The Music That Has Helped Me Battle Depression
I am what is referred to as a F33.2.
On the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, this means that I have recurrent, severe depressive disorder without psychotic symptoms. It means that my depression comes from a place that is hard to climb out of, that alienates people, that claims relationships, and that cuts me off from the outside world.
I know the crying jags, I have the requisite scars. My depression has put me in cold hospital rooms at 3 a.m., wearing burgundy, drawstring-less admission clothing. It's put me in psych holds — hospital-administered 24-hour observation periods that follow a suicide attempt. I always seem to be “under observation” in some form, from clinicians, family or friends.
There's been a lot of talk about mental health in the media recently. Robin Williams' death touched off much of it, including a controversial LA Weekly column from Henry Rollins.
After reading Rollins' piece I was incensed. How dare someone who doesn't suffer from debilitating depression tell me that the life of someone who commits suicide is worth less to him, much less at a publication I write for?
I appreciate his apology, but at the end of the day, it's difficult to be trapped in this perpetual roller coaster of personal hell that I can't understand why anyone would shame someone for it. It's an affliction that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy, so maybe it is best that Mr. Rollins can't ultimately relate to the root of severe depression. This isn't a decision, it's a disease, one that will haunt some people to an untimely end.
Some of us go into “remission,” meaning more than three months without a depressive episode. For others it’s a sickness that rides shotgun day-in, day-out for weeks or months at a time. For me, it comes in thick, oppressive waves, rarely triggered by anything, coming on more like a cold.
But there are small moments of clarity that shine through, and here's where Rollins and I share common ground: Music is often the best medication.
There are a handful of bands whose songs speak to me when nothing else can.
While some studies have shown classical music to be a form of an antidepressant, other genres always appealed to me more.
On days when my anxiety turns me into a nervous wreck, the freneticism of Dillinger Escape Plan is soothing, like a soundtrack to my racing thoughts. There's science to this, in fact: I'm experiencing increased dopamine uptake caused by lowered blood pressure.
Darker days call for the melancholic dream pop of Milo Greene. Listening to their self-titled debut straight through brings me to a place of calm every time.
The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down The Horse makes me feel ten again, taking me back to carefree Saturday mornings. Like Milo Greene, this music has a calm, transporting effect, flooding my mind with positive memories of my childhood, of my parents slow-dancing in the kitchen while huevos rancheros fry on the stove, long before their separation, as my brother and I flip through CD jewel cases in the living room.
To me, music is the antidepressant I know best, and one that is devoid of side effects. While necessary for many, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors frighten me because some artists and authors say they stunt their ability to create. As a writer, that’s unsettling, having my voice muffled or extinguished.
I know I may well have to use them at some point. I may need to find some stability from the ups and downs that characterize my depression, instead of white-knuckling as I have. But for now, I find, tiny instances of relief can be found in the furthest reaches of depression, small reminders that life is worth it.
Sometimes you just have to find the strength to push play.
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