On Depression, Suicide, and the Healing Power of Music

 
Photo by  Thomas Allison

I want the 12 experiments and by extension, this blog about them, to be lighthearted and fun. That being said, a post about my relationship with music would be incomplete without mentioning that from which my musical inspiration often springs. One simply cannot describe lightness without mentioning darkness. Please, bear with me.

French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that” (The Myth of Sisyphus, 3).  I’ve reflected on Camus’ words recently because in the last six months I’ve lost two former classmates to suicide. And in thinking about depression and suicide, I’m reminded of my own struggle with depression a few years ago, and the experience of “choosing life,” to use Camus’ words. Part of my choosing life involved writing the songs that comprise my upcoming album, Comets and Other Drifting Bodies. I’d like to talk a little about that experience in case it’s helpful for anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation.

I’ve always considered life a gift (thank you Mom).  In 2014, a series of events came one after another and before I knew it, I felt the bottom crumble out from under me and found myself in a months-long free fall.  I lost all mooring and orientation. The more I struggled to regain my composure, the more I felt lost, isolated, and terrified. Suddenly, everything was difficult. Basic tasks like eating, bathing, and leaving my apartment required great, sometimes insurmountable effort. I am so thankful that even in my lowest moments, I did not want to die. But I no longer knew how to live.

As I fumbled around in the abyss in search of something to hold on to - anything that would give me a sense of orientation - I found an old friend that has always brought me comfort and joy: music. Alone in my apartment, I sang what I thought and felt using lyrics and melodies either borrowed or of my own creation.  I trilled and chanted and screamed anger and guilt and despair. I belted with all of the life force I could muster and in doing so, I peopled my solitude. I found a way to tap into that morsel of my self that is not only my self—that which in the light I identify in all beings and things, the essence that webs the universe together.

And just as mysteriously as my depression had arrived, it eventually subsided. Music played a large role. The rest I owe to some combination of friends, family, therapy, and incremental small wins.  And from that painful place, the songs that I wrote went on to become a full length album, that has morphed and evolved over time and only just recently came to completion. It has been a difficult thing to release. Release, verb, to allow or enable to escape from confinement or servitude.  My hope is that these paltry few minutes of music which once meant life to me will offer something to those who hear it.While I am afraid of being misunderstood, or worse ignored, I cannot let fear call the shots and choose for me.  So, with much love and gratitude, here is my latest single, Losing Touch.

The rest of Comets and other drifting bodies is soon to follow!

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 1-800-273-8255

 

A Month of Music: Peopling My Solitude

In her 2014 book, Transformative Experience, Agnes Callard says living authentically requires occasionally leaving your old self behind ‘to create and discover a new self.’ The purpose of this year long experiment is to lean into the activities and practices that feel the most in tune with who I am and want to become. I want to fill my days with that which elevates and inspires my spirit and crowds out whatever doesn’t.

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Why A Month of Music?

Since I was a child, I have been singing to myself and making up lyrics and tunes. I grew up a free range kid in Chicago and - beginning in early elementary school - I took public transportation alone to get around the city and would often sing to myself.  Sometimes I would notice the people around me turning to listen and I would pipe up - singing whatever came to mind and sometimes holding the whole bus’ attention until my stop came and I departed. I never considered that I might be bothering anyone. As I got older, it was conveyed to me through various subtle ways that it was not only strange to walk around singing all the time but also rude. In boarding school, this was more explicitly communicated and eventually my song was sequestered to the practice room and rehearsal. I sang only the songs of others at the appropriate places and designated times.

My childhood was complicated and intermittently traumatic; I often lacked the safety and security of structure and routine. At some point, singing became more than just a fun thing to do; it evolved into a form of self-soothing with the wonderful byproduct of bringing people closer to me who wanted to help.

I’ve spent a lot of time alone throughout my life. From what I’ve gleaned, I’ve spent much more time in solitude than my peers. The poet Robert Browning said, ‘Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.’ And so it has always been for me. I never felt totally alone as long as I sang.

