Musical Therapy

Music: an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color. (dictionary.com)

Music is undoubtedly one of the most powerful human innovations, and its importance and effects cannot easily be put into words. Music is associated with many of life’s big moments, such as weddings and funerals, and is an intrinsic part of our existence, with its ability to evoke so many emotions, and conjure up an abundance of memories. For example, every time I hear Human by The Killers I am reminded of my university years, as this was played to excess during this period. Or if I hear Heroes by David Bowie I am reminded of the summer of 2005 during my A Levels, as we used this music in a short film made during Media Studies, which ultimately led me to work in TV. Music is interwoven into the entire fabric of our lives, and very little art forms can cause such feelings or emotions: sadness, joy, fear, nostalgia, hope.

Musics’ effect on human emotions consequently ensures that it can play a big part in depression, both in its cause, but also its relief. For instance, if you hear a song on the radio that was played at a loved ones funeral, then this can trigger the inevitable well of emotions, such as sadness and anguish, and possibly lead to a period of prolonged low mood once these reminiscences set in. Similarly, if you listen to a fast, loud, metal track, then that is presumably going to cause someone who is anxious to feel more stressed, as the fast beat will only increase the heart rate of the individual, rather than aiding in relaxation. It’s no coincidence that classical or ‘easy listening’ music is recommended to those suffering with stress, rather than pounding techno!

On a personal level, when I’m feeling depressed, I prefer to listen to music that reflects my mood (although in especially dark periods I don’t even have the energy to do that). I don’t particularly want to listen to so called ‘feel good music’ when depressed or anxious, because rather than lifting my mood, its conflicting juxtaposition with my frame of mind  can actually cause more anxiety as the emotions of the song and the emotions I’m feeling are so divergent. I choose to listen to more reflective, poignant and emotive music that relates to my situation and how I’m feeling. I find it infinitely more relaxing, and am also able to empathise with the sentiment and mood created. Of course, when I’m in a stable or happy period I listen to more positive or upbeat music, as this matches how I’m feeling internally, and I’m able to enjoy the positive energy that emanates from the song.

There is even a clinical use for music in the form of the fairly recent innovation that is Music Therapy, which can help with a number of conditions, including depression and anxiety, as this link shows. The Music Therapy Charity site states that “music therapy uses sound and music as a therapeutic medium to bring about change.” Further insight into this field can be found in this Guardian article which focuses on what a Music Therapist does, in this case Helen Odell-Miller. As she states in the article, “latest studies show both that music affects the brain positively, and also that regular music therapy sessions reduce agitation and anxiety”. More than 1.1 billion prescription items were dispensed in England in 2014, and I wonder how many of those were anti depressants or similar? Music Therapy may be fairly new, and still in the process of evolving, but why not provide this on the NHS, even if initially merely as an experiment? If it doesn’t work, then what have we lost? Surely if there is even a chance of a solution that doesn’t involve pumping people full of drugs, then its worth a shot?

I thought I would finish with sharing 5 songs that I listen to when particularly down. Some have personal significance, or have lyrics that really affect me, whereas others simply create an emotive response based on the music alone. Frequently its inconceivably difficult to put into words how you are feeling, or what emotions are manifesting themselves within,  and yet music can do this in a mere 3 or 4 minutes. It’s a language in itself, and its not beyond reason to posit the belief that music and emotion are in many ways one and the same. As Aldous Huxley put it, “after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. Music is what feelings sound like.”

Frank Turner – Redemption

 

Annie Lennox – Into The West

 

Johnny Cash – Hurt

 

Passenger – Whispers

 

Damien Rice – Grey Room

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The Marathon of Life

Sometimes I feel I’m going nowhere
Sometimes I’m sure I never will
She said it’s ‘cos I’m always moving
I never notice ‘cos I never stand still

Sometimes I feel like I’m falling
Falling fast and falling free
She said my darling you’re not falling
Always looked like you were flying to me

© Passenger 2014

“How was your weekend, did you get up to much?” “Yes it was good, I went out for drinks on Friday night, brunch with friends on Saturday and then out to the theatre in the evening, and on Sunday a walk in the park and lunch on the Thames. How about you James?” “Umm…mine was ok thanks, didn’t do much”. That’s pretty much an accurate Monday morning conversation, one which has an inevitability about it despite my determination for it to be to the contrary. By the time the weekend rolls round I am so exhausted that all I yearn for is rest, catching up with sleep, and shutting myself away. This exhaustion is almost certainly caused by a number of factors: broken/little sleep, early starts for work, mental fatigue caused by anxiety, and could also be the resulting symptom of the medication I take. All in all, by Friday evening my energy reserves are totally spent, and my mind and body is running on empty.

