The power of music in mental health!

Music has always been a big part of my life. I have always loved having music on in the background and find it easier to concentrate more when I’m listening to music, strangely. I realised how powerful music is in mental health when I was in the deepest depths of depression. More specifically, it was when I was practising mindfulness. I used to work with an online counsellor, who once tried to ‘ground’ me (bring my level of emotions down to a manageable level) by using music. She asked me to try sitting or lying in a comfortable place, with my favourite music on. I then had to try and focus on one instrument only throughout one of the tracks. I tried and tried and tried; it was bloody impossible at first to get through a whole song just focusing on one thing and drowning all the others out. I presumed I’d be drawn to piano sounds as I love listening to it. But oddly, the more I did it, I started to notice the voice was the most captivating to me. Once I’d got the hang of it I would do it every day with different songs to ‘train’ my brain and get used to being mindful; which is basically, focusing on something in the here and now, forgetting about past or future thoughts/feelings etc. Eventually the practise paid off and I’m pro at it now, with the singer’s voice being the one thing I focus on.

I then started to focus on what the words were in each song; questioning what each artist was trying to say, and noticing the feelings each song evoked in me. Sometimes, once I’d really understood the song through the lyrics, I really felt like somebody else out there knew how I felt. Other times they helped me to pass through emotive times without self-harming. Artists I really related to most included: Birdy, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding, The Script and Professor Green. It still makes me laugh to myself that all those artists sing similar styles, then there’s Professor Green who raps!

Anyhow, what I learned is that I leaned towards songs that matched the feelings I had at that time. Sometimes the songs kept me feeling depressed, but I wouldn’t change that if I could do it again. They may have kept me there a little longer, but I didn’t feel alone because somebody else out there completely understood. I would allow myself, through the music, to sit and ‘be’. I could tolerate certain emotions based on what music I had on. One example of what might have ‘kept’ me feeling gloomy would be Birdy and her music. It’s a lot about having been hurt, which most songs are I guess, but her lyrics really represented my feelings.

A verse from Birdy’s song “Wings” really touched me and I’d spend ages listening to this song over and over again. That verse said:

Under a trillion stars
We danced on top of cars
Took pictures of the stage
So far from where we are
They made me think of you

The song, how I’d interpreted it, was about loss and missing somebody. Wishing so hard you could have them back and the pain you feel when you know you’ll never see them again. But there was one Birdy song that just blew me away. At the time I found this song, I was working on my inner-child. A lot of my problems stemmed (in my opinion) from the hate I had towards the “little Kerri”. And when I became unwell, I would feel like the little me was trapped inside my body, fighting to get out, but I wouldn’t let her. So internally I had this battle going on. And i don’t know if it was the intensity of the emotions or if it was something else, but I physically felt that battle inside. I was in pain physically, I could feel movement inside me and I was genuinely convinced she was running round inside my body. Looking back, I realise I did actually experience those physical sensations, but I interpreted them differently because of how intense they were. Like, my stomach would churn, but it would churn so much it felt like something was actually in there. My chest would pound so much, it felt like something was trying to punch its way out. My body would tremble┬áso much all over that it felt like there was something in my veins, getting around to every single inch of my body. To try to explain the ferocity of it, the physical feelings were such that I actually felt like I ‘needed’ to stab myself in the stomach to get this ‘thing’ out of me. Safe to say, I was admitted to hospital on this occasion, and it’s great to say I didn’t harm myself too seriously. Well, I was on about songs. The following lyrics helped me to connect with my inner-child. The song was like a conversation between me and her; two separate people as I saw them then. The first paragraph of the lyrics are me talking to ‘little Kerri’. Her response is the last paragraph.

Remember once the things you told me
And how the tears ran from my eyes
They didn’t fall because it hurt me
I just hate to see you cry
Sometimes I wish we could be strangers
So I didn’t have to know your pain
But if I kept myself from danger
This emptiness would feel the same

I want to tell you that I’m sorry
But that’s not for me to say
You can have my heart, my soul, my body
If you can promise not to go away
I ain’t no angel
I never was
But I never hurt you
It’s not my fault
You see those egg shells, they’re broken up
A million pieces, strung out across the ground

So, the power of this song helped me have that conversation internally. I realised that the little me had done nothing wrong. She was bad, evil or spiteful like I’d always thought of her. She wasn’t a monster. She was a young child trying to survive. And all she needed now was for me to look after her. After listening to this song a million times, I wrote to my inner-child and expressed how I felt. I then wrote as my inner-child to myself, and let her express her feelings. They then began to understand one another, and realise that they were safe with each other. And slowly, little Kerri became part of me. “She” is no longer a person in herself; she is a part of who I am. And I have accepted her thanks to this song.

There’s a lot more I could give you on this, so let me know if you wanna read more about this stuff. I have loads of examples of how music has made a difference for me like above. Music is something a lot of us take for granted, but if you use it wisely, it can become really helpful in your own life!