Music For Emotional Health

Started by SueC, July 28, 2019, 16:21:03

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I racked my brains about this thread title.  I really wanted to avoid giving off "let's sit down in this sandstone cave and meditate" vibes.  But, so many people have had difficult experiences in life, and especially when that happens really early in your life, you can end up carrying a heavy weight around, sometimes without knowing it, and sometimes conscious of it.  A lot of families are dysfunctional, so that you never learn certain things in childhood that people in emotionally healthy families do - about yourself, about other people, about the world - it's like you saw everything in (un)funhouse mirrors as a child, and when you get out into the world, you're desperately trying to see it straight - and it can take a bit of time to get there, particularly if you're not aware of these imposed distortions.

If you've had especially traumatic experiences, like family violence, emotional abuse and/or neglect, your brain develops differently to the way it would in a healthy situation. It grows up highly focused on survival, and marinated in stress hormones.  The hangover of a very stressful childhood with little emotional and/or physical security and repeated traumatic experiences can be in the form of complex PTSD, depression etc.  Depression can also happen to people who think they've had lovely childhoods and don't remember any raised voices or fists or nasty put-downs etc from their caregivers - you can be affected by what didn't happen, as well as by what actually happened.

And then there's bullying, and being different, and dealing with that in childhood, and even in adulthood.  If you're lucky, you grow up in a good community and don't see too much negative stuff around that. If you're not, well, then it's harder.

So in short, many of us live with the after-effects of all sorts of BS that went down, and few of us can afford to go see a competent mental health professional as much as ideal when there's something that needs to be sorted - if you can actually find one, because while some are great, some are not so great and you might have to keep shopping.  Anyhow though, the complete outsourcing of these problems to the mental health profession isn't great either - the idea that you take your brain to be fixed like you take your car to be fixed.  The problems come from human community (its dark sides), and need also to be addressed in the human community (in the brighter sides and safe places).  The mystery and stigma around all this stuff has to go.  Self-education is always a great idea, and there are great (and not so great) books and online resources around these days to help with that.

And then there's the power of stories - reading the stories of others, writing your own story, looking at fictitious stories which deal with some of the great challenges of being human - in literature, in drama, in poetry, and in music.

Music is a bit of a multi-layered beast - something more than words.  Looking at the science of music and its effects on the brain has always fascinated me.  Music - listening to it, playing it - taps into emotions like mere words cannot, and effortlessly take us places we can't as easily go unassisted - sort of like amazing landscapes can, if you're sensitive to that.

Many people use music not just for enjoyment, but as a space to help them get their head around life and its problems. People connect with it, and process things with it. You may hear a song which just strikes a huge chord with you, and you go, "Yeah, that's me, I feel this, I think this, underneath!"  That's a magical moment of common ground, and of someone else clearly expressing what you've been thinking and feeling yourself more murkily all along.

Epiphanies are nice, and so is working on your capacity to listen and empathise, through music.  And, on a more basic level, there's that music itself can fly you to all sorts of places, just with the sounds, and give your mind something that serves as a form of meditation (without having to sit and focus on your breath - headphones in the dark do this so well), to break it out of the circles it might be going in.

So - here's a thread for sharing music that has been particularly helpful for you emotionally.  It may help someone else.  We're all like a bunch of Venn diagrams with overlaps in common, and sections not in common.  (Have you heard that saying, "If two people are exactly alike, one of them is superfluous"? :) )The in-common stuff helps us relate in the first place; the differences in perspective can help us to grow, if we listen to each other. 

If I'm asking people to go out on a limb, I better practice what I preach and post a couple of songs.  This is difficult, because so many songs are relevant.  So I've picked two that for me have dealt with the big picture very well.

The first one to me is like "Take Off Your Rose-Tinted Spectacles 101".  It cuts through a lot of crap.  Just ignore the last couple of sentences at the end of the song, as this is a song from a movie where people beat the crap out of each other recreationally / for existential reasons / because they've got excess testosterone / whatever.  I don't have a Y-chromosome, plus I loathe violence because of my own experiences with it when I was defenseless.  I still thought it was a good movie, even if that aspect of it made me shudder.  But the song, by itself, is brilliant, and doesn't need further explanation.

