Music As Therapy
I write, record and perform music for one reason these days. It is therapy to me. It helps me get through the next day in one piece. It facilitates a connection to other people that I struggle to create and maintain in other, more normal ways. In short, without this outlet, I would probably be dead by my own hand long ago.
I write, record and perform music for one reason these days. It is therapy to me. It helps me get through the next day in one piece. It facilitates a connection to other people that I struggle to create and maintain in other, more normal ways. In short, without this outlet, I would probably be dead by my own hand long ago
Fuck, that’s a grim start, eh? More than a little melodramatic too. Still, it’s true. Sadly, we do not get to choose our muse. In fact, we’re lucky to find it at all. I feel very fortunate that I have.
A little background information would probably help here.
I was diagnosed with chronic depression in 2005 after the death of my father from lung cancer. During the prescribed therapy from that diagnosis we found out that this had not been my first depressive period. Far from it, in fact: these episodes had started when I was fifteen, usually lasting about six months then disappearing for a year or two. This latest period would be the longest by far, compounded by my mother’s sudden death in 2007 and the end of my marriage in 2010.
That diagnosis was hugely important to me. Up until that point I had just presumed that everyone else was just much better than me at hiding their apathy and self destructive tendencies. It was a huge relief to be able to give it a name. A reason. Maybe I wasn’t such a selfish prick after all. Maybe it was the illness. At least some of the time.
Following my father’s death, I decided that I needed something to take my mind off of the current circumstances. I remembered hearing at some point that flamenco guitar was very difficult to play so I threw myself into learning it. I had been playing electric guitar since my teens but this was very different. And very difficult. It was an ideal distraction. I practiced constantly. After my mother died very suddenly from a brain haemorrhage, I practiced even more.
Although this escapism helped me deal with the consequences of my parent’s death, it also made it easy for me to shut out those around me that were wanting to help (and in retrospect, were so obviously hurting and in need of my help too). It was a hopeless situation for me. I felt incapable of handling the situation directly yet I could sense that the lack of communication was very destructive to both myself and everyone around me.
My solution was to write music as a way of at least starting this communication. I wrote a piece of music roughly every month for about a year. The idea was to document what was going on in my life as well as hopefully using it as a starting point for proper conversations on the topics. Those conversations never really happened though, at least not in the way I had expected.
A few friends had heard the music I was recording and encouraged me to start playing live again. I had never intended to play these weird little solo guitar pieces live but I agreed to give it a shot. A weird thing happened on stage. I found myself talking more openly about what was going on in my life than I had previously managed to do face to face.
I started to crave that connection that I had felt with the audience and played as often as I could. In venues, houses, anywhere that would have me. I started to rely on these interactions to get me through the day, at the same time neglecting those closest to me. Of course, I didn’t realise that at the time.
More people started to come to the shows. I released those initial songs as an album (First & Last). It sold well and I started working with Chemikal Underground, old friends and the only label in the world that I could trust with this. I made a second album, Thirteen Lost & Found, based around the idea of reconnecting with old friends after my marriage ended. It proved to be popular. I got to tell my stories to more and more people. It still made me feel better. I still wasn’t talking to those that mattered most. I still don’t, to tell the truth. At least I’m aware of it now. That’s something, I suppose.
Which brings us up to date. I have just released my third album for Chemikal Underground, Breaks & Bone. It stemmed from an idea I had last year. One of the (very good) pieces of advice that a grief counsellor will give you is to write a letter to the person that has just died. It gives you a chance to express everything that you didn’t get a chance to whilst they were alive. I have never managed to write those letters so I figured that it might be easier to write a song for each of them. I did this last year with the intention of releasing a 7” with a side each for my mother and father. I recorded the songs but couldn’t release them. I still wasn’t ready. I decided to take a year and write an album about letting go of them instead.
It turned out that it wasn’t the only thing I was ready let go of. I’ve made a big effort to become self reliant with regards to my depression. I’ve also made a big effort to accept and enjoy the happier parts of my life. There’s still the nagging feeling that I don’t deserve it but you know what? Fuck it. We all deserve some relief.
I’m aware that the nature of my illness means that it will come back. I’m aware that along with that comes the apathy, self hatred and isolation that can led to self harm and worse. I’m also aware, however, that I can rely on those around me to help during these times.
It’s easy to forget that you are loved. It’s easy to forget that you need not be defined by an illness. A lot of the time, it is easy to forget that you have any worth at all.
It’s an illusion though. A confluence of brain chemistry and circumstance. Life is often hard, often unfair but always beautiful. Always worth understanding better. It’s a fucking adventure. Dae it.