Most of my song ideas come to me while I’m driving to and from work. This recent idea was different. On this car ride, I was listening to an album I had released in 2003, titled American Road. The record contained personal conversations about the state of our culture post-9/11 and heading into the Iraq war. I took my audience on a journey from shock and fatigue to hope. In it, I hid for a ‘Day in my Cave’ and then came out looking for ‘Instant Love, Just Add Water.’ Then I had learned to see my ‘Glass Half Full.’ – That song became an anthem for modest optimism when hard times called for it. Now that we’re in a pandemic, I sense a need for songs like this again.
Rethinking Mental Health Battles and Warriors
One song on the album had new context in my life: ‘My Gentle Warrior.’ I had written it for my wife Amy. Her long ordeal with Type 1 Diabetes and its many complications struck me as a sort of battle. I perceived this loving soul fighting on multiple fronts every day with the depression and anxiety that often accompany diabetes.
Years of honest work in marriage therapy challenged our context of battle, though. With our therapist, we learned that co-existing with depression did not require a war.
Our experience taught us that fighting with depression gives it more power and leads to other, unwanted fighting. From that, we learned an alternative to fighting with depression. Instead, we could ask it to leave the room for a few minutes, knowing full well it had to return. We could choose thoughts to focus on other than depression’s dark and distorted thoughts. We understood we couldn’t simply will depression’s thoughts out of existence.
So, a very powerful thought came to mind just before ‘My Gentle Warrior’ came on over my car stereo. The line ‘I thought this was a battle’ came to mind, almost as a mantra. From this I developed the song, ‘Battle.’ In it, I envisioned the rage that often comes with depression as a commander giving harmful orders – and we’re choosing to disobey those orders.
A Collection of Mental Health Mantras
This epiphany guided the way for a full-length album of songs intended to help improve public mental health. With it, I intend to chip away further at stigma, to create mantras that people can wake up recalling- meditations without having to meditate. With this in mind, I will produce affirmations and moments of gratitude achieved simply by having listened and having let the songs in.
Some of the songs have existed in my catalog for years awaiting release-quality recording. They fit the context of this album beautifully. Other songs are newly written or in the idea phase.
In these lyrics, I do not intend to sell miracle cures. Rather, I seek to modestly share the experience of showing up everyday. I’m laying out the virtue of gradually building habits that improve ability to cope, of making small amounts of progress at a time.
I give voice to the skepticism one might offer when first presented with homework in therapy. For instance, how many of us didn’t roll our eyes the first time we’re instructed to say positive affirmations when we’re down on ourselves? Therefore, I don’t propose to go straight from “I’m disgusting!” to “I’m beautiful!” in one immediate leap. That simply doesn’t ring true that quickly. First, we must work our way to “I’m human and I deserve some compassion.”
A Stigma-Shattering Birthday
I’m excited to share my own family’s mental health journey with you. I am deeply grateful for Amy’s openness about it. I can’t help thinking that she gave this project an extra nudge into existence on her birthday this year. Amy had chosen a birthday fundraiser on Facebook when the option popped up. She opted to raise funds for the Mental Health Foundation – a very public stigma-shattering statement in front of friends and extended family.
Then, I asked her if she’d like for me to perform an online fundraiser concert for the cause on the night of her birthday. That became the first of a weekly online concert series. I’ve put on these shows for a month at the time of this writing. I will run it through the winter until we can comfortably gather in-person outdoors again in the spring.
I hope you find my intentions valuable and that you’ll join me in this conversation about improving personal and public mental health.
P.S.: I want you to hear my new song “Battle” and see me actually recording it! Sign up below and I’ll send you the exclusive video link for free.