Music – most of us enjoy it in some form. Whether you sing, write, play an instrument, attend a concert, or simply enjoy listening. For me, music played an important role in my recovery from depression. I was diagnosed on March 7th, 2003. Four days later, I had a mental break down; as I describe it. Some fragments of my mind functioned, some didn’t. As a result, I would spend a few months in bed and two years confined to the house, but for therapy.
Eventually, I gained the confidence to act on a desire to drive around the city in the evenings when the streets were quiet. There was a new Van Morrison song at the time and I would play it on my drives – “Back on Top”. I was so far from experiencing the feelings Morrison was celebrating in the song, but it gave me hope; something for which to strive. I can play that same song now and be thankful that in terms of my health and lifestyle, I am ‘back on top’. It only took 12 years.
As my recovery progressed, I found I was able to go to Bearly’s House of Blues pub in Halifax to see Dutchie Mason perform. I often saw him during my university days but had lost touch with music due to my depression. He wasn’t well, with arthritis taking a toll, and perhaps his lifestyle catching up. He would simply sit and sing the blues – the Prime Minister of the Blues still had it though. I stood in the back, enjoying great blues and appreciating the fact that I could be there at all.
Recently, I realized that I haven’t played any jazz in all these years. This particularly struck me as I have always been a huge Miles Davis fan. I was fortunate to see him perform live many years ago. Knowing I was a fan, some friends took me to see Miles for my birthday. I enjoyed it, they didn’t. So when he returned 6 months later, I had clued in…I bought one ticket. There I was, just four rows between me and Miles – one of my best nights. And so, Miles wasn’t played in my house until a few weeks ago. I’m not sure as to the reason; perhaps because his music takes me to such deep and personal places. Places I maybe have not been ready to venture – until now. I played Kind of Blue. It is considered to be one of the top 5 albums of all time, regardless of genre. I let the music take me away and then bring me back; quite a moment.
In the years following my recovery I began to share my story. I now present on my journey through depression at national conferences and local events. After being invited to present to an annual corporate meeting last year, I found myself wanting to change the nature of my speech. Something was missing. I discussed some of my ideas with a friend, Collette. Based on what she heard from me, she suggested I frame my presentation around the lyrics of Rolling Stones songs. Suddenly, my recovery had a soundtrack. I was now able to weave into my story one of the constants in my life, through the good and the bad – The Stones. Collette helped me put together a PowerPoint and my presentation was very well received. Since then, I have started bringing music into many of my presentations; with a focus on the role music has played in my recovery and now in my wellness.
Recently, I have had a run of presentations with nine in just twelve weeks. With each one, I have chosen to incorporate more material on music in my life, and audiences are responding quite well. I suggest it is because music has such an impact on almost everyone. We all have certain songs that can bring back good memories. Others songs remind us of difficult or sad times, so we avoid them. I know I do. Or we just enjoy a song as we listen; it makes us feel good. I also think including music in a presentation about one’s journey with mental illness can allow an audience to understand the journey on a deeper level. People are able to understand and identify with music. Music can make a personal connection. Music has a power, and almost all of us feel the pull.
Keith Anderson is a lawyer and mental health advocate. He has been a Bring Change 2 Mind volunteer since December, 2009. He has had articles on his journey through depression appear in the National Post newspaper and publications of the Canadian Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Keith has presented at national conferences and at local events in his native Canada. He sees stigma that is too often inflicted on so many people with mental illness as a form of discrimination, a human rights issue. Keith continues to return to a life worth living by still experiencing new things, such as recently eating sushi for the first time and enjoying it!