Music and Mental Health

Last weekend I went to a University band concert that was dedicated to mental health awareness. What an amazing concept—to have a concert dedicated to mental health. They played a piece called Unbroken by Randall Standridge. The program notes told the story of his mother who suffered from depression in a time when it was completely taboo to talk about mental illness. Eventually she had a complete mental breakdown and spent over a year in the hospital. During that time his dad kept the family together. After his mom got out of the hospital mental illness and mental health issues were spoken of openly and freely in their home. Standridge himself suffers from depression. He talked about how his mom didn’t break, the bond between his parents didn’t break and his family didn’t break.

The piece was absolutely amazing. There was a lot of dissonance, which accurately represents mental illness. But there were also moments of harmony and beauty. Even in the midst of mental illness there can be good times, there can be moments of beauty. And just because we have mental illness doesn’t mean we’re broken. We are still human. We are still whole. And we are beautiful.

The piece ended in dissonance, which I didn’t take as defeat or pessimism. I think part of it was to show that mental illness is real, and it needs to be discussed. More needs to be done about it. And for me, personally, I thought about how sometimes mental illness is situational. Sometimes people get the help they need and they overcome it, or it goes away. But for some of us, mental illness is lifelong. It never leaves. We may get help, we may learn to manage it, but it is always here, always a part of our lives, lurking in shadows, in the corners and crevices—when it’s not right out in the open doing everything to pull us down. That was what the ending dissonance meant to me. It was powerful. So powerful.

Something I loved was that the director gave his students the opportunity to share their own experiences with mental health. There were probably at least a dozen paragraphs in the program notes about personal struggles with mental illness. That was also powerful. I am so grateful this director (who I play under in a community band) gave these students a voice. Sometimes just being able to put it into words and share—even anonymously—helps.

A lot of the students wrote about how music had helped them and made a difference in their lives and their mental health journey. I, too, connect with that. Music has had an incredible impact on me my whole life, but especially lately, as I’ve struggled with all the boulders that have been dropped and bombs that have gone off—as I live in the rubble. I already wrote about a piece by Two Steps From Hell called Resilience. I have listened to that piece over and over and over again. The band Shinedown has also meant a lot to me. I’ve always loved them and considered them one of my favorite bands, but they have meant more to me than ever lately. Some songs I’ve known for years have taken on new meaning. Others that have always meant something mean even more. I listen to them over and over and over again as well. I have found strength, courage, hope, determination and peace in their songs. I’m so grateful for the difference music has made, and continues to make, in my life—and the lives of others. It may sound simplistic, but music truly can make a difference in our mental health—in small moments, long days and over the span of a lifetime.


Little Victories

Lately I’ve had to do some things that trigger my anxiety. I’ve had to make phone calls. I know that may not seem like a big deal to some people, but many of us with Generalized Anxiety Disorder struggle to call people. It’s not even that it’s just a struggle or that it’s a normal part of society today—most kids don’t like making phone calls either. It’s all texting and social media. But for those of us with anxiety it is so much more than that. It’s fear, worry, fretting, obsessing, panicking, etc. Due to recent changes in my life I had to make those phone calls.

Sometimes it doesn’t bother me to call someone. Calling the mortgage company, energy company, power company and City does induce horrible anxiety for me. But it had to be done. Someone without anxiety may have been able to make all those phone calls and take care of everything within a single afternoon. It took me a whole week—maybe longer.

Engaging in the things that trigger anxiety is absolutely exhausting. Imagine a non-runner participating in a marathon and running at full speed the whole time. Exhausting. Each phone call took so much out of me I had to only do one per day to give myself time to reset and recover. And that’s okay. I would guess some advice a marathon runner would give is to pace yourself. I’m not a 100% sure on that since I’m not a runner at all, but it seems like good advice, right?! The same is true of anxiety. In order to take care of everything I needed to accomplish I had to pace myself to make sure I didn’t overdo it—to make sure I didn’t keel over in a panic attack. I paced myself, and I did it. I made all the phone calls I needed to. I got everything taken care of that I needed to. That’s what matters.

