There Is Always Hope: How Music Saved My Life

A couple of months ago, I was asked by To Write Love On Her Arms to do a post on my experience with depression, music, and being a suicide survivor.

This is my story.

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For as long as I can remember, my greatest aspiration has been to study psychological resilience and music. Having begun touring as a singer from age three, my furthermost joy and identity were formed in creating and performing music. As I attempt to place these thoughts in tangible form, I’d like to explain where the past year of my life has taken me, and how this hope has finally come to be realized. I’d like to tell you how music saved my life.

       On July 9, 2013, I grabbed sushi with a dear friend from college. It had been at least a year since we’d seen one another due to his relocation to another state. We had a wonderful dinner, his charisma weaving grandiose patterns of laughter and jokes to make up for lost time. To this day, he remains the only friend who could ever get away with his hysterical manner of picking me up and spinning me around. It was simply his way of saying “Hello.”

       The following afternoon, as I was on my way to Stanford University to cover a behavioral science and creativity conference, I received an urgent phone call from the Los Angeles Police Department. After an inundation of bewildering questions and the request that I be sitting down, I was alerted that my friend had sustained a perplexing and potentially fatal injury. The following two months would consist of a blur of countless ER, ICU and eventually hospice visits, and even more fatigued phone calls from detectives, friends, and families in attempt to speculate every detail as to my friend’s condition. After failing to regain consciousness, my friend died on August 21, 2013 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was twenty-seven.

        In the months following my friend’s suicide, the protracted plagues of devastation, anxiety and sheer panic made it painfully clear that I was suffering from severe depression. I had battled fear before, but the danger of self-harm from my perceived terror of abandonment now hit an all-time high. Something about being the last person to see my friend before he took his life had finally made my very existence seemingly unbearable. I simply couldn’t imagine a reality where I would ever feel whole again. Somewhere along the way, however, something began to penetrate the walls I had built. Maybe it was that night of such unbearable emptiness, resulting in my frantic request of a trusted friend, “Why can’t you just tell me it’s going to be okay?” I’ll never forget his response: “Because it’s going to be okay whether I say so or not.”

       For possibly the first time, I realized that no matter how much people love and cherish you, sometimes, they can’t be there. It was not until this year – twenty eight years into my life – that I was truly faced with the chief insecurity of uncovering and confronting my own sense of self. It hit me then: I had built my entire value solely upon the affirmation of others. How would I ever afford unconditional love and hope if I did not possess it for myself?  It took more correspondence with prudent souls, more star-filled nights, more floods of tears and more compassionate, tough love from friends than I ever thought possible, but eventually, I began to understand that a lifetime’s lacking of my own self worth had been, in fact, the greatest torment of all. Slowly, with the help of my music and a lot of blind faith, I decidedly began the harrowing task of turning inward to face a past that had hidden profoundly in the dark for far too long.

       As I discovered that in music could be found the tools for defense, it quickly became all but Pavlovian. With each resurfacing memory of the loss of my father, of my friend, or even the type of violations that I as a young woman should never have had to endure, it began to feel like there was no margin in what could be taken from me, save my headphones screaming louder than any external threat or captor. I recalled that when at age eighteen I witnessed a childhood crush lose his longstanding battle with cancer, a piano, and occasionally present kindred spirit, taught me that three keys struck within a proper distance could form a chord. Those chords at once revealed the earliest potential of more than an escape – they provided the will to keep going.  It was within the process of witnessing my own hopelessness slain by the dogged determination playing before me like a vivid, striking film sequence that I cemented an acute desire to help others through their pain.

Steinway

        It was not quite until really digging in to the psychology of music that I found the possibility of a way not to dull the pain, but utilize it for courage. When my collapsed sense of self risked self-harm, gentle souls appeared to remind me of what I’d already overcome. When the radiant pangs of feeling alone threatened to overtake me, I discovered mercy and anticipation in composing. When I found myself paralyzed by the searing agony of depression, exterior melodies stepped in to share my burden. This award of music had not only provided oxygen for my lungs; it had yielded a powerful breed of strength and beauty within me – the will to struggle, and the will to survive.

       While covering a music industry event in Hollywood this Spring, I had the pleasure of speaking to Benjamin Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. As a friend had alerted me of Ben’s advocacy for youth suicide prevention (The You Rock Foundation in particular), I took the opportunity to ask him what it was about the process of creating music that had helped him in overcoming adversity.

