I’m going to start posting a few song interpretations on here, starting with “Every Day Is Exactly The Same” by Nine Inch Nails.
I’ve been finding comfort in this song as my days and weeks are all the same: depressing and excruciatingly boring. It’s been this way for a long time, long before covid came along. I sleep until 2pm, go to appointments (my only contact with the world), waste time, eat dinner, waste more time, take a pill to sleep, then wake up and repeat it all again. But that’s not what first came to mind when I heard this song. The song actually captures perfectly what it’s like inside a psychiatric ward, particularly a public one.
The first verse makes me think of how everything is predictable in the psych ward: breakfast, lunch and dinner at designated hours. Group (in some psych wards) at designated hours. Your vital signs are checked everyday. The nurses always try and get me to develop a routine which involves getting up at a certain hour, showering etc. It is the bare basics: boring self-care. It all feels futile.
I believe I can see the future
‘Cause I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
But then again, that might have been a dream
The second verse speaks to the more traumatic aspects of public psych wards: the way all your rights and power are stripped from you. You are locked in the facility against your will. You cannot protest or else a group of staff will come and restrain you mechanically, physically or chemically. You will have treatments forced on you. So you must stay quiet, take your medication, shower, go to group and pretend to function.
I think I used to have a voice
Now I never make a sound
I just do what I’ve been told
I really don’t want them to come around, oh no
Then we get to the chorus. It reminds me of a post I wrote a few years ago called “Merry-go-round of life”. I write about my experience in a particular psych ward. Every morning, the sun would rise and I would hear the traffic outside as people began the daily rat race to work. Then the cleaner would clunk down the hallway. Every day they would come at the same time, vacuum the barely-trodden floors and replace people’s towels. Soon patients would get up for breakfast and wish each other “good morning”. I remember how those words were like pouring salt in a wound to me. All my mornings were exactly the same and they were far from good.
The third line, “There is no love here and there is no pain”, speaks of how cold and heartless public psych wards are. The staff are like robots. The part about there being no pain here either perhaps refers to the way people’s pain has been medicated away.
Every day is exactly the same
Every day is exactly the same
There is no love here and there is no pain
Every day is exactly the same
The fourth verse is about being watched by the nurses who are ready to restrain you should you break down again. It also speaks to the conflicting feelings we sometimes have about being in hospital.
I can feel their eyes are watching
In case I lose myself again
Sometimes I think I’m happy here
Sometimes, yet I still pretend
The next verse really speaks to me. It’s about how we don’t even know at what point we lost our mental health. It reminds me of a quote from the book “Prozac Nation” by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Elizabeth describes depression as something that happens “gradually, then suddenly”.
“Some catastrophic moments invite clarity, explode in split moments: You smash your hand through a windowpane and then there is blood and shattered glass stained with red all over the place; you fall out a window and break some bones and scrape some skin,” Elizabeth writes.
“Stitches and casts and bandages and antiseptic solve and salve the wounds. But depression is not a sudden disaster. It is more like a cancer: At first its tumorous mass is not even noticeable to the careful eye, and then one day — wham! — there is a huge, deadly seven-pound lump lodged in your brain or your stomach or your shoulder blade, and this thing that your own body has produced is actually trying to kill you. Depression is a lot like that: Slowly, over the years, the data will accumulate in your heart and mind, a computer program for total negativity will build into your system, making life feel more and more unbearable. But you won’t even notice it coming on, thinking that it is somehow normal, something about getting older, about turning eight or turning twelve or turning fifteen, and then one day you realize that your entire life is just awful, not worth living, a horror and a black blot on the white terrain of human existence. One morning you wake up afraid you are going to live.”
The part about knowing exactly how it will end may be about suicide.
I can’t remember how this got started
Oh, but I can tell you exactly how it will end
This next verse is about desperately wanting to express how you feel to somebody. You want to write it all down, but you must be careful as everything you do in the psych ward is monitored. If the nurses catch you writing a depressive poem they may keep you in longer. So you have to hide it.
I’ll write it on a little piece of paper
I’m hoping, someday, you might find
Well I’ll hide it behind something
They won’t look behind
This last line speaks to me so much. It can be interpreted a number of ways, but here is the way I interpret it. You’ve reached a point where you just feel so hopeless and you have no clue how to get yourself out of this. You wish there was another option than the psych ward but you don’t know what. You have no energy left in you, you are drowning and will grab whatever life raft is thrown your way.
Another possible interpretation is that he is still thinking about suicide. He wishes there was another way, but he doesn’t know what.
I am still inside here
A little bit comes bleeding through
I wish this could’ve been any other way
But I just don’t know
I don’t know
What else I can do