Music In My Brain
I've got music in my brain – something deeper than having music on my mind. I'm told that having a regular music practice is literally changing the structure and the operation of my brain. My experience tells me that it's true. I've been changed by music since I joined the band, Soulful Noize.
In my second blog post, “Getting Back Up”, I had mentioned the importance of music to my ongoing recovery from the fallout of my last manic episode and the crash into depression that came after the mania. Now I want to tell you more about the role that music has played.
I've come a long way since that day I joined the band. It was August 16, 2013 and I was about as low as I've ever been. I was homeless, too mentally ill to be working and really not yet ready to be out of hospital, but still well enough that I had gotten myself discharged. I was struggling with suicidal thoughts but I had family and friends to think of and had made promises to many people to stay safe. On the other hand, even though I had reasons to not kill myself, I felt like I had run out of reasons to live. There is a profound difference between the two and I was still in danger.
A couple days earlier, I had heard some vague reference to some kind of help available at The Cosmos Group of Companies so I went there. It turned out they offered a variety of services to help a variety of people with a variety of challenges. Clearly that included me so I made an appointment for the next day. When I met with their intake worker, she made sure I had a place in the homeless shelter and knew where to get free meals at the soup kitchens. She also introduced me to my case worker who would help me find a way to get housed and fed while helping to support my mental health needs.
The intake worker also found out that I liked music and played the guitar a bit. So along with the other services, she introduced me to their music program and the man in charge of it. He described the band they had going and invited me to come sit in with them the next morning. I was too depressed to be very excited about it, but was grateful for the chance to spend part of my day doing something different, so I thought it would be worth a try. I went the next day and enjoyed myself even though my playing left much to be desired. They asked me to join the band and I was happy to say yes.
I started practising with the band three times a week. A month later, I started taking weekly music lessons too. In March 2014 I was able to join another session for Tuesdays, so then I was going to Cosmos to play every weekday. There were lots of days at the beginning when I didn't want to go – I felt too depressed. What carried me through was the knowledge that I needed to be with people and feel connected to them. I felt that connection with the band members and that's what kept me coming back at first.
Then the benefits of the regular music practice started kicking in. The first thing I noticed was that my ability to concentrate and stay focused began to improve slowly. I began to have a few less moments when my mind suddenly went blank while playing. I began to be able to think a little more clearly a little more often. I was also experiencing less anxiety and becoming more comfortable around people due to my regular time with the band members. In fact, my overall sense of well-being improved. I still have a lot of problems in all these areas, but I'm much better than I used to be.
I got my first taste of the joy of performing in September 2013 when I was struggling to find any kind of pleasure in anything. I've had a lot of good times since I joined the band and it keeps getting better. We just played a concert this past Friday night. During the performance, my brain farted two or three times and I lost my place, but I recovered from my mistakes gracefully. I used to have three times as many brain farts while playing.
These are all my subjective experiences that convince me that playing music is good for my brain. But there is objective evidence as well. The video below gives a quick intro to the subject.
I find it most interesting that there is a structural improvement in the brain's interconnections that can be measured. That increased connection between the halves of the brain means better integration of the different styles of processing that each half excels at. Better integration means clearer thinking and better decision-making.
I still struggle, but I don't exaggerate when I say that this music program and the band have given me my life back. I want to acknowledge the generous sponsorship of the Cosmos Group of Companies that makes the band and the music lessons possible. In another post I'd like to tell you more about Cosmos but for now, you can check out their website at CosmosRedDeer.ca or follow Cosmos and Soulful Noize on Facebook. [Cosmos on Facebook here] [Soulful Noize on Facebook here]
In the meantime, until next time, I wish you wellness.