In the short term a weekend of doing very little is not only a relief, but also a necessity, because anything other than that would mean by Monday morning the internal battery would still be dead. However, come Sunday night the frustration, regret, disconsolateness and anxiety sets in. I’ve wasted another weekend, failing to achieve anything, or gain any pleasure or enjoyment from supposed recreation time. These regrets are in a sense a metaphor for the regrets in my life: missed opportunities, unfulfilled ambitions and failed potential.

Approaching a milestone this year (I’m currently 29) is frightening, not for the number itself, but more so as an indicator of all the time that has elapsed previously, and how the path of my life has turned out. Of course the depression induced pessimism ensures I don’t contemplate the positive moments and the achievements that I have been gifted, or the incredible people I have met, but instead I dwell upon where I should be now in my life, and all the things I have not achieved on a personal level. My anger and frustration is aimed predominantly at the ‘Black Dog’ that has held me back, and the probable truth that I was too weak to resist it. I guess approaching this years age milestone also makes me reminisce about how at 20 years old I naively thought I could beat this illness of the mind; time was on my side, and I had everything ahead of me. Now that hope seems a lifetime ago, and in its place is hopelessness, and none of the optimism I felt all of those years ago. Could I have done anything differently? I’m not sure.

It’s why I find it so difficult to look at pictures of myself as a child:

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It feels as though I’m looking at a different person, an undefined child on a landscape of possibilities. They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, and in those eyes I can see a perception of hope, expectations, bright eyed innocence, and all the promise of fulfillment still ahead. When I look in the mirror now I see the same eyes looking back at me, but they are tired, and filled with sadness, resignation, and most worryingly, defeat. I question whether I could have made alternative choices all those years ago to forge a different path, but I feel this is being unfairly harsh on myself, as the depression would have taken hold regardless. People will tell me that nothing can be done about the past, and its the present and future where things can be changed, and they are quite accurate in this hypothesis. The complication to this theory is that I can’t see that potential for change, and even if it were possible, I can’t clear my head of all that has gone before, and all the things I should have experienced and achieved by now. This becomes more difficult the older I get. I’d liken the passing of time and its relationship to depression as that of running a marathon; the first few miles are pretty easy, and you feel confident and full of energy, believing wholeheartedly that as you move further along you will become stronger and stronger. But the more miles you run, the harder it becomes, the finish line seems to get further and further away, and your confidence in making it dwindles by the wayside. You have been weakened. As each mile (or year) goes by, it becomes easier to look back, than it is to look forward, ensuring a sense of being trapped in a tidal wave of conflicting emotions.

As Mental Health Awareness Week ends, I realise I need to focus on this years topic of maintaining and building relationships, because running this particular marathon is too difficult to do alone. It’s been encouraging to see people opening up and highlighting the importance of mental health in these last 7 days, and as I said in my previous post, its vital that this doesn’t end now that the week is over. Opening up isn’t necessarily going to help me solve my problems, but if it can inspire or help others to give voice to their own experiences and issues, then I will be very proud of that, and it will be an achievement that will stay with me for some time. No one should ever feel alone. In this day of the internet, social networking and global platforms no one is ever truly alone. The hardest part is realising this, and finding the courage to admit your thoughts and feelings both to yourself, and those around you.

Fighting The Good Fight

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness week, which aims to raise awareness of issues around mental illness, as well as focusing on this years theme which is the importance of relationships. I believe its incredibly important to have events like this, as they spotlight peoples attention onto the illness, and also help non-sufferers to be exposed to the many sources of information that are being put out for consumption during this week. Information is everything, and if this week can help spread it to all corners of the population, then its done its job.

I’ve touched upon the importance of relationships and support from others in a number of blogs, and it really can’t be emphasised enough the positive influence of interactions and communications with other people, which are vital to every human being, but even more so for sufferer’s of depression due to the fact that feelings of loneliness and isolation are so intrinsically attached to low mood. The cyclical nature of depression often results in the things you need most also being the things you desire the least. When the despair hits, and your insides feel like they have been torn out, all you crave is to hide away from people, as interacting feels so arduous, and exhausting. However, inevitably this lack of interchange then leads to the feelings of detachment, loneliness and heartache, and precipitates the mood sinking further and further down, because although you feel that all you need is to be alone, this has the reverse affect of creating a yearning for human contact…for a friendly face, or a comforting word.

