I fully bought into the idea that mental illness was something that you could ignore your way out of. Lana Del Rey, through her music, helped me break out of that belief system.
By Princess Harmony
“No one even knows what life was like, now I’m in LA and it’s paradise…”
I unwrapped the CD from its shrink-wrap and I played track 8, “Radio”. On its cover was a woman with golden brown hair, named Lana Del Rey. I fell in love with the image she portrayed and the stories she wove through her music.
You see, I remember every single thing about the day I discovered Lana Del Rey and first listened to her critically acclaimed debut, Born To Die. To describe how I feel about her, all I can say is that she is, to me, what Beyoncé is to the Hive. Lana Del Rey means the world to me even though she’ll probably never know that I exist.
When I discovered Lana, I was a trans girl struggling with depression, an addiction to opiates, and coming out. But for some reason, when I listened to her debut album for the first time, I felt like someone finally understood me. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I bought her album about five months before I would become estranged from my parents–I would later make up with them, and find acceptance from them, so that part of the story ends happily–and it was this record that gave me strength to do it.
From the depressive “Born To Die”, to the semi-autobiographical “Carmen”, to the cheerful “Lucky Ones”, I played that CD over and over. And I found the femininity I wanted: I wanted to emulate Lana’s razor-sharp femininity. Yes, it hearkened back to the 1950s, but only in aesthetic and not in its submissiveness. Or so, that’s how I read it. Her critics aren’t so generous in how they read her Born To Die aesthetics.
Being a trans woman, I felt that rather than creating my own femininity (and gender expression, in general), I needed to find a cis woman to emulate. And find one, I did. I carried myself the way Lana did in her music, music videos, and interviews. Nowadays, I don’t need to emulate anyone. I just act the way I want to act, but when I was a “baby trans”, I didn’t know that was a legitimate option. Still, I give thanks to Lana for giving me the courage and inspiration I needed to do what I felt like I needed to do.
But her music did more for me than helping me through the beginning stages of my transition. Her music carried me through my mental health concerns. Exactly one month before I first attempted suicide, Lana Del Rey’s first single from her EP Paradise was released.
“Been trying hard not to get into trouble but I- I got a war in my mind…”
When I first heard “Ride”, released three weeks before my first mental health hospitalization, I bawled my eyes out. At that time, I was in the middle of a schizoaffective episode and the stress of my coming out was only making it worse. Her music encouraged me to explore my feelings. While in the hospital, I was given permission by the psychologist who was taking care of me to listen to my iPod. While listening to it, I journaled all of my feelings and I never let up. “Ride” encouraged me to not just reach out for help, but also to open myself up and explain my feelings.
I never explored my emotions or shared them with anyone until I heard “Ride”, I fully bought into the idea that mental illness was something that you could ignore your way out of. I was wrong, and it nearly cost me my life. Lana Del Rey, through her music, helped me break out of that belief system. While I kept abusing drugs and alcohol, I no longer bottled up emotions or my mental illness the way I did. Her music helped me realize that it’s okay to admit you’re in trouble and to ask for help.
Her critics say that her music glamorizes depression. I say that what she’s done is helped her fan base reach out and admit to their own mental health concerns. Lana herself, in interviews and her music, admits to suffering depression, which gives her fan base the courage to admit it for ourselves.
There are very few musicians willing to open up about their substance use and mental illness issues, fewer still who get criticized with the ferocity that Lana Del Rey does for it. But I’d ask that her critics understand that her openness saves the lives of her fan base. I know that I wouldn’t be here without her music.
To this day, her Paradise EP and her second full-length album as Lana Del Rey, Ulraviolence, have served as both my favorite records, but also as my inspiration to remain open about my struggles and ask for help when I need it.
I guess I can say that Lana’s lust for life kept me alive. (Haha, get it?)
Her fifth album, Lust For Life, is due out on July 21st, 2017.
Author Bio: Princess Harmony is an artist and writer in recovery. Her hobbies include designing stickers, obsessing over anime, and collecting disco records. In addition to being a person in recovery, she’s also your run-of-the-mill fat nerd girl!