by Liv Manner
Listen. I’m not going to add the slew of the reviews praising Mitski’s genius on Be the Cowboy. Not because I don’t agree, but because everyone is already saying it. It’s a gorgeous album where she truly flourishes musically, both in composition and in the lyrics. Instead, I offer you something else; Be the Cowboy is a crying album. Perfect for those days when you need a good sob and nothing else, Mitski delivers heart-wrenching lyrics.
One of the hardest things in life to learn is that it’s okay to cry. At least for me, crying (especially in front of people) is one of the most difficult things to do. What can I say, I bottle things up. I let all of my feelings take up so much space in my mind there isn’t room for much else.
The last two weeks have been the hardest of my life and I like to think that I have a pretty high standard for that. Looking at it from the outside, like any good therapist would encourage me to do, it doesn’t make any sense. I decided last year, completely of my own free will, that I wanted to do an exchange year abroad. I’m a Sagittarius, so it was pretty natural to want to leave my small town for a year and go venturing off on my own. Despite literally everyone saying, “You’ll be homesick! You need to prepare to be sad,” I brushed it off as over-emotional people over-preparing me for the next year.
In short, I was very wrong. It’s really easy to underestimate how emotionally taxing leaving your home at 16 and moving halfway across the globe to live in an all-new place with all new people who speak a language that you understand none of can be. Maybe it’s not that easy, but it was for me. I legitimately thought it would be the simplest thing; I would just leave and that would be that. I’d be back in a year and everything would be the same– I wouldn’t even have anything to miss because I’d be returning (eventually). For a period of time, before I had even left, I had tried to formulate ways that I would never have to go back to the US. Seriously. Then, I got here and everything changed.
Once I had gotten to my official host community things were markedly different. The rush of being on exchange had left me. I realized that it would be 329 days until I would see my mom, my step-dad, and my dogs again. All sense of familiarity left me. The same feelings I felt on my hardest days, even back home, had suddenly staked a claim in my mind again. I can’t understand about 90% of what was being said to me and I have to rely on others for everything. Boundaries are different. Actively participating in classes and conversations has turned into smiling and nodding and turning to someone to translate.
But, my mental health journey started long before this year. My parents divorced when I was about 5 years old. My childhood was always in a state of fluctuation between homes and parenting styles and cultures and stories. It’s made me an anxious person who latches onto absolutely every memory and every sentimental item. But, even despite that all (over a period of over 13 years now), I’ve never been a crier. I couldn’t even cry in front of my therapist. It would give me severe headaches just from trying to keep in the tears, and I have no idea why. Even in private, I couldn’t let things out.
I noticed a switch awhile ago when I discovered some of my favorite music. There are these amazingly talented artists whose music wraps you in this sense of comfort. It made it seem okay to cry. For me, that music was divided into two categories. I call them “sad girls write good songs” and “plain ol’ nostalgia”. Why it took me so long to realize that, I don’t know, but I do remember the day that I got here and sat in my room listening to “Be The Cowboy” and crying. It felt so good to have how I felt, or at least general sadness and bad feelings, acknowledged in song.
After that day, I began to cry pretty much at least once a day (the streak is still going just in case you were wondering). Of course, I don’t want to cry, but there is something so deeply cathartic about crying. I genuinely feel so refreshed afterwards, especially if I listen to music while doing it. Class of 2013 has hit really hard, I’m aware it isn’t on “Be The Cowboy,” but it feels like Mitski just understands what I’m going through right. For someone I’ve never met, her music (along with many others) has helped me come to the self realization that being emotional doesn’t mean being weak.
I may not be at the end of my journey, or even close, but the fact that I’ve even taken the tiniest step is something. Acknowledging within myself that I feel things and can use those things for the better (like writing this article) has helped me power through a bit.
Meet the Author:
Liv Manner is a 16 year old writer from Central Pennsylvania. She grew up in all sorts of places and in all sorts of cultures (with all sorts of people), and uses those experiences to inform her writing and overall activism. She is currently in her junior year of high school, but is living abroad in rural Denmark instead of attending a traditional school for a year. Her primary focuses are on mental health, the mixed-race experience, environmental and agricultural ethics, and health care policy. She spends her free time attending AMP (a local cohort of organizers in her hometown), watching rom-coms, and ruining her kitchen by cooking.