Growing up, everyone told me that my twenties would be my best years. I’ve grown up in the Southern US, where the norm is attending university right after high school, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years, getting married, buying a house, and having kids all by the age of 30.
Imagine my disappointment when it took me almost six years and three degree changes to finally graduate from university. Or when most of my friends started getting engaged, married, and/or having kids when I have no prospective boyfriends on the horizon and I can’t even imagine having the responsibility of taking care of a dog. Don’t even get me started on my student loans and total lack of financial stability.
All that to say, my twenties often feel tumultuous with high highs and lower lows. I feel like I’m drowning much of the time, and my creativity and passion for writing often suffers because of it. The only thing that pulls me through hard moments is the music of artists that have inspired me over the years. Music has been a powerful factor in my decision to recover from my years-long struggle with an eating disorder, to stay alive when depression tried to convince me that living wasn’t worth it, to continue writing when imposter syndrome tells me that I don’t have what it takes.
One artist whose music has helped me navigate through the ups and downs of my twenties is Julia Michaels. She writes lyrics with vivid imagery and brutal honesty that I’ve desperately needed to feel less alone in the struggles of early adulthood. From mental illness to relationship issues, and even the subject of working a job more than living through meaningful life experiences, Michaels writes the words that I believe everyone – especially my fellow lost twenty-somethings – needs to hear.
The albums that have impacted me the most have been Inner Monologue Part 1 and Inner Monologue Part 2. When Julia Michaels released “Anxiety” (feat. Selena Gomez) as a single, I was in the middle of an intense cycle with bipolar depression. I hadn’t started seeking treatment yet, and that particular disease is more exhausting than anything else I had ever experienced, simply because I have no control over the depressive and manic cycles that accompany bipolar depression.
More often than not, I felt isolated from everyone I loved, because it felt like I was the only one stuck inside crippling depression and anxiety.
“Anxiety” was the first song I heard that accurately described what it looked like to deal with mental illness on a daily basis. Even though we have made leaps and bounds as a society in normalizing the conversation surrounding mental health, mental illness still feels like a touchy topic of discussion. It was a huge relief for me, and I’m sure so many others, to hear the not-so-polished reality of anxiety and depression vocalized in mainstream pop music. People learn by example, and I was excited to see Julia Michaels (and Selena Gomez in this case) take charge in showing vulnerability, because it felt like I had been given permission to be vulnerable too.
Similarly, “Body” has been encouraging in my recovery from my eating disorder. To summarize, I have been actively in recovery for about a year now, after having struggled with bulimia for over ten years. Society often glamorizes diet culture which, in turn, feeds eating disorder culture, so it fails to mention the lasting harmful effects that eating disorders leave mentally, physically, and relationally. In many cases, my insecurities damaged some of my closest relationships, because the negative ways in which I saw myself controlled my emotions and my actions toward other people.
That was the hardest part of struggling with an eating disorder, and it wasn’t something that I felt like I could discuss. In “Body”, Julia Michaels openly discusses the ways in which her negative body image affects the way she treats her significant other, and she makes the point that she wishes she loved her body the way they love it.
It was powerful for me to hear someone else describe the frustration of not being able to look in the mirror and see what someone else sees, because it’s a reality that I’m still actively trying to overcome in my recovery on a daily basis.
These are just a couple of examples how Julia Michaels has impacted me through her music as I stumble through my twenties. I encourage anyone else feeling like a lost twenty-something (or lost at any age for that matter) to give her a listen. Even if it’s not Julia Michaels, find that artist who speaks about the life experiences that you struggle to communicate on your own.
Find the artist whose voice inspires you to find your own.