Friday, October 30, 2015

The Healthy Secret of Music and Rage

At one of the PowerMusic classes I teach, a student asked me “How can I safely experience rage?”  It’s a great question.

You could visit an anger bar.

You could enroll in a specialized mixed martial arts program, such as Pugilistic Offensive Warriors, where Veterans with post-traumatic stress therapeutically beat the hell out of each other.

The idea here is to express the anger you feel – in relative safety – and let it go.  Much better to not stuff those explosive rage-full emotions back down inside and drag them around where they might leak out at the wrong moment.

Freud’s case for depression as anger turned inward may be a good one.  When I was a kid the range of “acceptable” emotions in our house was very narrow.  Anger and grief, for example, weren’t allowed.

The only acceptable way I could express big emotion was at the piano.  Using music, I could express – and experience – the entire emotional spectrum, but my built-up anger kept on leaking out where it shouldn’t.

You’ve probably met men like me: passive-aggressive, master of sarcasm, always ready with a snarky remark or backhand compliment.  It was ugly but that was all I knew.  That was my “normal” back then.

Fast forward to my early thirties and psychotherapy.  Fast forward again to my early fifties: regular practice to unpack my lifetime of pent-up rage.  How?  Do I smash things and hurt people?  Do I binge on adrenalin?  Do I meditate?  Pray?

None of those.  Destructive rage isn’t socially acceptable, and meditation and prayer come only AFTER my rage is gone.

The Secret of Music and Rage

Would you be surprised to learn you and I can experience rage safely and fully using a drum?  Or headphones?  Alternatively, free-stylin’ with our homies?

All true.

Here’s the magic of why we would want to do that: your very own secret rage unravels to music the same way as mine.  We humans are hardwired like that.

Freestyle Your Rage

Hip-hop (rap) is just about as full of rage as any music can get.  It needs to be.  It’s a safe way to put anger into words and then back those words with a powerful beat.  And you don’t have to be Nicki, Eminem or Ludacris to do this for yourself.

When you’re steamed, surf to the website called wikiloops where you’ll find tons of beats minus vocals.  Choose your favorite genre, click Play, and freestyle-rap your anger away.  Forget about the rhyme and lock in on the rhythm of just a few words you can repeat.

Let’s break that down.

Think: what gets your knickers really twisted?  Phrases like “road rage,” or “medical terms” repeated out loud – like you mean it, people! – and in rhythm can sometimes be enough to unpack my rage.

“Road rage” and “medical terms” were two gems from my PowerMusic class of homeless folks at last week’s freestyle.  Others: “stupid people,” “robots,” “insensitive bitches,” “people don’t see me,” and “government.”  After an hour rapping that stuff to a heavy beat, all of us were grinnin’ and definitely NOT feelin’ rage.

Are you getting this?

Pound Rage Out

Don’t have a drum?  Be the drum!  Sit in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor.  With your left hand, slap the top of your left leg near the knee.  Then do the same thing on the right.  Repeat it in a constant rhythmic beat: left, right, left, right, left right, etc.  Hard to keep a steady beat?  Find and slap along with a wikiloops track.

Now, just like in freestyle, think about the stuff that gets you good and angry.  Really angry. Let that s**t take over your entire soul.  Keep your rhythmic slap steady.  Really angry now?  Slap harder.  If you want to, shout some words or nonsense syllables it to the beat.  Try as hard as you can to hold on to the angry, raging craziness inside you while you beat that steady rhythmic slap with your hands on your legs.  You’ll know you’re finished when you can’t dial up the anger any more.

Listen With Your Rage

As powerful as a drum and/or freestyle may be, they’re not for everyone.  The analytical judgment-based part of my brain still makes me drag my feet, even on new musical experiences that might be good for me!  Fortunately, there are other ways.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to dial up rage music.  Dare yourself to uncover music that’s outside your current anger envelope.  If you’ve never listened to Metallica or Rage Against the Machine, this would be a good time.  If mainstream hip-hop is already your thang, take it further with Hot 97 where you can hear the latest and edgiest new artists.  Take the deepest dive you can into the madness of music fully endowed with rage.  Build a two- or three-song playlist that really does it for you.

With your headphones (not ear buds, please!) and a quiet, non-mobile place to sit (please don’t do this in the car!), close the door on the world and spin up your rage playlist.  Give yourself the OK to think rage and anger – bring up the stuff that has festered for a while and let the angry vengeful ragged power of the music wash it away.  The more fully you can feel your anger, the more profoundly that feeling can flow through you…and out of you.

