion that I should try out a short blog series featuring “things I’ve learned from such & such genre of music.”  Since I’ve been on a country kick lately, I decided to start with country music.  It was hard for me to choose only a handful of songs that have great meaning to me, but I don’t want these posts to be ridiculously long so I limited myself to five songs.  I’m going to attempt to write one of these posts for every major genre of music (though I’ll admit rap might not happen but I will give it my best effort).  For those of you who think country music is only about wearing cowboy boots, fishing, skinny-dipping, or drinking beer, please check out the songs listed below which I hope will serve to broaden your horizons a bit.  I have conveniently included YouTube links to each song because I am awesome like that.  😉

follow your arrow

  • Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves

    • No matter what you do, there will always be naysayers & one of the greatest lessons in life is that you truly cannot please everyone. Thus it’s better to just do what you know in your heart is right for you because at the end of the day you are the one who has to answer to yourself for your own life. I think in small towns this sentiment is especially true because everybody knows each other so rumours & gossip can start & spread so easily. I like how Kacey points out that life is often viewed in extremes; for example, “If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore/if you don’t save yourself for marriage, you’re a whore-able person” (great play on the word horrible, isn’t that?) when in reality the truth often falls somewhere in between such extremes.  And, yes, this is probably one of the only country music songs to ever openly support gay rights, which I love.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg4YdXUaCg0 P.S. This entire album is AMAZING & you would never guess that Kacey is a mere 25 years old. Her song-writing skills & insight into life are superior to many who are two or three times her age. Even if you don’t usually like country music, I beg you to look up Kacey Musgraves on YouTube & give her songs a listen. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack

    • This is one of those classic songs that just never gets old because it’s so beautifully written & the message is one that bears repeating. This song reflects on the importance of never losing the wonder of being alive whether it be standing in awe at the sight of the ocean, dancing every chance you get, or learning that love sometimes hurts but it’s worth the chance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV-Z1YwaOiw

  • Bleed Red by Ronnie Dunn

    • This is one of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard. The message is so simple but so beautiful: we are all human beings with struggles, scars, fears, hopes, & dreams trying to make the best of our lives. We all make mistakes & need forgiveness from time to time. At the end of the day despite differences in race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, or any other “external” factor at our deepest core we are all the same: “We all bleed red.” If every one of us took this song to heart every day of our lives I’m quite certain we could end (or perhaps even avoid) a lot of conflicts, including everything from squabbles between husbands & wives to international wars. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AMcwxAug1Q

  • Life Ain’t Always Beautiful by Gary Allan

    • Gary Allan’s rough voice adds to the magic of this song for me because it seems to perfectly match with the message of the song: “Life ain’t always beautiful but it’s a beautiful ride.” Truer words have never been spoken for indeed life is often difficult, challenging, & scary but in the end it’s still a fascinating, wonderful journey & the hard times really do make us stronger & wiser. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VDNMtn0t2A

  • I Drive Your Truck by Lee Brice

    • The best way I can describe this song is achingly beautiful. I heard it for the first time as I was driving into Appomattox on 460 for my dear uncle Robert’s funeral. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The song is written from the perspective of someone who lost a soldier friend but the feelings behind it are applicable to anyone who has suffered the loss of a close friend or family member. I love that the song addresses both the pain of such a loss as well as the anger that we all experience as we beg God/the universe why it happened because no matter the circumstances death is never easy for those left behind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCSMCgqlc-0

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover


Yesterday I renewed my gym membership and in the process of doing so someone said something to me that I hear quite often which got me thinking that this could make for an interesting blog post.  So here goes.

After I paid for my annual membership, I told the gym manager that as a paying customer I thought he should consider changing up the music selection a bit because I’m tired of hearing Britney Spears every time I work out.  The manager asked me what I would prefer & I told him that to be honest a lot of the music I like probably wouldn’t be appropriate for the gym because a lot of people are much more easily offended than I am, but nonetheless a few hard rock songs here & there would be a refreshing change of pace.  The manager, who is a man probably in his mid 30’s, told me what I have heard so many time before.  “You just don’t seem like the kind of girl who would be into rock music.  You’re too nice & soft-spoken.”

[Ok, those of you who really know me should get a good laugh about the soft-spoken part of that comment!]

The real crux of this scenario is that I am often told I seem “too nice” to like rock music.  I just don’t understand where our society gets the idea that a “nice” person can’t like hard rock or heavy metal.  This is 2013 & yet people who like this kind of music are still invariably considered “weird, different, mean, angry,” and a whole lot of other generally negative adjectives.  Now let me give you a little background about how I got into this kind of music before I explain why it’s my favorite genre.

