It was bound to happen sooner or later—me writing a post about music. Anyone who knows me can tell you music go-to therapeutic pursuit and my happy place. I have always loved live music, but about ten years ago I became that girl—the one that goes to all the concerts!
And I mean ALL of them or at least as many as my pocketbook will allow. I have been known to be on Ticketmaster for a presale while on vacation or even during a Bible study at church.
I was sitting in a local bar recently listening to Randy Jackson of Zebra perform his acoustic set. As I sat there enjoying the music, I daydreamed and took a trip down memory lane. I thought about all the times bipolar disorder and life were weighing me down, and Randy Jackson rolled into town as if on cue. His music has saved my life more than once.
As I reflected on this, I also thought about some great concerts I have attended in the past ten years—Queen, the Eagles, Paul McCartney, Styx, Def Leppard, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Pink, REO Speedwagon, Duran Duran, Lauren Daigle, Danny Gokey and Switchfoot. It’s a long list. And yes, I am bragging a little.
I thought back to how these concerts made me feel. I remembered no matter how I felt when the band started their set, by the end of the show, I was a new person. Like clockwork, any time my life was too much, music saved the day.
Standard of Care
The standard of care for mental illness usually includes some form of therapy. I hear people rave about psychotherapy, but I will tell you the truth. I honestly don’t get it.
Therapy leaves me cold. I would rather pull out all my hair one strand at a time than share my deepest, darkest thoughts with a therapist who is silently taking notes.
When I wrote a post about the elements that make a good treatment plan, I listed therapy as a key component. Wait a minute! Didn’t I just tell you I hate therapy? Do you think you read the last paragraph wrong?
No, you didn’t. Therapy is a crucial part of any mental illness treatment plan. But no one ever said there was only one set way to receive therapy. There are countless therapeutic pursuits. Exercise, writing, reading, prayer and meditation are all examples of pastimes that are restorative.
But what about my happy place? Can music be therapeutic? The answer is a resounding yes!
There are four reasons music is therapeutic:
1. Music articulates the difficult emotions you can’t put into words.
I am a writer, so I feel I should have the right words for every situation. But we all face moments that defy description, and I am not just talking about those of us who battle mental illness day after day, year after year.
Those are the moments I lash out angrily because I don’t have the words. The good news is that I don’t have to have the words because if I am experiencing a difficult emotion, there’s a song for that.
Danny Gokey reminds me “there’s hope in front of me” and to “get back up and take step one.”
Switchfoot and Lauren Daigle remind me that God “won’t let me go.”
Zebra reminds me that if “your mind is open, the rest is up to you.”
2. When you get lost in great music, it occupies your brain, so you don’t have to think.
One downside of having bipolar disorder is that I spend a lot of time living in my head. But my head is not always a safe place to be. During depression, a manic episode or a psychotic break, the space inside my head is the enemy. And yet, it is during those times it is hardest to change my focus.
Cue the loud music! I would love to attend a concert every time bipolar disorder hunkers down in my brain, but my pocketbook tells me that’s not possible. But it doesn’t cost a thing to open a music app, find my favorite song and turn it up as loud as I can.
When I hear my go-to songs, I sing without even realizing it. The louder the music is, the louder I sing. Then something happens. I get lost in the music, get out of my head, reboot and regroup, and then I am ready to face my challenges again.
3. Music has the power to transport you to a happier time and place.
Your life has a soundtrack. Every person has songs that trigger both positive and negative emotions. The trick is to pick the songs attached to your fondest memories—your wedding, the birth of your children, an amazing summer—any memory that makes you smile when you think of it.
When I hear certain songs, I am transported back in time. If I hear a Duran Duran song, I am a fourteen-year-old girl again who is in love with bassist John Taylor. When I hear a Norah Jones song, it takes me back to the summer I spent hanging out with my bestie listening to great music, drinking wine and eating too many Krispy Kreme donuts.
And while we can’t move forward in life if we stay focused on the past, sometimes we have to stop for a second and relive a moment that made us feel hopeful. We can then use that hope as fuel to propel us forward when life gets to be too much.
4. Music is cathartic. It allows you to lean into a difficult emotion and feel it.
Didn’t I just say that we should get lost in the music and let it transport us back to a happier time? I did, and we should. But sometimes, the best therapy is not running away from our feelings, but instead running to them. When we face our emotions head on, gradually, they lose the power to hurt us.
Play that song. The one that makes you feel everything. And for those two-and-a-half minutes, let your emotions rule you. When the time is up, acknowledge that being honest about your emotions didn’t kill you, and move forward.
Vacation from Reality
I am only days away from going to see Queen in concert for the third time. It will be a welcome vacation from reality. For those two hours, I will listen to my favorite band and allow my mind to shut down. I will let the music take over so I can rest.
I will allow the music of Queen to articulate all the feelings I can’t put into words. I will revel in the memories and lean into the residual heartache. I will not consciously feel anything, but in the process, I will feel everything. When Queen’s set is over, I will stand up—with a clear mind and heart—prepared for whatever comes next.
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