One of the significant truths is that people suffering from depression may desperately want to reach out, but as a result of the aforementioned perceived need to hide oneself away, it may transpire that they feel unable to open up and alert others that they are in a difficult place. I therefore believe that the most important sentiment that can be nurtured this week is the knowledge that just because someone hasn’t reached out, doesn’t mean they are ok. Contrary to what we are brought up believing, no news is not necessarily always good news. Being aware of when a friend or loved one is struggling and needs love and support is the biggest skill needed when tackling mental health, and only by education and raising awareness can this be achieved. If you know someone with depression or similar, know that there is a good chance they are feeling lonely, friendless or unloved, and so reaching out to them, even if indirectly, could prove unequivocally beneficial to them in their quest to scale the mountain of their current torment. I’ve used the following quote from Stephen Fry a number of times before, but I believe this week more than any other it is particularly pertinent:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

All of those emotions that he lists I felt at the weekend, and in fact can feel on most days. They may be brief flirtations, or full on affairs in scale, but they are always there just below the surface, waiting to rear their head. Each day can be a rollercoaster of emotions, and one minute you can be ok and settled, and the next moment feel like you have gone 10 rounds with Floyd Mayweather. As with a fallen boxer, the challenge is getting back up again when you have been knocked down. It’s the hardest thing in the world, as you know your opponent is there waiting to knock you down again. Thats where relationships come in. If you have friends, family and loved ones in the ring with you, then you have the upper hand, and together can knock depression into the ropes.

My advice this week would therefore be to make the most of all of the information out there in newspapers, on TV, online, and in workplaces, as it really is the best time to gain awareness of mental health due to the plethora of materials available. I’d also suggest that the one negative aspect of Mental Health Awareness Week is the reference to ‘week’ in its name. Mental illnesses are there every day of the year, and when the flag waving of this week is over, and the broadcasters and media outlets stop talking about depression now they have ‘done their bit’, don’t forget that the pain of sufferers doesn’t stop, and the need to shout from the rooftops doesn’t end. Let’s make this week the start of change, rather than just a speck in time. Let’s ensure that the flow of information doesn’t end, and the talking doesn’t stop. It’s far too important for that to happen.

 

Updates

Firstly, I wanted to say a big thankyou. To date I’ve had over 1600 views of my blog posts, and over 1000 visitors to the site. This is incredibly humbling, and also very encouraging, as when I started this project back in January it was initially as an outlet for myself, and I never anticipated the support I’ve received. It certainly confirms to me that I made the right decision opening up in this way, and inspires me to do bigger and better things in the future.

One of the most satisfying aspects of doing the blog has been the messages and comments I have received from people, in particular those personally affected by depression and anxiety. I received this comment recently on one of my blogs by hopingandmunching

“Hello, just wanted to let you know that I relate to your thoughts. I have also struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. I get hopeful that it will finally get better, only to have those hopes crushed by another relapse. But don’t give up hope, even if you feel like you are slipping again. I think it’s important that we are kind to ourselves and forgive ourselves, and this will help our progress. I hope that you succeed and find richness and meaning in life that we miss our on because of this”

Its incredibly rewarding that people feel they are able to open up, and share their stories, and is again justifies to myself that the blog is a positive thing to be doing. The only way of tackling this illness is by getting people talking, and feeling comfortable in opening up about their experiences, and its great to see the evidence of this.

On another note, next week is Mental Health Awareness Week. This yearly event originated in 2000, and each year there is a different focus, for example anxiety, sleep deprivation and exercise. In the spotlight this year is relationships, and the importance of embracing and maintaining them to promote better mental health, and this description from The Mental Health Foundation explains why its such an important topic:

“We believe we urgently need a greater focus on the quality of our relationships. We need to understand just how fundamental relationships are to our health and wellbeing. We cannot flourish as individuals and communities without them. In fact, they are as vital as better-established lifestyle factors, such as eating well, exercising more and stopping smoking.

We are lobbying national governments, public bodies and employers to promote good relationships and to tackle the barriers to forming them, including mounting pressures on work–life balance and the impact of bullying and unhealthy relationships.

But we have a challenge for the public too. We are asking everyone to go the extra mile in prioritising their relationships. We are calling on people to make a relationship resolution: to assess how much time we actively commit to building and maintaining good relationships, and to ask whether we can invest more in being present with and listening to friends, family and colleagues.”

Check out their website for information on events happening around the country, and how you can help contribute to this truly worthwhile cause.