This may seem like a small victory—but I consider it a victory nonetheless. When it comes to my mental health I can look back and see many tiny victories that have helped me learn, grow and manage my mental illness better. When you stack all of those little victories up it’s one giant mountain of accomplishment! I say we count the little victories—in any area of our lives—and recognize how far we’ve come. When we can see how far we’ve come it only inspires us and reminds us that we can keep going.


One thing I appreciate about my therapist is that she knows the value of self-care. Every session I have with her she asks me if I’m doing things I enjoy or things that help with my mental health. I’ve been going to her for a year and a half or so, so she knows me well enough to ask specifics—birding, light therapy, walks, getting outside. Because of current struggles my initial motivation has been very low, so I’m grateful she asks and holds me accountable. If I haven’t been doing those things, she adamantly reminds me that I need to be doing them.

An interesting thing is that even though my motivation has been greatly lacking, I’ve actually been forcing myself to do these things. And when I do, I never regret it. I haven’t been sleeping well, so nights/mornings my kids are with their dad I tend to take a sleeping pill and try to sleep in late. A few days ago, however, I actually decided to wake up early and go birding at sunrise. Dawn is my absolute favorite time of the day. When my alarm went off I almost stayed in bed. Even though I wasn’t super motivated and didn’t immediately and happily jump out of bed I did decide to get up and go birding. I’m so glad I did! It felt amazing to be in a beautiful place in nature at dawn. And I got some great photos! Was I tired later? Sure, but I’m tired every day. Getting up early to do something I enjoy was absolutely worth it.

Self-care may not change the circumstances of our lives, but it is essential in helping with our mental health. Despite my current struggles and difficulties, I’ve been doing mostly okay lately, partly because I’ve been pushing myself to do the things I enjoy, even if it’s hard to get that initial motivation. Self-care is not selfish or indulgent. It is care for ourselves that is necessary.

My Path

Recently, I’ve been thinking about Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. It’s been over twenty years since I read it in sophomore honors English. We had to memorize Mark Antony’s speech after Caesar was murdered, and for some reason the beginning of the speech has stayed with me all these years. The part that’s been on my mind are the lines:

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

How often is that true in real life? How often does the good get completely forgotten or tossed aside when a mistake is made? As if a mistake or wrong-doing can just erase the good. I don’t believe that. But I have seen a lot of it lately. I have seen how quickly people can forget, ignore and erase the good someone has done as soon as they make a mistake. They seem to forget that they are human, too, and have also made mistakes. It’s easy to play God when you’re not the one being judged.

It is impossible to know or understand what someone is going through. Notice how I didn’t add when you’re not in their shoes? Even when we’re in the same or similar shoes, nothing is completely duplicated. Every situation and every person is different. The last month has been the greatest struggle of my life. I have had difficult decisions to make. I know others who have been in very similar circumstances and have made the same choices I have, and years down the road, now, for them, they are living happy, fulfilling lives. I also know others who have made different decisions who are also now living happy, fulfilling lives.

Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken also comes to mind. Some people think it’s a poem about non-conformity, but it is, at it’s simplest and purest, about just making a decision. Frost wrote it as joke for a friend who he’d go walking with. The friend could never decide which path to take and often wished they’d taken a different one. In the poem Frost describes both paths as being “fair” and pretty much the same. Even in similar circumstances, the path we choose may be different—but that doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. Both paths can be right, and whatever path we take is what makes the difference.

If I could go back and change the things that led to the incredibly difficult situation I’m in right now, I would. But I can’t. I could obsess about it. I could judge. I could condemn. I could allow myself to be led by anger. But none of that does anyone any good. I repeat—none of that does anyone any good. I have seen so many blessings, and, I would say, even miracles in the last month. I have felt a peace and strength I never knew existed. My understanding and testimony of Christ’s atonement has grown significantly, and that means more to me than I could even begin to describe. I have felt, more than I ever have before, the Holy Ghost guiding me on the right path. I will hold people accountable for the wrong choices they have made, and I will also remember the good choices they’ve made. I will hold onto forgiveness, compassion and understanding because that is what brings me the peace I need in my life. I will happily leave the burden of judgment to an all-knowing, all-wise and completely all-loving Father in Heaven. This is my path. From where I’m standing it is the one less traveled, and it is what is making all the difference.