6 songs that helped me through a winter without legs

In every culture, music has the power to connect people in spite of their differences. Music encourages the spirit, stimulates the imagination and inspires emotions of all sorts. My life has been enriched by music and I could not imagine living without it. Over the past few months I have been accompanied by music through the rain and cold to making a new life with wheels, instead of legs. These are a few of the songs that gave me strength and joy and motivation.

1) Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding

This has to be one of the most hope-inspiring songs I have ever heard. When the chorus bursts out, like sunshine through the clouds, you really can believe that the future is bright with endless possibilities.

Favourite lyrics:

After the war we said we’d fight together
I guess we thought that’s just what humans do
Letting darkness grow
As if we need its palette and we need its colour
But now I’ve seen it through
And now I know the truth:
That anything could happen…

Music for a winter without legs

Album: Halcyon Days (Deluxe edition)

Other good songs: My Blood (after my suicide attempt went so gruesomely wrong, I can relate quite grotesquely to the line “blood on the rocks”), the earworm Only You, the buoyant JOY, Dead In The Water (especially the opening lines), Lights, You My Everything, Hearts Without Chains, and lastly the cover of Alt-J’s Tessellate (featuring a jazzy saxophone solo quite different to Ellie’s other music).

2) Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is) – Pet Shop Boys

This is such a feelgood song; a celebration of life with the sound of a Caribbean carnival.

Favourite lyrics:

Although we see the world through different eyes
We share the same idea of paradise
So don’t search in the stars for signs of love
Look around your life you’ll find enough

Album: Bilingual

Other good songs: The whole Bilingual album has a Latin American flavour, with exotic rhythms and instruments carrying PSB’s trademark wistful, satirical and political lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Before and A Red Letter Day are excellent songs, and Metamorphosis features a rare rap. I also recommend all PSB’s other albums, but especially Release, Very, Introspective and Actually.

3) Heart and Soul by Joy Division

On the eve of Joy Division’s first US tour, their singer and lyricist Ian Curtis committed suicide. His lyrics are some of the most articulate and poetic expressions of the overwhelming powerlessness, despair and loneliness that comes with depression. You might think it would be depressing to listen to songs like this, but in fact it is encouraging to hear someone put words to my feelings and to know that I am not alone in these feelings.

Favourite lyrics:

Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can.
The past is now part of my future,
The present is well out of hand.

Album: The Best of Joy Division

Other good songs: Isolation, Disorder, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Twenty Four Hours.

4) Go the Distance by Roger Bart

"Go The Distance" from Disney's Hercules

No song list would be complete without a number from a musical, and this winter I have been drawing inspiration from Disney musicals. One song in particular struck a chord with me: Go The Distance from Disney’s Hercules (this is the film cast version of the song of course, not the yucky Michael Bolton single version). This song beautifully articulates my desire to fit in and find my own sense of purpose.

Favourite lyrics:

I will find my way, I can go the distance
I’ll be there someday – If I can be strong
I know every mile will be worth my while
I would go most anywhere to feel like I belong.

Album: The Magic of Disney

Disney's Hercules - Go The Distance

Other good songs: There are so many, but these are my favourites – Circle Of Life (from The Lion King), Someday (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Best Of Friends (from The Fox and the Hound), I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) (also from Hercules), If I Didn’t Have You (from Monsters, Inc.)

5) Part Of Me by Katy Perry

Katy Perry has written so many empowering songs of self-acceptance, but the defiant Part Of Me strikes a particular chord with me. Perhaps it is because with the loss of my legs I felt that not only a physical, but also a psychological part of me had been taken away, i.e. the part of me that did all those things requiring legs – dancing, exploring, skipping and Pilates. There is so much of me left over, though, and I am rediscovering the impulses that motivated all those actions and learning new ways of expressing them.

Favourite lyrics:

Throw your sticks and stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows,
But you’re not gonna break my soul.
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me.

Album: Teenage Dream – The Complete Confection

Other good songs: The whole record-setting Teenage Dream album is fantastic, but particularly the singles, as well as Hummingbird Heartbeat and Peacock. I also highly recommend her new album, Prism. I find KP’s music grows with her, so although the themes she deals with on all of her albums are much the same, each album has a more mature and sophisticated delivery.

6) Hero by Mariah Carey

Okay, I know this is super corny, with an extra side of cheese, but this song helped me achieve one of the most important revelations of my life: Over the past year I have realised that I need to be my own hero. Friends and family are vital, but if I am to survive those moments when I have to make a decision or face a challenge alone, I must be able to fight for myself. A similar song is Proud by M People, which is a great motto to live by and always reminds me of Sarah Hadland from Miranda holding Heather Small’s head on a stick (…lulz for days!). To me it is not about being a holier-than-thou do-gooder, but about nurturing a sense of self-worth and accountability. You have to live with yourself every day, so are you proud of the person you are?

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Favourite lyrics:

When you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Album: This is a song I bought online, but it was first released on Mariah’s 1993 album, Music Box, and can also be found on all her compilation albums.

Other good songs: Mariah Carey gets a lot of flak, but I am impressed by her songwriting skills. She has written some of the most perfect pop songs ever, including All I Want For Christmas, Fantasy, Emotions and Dreamlover.

Now it’s your turn

Which songs have you had on repeat over the past few months? Let me know in the comments.

Disabled, but not broken

When both my legs were amputated, they were closed at the upper-thigh, leaving stumps of 8-10cm each. This means that they are too short for me to walk with prostheses and I have been resigned to face life in a wheelchair.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues played the below TED Talk video for the whole team of us at work. The progress being made with bionic limbs is truly breath-taking. After watching this, I felt hope for the first time that I might one day be able to walk again.

My colleagues and I got very excited over this technology, and I felt blessed to be working with people who take an interest in my situation.

“A human being cannot be broken. Our environment is broken, our technologies are broken, but we can fix them…”

I felt some trepidation, however, at the suggestion that even able-bodied people should use these bionic limbs in the future to “make life easier” and “reduce the strain on our muscles”. Isn’t that a very bad idea, as obesity is already a huge problem and using bionic limbs for everyday life would surely result in an epidemic of lazy fat people with muscular atrophy?

Soldiers using bionic limbs also worries me, because I really don’t think our armies need anything that will make it easier to create war and kill each other (but that is a totally different discussion about the pros and cons of various methods of conflict resolution).

What do you think about the development of bionic limbs and the potential uses for them?

When you don’t know you’re touching someone

I believe in the impact that small interactions can have on the parties involved. A brief exchange between strangers can change the course of someone’s life as much as a deep conversation with close friends.

Martine Wright playing sitting volleyball at the 2012 Paralympics

Martine Wright playing sitting volleyball at the 2012 Paralympics

A friend of mine recently told me about the baby shower for a mutual friend of ours who happens to be pregnant. Each of the girls at the shower made a wish for the coming baby, hopes they had for the child’s life or whatever “power” they hoped the child would have. The mother-to-be said that, more than anything, she wanted her child to learn to fly an aeroplane. Several weeks earlier I had told her my story of meeting Martine Wright, a Paralympian who had won a pilot scholarship for disabled people.

I don’t even remember telling my friend that story when she came to see me in hospital, but it made a huge impression on her. One doesn’t need legs to fly an aeroplane and she saw that it meant so much to Martine and I that we could still do amazing things, even though we are disabled. She wanted to give her child something that would never be taken away, a sense of freedom that was always accessible.

This story goes to show that even the littlest, seemingly insignificant things one says might mean the world to someone else, and it really doesn’t take much to be a positive influence in someone’s life. Buying someone coffee or paying someone a compliment can be just the touch of encouragement they need in that moment.