Finally for updates, the other day I took part in the filming that I mentioned a few weeks ago in a previous blog. ITV are hosting a Disability Confident conference in July which aims to:

  • challenge attitudes towards disability
  • increase understanding of disability
  • remove barriers to disabled people and those with long term health conditions in employment
  • ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations

I was asked to film a VT which will be shown at the conference, in which I talk about my experiences with depression, as well as what challenges it poses within the workplace, and how ITV has been instrumental in supporting me through the last few years of difficult times. It was filmed on the Good Morning Britain set and I was terrified: the lights, microphone and cameras were extremely intimidating, and I was sweating buckets, despite the fact the studio was air conditioned! It was all a bit of a blur, and I can’t even remember the specifics of what I said, but if it helps people in anyway, then all the nerves will be totally worth it. It all goes back to the importance of raising awareness, getting people talking, and instilling a network of support which will prove so crucial. Building and supporting relationships are the only way that this illness can be beaten. And it can be beaten. It will be beaten.

A Stormy Mind

I’m conscious that my blog posts are predominantly focused on the ‘down times’, or moments when I’m struggling and in despair. This isn’t because of a universal absence of positive moments, but merely because the focus of the blog was intended to be those times when things seem out of control, or I’m in distress or turmoil, and need to try and express myself to gain an understanding of what is going on. I just wanted to clarify that, as I don’t want people to think ‘here he goes whinging again’!

Since my blog If You Want The Rainbow, You’ve Got To Put Up With The Rain from the 24th April, in which I detailed one the lowest points in my journey so far, I enjoyed a slight respite for about 5 days in which I felt a bit better, more myself, able to laugh, and consequently kidded myself into thinking that I was back on track again. However, last weekend things took a turn for the worse again, and I slipped back under, the weight pulling me down. I assume that maybe the rope that I mentioned in that previous blog was not strong enough, and broke in two just as I was being pulled up. It appears a stronger rope is needed.

So another visit to the doctors followed, and I was signed off work for a week. This inspired the familiar feelings of failure, weakness and desperation to set in, as well as the deep sense of helplessness. The doctor presented me with a form (one which I have been given more times than I’ve had cake – and that’s a lot) in which there are 10 questions for which you have to state how often they have applied to you in the last 7 days. For example:

(1) Little interest or pleasure in doing things?
(2) Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
(3) Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much?
(4) Feeling tired or having little energy?
(5) Poor appetite or overeating?

You get the idea…

My frustration was probably palpable to the doctor, although he didn’t show it. I don’t need to fill in a patronising form such as this to gauge how I’m feeling. It really does cement in my mind the lack of help out there on the NHS (which I have mentioned in previous blogs), and the fact that he didn’t even glance at the completed questionnaire, merely placing it in a file, added to my sense of dismay. Is this form the best they can offer, and the best help I can hope for? I realise they are just doing their job, but they need to realise that hope is such a powerful weapon against depression, and by trivialising the illness (again, just my opinion) with forms such as this, it turns that hope into hopelessness.

I’m due to return to work on Wednesday, and am determined not to let this leave of absence descend into the lengths it has in the past. During these difficult times I sometimes need time away to regroup, to try and lift myself up, and to recover a state of mind which allows me to function at my optimum level, not to mention to recharge the batteries which sleepless nights and endless worrying deplete to a dangerously low level. However, I realise that any longer time off than this can actually have the reverse effect, and lead to further negative feelings, and a downward trajectory, due to the isolation, lack of purpose and absence of human interaction.

A final element that I wanted to mention, and which I have pertained to on numerous occasions, is the predilection for negative thoughts to infest the mind during these troubled times, and which are undoubtedly heightened during periods of solitude such as during sickness leave. One of the most significant of these is the feeling of being cut off, of not being in peoples minds, or the assumption that people don’t care about you. Of course these are nonsense, and a rational mind would correctly state that people are busy, stressed themselves, or merely don’t know what to say for the best, thinking that I may wish to be left alone. As stated before, the depressed mind filters only the negative thoughts and the worst case scenarios, rather than these more rational explanations. Still, the fact that I can rationalise this doesn’t mean I can adhere to its hypothesis, as throughout these arduous episodes, rationalism doesn’t come into it, only emotion. Which again proves why I need to go back to work, because the longer I’m isolated and incommunicado, the more my mind will gain enormous pleasure from telling myself that I’m alone and friendless, when I know this is as far from the truth as its possible to be.

Whilst I’m still feeling pretty low, I know that sitting at home isn’t going to help, so whatever state my mind is in come Wednesday, I’m willing to go into battle once again. In my blog from 24th April I suggested that a rainbow will follow the rain, but maybe that was slightly premature. A rainbow will follow the rain, but sometimes the rain pounds harder, the thunder bangs louder and the lightening strikes fiercer, before that rainbow comes out. Back then the storm was just brewing, lets hope now there’s no rain left to fall and the sun can come out.

