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.


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.