The sensation of “peopling solitude” through music for me has always felt like an act of conjuring: of making something appear, seemingly from nowhere, as if by magic. Since I moved to Austin in 2016, my relationship with music has changed. I used to make music when I was alone. In Austin, I am rarely alone.  My world here is peopled, and without the solitude, I lack the space from which my creativity has always sprung.  I keep myself busy “working on music,” trying to get the music I’ve already made in front of more eyes and ears, but this part of the process is logistical. It lacks the magic and wonder that comes with the process of creation.

So, for this month, I want to reinfuse my days with singing. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, ‘One should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.’

Thanks for reading! Click here to hear my tunes.

Month of Yoga Retrospective

 

The other night I thought, "I've done yoga every day, just like I said I would. I've got this in the bag!" Then I fell asleep reading on the couch. Upon waking up I realized I had not yet practiced, so I dragged myself off the couch and onto my mat. Each day presents a new challenge!

 
 
By Carolina Arevalo

By Carolina Arevalo

I have stayed true to my commitment and month of yoga has done exactly what I had hoped: I have strengthened my discipline to make time to do the things that foster joy, serenity, and confidence.

I was chatting with Sarah (check out her 12 Experiments) about how I often get distracted by the little things I have to do and don’t leave time for what inspires and adds value to my life. She replied that she has the opposite problem! She does the fun things and forgets to work. It is easy to convince yourself that you are having a universal experience. It is so important to share your experiences and points of view with others, because it is so easy to be swallowed up in the “that’s just the way it is” fallacy. There are somethings you can’t change, like the past, but you can always shift the way you feel about them, the gravity you give to them, and the impact you allow it to have on you as you move forward.

Yoga for me is an exercise in incremental shifts. I practice with my body, because it is my access point to my mental and spiritual dimension. On my mat I can practice what I want to become.

 

Doin' too much

 

“Yoga is not about tightening your ass.  It’s about getting your head out of it.”

~Eric Paskel

Sometimes I think I might be a little dense, whenever it feels like I’m learning the same lessons over and over again. As I continue to practice yoga everyday, and reflect on it, some of those recurring lessons are making themselves very apparent. For example:

I love to do too much: I know I told you all that this was my Month of Yoga experiment, but secretly I was also trying to do the majority of the other experiments on my list: singing and writing and decluttering and reading and cooking and digital detox and cutting spending, and, and, and…. I’ve been tiring myself out in a lot of ways other than my main experiment. I want to use the 12 Experiments and the New Year as a catalyst for radical self improvement and reshaping my life. However, right out of the gate I became impatient and a little judgemental. How quickly I put aside self care and compassion to focus on discipline and achievement.

Which leads me to the next lesson: the physical practice of yoga is really just a sneaky access point to the mental, emotional, and spiritual practice of becoming, in a compassionate, kind, and intentional manner.

So this past week I slowed down a bit. I went  to public classes every other day and then did a less intense home practice on the other days. In the public classes I feel pulled by the intention and energy set by the teacher and the other students. At  home, on the other hand, I close my eyes and focus solely on my breath and whatever feels good in my body at that moment. Sometimes I fall out of time and feel the vastness of space. In a period of my life in which I often feel rushed and behind and impatient, these 15 or 20 minutes provide a much needed respite and reset.

Thank you all for reading!

If you want to join in the adventure, here is a step by step guide on how to start your own 12 Experiments.

 

Week 1: I'm flying...oh wait no, I'm crashing.

 

I froze my gym account for the months of November and December because I was out of town a lot. I had told myself that this would be an opportunity to focus on my home practice. Instead, predictably, I fell off the wagon.  Leading up to this experiment, I began unrolling my mat at home and re-familiarizing myself a bit, but public classes are what really push me. I kept a log throughout my first week of this experiment:

Drinking Bird Pose

Day 1 -  4pm 75 minute Vin/Yin class

This was a perfect class to start the year.  45 minutes of flow and then 45 minutes of slow, juicy, deep tissue yin. This experiment will be easy because I am a golden goddess.

