Overcoming depression: the power of music and friends too

Well it’s been a very long time since I’ve posted on here! There’s one reason for that – I have a job as an editor – woo hoo! I’m still writing but for the magazine I work for rather than on here. As I’m learning now, there are different styles of writing, and crafting a magazine article is an entirely different skill to writing a blog post and it is a process that takes a long time. There has simply been very little time to blog.

So why bother to post today? Two reasons: the power of music and it’s ability to help you out of the black pit of despair that is depression and anxiety and the importance of support from friends and family. You see, the blog has come full circle – I was inspired to write my first post because of my experience of depression and as I have been suffering another episode, I felt compelled to write about it again.

Nearly a month ago now, as I was leaving a Rock Chorus rehearsal (my beloved choir), my friend turned to me and asked in a concerned voice if I was feeling OK?

“Why”, I asked.

“You seem a bit flat”, she said. I replied that I was and the realization that I was feeling low again hit me with such force it was like someone had beaten me with a crow bar and left me sprawled on the pavement gasping. It really took my breath away. I walked back to the car shaking, with tears rolling down my face. I sat there for a few minutes and raged that the depression was back. It seemed so unfair; I thought I’d put all of that behind me and moved on. Fuck, damn and bollocks!

Back at home, my husband took one look at me and said “What’s the matter?”
There’s no hiding anything from him after 20 years of marriage!
“I feel really depressed again I said”, crying.
“Why?” he asked gently, hugging me.
“I feel like I’m running just to stand still and it’s making me stressed and I want to cry all the time”, I replied.

I told him that if he could help me get stuff done, it would help me feel better. He has since been quietly doing this and looking for things for us to do together, like going to the theatre. Couple time is important and something we don’t get enough of.

The fact that I had only been going through the motions at choir really upset me too, because I usually have a brilliant time. Last summer, I really grew in confidence, singing at most of our gigs and standing at the front on some occasions and loving it. The thought has even come into my head (and refuses to go away) that one day I might stand up at the mic and do a little solo. After two years with them, I am finally learning to breathe and therefore sing properly and my voice is developing nicely.

The first thing I did was to tell everyone how I was feeling (via Facebook where else!) and was overwhelmed by the support I received; phone calls, flowers, lunch dates. My editor was great, calling me everyday to see how I was and just listening to me. My sister too keeps in regular contact; when I need support she gives it, if I just want to chat, she listens.

The worst thing is that when I’m feeling really bad, I’m on edge all the time and feel like I want to snap. Trying to get through the day is very, very hard. I don’t want to talk to anyone but just lie in bed and hide. If anyone asks how I’m feeling on a day like that, I’m likely to dissolve into tears. Publication day for the latest edition was one such time. I don’t really know how I got through it; I do know I was difficult to deal with; unmotivated, moody and actually a right bitch!

Throughout this month there has been a little voice in my head telling me that I must carry on doing the things I normally do, even though I don’t want to, because in the end they make a positive difference. So I’ve got myself out of bed, done the school run, carried on with the housework, the writing, the editing, the accounts, my computer course and choir, even though on many a day I have just wanted to run away and not be bothered, when nothing has cheered me up and I’ve felt empty and alone. The only time of day I’ve kind of looked forward to is the evening, when the kids are in bed and I can curl up and watch the TV or read my book.

The only thing I didn’t keep up were my Landmark seminars. (I went on a fabulous personal development course run by them back in January and there has been a series of seminars afterwards.) The thought of going into London once a week and not returning until 11.30 pm was just too much. Depression can make you tired and in my case it has been affecting my sleep. I didn’t feel like being sociable either and pretending nothing was wrong. I did tell my seminar group what was happening though and knowing they were concerned and wanted to help me made a big difference. Last night I actually made the effort to go and enjoyed sitting there listening to people and seeing my friends.

One of my closest friends came to visit a couple of weekends ago and her company helped enormously. We took the kids and the dog for a walk along the Grand Union Canal in the sunshine, drank beer, made cake pops and played Scrabble. Normal everyday stuff and someone I could be myself with, which was just what I needed.

What has finally begun to lift me out of my funk though is music. I know I have talked about this before but since then I have come to appreciate its ability to lift my mood on a much deeper level. I have learnt that singing raises your serotonin levels which are lowered when you are depressed and it increases your endorphin and oxytocin levels too. All important for improving your mood. It is also very beneficial for people with Parkinsons and Dementia.

Last Saturday was our annual Big Gig, when over a hundred people got together to perform; it is the highlight of our year and not to be missed. A few days before, I realised that I was actually getting excited about the performance, which I hadn’t been before. A chink of light had penetrated the fog of depression – thank God! The rehearsal was gruelling – three hours is a long time to be on your feet – but went well. You know, this gig is going to be awesome I thought. I wasn’t disappointed.

I went and performed on stage with the thrill of knowing I was doing something well and that incredibly uplifting feeling you get when you sing with a large group of people. There is nothing like it. My Mum came along to watch for the first time.

“That was really good fun”, she said, “I just wanted to get up and dance the whole time”.

I couldn’t have asked for higher praise. The whole point of Rock Chorus is that it is supposed to be fun – if you can actually sing too all the better.

The high I felt after the gig has lasted the whole week. I couldn’t wait to go along to the next rehearsal and sing our new song, Like I Can by Sam Smith, on Wednesday. You could tell the rest of the choir were still on a high after the gig too, we sang really well. This feeling has also helped me to get on with stuff this week; to get out a nearly finished article and edit it, to ring my editor and say come on when are we going to do the next edition, to get along to Landmark for my seminar and to write this post.

What this episode has taught me is that my depression obviously has the potential to be a recurring theme in my life but if I can work out what triggers it, perhaps I can take preventative measures when I see the warning signs.

Although this month has been hard and I’m not quite myself yet, deep down I haven’t lost that conviction that actually I can do whatever I want in life if I put my mind to it. Life is not a rehearsal, this is the only chance we have, so go out and live it the way you want to whatever obstacles are thrown in your way!

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