A Little Less Rage, A Lot More Love

That snarky person I was back in the day has given way to a different sort of person now.  Sure, I still have anger, but I don’t have as many anger issues now that I’ve made a musical practice out of rage on purpose.  Science has been able to prove there’s a thin line between love and hate and the more hate I release the more I choose love.

Try a little music to let go of that rage you feel.  You deserve it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Depressed? You’re in Great Company. Here’s Why….

I’m chronically depressed.

It’s a diagnosis…but it’s not a disease.

Did you know that October is National Depression Education and Awareness Month?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), my diagnosis means that, in the opinion of psychiatrists, I have four or more of the following symptoms that have lasted for more than two weeks:

• Body: Fatigue, body aches, significant change in appetite, sleep disturbance

• Mind: Racing thoughts, negative thinking, negative self-concept, suicidal thoughts

• Mood: Sadness, despair, guilt, lack of self-worth, hopelessness, irritability

• Social: Loss of interest in social interaction, lack of desire in activities, withdrawal from others, loss of sex drive

You may recall times in your life when you’ve experienced symptoms like these. There may be good reasons for them, too. But that doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill or have a disease!

When my Mom died after a long illness, I didn’t grieve right away. After a year or so, when I finally did begin to feel her loss, those grief emotions hung around me for a long time. They are supposed to; that’s how it works! Losing a parent is a life experience that deserves prolonged grief.

When I faced my own suicidal thoughts during a very dramatic and intense period of my life, those feelings stayed with me for many months. They are supposed to! I still make an almost-daily decision to keep breathing. Facing my own desire to kill myself, but deciding not to, is a life experience that demands deep emotions. No other way to handle it.

Sure, I used anti-depressants, and I’m glad I did so with a great psychiatrist and an educated awareness and understanding. I also stopped using them cold turkey after about a year when my feelings of being an experimental lab rat ran counter to my desire to fully experience the emotions and fully process them.

More recently, on the advice of a naturopathic physician, I tried using melatonin. The chemical reaction I had after only a week got me literally screaming into my pillow. I stopped that experiment cold turkey, too.

Perhaps it serves the medical and psychiatric communities to label me with a mental illness. But there’s no scientific test for depression, and no evidence that it is a disease. All that science can do for depression is treat the symptoms, often with drugs that carry a suicide warning as well as highly unpredictable effects folks like me probably don’t want. Getting to the root cause of depression has so far eluded the scientific and medical research community.

So what do I do?

These days when I get depressed, I recognize the symptoms as I would an old friend. I welcome the opportunity to identify the source of what I feel. If it is unprocessed grief, I grieve. If it is “anger turned inwards,” I rage. If it is loss, fear, aimlessness…whatever…I give myself the time and care of fully experiencing the loss, fear or aimlessness. I do this where it’s safe for me and safe for others – raging on the highway isn’t safe! – and I do this until I’ve fully felt the symptoms depression brings to me.

To fully feel the symptoms of depression in safety for myself and with compassion for the safety of others around me is a good practice.

To fully feel those symptoms is not masking them by meditating, praying or doing anything to change them.

Sometimes I cry; sometimes I keen (like when I was screaming into my pillow on melatonin). Sometimes I rage -- but without breaking things and hurting people! Sometimes the symptoms are so intense that it makes my entire body quake – I’ve learned that these kinds of tremors can be very healing.

When I’ve fully experienced the symptoms, they leave me. That process can take minutes or months, depending on the intensity of the life experience that triggered the symptoms.

How do I do this?

Full experience of emotion, for me, happens when I bring those symptomatic emotions to music.

Music lubricates the experience of my depressing emotions. Music allows me to experience the symptoms and the feelings that go with them in a very personal and healthful way.

Whatever the DSM wants to claim about me, I don’t feel that my practice is a sign of mental illness. To me it feels like I’ve found a way to give myself proper care – care that drugs and therapy don’t give me.

If you are experiencing depression, I hope you can use my story. I hope it will inspire you to try a different approach to meeting the symptoms you experience. Without stigma and without fear.

Some experts feel that symptoms of depression open a doorway to the human psyche – the soul. I’ve walked through that “chronically depressed” doorway many times in my life. With all that practice, I’ve gotten better at it. I’d like to think you would join me there.