Happy Thanksgiving! Today seems like the right day to share our gratitudes. This a powerful tool for mindfulness and well being. And you deserve our thanks! So read on…
“I’m thankful for my family – immediate and extended – and friends.” – Amy
“I’m thankful for the help I’ve had in growing my mindfulness, leading me to better appreciate family, friends, music, exercise, work and community.” – Jason
“I’m grateful for the help I’ve gotten with my physical and emotional well-being.” – Amy
“I’m grateful that my family has remained safe during the pandemic thus far. I do not take it lightly that so many other families have been deeply affected by loss arising from this dangerous time.” – Jason
Singing My Gratitude
Here’s the official video for my song “Because I’m Grateful.” Play this track and let these gratitudes soak into your mind. You’ll be doing gratitudes every time you listen or remember the chorus.
I’m especially thankful for you, my audience. I love making music and listening back to what I’ve created – but I really love sharing my expression with you.
When I write songs about mental health, I seek ways of sharing a situation of crisis early in the song. Then I share a path to resolution that will unfold as the song plays out – a path my audience can map out for their own lives. Originals like “Run With My Troubles” and “Because I’m Grateful” follow this pattern where I present a difficult mental health situation at the start and propose an action (exercise, gratitude) that makes a difference.
In writing and editing the lyric I’m constantly pursuing the truth – the exact words that most precisely reflect the experience.
Finding the Words
My newest love song, “Back to Our Bliss,” represents this drive toward helpfulness and honesty in the lyric. My first draft contained the line “And we won’t be going back to the harm we’ve gone through.”
But I came to realize I’m not a fortuneteller. I can’t truly predict that all the harm is over. So, just writing a wish doesn’t make it true! I chose a more meditative replacement for the lyric: “May we learn to be more mindful of the harm we’ve gone through.” This line honors the challenges people still face At the same time, it provides a pathway for living with emotional difficulty while nourishing stronger, healthier interpersonal connections.
I’ve come to trust this process of mining my song ideas and lyrics for the truth I know – either my truth or that of someone close to me. By the time you hear a finished track or see the video of my original songs, you can be sure that I absolutely mean what I’ve written, because I’ve taken the time to ensure the lyrics reflect the truest meaning of what’s in my heart.
Watch this space for the upcoming songs “Back to Our Bliss” and “Distorted.” I’ve begun the process of making demo recordings.
What’s your process for expressing yourself? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.
“I’m not good enough. I’ll never have what I want. I’m disgusting!”
Do these dark thoughts sound familiar? The inner critic spinning out of control, gaining intensity at the sound of its own thoughts?
Self-help lecturers and therapists have offered a counterbalance in the form of affirmations like “I’m beautiful. I’m powerful. I can do it!” Among my loved ones who struggle with harsh self-criticism, there is a strong resistance to even starting a habit of affirming the opposite of what’s playing in their heads on a loop.
But it may be harder to start at a place of high self-praise when part of you is chronically tearing you down. That’s why I suggest a simple, provable truth may work best here:
“I’m human. I deserve compassion and grace.”
By simply affirming our own humanity, we can ground our objections to the critic in something we can easily believe, something we know to be true. We can then see the negative self-talk for the distorted lie that it is.
We can add physicality to recognizing our humanity, our realness, by placing a hand on our heart while we say this, either out loud or silently in our thoughts. This connection develops the part of our brain that’s capable of self-compassion. It’s like a muscle that grows gradually if exercised regularly – one that’s atrophied in people who live under siege of chronic, out-of-control self-criticism.
Once you have a bearing on your humanity, you can advance to higher affirmations, but if you have trouble starting, I see lots of value of starting with acknowledging one’s on humanity. I find it soothes me when I fear the negativity is gaining on me.
What do you do to ease your negative self-chatter? Please join the discussion in the comments below.
So, what’s up with a musician reviewing a book on his music web site? Funny you should ask! I’ve focused my latest songs on mental health. Subsequently I began engaging on Twitter with people who have something to say on the subject. This led me to one Nita Sweeney, author of the memoir “Depression Hates a Moving Target.”
Like me, Nita’s a runner. Like me, she considers running her mental health medicine. (Full disclosure: Nita runs in addition to taking antidepressants. She finds the exercise prevents the necessity to increase dosage. In my case I took up exercise to prevent the need to start on meds).
Seeing Ourselves in the Story
My wife Amy and I downloaded “Depression Hates a Moving Target” in audiobook form and spent several hours listening together at the kitchen table.