The next song speaks volumes about growing up in a dysfunctional family and then dealing with the rest of your life.  It came out about the same time I was officially diagnosed with complex PTSD - and it's typical that you don't find out until your 40s, because your brain is in survival mode all your life and so tightly clamped down that it doesn't allow you to look behind the wall it made to compartmentalise the deeply disturbing stuff you grew up with, not until you feel safe, and for me that didn't happen until the world wasn't going to end if I wasn't working fulltime.  So, tree change at 40, build your own house, downshift to part-time, find yourself in a safe and happy marriage and actually trusting someone close to you, and bang - the wall falls down, and suddenly you start having vivid nightmares that re-enact all the stuff that happened when you were a baby, when you were three, when you were eight, and re-unite you with the emotions you once had to put to one side just to get through your childhood.  (I had most of the memories all along, it was largely the emotions that went with them that had been walled off.)

It's an a-ha experience ("Well, that explains so much of what was a mystery to me!"), but it's also vastly disconcerting on a physical and emotional level to confront all that stuff, and to see technicolour movies of horrible scenes from your childhood night after night, accompanied by all the feelings you felt at the time, as a little girl - feelings that are visceral, and overwhelming, because you feel them finally from the perspective of the small and defenseless person you once were.  It's your brain in surround-sound, plug-in multisensory movie mode, and with a season of repeat screenings that goes on for months before petering out eventually.  Sort of like being dropped in a Matrix that's your past - or like going down a Harry Potter type pensieve night after night.

Nearly five years have gone by since then, so I'm looking back at it like a reporter now, at the re-integration of a brain that's in my head as we speak, after the storm.  I can talk about that now, but couldn't at first.  Our on-board computer is an interesting piece of equipment... and it's so logical that it does what it does.  All the stuff that turns out is just software!  It's almost amusing, and it takes a huge load off your shoulders.  And I know there are so many people like me as adults, and so many children growing up as we speak with terrible traumas in their young lives.

But at the time, when it was movie season, this song was a lifeline to me.

Love to anyone out there who has been down this road, or is on it now.  ♥
SueC is time travelling


Can't say much about the subject; but this came to my mind, so I did a quick google search:

QuoteFrom AGRELIA'S CASTLE - Grammy Nominated Producer/Keyboardist for the Waterboys, "Brother" Paul Brown, and his wife April Brown, vocalist and Native American-style flautist.

Combining the sounds of vintage Fender Rhodes, B3, and warm soundbeds with hauntingly beautiful vocals, Native American Style Flutes, guitars, cello, and sitar, set over the soothing sounds of nature, the music is both ethereal and earthy, calming and uplifting, inviting the listener on a heart-filling journey into a healing space for release, relief, and relaxation.

"It's like stepping into a parallel world of this gorgeous hypnotic healing music
and April sings like an earth angel."  -Mike Scott / The Waterboys
I'm walking slowly and quickly, but always away...


Thank you, @Ulrich, that's lovely.  Much of art seems to be about catharsis.  It's nice to have excellent antidotes to all the venom in the world. And Mike Scott frequently nails it to a T.  It's funny when you look back at your life and realise that the music you listened to the most growing up was written by people who had similar childhood experiences to your own, even if they weren't writing about it at the time.  So for instance, I had no idea Bono came from a home which went cold when his mother died, and apparently was blamed in some way for her death by the remaining parent, who wasn't an encouraging, affirming sort of bloke to his son, and that he saw a lot of violence and strife on a personal level - not when I was listening to their first five albums as a teenager.  And, I had no idea Mike Scott had been abandoned by his father, when I was listening to This Is The Sea and Fisherman's Blues.  I was just drawn to that music emotionally because of its affirmation, its light, its breathing room, its determination to be authentic; and because these guys were showing me that people could have quite different orientations, opinions and values to the ones I was seeing at home.  I bet it was as therapeutic for them to write these songs as it was for me to listen to them.

Songs Of Innocence was looking back at all that stuff from the perspective of midlife, and it's amazing what you see in the rear-view mirror pulling away from a situation that you didn't see clearly when you were in the thick of it.

Good art is so wonderfully humanising. <3

SueC is time travelling


A friend who knows my story has two young daughters and listens to a lot of "young" music at her house.  I love knowing that they gel over music, have it as a common thread, dance to it in their lounge room, connect over it, at their house.  My own experience was quite different - my father would come in without knocking and mock the music I was listening to with barbed pantomimes and sarcastic wailing.  I soon learnt to only play the radio over the speakers, so that if he came in with his mockery, I could say to him, "This is the phone number of the radio station, if you'd like to complain about their programming."  And I reserved all the music that meant something to me for headphones sessions, so I ended up spending quite a bit of time sitting cross-legged on the floor of my room in the dark with headphones on.  Then it was, "Are you on drugs?  Why are you isolating yourself in your room?  Your behaviour isn't normal."  :1f633:

This is, of course, an example of how you make your own world, have your own thoughts, your own feelings.  As a teenager, books and music were universes I might actually want to live in.

