If It Makes You Happy: Using Karaoke to Get Over my Anxiety

November 14, 2018 in inQueery


I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this, but there are many situations in which I don’t feel confident – in myself, my abilities, or my surroundings. Being depressed often does not help this, and in fact usually makes it worse. Even mania doesn’t always make me feel confident! If that won’t do it, what will? Will I ever be completely rid of my anxieties and self-doubt? That sounds dreamy, but until then, I’ve got to sing my little heart out.

I started doing karaoke regularly once I turned 21. I had gone once to a sushi bar my senior year of high school and attempted to belt out Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” My voice doesn’t go nearly high enough to do this song justice, but I still left the stage exhilarated. I didn’t sing in public again until after my 21st birthday, when a coworker I had recently befriended and I hung out for the first time. We went to a karaoke bar next to the Church Muni station – The Mint. This bar became my home base for having a good time. I consider myself to be a bit of a lifelong introvert, but when I got onstage, I didn’t mind if I sounded bad. Everyone sounded bad, I wasn’t alone. My friends and I would go out for karaoke once a month or so, always to The Mint. The karaoke jockey – KJ – learned to pronounce my name correctly on sight. I had my birthday here four years in a row. This was my spot.

In between 24 and 25, I stopped drinking, probably forever. This made social interactions at bars a little more difficult for me, as I had been using alcohol as a crutch. My performance suffered, and I got shy again. But I kept doing it, because karaoke made me happy. Karaoke made me feel connected to my friends in a “we’re all being publicly vulnerable together” kind of way.

When I moved to Oakland last year, karaoke suddenly became more accessible; I didn’t have to take a bus or an expensive ride to the few karaoke spots in San Francisco anymore. I went a few times in between April and December of 2017, no more than I usually did when I lived in the city. But in December, something changed.

My boyfriend had surgery in December 2017 and was out of the house for about three weeks while he recovered. I was depressed, not sure if the loneliness or season was making it worse. I started hanging out with one of my friends more often, and we both found that we shared a love for karaoke. We were both depressed, bipolar, anxious wrecks who used karaoke as a sort of coping mechanisms for our often intense and overwhelming feelings. We laughed about starting a club for “sad boys who like to sing,” and we decided to hold an official “meeting” in January 2018.

We went to White Horse, the oldest gay bar in the Bay Area. They host karaoke two nights a week, and we started going weekly. I went from karaoke once every three or four weeks to every week, for months. We started branching out to different nights depending on our schedules, always me and my friend I had initially started going with alongside a rotating cast of characters – our friends.

I haven’t seen a mental health professional in years. The beginning of this year saw me with no insurance for the first time in my life, struggling to stay on my medications, and wildly swinging between depression and mania. My number one coping mechanism was karaoke. Having a routine, doing something incredibly cathartic a few times a week, seeing my friends – everything felt good. While I’m still working on being completely stress-free on the stage, I have let go of a good chunk of my insecurities, allowing myself to scream, flail, and prance around. Things my introverted heart never dreamed of doing in front of strangers or friends or anyone without drinking first!

When I first started doing karaoke, I would often choose random songs that I would have stuck in my head, there wasn’t usually any rhyme or reason. This year, I have been choosing songs based on my mood. That’s where the magic is – choosing something to reflect your mood to make the experience as cathartic as possible and getting the audience in their feelings right along with you. My preferred go-to songs? “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow, “Believe” by Cher, “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor, and “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” by Tina Turner – primarily sad, sometimes triumphant, always emotional.

Karaoke has helped me be more confident in myself and helps ease my anxious mind. Would I ever front a band? No way. Would I ever sing off-key Shania Twain in a room full of strangers? You bet. I am in no stretch of the imagination a good singer, but I’ll be damned if I let that stop me. Karaoke is one of the few situations in which I feel in control. Now it’s up to me to carry that feeling along.


Maira is a Visiting Writer at inQueery, and you can check out some of their other work @longarmstapler on Twitter.