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.