So anyway, this friend of mine sent me a song a few months ago, saying, "I heard this and I thought of you."  And this song sums up the relationship I had with my mother and my survival of that so well, I cried listening to it, as I did again when I was preparing it for inclusion in this post.  It's not a miserable crying, it's just that my emotions are now freely available to me, and it's great to have them come out, rather than freezing into ice when you hear something like this, and just sitting with a cold hollow inside (which is how it used to feel before my emotions about my own early experiences came back to me).  When something is sad, it's just sad, and it feels so much better when that just comes out.

The song is about bullying, probably in a more conventional sense, but also fits the variation I found myself in - a lot of good songs are adaptable to different situations. Schoolyard bullying paled in comparison for me... this is a great song if you know what it's like to be chronically put down in your own home, to have your good characteristics ignored and your flaws blown out of proportion, to have always the worst possible motivations superimposed on your actions, to be consistently blamed for everything that goes wrong and told you are unlikable and morally corrupt, and to be generally demonised by someone who should have supported you and been glad to see you.

This is also a great song if you've ever been unkindly singled out because you have an accent, came from another country, were in any way different from the local crowd that they objected to.

SueC is time travelling


Positivity by Suede
1, 2, 3, 4 by The Plain White T's


So, note I didn't call this thread "Music For Mental Health" - although that would have worked, too.  But, I prefer to talk about emotional health because it has less subtext attached to it as a term, and also because I want to make the distinction between thinking and feeling.  When you hear that someone has "mental health issues" it's so easy to jump to the conclusion that there is something defective about their thinking, and that there's something fishy going on. Or, that if that person only learnt to think in the "right" way, everything would be fine.

Yeah, aspects of your thinking can be affected with cPTSD and also depression.  Your thinking can be very negative, especially about your own person and your own prospects for happiness - and especially if you were actively taught to think that way about yourself in childhood.  But for me, that was the easiest part to fix.  I've got a brain that does intellect and analysis, and which has had a lot of practice from a very young age looking at what people are saying and comparing it to what I am seeing - because I grew up with so much disconnect there. I had to be like a forensics specialist to make sense of my world - had to get out my magnifying glass, and think things through from first principles a lot, rather than accept what was being said to me by my caregivers.

So, for instance, the message you are often getting from your caregivers is that you are stupid, and you take that and weigh it up against the fact that none of your teachers think this, and that you have lots of A grades on your report card, and that you win prizes in writing and science and geography and are representing your school at the regional spelling competition less than two years after coming to Australia and less than three years after you did your introductory year of school English in central Europe. ("The cat sat on the mat.  The frog sat on the log. In, into, on, onto, under, over, beside. Hello, how are you, goodbye, which way to the train station?  I like, I don't like. How much is that? Mind the gap." Just before we came to Australia, I spent a week in England, and bought my first ever proper English-language storybook at a little bookshop in Hastings.  I have it in my hands now, a lovely hardback, with only the spine faded:  Richard Adams's Favourite Animal Stories.  Inside the cover, my schoolkid running writing: England, November 1982, £1.99.  The very first story I turned to in that book was by Rudyard Kipling.  I am the cat who walks by himself, and all the places are alike to me.  I loved that, the sense of it, the sound of it, the rhythm of it, the freedom of it, and I started saying that to myself in my own mind, when I was walking places. The Cat That Walked By Himself is of course wonderful and poetic and intricate and naughty and metaphorical, and I smile 37 years later to think of the luck of having that be the first story I came across in the English language, when I had learnt the basics. :) )

Anyway, so you start to look at external objective indicators versus what people are saying.  It's a bit disconcerting that you have to develop that modus operandi to deal with your own parents,  but the up side is that it comes in handy for spotting all sorts of other instances of people trying to pull the wool over your eyes, like in advertising, or public discourse.  It's a very applicable skill.  And so, because of this, you actually know you aren't stupid.  You've checked the word in the dictionary.  You've looked at objective evidence until you're having out-of-body experiences.  You can refute it intellectually.

