Most of us have that important little mixtape, the one that helped us get through a prolonged and very tangled relationship breakup.
Musician Clare Bowditch had one too, and there was one song from it that’s been an unshakeable part of her life over the past 20 years.
At the age of 19, desperate to find a fresh start and leave behind a relationship that was not working out despite her continued efforts, she moved to London where she says, she “…would magically re-invent my life.
It was the trigger of pain but also a little light at the end of the tunnel.Clare Bowditch — Don't Look Back
“It wasn’t enough to gently have an ending of a relationship, there was so much hurt and so much shame, that for me, the idea was just leave the country,” she says.
“I left the country without enough money in my bank account and without really being emotionally stable enough to pull it off.”
She lasted in England for a few months, but had to return home for the sake of her mental health.
“I started experiencing something at the time that I had no name for,” she explains. “I look back now and I know that I was having chronic panic attacks and I was in the depths of very acute anxiety and depression.
“I didn’t know that because I was the cheery person at the party, I was the big, jolly person and I refused to admit that these feelings I was having. This sense of foreboding and this fear.
“I went to a doctor and said ‘I think I’ve got a virus, everything feels surreal.’ He told me that I was grieving deeply and that he thought that I should probably go home.”
The path to feeling strong again was a slow and difficult process.
“I was so affected and sensitised at the time that I actually couldn’t listen to music, or even read newspapers, for quite a few months when I came home,” she says. “I lived a really simple life and ‘High & Dry’ was one of the songs that trickled back in.
“It was the trigger of pain but also a little light at the end of the tunnel. When I started to be able to listen to music again without having the symptoms of anxiety and panic, I realised that I was coming back to being a functional human being.”
Finding the courage to speak about her experience has taken a long time. She does so because she wants to share how she got through it. Thankfully, she hasn’t experienced anything of that severity since that event over two decades ago.
“Not that I’m not still sensitive,” she says. “I still have to watch how much I sleep, because really it was the insomnia that triggered my anxiety.”
There was also a gentle and insightful book called Self Help For Your Nerves by Dr Claire Weekes, which put things into an accessible context for her. Going through this crisis also helped Clare find her creative voice.
“That, in a way, is the start of me owning my experience as an artist and starting to realise I had some stories to tell,” she says.
Having a patient and healing companion, such as this iconic Radiohead tune, has also been an important guiding hand for Clare. In Thom Yorke’s fragile, melancholic voice and vulnerable persona, she found a kindred spirit who seemed to be undergoing a level of self-reflection too.
“Thom Yorke had the ability to voice the inner critic, and in a lot of his songs you hear that quiet, mopey voice and you hear how he tries to transform it and I just find it fascinating,” she says.
The feelings this song evokes these days has also transformed for Clare.
“When I play it now myself, it’s a different feeling to listening to Radiohead play it,” she says. “The thing that’s beautiful is the audience, everyone joins in the chorus and its perfect.”
Hear more about the song that changed it all for Clare Bowditch on Don't Look Back.