“When I was growing up, I had a lot of difficulties in school. I had certain learning disabilities that made it difficult for me to process information in the way it was presented by a typical school curriculum. My experiences left me feeling extremely isolated and insecure. When I started playing music, I realized that intelligence had nothing to do with one’s ability to excel in the classroom environment. It gave me passion. It gave me confidence. I was able to make friends and also figure out new ways of learning. Creating give me purpose every day and will for the rest of my life… Music saved my life.”

The Dillinger Escape Plan live at Porter’s Pub, San Diego, 2014. Photo by Diana Hereld.

       Like Ben, I never cease to be amazed at music’s capacity to bring about a mental resilience. I know music to be a healing tool, because we are living attestations. It is utterly apparent that the pleasure of simply working in music sustained me through my more anguished, desperate moments. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis stated “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear.” In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said “The only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point and does not break.” I have felt this terror, and desperation – but I have also perceived the call of this courage.

˜

       A little over a year ago, I got the call about my friend. Over three hundred and sixty five days have passed since the night I thankfully had the cheek to gleefully yelp “Love you, buddy!” after my friend as he walked away; one hand in the air like an old fashioned movie star. Over the past twelve months, I have been granted more exposure to trauma, mental illness and mercy than I’d ever imagined possible. I have been made aware of more triggers in my subconscious than I felt I could handle, and I have been forced to confront them head on.  I’ve loved and lost more deeply, and written more music than ever before. I’ve applied to, and received a full fellowship to attend my top choice grad school for music and psychological resilience beginning this month. My friends have become my family; my songs that rare blend of confidant and hope. Though I have feared the dangers of losing emotional jurisdiction over my own life the most, I have realized that sometimes, it’s okay to let go, and press on – even when the route is unclear. As Bukowski famously quoted “As the spirit wanes, the form appears.”

       Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my friend. He touched the lives of so many, and I can only pray that I will one day repay him by giving back the selfless love he radiated to everyone around him, and by furthering the cause to ease the hearts of those struggling to find hope.

sunset

       I want to tell you, dear reader, that regardless of the tactless tragedies or inconsolable madness you may be undergoing, there are others. It’s not just that you are not alone – of course you’re not. You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, a humanity of enduring creatures, and an enclave of people who not only want to understand, but do understand. As unimaginable as it might sound at times, there is so much love to be found. If you’re standing on the beach at sunset, savor it while it lasts. If you’re going through hell, keep going. The impermanence and temporal nature of existence only contribute to its need to be treasured. For me, it has been my faith in God, and the self-awareness, hope and love I have found and tried to share though music. In the end, it is very possible that only we can save ourselves, but it is often the intrinsic beauty of life and dear ones surrounding that offer the priceless reminder that we can, and should. In the profound words of author Jennifer Hect, “We are indebted to one another and that debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.” Please stay, and please keep going. You can make it though, and it will be more radiant and precious than anything you can possibly imagine.

Diana Hereld, UCSD, Fall 2014

To those who have sustained me through the darkest and brightest of times:

As I continue to research the neurology of self-destructive behaviors and the psychological interventions that might be employed via music, I can only convey my infinite gratitude for whatever role, small or gargantuan; you have played in my life. I love you all. And thank you for the music.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information on what The You Rock Foundation is doing to help youth overcome depression, follow them on FB and stay tuned for their official launch at http://www.yourockfoundation.org . Follow them on social media here –

twitter.com/YouRockFND
instagram.com/yourockfnd
youtube.com/yourockfnd

For more information on Benjamin Weinman and The Dillinger Escape Plan, visit here and here.

UCSD, Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center Launch Convergence 2014: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

The Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center and the Department of Music at UC San Diego, in collaboration with Mozart and the Mind present:

Convergence: A Multidisciplinary Dialogue on Music

A unique symposium that brings together multiple streams of music research and knowledge, Convergence is not only a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue but also an opportunity for collaboration. Neuroscientists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, composers, performers, and music therapists will participate in a series of panel discussions moderated by music researchers from the Temporal Damics of Learning Center. This multidisciplinary dialogue will extend into an evening poster session.

Sunday, May 18, 2014, 8am to 7pm
Conrad Prebys Music Center, Room127, UC San Diego
Map and directions to Conrad Prebys Music Center (CPMC)

For further information, registration, or webcast registration, please visit:
http://convergencetdlc2014.eventbrite.com

Registration: $45 general, $15 student

Featured Panelists

David Borgo, Diana Deutsch, Dane Harwood, Carl Hermanns, Mari Jones, Layne Kalbfleisch, Lei Liang, Andy McGraw, Gabriella Mussachia, Roger Reynolds, Katharina Rosenberger, Michael Thaut, Concetta Tomaino

Information provided by the UCSD Press Room

Convergence

 

 

 

 

The Healing Power of Music in Loss: Music Therapy for Kids

If you know me, you know I wholeheartedly believe in the power of music. You may also know that in some cases and practices of music therapy, I remain the skeptic, and try to retain a critical lens. Simply put, music doesn’t always heal. Ah, but when it does.

Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus

For the third anniversary of the great earthquake in Eastern Japan, a group of Japanese animators have come together for a relief project.

Founded in 2012, the Zapuni LLC organization unites Japanese artists and musicians to work together on various projects in order to raise awareness and money for general aid. Set to Sade’s Grammy nominated song By Your Side, this animated video tells the story of a rabbit and bear who lose a friend in the earthquake, and how music acts as a healing agent in helping them come to terms with their loss. I have found this video incredibly powerful, and hope you will too.

Directed by Tsuneo Goda, it has been created by the stop-motion animation company Dwarf for children’s charity Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus which has been inspired by El Sistima, and uses music therapy to help children who have been emotionally and psychologically traumatised by the disaster.

If you wish to donate to the cause, funds attained will be used for instruments, teaching and classes.

Photo and info courtesy of http://www.designweek.co.uk

‘Beautiful but sad’ music can help people feel better

psychology-sad-music-enhances-mood-300x214Listening to sad music in adverse situations: How music selection strategies relate to self-regulatory goals, listening effects, and mood enhancement

Annemieke J.M. Van den Tol, School of Psychology, University of Kent, Keynes E-105, Canterbury, CT2 7NP, UK. Email: A.J.M.van-den-Tol@kent.ac.uk

Abstract

Adults’ (N = 220) reported motivations for listening to sad music after experiencing adverse negative circumstances were examined by exploring how their music selection strategies related to (a) their self-regulatory goals, and (b) reported effects of listening. The effects of music selection strategies, self-regulatory goals, and reported effects on the achievement of mood enhancement were also explored using a retrospective survey design. The findings indicate that music choice is linked to the individual’s identified self-regulatory goals for music listening and to expected effects. Additionally, the results show that if individuals had intended to achieve mood enhancement through music listening, this was often achieved by first experiencing cognitive reappraisal or distraction. The selection of music with perceived high aesthetic value was the only music selection strategy that directly predicted mood enhancement. Where respondents indicated that they chose music with the intention of triggering memories, this was negatively related to the self-regulatory goal of mood enhancement.

Source: neurosciencenews.com, Psychology of Music (SAGE)

Play it again sam: brain correlates of emotional music recognition

play_it_sam_play_as_time_goes_byEckart Altenmüller1*Susann Siggel1Bahram Mohammadi2,3Amir Samii3 and Thomas F. Münte2
  • 1Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians’s Medicine, University of Music, Drama and Media, Hannover, Germany
  • 2Department of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
  • 3CNS Laboratory, International Neuroscience Institute, Hannover, Germany

Background: Music can elicit strong emotions and can be remembered in connection with these emotions even decades later. Yet, the brain correlates of episodic memory for highly emotional music compared with less emotional music have not been examined. We therefore used fMRI to investigate brain structures activated by emotional processing of short excerpts of film music successfully retrieved from episodic long-term memory.

Methods: Eighteen non-musicians volunteers were exposed to 60 structurally similar pieces of film music of 10 s length with high arousal ratings and either less positive or very positive valence ratings. Two similar sets of 30 pieces were created. Each of these was presented to half of the participants during the encoding session outside of the scanner, while all stimuli were used during the second recognition session inside the MRI-scanner. During fMRI each stimulation period (10 s) was followed by a 20 s resting period during which participants pressed either the “old” or the “new” button to indicate whether they had heard the piece before.

Results: Musical stimuli vs. silence activated the bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right insula, right middle frontal gyrus, bilateral medial frontal gyrus and the left anterior cerebellum. Old pieces led to activation in the left medial dorsal thalamus and left midbrain compared to new pieces. For recognized vs. not recognized old pieces a focused activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the left cerebellum was found. Positive pieces activated the left medial frontal gyrus, the left precuneus, the right superior frontal gyrus, the left posterior cingulate, the bilateral middle temporal gyrus, and the left thalamus compared to less positive pieces.

Conclusion: Specific brain networks related to memory retrieval and emotional processing of symphonic film music were identified. The results imply that the valence of a music piece is important for memory performance and is recognized very fast.

