Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Making Song, Making Sanity: Recovery from Bipolar Disorder/Composer Des Chansons, Reconstruire Sa Santé Mentale : Rétablissement D'un Trouble Bipolaire

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Making Song, Making Sanity: Recovery from Bipolar Disorder/Composer Des Chansons, Reconstruire Sa Santé Mentale : Rétablissement D'un Trouble Bipolaire

Article excerpt

Mental illness, in my case bipolar disorder, is a tricky terrain where one lands unexpectedly and unprepared. So when I suddenly found myself there at the age of 20,1 did not quite understand what had hit me. More than the shock, it was the label that stunned me, for I was unaware of something like that, or that I could arrive there. That was the start of a long, uncertain road with no companions and, barring what my family could offer, no support systems. I first experienced bipolar disorder in November 1992, and for the next two decades I seesawed between florid highs and seemingly unending glooms, though as I grew older the highs diminished considerably and I experienced chronic depression for several years.

For someone in the throes of any serious illness, the most important concerns are functionality and identity, and like many others I never accepted the disability tag for myself. I didn't realize how seriously incapacitated I was until I was in recovery, my ability to work surfaced, and I was able to successfully plunge myself into scores of musical and academic projects. Prior to recovery, I remained constantly in an inner buzz, unable to calm down and focus my energy for long on any one task.

Naturally, taking up a job or vocation with this inner noise, which would be amplified by external stressors, was not within my capacity. A job requires discipline and regularity, but the only tasks that I could perform on a consistent basis were smaller, goal-oriented ones such as cooking a meal, composing a song, or walking a dog. To me, sanity is the functionality of a person who lives the life of a householder-replete with roles, responsibilities, goals, and everyday issues of life and survival. The absence of this sanity or grounding incapacitated me for days and months.

From childhood I had trained in music, singing with a harmonium1 as accompaniment. This training began when I was a nine-year-old girl, and except for small interludes, always continued. Music and poetry, in particular devotional or bhakti poetry became the pivot around which my life axis changed. There are many elements within music that can play a catalyzing role toward wellness. Foremost among them for me were music classes (whether I attended them or later offered them], musical composition in multiple genres and languages, and self-directed research into music and its impact on people.

Within the tradition of bhakti poetry I was drawn toward the nirgun bhakti strand, nirgun being the abstract devotion to a formless and qualityless God. One of the foremost poet-philosophers of nirgun bhakti poetry was a weaver called Kabir, who lived in the 16th century in Beneras in India. More than five centuries later, I found my poetic and therapeutic voice in Kabir as I wove the garment of my own healing with his poetry as the first pillar of my recovery.

Music as a Health Resource

This study is an autoethnographic account of how I used music as a resource for my own self-healing, which led to my recovery and regaining my selfhood-even going off psychiatric medication in November 2010 after taking it regularly for 18 years. Music as a means for self-healing has a long history. Citing David Aldridge, Marom (1995] stated that "being creative has been seen as a powerful way to bring form out of chaos, find hope in seemingly hopeless situations, and find meaning in suffering" (p. 41]. A recent development in music therapy has been the emergence of "an interdisciplinary field of dialogue on the concept of music as a health resource" (Stige, 2005, p. 2]. Researchers Batt-Rawden, DeNora, and Ruud (2009] drew attention to the fact that there is a lack of knowledge or methods on how potential beneficial experiences of musicking among people with long-term illnesses can be tapped and transported into health promotion settings (p. 122]. Resource-oriented music therapy is concerned with empowerment, self-help, and health promotion through music-that is, focusing on participants' strengths and potentials (Rolvsjord, 2004] so that they experience "increased self-awareness and a new repertoire of music skills relating to self-care" (Batt-Rawden et al. …

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