Day 2 - 6:30 am Vinyasa 2

Oh jeez. High intensity early morning class that felt like 2 classes crammed into one.  I felt simultaneously strong and out of shape, but I kept up. Afterwards, I felt inspired to practice some of the poses that I hate  *make me pretty uncomfortable*: Dolphin, crow, headstand, approaching handstand, humble warrior, fire logs... I felt great for a few hours, but by 9am I wanted to curl up under my desk to take a nap.

Day 3 - 8:30 am 15 minute home practice

My alarm didn’t go off this morning, so I missed the 7:30 am class. Even though I was running late to work, I did a few Sun Salutations, cat/cows, and a healthy amount of time in child’s pose. Nailed it.

Day 4 - 6:30 am Vinyasa 2 class

Woof. I did not want to get out from under my warm down cloud of a comforter to stretch out my still-sore body. It was pitch black and so peaceful as all of the sane people in my neighborhood lay sleeping. Walked in late and basically never caught up. While two days ago, I thought ‘I should really work on developing my inversion practice.” This morning I laid in child’s pose as everybody else flew upside down in impressive handstands. I left only vaguely glad I went, but mostly in a sour, withdrawn mood. I thought I could just throw myself back into the same level that I had been building toward with a year of consistent practice. Not so. I really felt those 2 months of languishing. This Month of Yoga is going to be a bit more challenging than I had expected.

Super Soldier Pose

Super Soldier Pose

Day 5 - 10 am 60 minute Vinyasa 2 at ABP

Dragged by patootie over there. Tried and epically failed my first attempt at Super Soldier Pose, but I had a good giggle experimenting.

Day 6 - 10:45 pm 15 minute home practice

Snuck it in under the wire.

Day 7 - 4pm 60 minute Yoga for Climbers at ABP

I got up at 5:45am to make a 6:30 am yoga class. After wedging myself out of bed, stomping around, and just staring angrily at my dresser, I finally thought, why am I doing this? I went back to sleep and went to the 4pm.


Lesson 1 from this experiment so far: I am very unhappy waking up before sunrise during the winter. I am in hibernation mode, which means I sleep more, eat more heavy, hot meals, and don’t get up several hours before the crack of dawn to do a restorative practice. Plus I am stiff and cold in the mornings and need a couple of hours to warm up. Late morning to evening are the good times for me.

Lesson 2 : Never take a 2 month break from yoga again, duh.

Lesson 3 : For henceforth experiments I will only make myself do something 6 days a week, cause let’s be real, everybody needs a day off every once a week.

Lesson 4: This post is too long! Write shorter posts, more often.

 

A Month of Yoga

 
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“Motivation waxes and wanes but discipline will carry you through those hard times”

~ Todd Cline

As I thought about what it would mean to give myself over to a year long experiment, I thought about something I read once about the benefits of “SMART goals:” Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. I chose A Month of Yoga as my first experiment because I want to start the year off cultivating discipline. If my larger goal is to seize 2019 and live more intentionally, I feel like I should start with the basics.

I have been practicing yoga for 12 years. It hasn’t been all beach yoga and handstands.  More often than not, I am the type of yogi who can be found weeping softly in half pigeon. Some of those years I barely looked at my mat while other years it was the one thing that could reliably bring me peace throughout the day. My practice has been patchy at times, but I keep coming back to the mat. I’ve found it is a practice that really works for me.

This past summer, after years of thinking about it, I finally did a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification. My nebulous goals for the course were to deepen my practice, master proper alignment, explore anatomy, delve into yoga philosophy, learn smart sequencing, lead confidently, and develop this as a hard skill I might be able to use as a side-hustle. I was all gung-ho about teaching privately and creating workshops when I landed a full-time job and my priorities began to shift. It was easier for me to prioritize my practice when I had the flexibility to go to class whenever I felt like it. My preference for mid-morning yoga didn’t exactly jive with my new 9-5 work schedule, and I fell off the wagon. So, my first challenge will revolve around sticking to my personal routines and prioritizing that which brings me peace.  If a happy and fulfilling life is the goal, I must routinely do that which makes me happy and feel fulfilled.

Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.

~Aristotle

Specific: Practice a whole lot of yoga

Measurable: I will keep a log of my practice

Achievable: At least 15 minutes a day. Not a huge time commitment, more is better, but focus on consistently achieving the goal.

Relevant: Having a daily yoga practice helps me to cultivate discipline, mindfulness, and intention. This will set the groundwork for the rest of my experiments.

Time-bound: 15 minutes per day for 31 days. How hard could it be?

Wish me luck!

 

12 Experiments

A few weeks ago my boyfriend Thomas told me about a friend of his who had spent the entirety of 2017 doing a new personal experiment every month. He mentioned that his friend, Sarah Natsumi Moore, was rebooting the 12 Experiments for 2019 and that she was inviting people to join in. He was going to do it, he said. Would I be interested in joining, he asked. The premise is to do one experiment per month for a year and see what happens; to try something for 30 days, reflect on it, and share your experience. It didn’t take very long to decide that I would like to do my own 12 experiments. You are now reading the introduction to my year-long experiment, which hopefully will give me some concrete goals and intentions for 2019. I love the element of limited time for each experiment. It is just one month, after all. I could do anything for a month.  At the same time, it’s a whole month! A lot can happen in a month.

2018 slipped by at a breakneck pace. I have found myself with a to-do list that is nearly identical to the one I had at the dawn of this year. It often feels as though I am treading water, tiring myself out, not making noticeable progress in any particular direction. Without previous comforts like the regularity of a higher education schedule or major life events, time has begun to extend out like the West Texas horizon, endlessly flat with hardly any landmarks to be found.

I attended my 10 year high school reunion recently and was struck by the variety of lives my classmates are living, all of them different from my own. I’m willing to accept that some of that is chance, but more so it felt like concrete proof that our lives are the result of the choices we make and what we prioritize. I want to spend 2019 digging deeper into that which brings me joy. I’d like to let go of all the things that obstruct my growth. I want to recalibrate my priorities, cultivate confidence, and deepen my relationships. I want to create and share and elevate and collaborate. And on top of all of that, I want to share this journey to empower myself and you, yes you, to live more intentionally.

Potential experiments in no particular order:

  • A Month of Yoga a Moving Meditation: Reconnect with my body and breath

  • A Month of Singing: Find joy in making music everyday

  • A Month of Writing A Page A Day, I wrote a page every day for a year once and then fell off the wagon. I was really improving as a writer and felt as though I was finding greater clarity in my thoughts.

  • A Month of Letters: Write to all the people I have been intending to reach out to.

  • A Month of Decluttering, Making room for joy: I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on vacation a few years ago. I was so inspired, but by the time I got home I gave away a few things and then gave up. I think I’m finally ready to let go of some extra baggage!

  • A Month of Digital Detox: no social media, no tv, no movies

  • A Month of Frugality: Buy Nothing Extra

  • A Month of Guitar: Play everyday

  • A Month of Cooking: Learn new recipes and eat at home.

  • A Month of Walking: See Thoreau’s essay Walking and Thich Nhat Hanh’s How To Walk

  • A Month of Reading: Dive into other worlds, read a couple of hours every day!

  • A Month of Performance: Live or post it

  • A Month of Finishing: Do those things that have been on the to do list forever!

  • A Month of Generosity: Be more generous than you think you can be. Tithe, donate, volunteer, help out, go above and beyond for others.

The format as laid out by Sarah, is to reveal the next month’s theme a few days before the 1st. Write about why you chose this theme: hopes, fears, rules, expectations, etc. Then give some updates throughout the month on how it is going. At the end of the month, reflect on how it went and introduce the next month’s theme. If you are also interested in experimenting, you can get more information here!

A list of people around the web trying out their own experiments in 2019!