I grew up thinking rock music = devil music.  I had no interest in it & on the rare occasions that I actually heard real rock/metal I hated it.  I honestly couldn’t understand how anyone could like this stuff.  However, as I got into high school I started hearing a few more rock songs here & there, & I gradually, gradually began to realize that there is so much more than initially meets the eye (or should I say the ear?) with this type of music.  Once I got to college & finally had the freedom to listen to whatever kind of music I wanted, I gradually began discovering all kinds of music that I never even knew existed: European symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, American metal bands like Five Finger Death Punch, and so much more.  I soon realized that I loved this music, & I think after a solid six years of listening to rock/metal more than any other genre I am finally figuring out why this music appeals to me so much.

Anyone who has glanced at my iTunes collection knows that I like a little bit of everything.  My music collection spans everything from Alice in Chains to Godsmack to Toby Keith to Eric Church to Flo Rida to Lady Gaga to Beethoven to Mussorgsky.  In short, there really isn’t any genre of music I don’t like.  Some, like rap & bluegrass, aren’t my favorites but there are still certain pieces from those genres that I do really enjoy.  However, I think the reason rock music speaks to me so much is its brutal honesty.

By comparison, rap music so often celebrates an urban, party-it-up or “gangtsa” lifestyle that exists only in manufactured music videos.  Country music too celebrates a lifestyle that doesn’t actually exist in real life.  Trust me, I grew up in small town America & I can tell you from experience that the only country music singers who consistently tell the truth about rural life are Eric Church & Kacey Musgraves, especially the latter.  It ain’t always a pretty picture either.  The vast majority of modern pop music is so superficial & vapid as to hardly be worth mentioning.  (I’ll discuss classical music in another post some day.  As many of you know, I am a total classical music junkie.)

So that brings us back to rock music.  Yes, the stereotype is that rock music celebrates sex, drugs, & devil worship & generally seeks to push the envelope in every possible way.  Sure, there are a few groups whose music focuses largely on those things.  But would you judge all Christians based on Westboro Baptist Church or all Muslims on the 9/11 terrorists?  I certainly hope not.  You cannot make an accurate judgment about any group based on its most extreme members.  That is just unscientific.

People often say that rock music makes people angry or inspires people to commit terrible acts of murder & violence.  I say music is music.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If someone’s mind is so twisted & sick as to commit heinous violent acts, music isn’t to blame.  The person is.  I say music is perhaps the greatest form of therapy known to mankind.  If you listen to enough rock you’ll find that every emotion you’ve ever felt is covered in this music, from love to anger to jealousy to confusion to pain to joy.  It’s all there.  And it’s all expressed in an outlet that cannot possibly harm anyone.  We all get angry sometimes & experience other “negative” emotions.  That is not a sin.  Emotions are what make us human; they are what tells us we are still alive.  It’s what we do with these emotions that can be sinful at times.  (If you want to read more about this fascinating topic, check out Corey Taylor’s book “The Seven Deadly Sins.”  It is without a doubt one of the most intriguing & well-written books I’ve ever read.)  What better way to express your anger or hate than through a song?  It’s much preferable to actually hurting someone or bottling it all up inside so that inevitably you explode.  Besides, what other kind of music pumps you up enough to make you want to finish that grueling workout at the gym or to stay up all night caring for sick people?  On my way to work I invariably pop in a fist-pumping rock album & by the time I get to the hospital I am ready to face whatever comes my way.

So in summary, no, I don’t have tattoos or unorthodox body piercings.  I don’t dress in all black or wear dog collars around my neck.  I don’t give a crap if other people do those things but they just aren’t for me.  I am not an angry person who hates the world.  But I do love rock music.  I am proud to be a headbanger.  And some day I hope that the world will realize that rock stars & their fans are some of the kindest people in the world.  And more importantly I hope our society will learn the greater lesson here: don’t judge a book by its cover because we are all more than meets the eye.

So what do y’all think?  For those of you know me, is it really that surprising that I like this kind of music?  If so, why?  Or better yet, have you experienced anything similar to this where people are surprised to find out you like a certain type of music or whatever?

In the spirit of the post I’m including a link to one of my favorite rock bands, Pop Evil.  I have been following them religiously for a few years & own all three of their albums, so naturally I am very happy to see them finally getting some great radio airtime with their latest hit, “Trenches.”  (Ladies, google Leigh Kakaty & I promise you will thank me.)   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWdtN7pCZug