A Propensity for Emotional Pain

The ‘C’ Word

Glastonbury festival, 2019. I was gingerly walking between stages in the late afternoon on Saturday at about 16:45, sipping on a drink and feeling as carefree as I remember ever being. The mood among the group was jovial after days of drinking, meeting new people and watching lots of live bands, most of which I cannot name to this day. England was in the middle of a heatwave and the temperature was sitting just above 30 degrees celsius. There were crowds of people huddled under every shaded piece of ground seeking refuge from the heat. Then there were the deviants like us, too tipsy to care but skin red as a fire engine. As I approached the Other Stage, I saw the biggest crowd I had seen at the stage yet. It was so over-capacity that the crowd had extended into the walkways between tents. The bystanders were wondering who or what had amassed such a crowd, making them also stop and growing the crowd even further. We stopped and turned towards the stage to see a large banner with the name ‘Lewis Capaldi’ on it.

I didn’t know any of Lewis Capaldi’s music at the time and still don’t really. The whole crowd was singing along to the chorus and the mood was magical. What surprised me was that the song was very slow, with only a piano accompaniment and emotionally fraught lyrics. I now know that this song was ‘Someone You Loved’, a massive hit with over 2 billion plays on Spotify. I say it surprised me because we were at Glastonbury festival, where people go to have fun and let go of the woes of the real world, yet there were thousands of people all belting out the sombre chorus in unison:

‘For now the day bleeds into nightfall

and you’re not here to get me through it all

I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug

I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved’

The words seemed completely at odds with the mood. People were smiling, holding each other and shouting at the top of their lungs. It was quite an inspiring scene, and even Lewis seemed genuinely awe-struck as the camera focused on him. I still think about the whole thing now, and how negative/distressing emotions seem to strike such a chord in many of us.

I’ve always considered myself someone who has a propensity for more negative emotions. If you have read any of the poetry I have written on the blog, you’ll probably have noticed that it is all fairly negative. It was the same when I was 14 and my guitar teacher encouraged me to try and write my own song. He had a load of recording equipment in his office that he used to make his own albums. Upon playing him the song, he told me I should record it with him; so we did. My grandma had recently died and I remember sitting at her funeral, watching my grandad grieving and trying to imagine what it must feel like. I ended up writing a song called ‘Roses to the Fire’. Listening to it now, I am rather impressed with my 14-year-old self. The lyrics were based on a scenario I’d thought of in my head, of a grieving loved one missing their partner so badly that they were sure that they started to see them. I’m not impressed with the vocal performance, but the guitar was nicely written and came across well in the recording. I’m giving it away for free now so, enjoy, but not in earshot of me as it makes me cringe far too much.

‘Roses to the Fire’

This propensity for negativity annoys me about myself sometimes. In my mind, I feel jealous of the kindred spirits out there who seem to live carefreely and have a mind which is untouched by the negative. When I think about it more though, this propensity for negativity is so universal that I doubt there is anyone who is truly that carefree and positive. The crowd I witnessed at Glastonbury that day has made me think a lot about people’s draw to pain and struggle, and what it all means. It is so strong that it can be difficult to separate the art from the artist. As far as I can tell, Lewis Capaldi comes across as a very positive person outside of his music. He is known for his antics on Twitter, being very self-aware and ready to make jokes at his own expense. A quote of his that hit a soft spot of mine was when he said, “The amount of people with receding hairlines that tell me I’ve got a shite haircut is astounding.” Touche, Lewis. I’ve never said a word about your hair but you seem to have taken a shot at mine.

But why would we assume that someone’s personality is a direct reflection of their music? Is it fair of us to expect someone who is good at writing emotionally fraught music to also be a depressing, mood-sucking individual who only talks of breakups? Of course, the music has been written by that person so it must reflect at least some of their personality, character etc, but we seem to assume that it will be a reflection of their entire being. People are far more complex than this, however, and it would be unusual if a person who was very talented at writing breakup songs was in a constant state of being heartbroken from yet another perfect relationship that has failed.

In my experience, the reason that negativity can bring such a creative spark is that those emotions are stronger. As a result, they have a bigger impact on me and force me to write in a way that positive emotions don’t. When I am feeling positive, I am usually in flux, chatting with friends or experiencing something. The parts in-between aren’t filled with me being depressed and upset, but it is easier to draw on those emotions because they have made a larger impact on my experience. A few nights ago I tried to write a more positive poem about my fiance. I was feeling frustrated at myself because I only seem to write things that are negative, so I tried my hand at it. I told myself not to think about it too much and just write something that I thought was genuine. The words came fairly unnaturally, and it wasn’t at all like my normal process of writing poetry. I sat crying on my own as I read it back, and I struggled to understand how I ended up writing something that depressing. My current situation in life is quite charged to be fair to myself, so when I try and reflect on things that are important to me, it can turn sour. “Never trying that again,” I thought. Sorry, Anna.

What I like about writing for the blog is that I do manage to find positivity as I write. It feels easy to interject humour into written prose, in a way I seem completely unable to in my poetry or songwriting (although my songwriting career was short-lived). I think it is because I am not generally a miserable person, similarly to someone like Lewis Capaldi. Although my mind has a bit of a propensity for pain and misery, I find ways to work through those emotions and usually find myself in a good place. When writing, I think I follow a similar process to arrive at the end product. It allows me to explore the things that, on reflection, were actually quite funny about a bad situation – like the one described above of me trying to write a romantic poem, only to be sat crying on my own and feeling stupid.

I am sure there are people whose experience is very different to mine, and who draw on positive situations far more than negative when being creative. Creativity comes in many forms, perhaps creative outlets outside of poetry and song-writing actually conjure up much more positive emotions in someone. I would be really interested to know, and maybe then challenge myself to explore some of those more ‘positive-seeking’ creative outlets. For me, writing is allowing me to introduce some positivity to my creative process, and I am extremely happy to be doing it regularly.

Oh, and just to substantiate my claims about my romantic poetry being the most depressing, you can find the poem ‘For Anna’ below. Brace yourself, it isn’t fun.

For Anna

A bond forged by humour and content
Stronger than the sum of its parts


We wrestle with the complexity of life
Recognising the potential in every day


And eventually we will part each other’s company
But safely in the knowledge that we lived

Together, as one

8 thoughts on “A Propensity for Emotional Pain

  1. Do you think that exploring negative thoughts and painful emotions – rather than pushing them away and ignoring them – might make people appreciate positive experiences at a more meaningful level? Providing the is no underlying condition that skews things into a constant negative light, of course.


    1. I’m sure there’s loads of interesting and scientific studies that explore how beneficial it is to explore painful emotions in a productive way (E.g. through music or writing poetry)… I should probably read some of them before waffling on about it 🙊. I think it makes me appreciate positive experiences more though and that is a nice way of looking at it. I just seem to experience positivity in such a different way to more negative emotions. It is quite strange really


  2. NC says:

    Having read your poem “For Anna”, my first reaction was a surprise. You write that it is ‘most depressing’ but to me it came across as a confident love and life affirmation, accepting reality and celebrating it by living and loving it together. In my mind it sounds quite the opposite of depressing, it sounds inspiring. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Christine Watson says:

    Dan your poem for Anna is lovely and I bet she thought so too! And as for Roses to the Fire! It’s brilliant and I’m sure would sell as music and words are great. If someone told me that was Ed Sheerans song I’d believe it. Any more songs floating around your head I wonder? Chris x

    Liked by 1 person

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