Received: 29 April 2013; Accepted: 27 January 2014;
Published online: 18 February 2014.

Edited by: Daniel J. Levitin, McGill University, Canada

Reviewed by: Stefan Koelsch, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany and Psyche Loui, Wesleyan University, USA

Taken from open-access article published in Front. Psychol. distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). For full text of the article, please visit Frontiers.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

Music, Mind and Meaning Conference at the Peabody Institute– Day 1 Recap

IMG_9755 Music, Mind and Meaning Conference – Day 1

Apart from the seventy (yes, seventy) degree temperature shock going from Los Angeles to Baltimore, I had a wonderful evening at the opening of the Music, Mind and Meaning conference at the Peabody Institute. The evening began with rousing introductions all around, and I was wonderfully honored to finally meet some of my favorite scholars face to face.

At 7pm, Dr. David Huron took the floor for the keynote address. In his talk, “Emotions and Meanings in Music, he posed the question, “In what ways can music convey meaning?” Songs have lyrics, works have evocative titles, but most of music’s meaning comes from other sources including:

  • Cultural schemas
  • Learned expectations
  • Personal associations

In his over sixty minute presentation, Huron covered everything from how musical associations become universal cultural icons, to the psychoacoustics of intimacy (which contained brilliant perspectives I had never visualized), to an explicitly detailed account of how ethologists differentiate between signals versus cues, and what we can take from learning about hostile versus friendly behavior in animals to musical studies. Since my arrival, I’ve listened to one out of nine lectures, and am, at present, blown away. Let’s just say this: you know it’s good when you have world-class academics on either side murmuring in awe at what is being presented. I look very forward to recounting the full presentation when time permits.

Following Dr. Huron’s talk, a duo took the stage like I haven’t quite seen before. I’d venture it’s not uncommon, but when Grammy-nominated pianist and composer (and MacArthur genius fellowship recipient) Vijay Iyer improvises a single-song performance – for thirty-five minutes nonstop – one listens. Joined by Gary Thomas (Director of Jazz Studies, Peabody) on the saxophone followed by flute, the enigmatic chemistry that was created simply devoured the room like a thick trance. One of my favorite enigmas of the evening was simply glancing down the two rows of conference speakers to see who was bobbing side to side, or front to back; the eyes that were closed or engaged, or (my favorite) watching the woman who periodically plugged her ears as if to reimagine what she had just heard.

The evening closed with a reception lasting well past eleven in the Peabody library. Accompanied by a presentation of the exhibit from the personal collection of Eugene S. Flamm, the final talk included introducing some of the very oldest texts surrounding neurosurgery and the cradle of medicine known to exist. I look very forward to the continuance and development of the conference tomorrow morning.

Music and Memory 2014 Columbia Music Scholarship Conference

CMSCThe tenth annual Columbia Music Scholarship Conference (CMSC) will be held on March 8, 2014 at Columbia University in the City of New York. The theme of the 2014 meeting is Music and Memory. The conference is organized by graduate students from the Department of Music at Columbia University with financial support from the Department of Music and the Graduate Student Advisory Council.

The conference welcomes Prof. Jonathan Sterne from the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, McGill University as the 2014 keynote speaker. Prof. Sterne teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies and the History and Philosophy of Science Program at McGill University. He is author of MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Duke 2012), The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Duke, 2003); and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. He is also editor of The Sound Studies Reader (Routledge, 2012). His new projects consider instruments and instrumentalities; histories of signal processing; and the intersections of disability, technology and perception.

Burgeoning interdisciplinary inquiry on memory is enabling scholars to develop new perspectives in a diverse array of fields ranging from history, anthropology, sociology, literary studies, art history, archeology, cultural studies, and media studies, to philosophy, political science, theology, education, psychology, and the cognitive sciences. This conference will add to this growing interdisciplinary conversation about memory in the sciences, arts, and humanities, stimulating a dialogue both on the role of memory in music studies and on the place of music in studies of memory.

The conference seeks to consider the complexity of memory’s embeddedness in music’s practices, subjects, objects, ideologies, sites, and technologies. Interests lie in memory as lived, constructed, represented, performed, transmitted, inscribed, incorporated, and stored, as persisting, travelling and circulating, as material and immaterial, human and non-human, as a capacity and a resource that impacts and shapes everyday lives. In what ways can memory influence musical practice, and in what ways can musical practice influence memory? How might memories be theorized musically? What can music scholars offer to memory studies, and memory scholars to music studies?

Information provided by the CMSC website.