‘He Saw The Troubled Man’

He saw the troubled man
As he walked down the street
His eyes were full of sorrow
His head bowed to his feet.

He followed closely behind
As the man made his way
No one glanced in his direction
As he gave a nervous sway.

He couldn’t stand it any more
So he sped up to the lonely man
Glancing deeply into his eyes
He tried to formulate a plan.

“What troubles you my friend?” he asked
“Why so sad on this lovely day?”
And the man raised up his head
His complexion dark and grey.

The man opened up his mouth
But no words escaped from within
There was no way of knowing
Where his pain did first begin.

He was just about move along
When the man began to speak
“If you can’t answer that question then
its obvious why things are so bleak”

And with that the man was gone
Leaving in his wake
The realisation of one simple thing
One huge foolish mistake.

There was no man, only a reflection
That bounced off the window pane
It was him with the eyes of sadness
And his heart that was racked with pain.

He was the troubled man
Who walked on down the street
He kept his face looking downward
So his reflection he’d never need to greet

By James Wiffen

“Flying High and Falling Low”

Written at 19:00 on 30th April 2016

Saturday morning, 3 day weekend, sun shining outside…this should be a cause of positivity, enthusiasm, and a generally relaxed and happy vibe. So why was it that I sat for at least an hour at the table just staring at the walls, thoughts bumping around in my mind, my heart racing, my body racked with exhaustion, and my nerves shattered? Of course, the first question you may (quite rightly) ask is, ‘why on earth didn’t you just get out of the flat and do something to take your mind off things’. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. The biggest need becomes the biggest fear and an insurmountable mountain. The ‘bubble’ (in this case the flat) becomes a safety net, one in which you don’t willingly want to exit from. In the afternoon I went out to try and do the exact thing that the aforementioned advice recommends, but even a short trip to the shops left me yearning for the protective environment of my living room. I tried…and failed. The mountain loomed too high, and I was stuck at base camp.

A significant effect of depression and anxiety is a feeling of lethargy and complete lack of enthusiasm. The idea of going out to the cinema, the park or the shops doesn’t offer any sense of pleasure, and sadly reiterates how this illness removes any measure of enjoyment or satisfaction from the things in life that should make it all worthwhile. Upcoming events, trips or activities that I have arranged and paid for are causing that initial prickly feeling of anxiety and fearful worry, to the extent that I’m already starting to talk myself out of doing them, assuring myself that I can afford to lose the money, and convincing myself that ‘its for the best’ as I can remain in my bubble, my safety net. This has been the story of the last 15 years or so.

Fast forward to Saturday evening and I’m sat back at the table (this time accompanied by music to try and break the silence), having cancelled plans for the evening yet again, and possibly burnt more bridges, and the feelings of guilt, frustration, anger, sadness and a massive perception of weakness aimed at myself come crashing down. All I want to do is sleep…and have a break from the thoughts, a respite, and much needed rest, but I know that the ‘black dog’ isn’t kind, and will instead serve me up another restless and sleepless night. Sometimes I tell myself that being in my own ‘bubble’ is necessary because without surrounding myself with others, I can block out the existence of people engaging in all the things I yearn for: loving, being loved, exploring, hoping, laughing, crying, living out their dreams on a daily basis. The pain I feel when perceiving people carrying out these basic of human actions and behaviours leads to such heartache, as I want so desperately to be part of it. I’m not naïve or insensitive enough to suggest that everyone is happy, as of course there is much suffering out there, and everyone has their demons, and can fall into a routine of monotony. But I crave to be able to break free, to throw of the shackles holding me back, and not look back in 50 years and realise that I allowed my depression to define my life.

I’m not trying to be overly melodramatic, or fishing for any sympathy (as I don’t deserve any), I’m simply expressing the facts of what is going on inside my head, and what I’m thinking and feeling, as honesty is one thing that I am completely at ease with. Unlike in previous blogs, I can’t find it in myself to offer any words of advice or analysis of what needs to be done to get out of these dips. This time I haven’t got the energy. The constant cycle of believing things are on track, only to be enveloped by the inevitable slide downwards have broken down my resolve, and left me with a great sense of emptiness, that I can’t see any chance of being filled. As I sat writing this a my ipod shuffled onto a song that struck at my heart, as the lyrics epitomised how I was feeling:

Please
I’ve had enough
Please
I’ve had enough
In circles I’m turning
From this world I’m burning
Tell me what happens after this

Somedays I’m flying high, I’m falling low
Somedays I made of gold, I made of stone
Somedays I’m flying high, I’m falling low
Somedays I made of gold, I made of stone

Link to track