But this is not the same thing as processing it emotionally.  That is the big thing.  That was the big thing for me, with this and other examples of improper mirroring from my caregivers.  You develop this split between thinking and feeling, where you can know something as surely as it is possible to know anything in this world - that the sun is shining today, that 1+1 = 2, that there are elephants in Africa, that you are actually not stupid - but you feel differently. So for instance, you can be accused of something and know you've categorically not stolen the item in question, that you had nothing to do with that at all, but you can feel all the red-hot shame as if you really had done it - and have enough metacognition to be bamboozled by the phenomenon.

It was this kind of thing that took me much longer to deal with.  It was not easily switched off, but understanding is your friend there, and you can just feel a feeling actually, and know it's a distortion - a projection from some evil shadow puppets theatre - a dirty trick.  You can live your life and function very well for the majority of the time - your thinking is if anything sharper because of all this, and although you can't access part of your emotional history because it's buried behind The Great Wall Of China, you can, for the vast majority of the time, be genuinely happy and vibrant, and very creative and productive and engaged, and very empathetic with others because you've been there.  And because you know, and because you can sense it.  The one thing you can't do is to emotionally connect with the traumatic things that happened to you.  When you look at those things, the footage of these things in your head, they are like a silent movie.  There is no sound and it all seems to be underwater and far away.  There are no feelings, just a yawning chasm, a coldness, a paralysis - and a vortex which you don't want to get too close to, in case you get sucked down.  You're intermittently aware that you have a miniature black hole somewhere inside yourself; sometimes you accidentally get near the event horizon and experience spaghettification, and then you pull back against the gravity and yank yourself back out before you get completely pulled down.

That was before the Great Wall Of China came down five years ago.  Now the footage has sound and comes complete with feelings, and the black hole is gone.  But looking back, there was no intellectual way to solve that problem.  No amount of cognitive behavioural therapy would have worked - I didn't have a problem realising what had happened in reality.  I knew what had happened, clear as day.  I didn't have significant errors in my thinking.  It was the feelings that were the problem, and feelings can't be rationally controlled.  They reside in a completely different part of your brain, and have to be approached differently.  It's more like herding cats, actually.

OK, that's enough heavy stuff for one morning.  I actually came here to post some songs that were important both to a dear friend, and to me, in our adolescences across the world from each other, grappling with respective cabinets of horror. I just thought, "Hmm, I'd like to explain something about the title!" and look where that went!  :)

So, when this friend and I talked about books and music, we had a few significant-to-us artists in common.  On the music side, Sinéad O'Connor was a major overlap.  I'm not at all surprised - she was dealing with childhood trauma herself.  Of course, you don't say at the time, "What I like about that music is the way it deals with childhood trauma."  I think it's that there's a certain emotional sensitivity that comes with the territory, plus that the under-addressed hurts inside of you can be really huge in amping up your creativity and your desire to express yourself, so that can make for good writing and good music, and for a lot of passion about what you do, and a lot of attention to detail.  It can actually drive you to be really good at what you do.

Here's Ms O'Connor with a song from her early 20s, that resonated deeply both with my friend and myself when we were growing up.  Musically this is really powerful, and gorgeously arranged, and that voice of hers is like no other...

I'll just put in one other song of hers at this stage - one that I first heard in my mid-20s and that gives me goosebumps every time - it's a what-if story about a child who has killed a parent it could never please.  Really, this song is from the same tradition as the fairytales with the evil stepmothers - stories like this make us think about this world, and how to deal with it.  I think music like this helps us be in touch with our own emotions and the things we are needing to process.

SueC is time travelling


Hello, @PearlThompsonsBloodflowers! :) Do you want to post those songs? Then we can all listen!

That's open to anyone reading, too, obviously!  Don't be shy! :)
SueC is time travelling


I feel the need to lighten the mood a little, so I'm going to post a few examples of instant feelgood songs - real foot-stompers.  These also have an important place in my life - they're basically instant endorphins, instant toe-tapping.  Also, there's something about the process of people cooperating to make music that has always made me happy.  When people can get together to make music like this, something is right with this world, and also with human beings.

First-up: You can really hear why this Irish tune is called The Bag Of Cats...

This next one is from Cape Breton...

And now we're going to Scotland...

