Even before I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety, I found peace in music. Through this organized and sometimes unexplainable noise I am able to find silence. Even though I have started therapy, nothing has yet to compare to listening and expressing myself through music, especially when I find myself becoming un-grounded.
When I was growing up I didn’t have a good relationship with my family and started using music then as a way to escape any fighting in my house or the pressure placed on me to perform well in sports. Hitting in the batting cages was so much more therapeutic if I played some Dave Matthews. When my parents fought and I could pop in my headphones and listen to classical to drown it out I felt like I was safer, transported to another place. I used music throughout college and graduate school to write papers and flesh out ideas for my work in student affairs. Every day in my office I had and continue to have 8-tracks or Pandora playing. I have always used it as a way to ground myself.
I find it easier to find a connection with music and let go in a safe space than it is for me to pinpoint the root of my anxiety or PTSD when I feel like I’m losing control. If I get into a fight with someone or something happens that throws me completely off, the best thing I can do is pop in my headphones and go for a walk. Part of calming myself down is the physical activity, but mostly the music is what helps bring me back into myself. I can find a song or playlist that really speaks to how I feel or how I want to feel and connect with it, which helps me push past the anger to allow me to process my thoughts and feelings more fully. The people that are closest to me know how important music is to me; when my ipod broke, I was immediately presented with two more. I thought my world was unraveling when I had no way to carry music with me. Having people that understand my need for music means they understand the most important part of me.
Music is also a way that I am able to express how I am feeling to others. I haven’t always been the best at communicating how I feel or what I think. Words are not my strong suit, so being able to use music to express myself has not only been therapeutic, it has also helped others to better understand how I feel and how to help me. When I have something important to say to someone in my personal life, I am always able to find a song or playlist that speaks exactly to how I am feeling or what I want to say. I don’t know of any other medium that is able to do that. When I play someone a song, I feel as though it is really me talking to them in a voice I can’t find for myself.
My struggle with mental illness is present every day in my life, and so music is always present, as well. Without it, I don’t know how far I would have made it. Perhaps not a career in student affairs, perhaps not graduate school, perhaps not even college. The one thing about music is that I have control, but I also know it will always be there for me. I can choose what to listen to and when. I can choose to be grounded. I can choose to relive memories from the past connected to songs, or I can find something new that connects with me in a different way that I have never experienced before. Whatever I need, music can provide that sense of connection for me whether it be with myself or conveying feeling to someone else. We live and survive by how we connect to others, and my connection happens more intensely, more accurately, and more purposefully, through music.
To read more about “Committed,” a series focusing on sharing stories and continuing the conversation about Mental Health in Student Affairs, check out this post. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #SAcommits. Thanks for reading and supporting your colleagues!