I’m standing in my high school friend’s apartment. Back in my hometown, I completed the annual transition back home about a week ago. The high school crew has gathered once again, in mild inebriation to bring in the New Year. As the clock ticks down to the last seconds of 2014, I hold the brim of my red cup to my lips and sip the rough mixed-drink I prepared for myself just moments before. The couples get closer, the shouts get louder and 2015 finally arrives. I platonically embrace my old prom dates, my Christina and Jake (the couple who has let me third wheel since sophomore year) and the people I lost track of but, with the help of the alcohol, appear to still remember me favorably. The kids who survived high school with me continue to pass around celebratory hugs and kisses, and I am undeniably happy to be surrounded by ‘weirdos like me.’

And then, a quiet depression falls over me. It’s a suffocating form of early-onset nostalgia that vacuums out my present bliss. Sucking in all the joy surrounding me, the vacuum replaces happiness with anxiety. Two years ago I was in the very same spot with these very same people. Where did this inescapable anxiety come from? My beating heart matches tempo with the ticking clock in my chest. It’s counting down the seconds to the ‘real world’ and, aided by my Dr. Pepper and Southern Comfort creation, it eggs on the nausea brewing in my stomach. Surrounded by my best friends from high school — the future engineers, doctors and nurse of America — I leave the party, a drunken pool of nerves that the pretty girls step over on the sidewalk.

My annual New Year’s Eve tradition is not the sole source of my anxiety. I have returned home from college for the holidays about seven times now. With each trip, the questions from my nuclear and extended family about my post-graduation plans and future career prospects double in both frequency and intensity. Great, Mom has four or five new lucrative careers her friend at work told her about. I respond to my aunt’s buzzing and constant questions about my “very, very expensive” college degree with a mumbled “… maybe copywriting?” Family dinners and gatherings end similar to my New Year’s Eve nights: liquefied on my bedroom floor.

My source of escape in these high stress and genuinely over-dramatic situations has always been music. Lying on my bedroom floor, I throw my bulky headphones on. When the annual two-sided comments and caricatures in my head reappeared this holiday season, I decided to make a playlist for coping. Admittedly, this kind of playlist is highly subjective. With my bulky headphones in place, I selected songs that remind me most of times of serenity or peace. Mark Berninger of The National’s voice is like a time machine for me, transporting me to High Violet jam sessions with my father on the drive into high school. Billy Joel’s “Souvenir” is a quiet jazzy piano number so nostalgic and perfect it soothes my inner crying baby. Simon & Garfunkel, Marcus Mumford and David Bowie fill my playlist as well, as do other artists I praised in high school during a time when things seemed so much smaller and simple.

This playlist could help you or it could depress you. You could find it to be completely unpalatable and boring. It could just inspire you to make one of your own. If you’ve ever got your eyes painted to a ceiling-fan as a haze of family-induced nausea slowly starts to envelope you, grab your headphones. Maybe I can help.

Home, again

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