Karen Matheson's voice is so unbelievable... she just opens her mouth and this gorgeous sound comes out, like this gift to the world.  I suppose it indeed is one of her gifts to the world. If we have something like that, it's important to let it shine.

Fun fact:  The only international live acts I've seen in person since 2005 are Capercaillie (twice!) and Sharon Shannon!  They came down to Albany, Western Australia as part of the Perth International Arts Festival.  Another fun fact is that I actually bumped into Karen Matheson - in the toilet, of all places - the gig was at the Vancouver Arts Centre lawns and they had put in a row of portaloos for the day... When I got over the cognitive dissonance of meeting a singer who is normally just a voice on a CD to me in such an unprepossessing place, I recollected myself and my manners and had a little chat with her, basically thanks for coming down to play here and how are you enjoying our coast etc (she did actually have time off for sightseeing, which I was glad about because the coast here is magnificent...).  The other thing that really threw me is that she only came up to my armpits.  Very petite person, with such a big, big voice! :)

This last one isn't a foot-stomper; it's the other thing Celtic music does so unbelievably well...

(And she really does sing like that, in person!  It's not a trick.)

Now that kind of music is something else entirely.  You can end up with tears going down your face, just because it is so incredibly beautiful, and because it is so good to be alive to experience this sort of beauty... in a voice and a song like this, in the wild landscapes it evokes, in having a sky over your head and just breathing air... And it's a beauty and a joy that reminds you of its opposite as well, of grief and of loss and of heartache.  So now I'm going to have to quote Kahlil Gibran (rather predictably ;) ), who explained that aspect of life so well:

    On Joy and Sorrow

    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
    And how else can it be?
    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
    Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
    Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

...just a little reminder that there is a lot of beauty in this world...

SueC is time travelling


Quote from: SueC on July 29, 2019, 07:06:30Hello, @PearlThompsonsBloodflowers! :) Do you want to post those songs? Then we can all listen!

That's open to anyone reading, too, obviously!  Don't be shy! :)
Sounds good


I sorta mean, put the YouTube clips in and tell us a little about these songs, if you want to! :)

It would kind of be nicer to have a few people joining in with their own songs and ideas than to have this sort of monologue... ;)  I can see that people are reading this page; can I tempt anyone to bring out their typing fingers? :)  I've never really understood why people just read when they can participate in stuff like this... it's so space-age!  :angel
SueC is time travelling


My husband was teasing me today, "Have you put in a Cure song yet?  You are on a Cure fan forum, you know!"  And I was going, "Oh no, then I have to explain why I like Bloodflowers, and that would be such a loooooooong post! And I've already written so much!"

And this is going to be so complicated...because then I'm going to have to tell you about 2014.  It was the year The Great Wall Of China started coming down in my head, just before Christmas.  But before we get to that, I have to summarise another story.

When we arrived in Australia in late 1982, my parents bought a quite remote farm.  They had brought two horses out to Australia, one of which was allegedly mine, but when we got here, they decided to take her off me for breeding.  This was an animal I was deeply bonded to, an ex-broodmare who'd kind of adopted me and carried me all over the countryside in Europe, and she ended up bleeding to death and dying in my arms after giving birth (and later I found out that my parents had been advised by the previous owners that the reason she was being sold as a child's riding horse was that she'd had a difficult birth with her last foal and the veterinary advice was that further breeding would risk her life...and I have never been able to fathom why you'd do something like that...).

When this horse was taken off me ("because she wasn't really mine, because I hadn't actually paid for her") I wanted that kind of situation never to be able to happen again, and I scraped together all my pennies from selling items I had left behind in Europe, and from what my grandmother had given me for my birthday.  I had $600, and went to see our neighbour, who bred working-line Arabian horses.  It was a drought year, and horses were going half-price.  There was a skinny little yearling in the paddock who looked like a cross between a bicycle frame and a moth-eaten blanket.  She was for sale, and cost twice what I had, so I did an International Velvet type thing and did odd jobs and chores nobody else wanted for another couple of years.  But, this one couldn't be taken off me.  It was years before I could ride her, and I did all her groundwork and training alone, closely following an excellent horse training manual by Australian horseman Tom Roberts.  And after that, I rode her many hundreds of miles through the Australian bush, exploring the Reserves and State Forests near where we lived, and eventually competing in endurance rides. She was, during my high school years, the only independent means I had for getting off our farm besides my own two feet.  She was my freedom in those years, and my best friend.  And by the way, the Australian bush is amazing...