Amy chronicles her own experiences with depression and anxiety, along with the benefits she gets from regular exercise, at her own blog site, Sound Mind and Body NJ.
Amy and I each saw ourselves in different facets of Nita’s book. For Amy it was Nita’s harrowing recollections of loss, hopelessness, distorted self-image of body, and suicidal urges from the past.
For my part it was Nita’s account of the baby steps she took into giving running a try when her friend posted an intriguing endorsement of her own new running experience on social media. I followed a similar path into the world of athletic self-care when a stew of life stressors prompted me to consider seeing a psychiatrist for some help with my beleaguered mind. You’ll find more of my exercise/running origin story at Kidney Donor Athlete here.
One Stride at a Time
Since Nita composed this memoir from her journal entries, she frequently takes the reader on her runs with her. We come along for those breathless first forays into walk-run intervals, the kind you’d find in a Couch to 5K training program. We have the best seat in the house for the epic effort of her first marathon.
On these runs, Nita discusses her canine running partner’s antics. She recounts the conversations she has with fellow runners. Nita expounds on the details of correct running form and its effect her aches and pains. The author sheds light on the mental negotiations every runner must navigate, but even more so when depression demands its say. One chapter is aptly titled, “My Mind is Trying to Kill Me.”
Runners like me will more readily take to the detailed accounts of Nita’s training runs than non-runners. However, non-runners take heart. Everything builds to a satisfying and cathartic conclusion even if you’ve never laced up and never intend to.
Nita’s true story frequently winds through fearsome obstacles. The specter of neighbors’ judgment haunts Nita’s first explorations of running. More viscerally, the sight of a high, narrow bridge along a new running route strikes fear in the heart of author and reader alike. Nita shares the experience of negotiating with those fears. She reasonably picks her battles, choosing which ones or how much to confront in a given day. Reading these passages, I’m reminded of the value of psychological flexibility to cope with mental health challenges in real time.
So, Why a Book Review on a Music Web Site?
Here’s where Nita’s story really intersects with mine: I enlisted her to appear in my upcoming music video “Run With My Troubles.” This video tells my story (combined with my wife’s) of exercise to cope with mental health difficulties. I sought the diverse images of other runners to illustrate that exercise is for everybody who can find a way to do it! I found running to be the most poetic form of exercise to represent in this video. Still, no matter how you get moving, exercise really is powerful, natural medicine for your mind!
Nita’s clip of her running with her yellow lab Scarlet is like a page out of her book, come to life! She actually runs through the same secluded ravine she describes from those tentative first walk-runs – but now with the rock-solid form and self-assured joy of an experienced marathoner.
The video is “coming soon” but you can see it now by signing up below to get my emails!
Early on in my marriage to Amy, we were dealing with the Type 1 Diabetes she’d been living with since age 8, and its progressive complications. We’d been dealing with the emotional insecurity that comes with accelerated wear and tear on the nervous system and the side effects of nearly a dozen prescription medications. She had recently moved from injecting 4 different types of insulin every day to a new mode of self-treatment – the insulin pump. I considered her a warrior, battling diabetes every day. Similarly I envisioned her battling depression.
At the time, I wrote the song “My Gentle Warrior” with my observations of her showing up every day to fight these battles.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that the battle metaphor proved to do as much harm as good. When the perception is that you live in a constant state of battle, it sets up a wider sense of hostility within oneself and among loved ones. And it’s exhausting for the person living with the condition and for that person’s immediate circle – call it shell shock, battle fatigue or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Amy and I have been faithfully going to couples therapy for about 4 years at the time of this writing and, along the way, we’ve learned that in our case, these feelings aren’t defeated with a battle. Their power grows in a battle. Instead, these feelings are mitigated with self compassion, mutual compassion.
We learn “contrary action” – the skill to do exactly the opposite of what depression or rage is telling us to do. Depression says stay in bed, contrary action says get up and sit in front of the bright light – or hop on the treadmill. Rage says to tell your spouse off. Contrary action says to hold hands with your spouse, look him/her in the eyes and make an emotional connection.
Depression and rage tell us mental health is a battle. Contrary action tells us mental health is a humanitarian mission – to ourselves and to our loved ones.
In this light I more recently thought about “My Gentle Warrior” and wrote its sequel: “Battle.” The line that keeps coming back in reflection in the new lyric is “I thought this was a battle.”
I can’t speak for everyone; I believe there are people whose mental health is better suited to thrive in a battle; I’ve learned from experience and counseling that Amy and I are not among those people. So, what will you choose in creating and maintaining your mental health: a battle or a humanitarian mission? Feel free to comment below.