Rhythm and the blues

Music. Some says it soothes the savage beast. And I don’t disagree, sometimes it seems like I can almost change my mood by listening to certain music. And sometimes the music that I listen to is an accurate representation of my mood and how I’m feeling. My husband once famously said, “are you listening to Dashboard Confessional because you’re depressed or are you depressed because you’re listening to Dashboard Confessional?” He’s not half wrong.

I’ve come to find over the years that I tend to have a more visceral reaction to music than a lot of people. Most people mindlessly listen to it while driving or in the shower. But music makes me feel things. I’m not a very emotional person – even when depressed it’s not so much that I’m sad, it’s more that I just can’t – can’t get out of bed, can’t stop sleeping, can’t find the motivation to do anything other than be a slug. But music. It makes my soul sing.

I have a very eclectic taste in music – I grew up playing the violin from a very young age and involved in all different kinds of orchestras, so classical music holds a very special place in my heart. One of my favorite pieces – The Great Gate of Kiev from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky makes me come alive. Mike had the brilliant idea that they play that on the organ at our wedding. Best. Idea. Ever. It was amazing. Seriously, go YouTube it. If you’re not moved by the piece, then I literally don’t know what to say. For me it evokes feelings of power and strength and images of the Russian Court during Alexander II’s reign. It makes my soul fly in triumphant arcs. I really can’t accurately describe how it makes me feel.

The story-telling of musicals always gets me, and when I find a new one that I like I become low-key obsessed with it. Hamilton was the latest one, but in high school I was obsessed with Rent (who wasn’t? It was the late 90s and theater nerds everywhere salivated over this one). Into the Woods was another. When Wicked came out I was hooked. Ran out and bought the books and devoured them (sadly I still haven’t read the last one in the series, I’m seriously slacking in that regard). The story of Elphaba resonated more strongly with me than that of Dorothy ever did (never was a big Wizard of Oz fan).

Modern bands like 30 Seconds to Mars, the Killers, Jimmy Eat World, the Juliana Theory, all of Andrew McMahon’s projects from Something Corporate through Jack’s Mannequin and onto Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. I connect with this music. I can feel it in my bones. I’m a card-carrying atheist, but the only thing I can like it to is that it’s a religious experience. I’m free in those moments. Free from worry, stress – I just get lost in the music and let myself go.

I often wonder if this is the case because I keep a very tight rein on my feelings. I keep them in check, scared to let them free for fear they turn into mania or depression, or even worse – a mixed episode. But with music, with music let myself feel everything I keep such a tight hold on.

I’ve thought before that this was my way in the early days before diagnosis and meds to regulate my moods. It was easier just to not feel. To push everything in the closet and shut the door, if you will. But I’ve learned that everything comes tumbling out eventually. And then it’s even harder to deal with than it would have been in the first place. I think it’s hard for a lot of people to get to know me for that reason. I’m generally in a genial, if not good mood. Happy to chat. Talk about the cats. But I don’t let people close enough to really understand me. 15 years later and I’m still not sure how Mike managed to get through all of my walls and make himself at home. But even with him, we don’t talk about feelings. We talk about how our day was, or what’s happening in the world. He was raised Irish-Catholic and I was raised Italian-Catholic. We don’t talk about our feelings. It’s just not what we do. This is part of the reason therapy is always so hard for me. My current therapist never pushes, though. He lets me open up if I feel the need or desire but everything is very intellectual – he lets me work through learning classic CBT/DBT strategies from an intellectual standpoint rather than an emotional one (my visualization for irrational thoughts is Leonard Nimoy in a crossing guard vest and a stop sign saying “that is illogical.” Don’t ask, it works.) He’s learned that I seem to do much better when things are approached from a clinical standpoint. It must be the scientist in me.

I don’t know. What I do know is that most often my music matches my mood. I’m sure a lot of people can say the same thing. But how much of our mood is dictated by things like music? Or is it like the Dashboard paradox – the music perpetuates a certain mood and keeps you in an emotional loop. Maybe one feeds off of the other, maybe there’s only a causal link. But what would rather do – drive in the summer with the windows down and the wind in your hair listening to upbeat music or be stuffed into the car in the middle of winter with the windows up against the cold listening to music that keeps you down?