Here's a photo of us when she was two and I was 12:

The rest are from 2008, on the South Coast where I live with my husband, when she was 27... and yes, that is the same horse, she was a heterozygous grey, and those start a solid colour and grey out slowly:

So when this mare died in April 2014 - and I had to make the decision to end her life, she had cancer and her quality of life was nosediving - it was actually a huge bereavement for me.  Yes, she was old, yes, it was to be expected, but none of that makes it hurt any less when you lose a dog or a horse you've had for a long time - and I had this horse for 31 years.  Also, when I have to make end-of-life decisions for horses, I opt that they be shot, because it is instant and so much better than sticking needles into their necks and poisoning them slowly - having seen both - and having also personally experienced that anaesthetic agents can have pretty disconcerting side-effects as you are going under (I had a backwards-of-the-cliff type experience, which was neither expected nor fun).  Shooting is an instant out for the horse, but messy for the onlooker (...I think the onlooker is less important in that situation).  After you've got a dead horse, you have to move it to its burial site (because I won't walk them into a pit); so the neighbour came with his tractor to help us, and we buried her at the back of our place, in the bushland.  Anyway, it's so sad to see these larger-than-life animals dead.  She was like a beautiful silver statue, lying motionless on the ground, with blood flowing scarlet out of her nostrils, and she looked so small.  They always do compared to when they are alive.

I had been on autopilot the whole day she was put down, and busy with burial and cleanup and dealing with the other animals on our farm.  I didn't get to stop until sunset.  As the sun dropped below the horizon, I sat down on a grassy bank in our garden and watched the colours in the clouds until they faded away.  And I was sad, and it wasn't until then that I cried.  That's because I always have an autopilot that gets me through situations like this, and I don't let up until all the necessary tasks are done and everyone has been looked after.

Sitting on that bank in the twilight, I contemplated how strange it felt to be breathing when she was not.  The universe felt different, as if the moon had been taken from the sky.  I felt small, and space felt big.  It was the day of the Australian election, and my husband was down the town hall helping out, and didn't know my mare was dead, because it had been a snap decision I made during the day, after I'd already voted.  Doing the count takes time, and people get home late. Bereavement is different when your spouse has got their arms around you, and Brett is always supercalifragilistically wonderful at times like that.  But in the gap before that happened, I sat with night falling around me, my dog leaning against me and the crickets chirping in the bushes, just breathing and contemplating mortality.
SueC is time travelling


This is turning into such a tapeworm...  :o

So where was I?  2014. I think a heartfelt bereavement possibly has a weathering effect on Great Walls Of China, so that they may be slightly more likely to crumble.  I'd only lost two relatives up to that point, both of them on another continent; the rest was all losing companion animals.  But, none of those were like the loss of this particular one, which was so in my face, and a friend to me from childhood to midlife.

It is a very difficult thing that sometimes the only thing you can do to help someone you love is to kill them.  What you wouldn't give for a magic wand...  But, on the other hand, I trained as a biologist / environmental scientist, and I am acutely aware that the cycle of life works the way that it does for a reason.  If you halt death, you have to halt birth (something the human race has been slow to understand, to their own peril and the entire planet's); otherwise the place gets out of balance.  The process of evolution is facilitated by excessive offspring coupled with huge fatality rates - that really drives natural selection, and therefore adaptation to a changing environment.  This is the very process that has resulted in the splendour and stratospheric diversity of species in the wilderness areas of this planet.

People generally are out of touch with this; many live in cities, and rarely encounter death, and when they do, it's all hushed up and sanitised for them... I really recommend the Japanese film Departures:

Death is basically the price paid for life, and the two are inseparable.  But just look at the life... the photos below are all taken in the on-farm remnant vegetation conservation area that we steward at our place:

And I'll just finish with a few of our orchids.  This is a Flying Duck Orchid:

Next is the Hammer Orchid.  The BBC came to film this species near the Stirling Ranges some years ago, and we discovered it in our own conservation remnant.  The Hammer Orchid lures the male wasps which pollinate them by producing for them a dummy female complete with pheromones that they will try to pick up and mate with, as they ordinarily do with their own wingless females waiting for them on branches.  Attempting to fly off with the dummy catapults the head of the male into the stigma at the other end of the joint in the plant, and by repeatedly being duped, the male will carry pollen from orchid to orchid...

This one may be called a Hare Orchid, but it looks like a ballerina to me:

We also have "normal" orchids:

I could string on literally hundreds more photographs, but will restrain myself.  The heathlands around where we live are one of the planet's biodiversity hotspots, with over 2,000 identified plant species alone, so we never stop ooohing and aaahing, but unfortunately, most people simply don't know what is there...

...and if you ask me if death is a price worth paying for the very existence of all of this, then that makes death so much easier to accept.  But of course, it still hurts when we lose someone.  I spend more time in wild places when that happens; the more you grow to love the wilderness, the more you can see and accept that individuals die but life always continues, and just be deeply grateful to have a turn on this stage.

In 2014, I had to do more reflecting than usual on all of this, and perhaps, as I said earlier, this played a supporting role in the crumbling of The Great Wall Of China. 2014 also finally cleared up a lifelong mystery for me. 

I'll relate a little anecdote:  We know a veterinarian who once drew up a horse-sized load of adrenaline into a syringe to treat a horse in shock; he put it on his driver's seat while changing into gumboots, then forgot it was there...and sat on the seat.  He copped a fair whack of the horse dose in his own posterior, and nearly climbed into the trees after that.  The effect of this on a body not in shock is sort of like setting a firecracker off directly behind an individual who is really nervous in the first place.

This is an old story, from back in the 1980s, and I always thought about that when I had these little episodes happen to me periodically - on and off, but especially in stressful phases of my life.  What would happen is that I would suddenly wake up in the middle of the night, as if I'd had a colossal nightmare - my heart would be racing, my eyes nearly popping out, and the bedsheets would be completely soaked in sweat - but there was never an actual nightmare I could recall, not even a little one... just nothing!  I'd have to collect myself and jump in the shower when the hammering in my chest died back a bit and I stopped hyperventilating like a racehorse at the finish line.

And actually, it was just like that guy who accidentally shot himself with adrenaline.  I mentioned it to a GP occasionally.  Did I have an adrenal tumour that intermittently released a boatload of adrenaline?  And always at night?

It's funny to me in retrospect because it is so, so obvious in hindsight.  Yet even the GPs didn't pick it up, not from casual conversation anyway.  I'm not a nervous sort of person, nothing was bugging me in the daytime, it was just The Mystery Of The Intermittent Adrenaline Events.  Plus, the observation that there seemed to be more of them if I was stressed out at work, or with a family situation.

Brett noticed it first.  It was coming up to Christmas 2014, and I was suddenly having a whole spate of these things, night after night.  And he said to me, "You know, thinking about it, around Christmas, you've always had more of these than usual! And any other time we are coming up to a visit to your family."

We thought about it.  It was true.  I was always apprehensive around the time of the twice-yearly 800km round trips to see them.  It was never pleasant to visit - it's not a happy family.  And the happier I got with Brett, whom I'd at that stage been married to for nearly seven years, the more I hated the way I felt when we were visiting them, and the more it upset me to be in their company and see them behaving the way they were.  They yell at each other on a daily basis, use choice terms of verbal abuse and basically just treat each other with total disrespect in countless ways. I think the main reasons they are still married are 1) because they're co-dependent and possibly enjoy making each other miserable, 2) because they don't know what else to do, and 3) because they like saying, "We've been married over 50 years!"

(They don't generally throw things at each other or hit each other when someone who's not from the immediate nuclear family is around, so things had got a little better on visits since Brett had been in my life and was accompanying me there; but we were both agreed on limiting the number and duration of our visits from the beginning.)

Their behaviour towards each other was repugnant enough, but there was another thing:  Once we arrived at their place, we would mostly just see my mother in the commercial breaks of her soap operas, and my father when he came in on breaks from training his horses, and the two of them together at mealtimes if noone had the urgent need to watch television or train horses.  And I was just disgusted with this - why couldn't we have normal catch-up conversations, like normal people, and smile at each other over cups of tea?  Brett and I often sat around reading books for hours, or went on long walks, because we actually saw so little of them, and wondered what the point of visiting was.  When we asked them this question, my mother said, "Don't expect us to drop everything just because you are around." (I want to make clear that they were forever asking us to visit them, and sounding really keen on the phone.)  At that point, we cut our visit short, went home, and decided from now on, they could be the ones making the effort to visit, if they really wanted to see us.

When we came home, those adrenaline-spike episodes started again night after night, and then, one night, when I woke up like that, I had an actual nightmare to remember.  And from then on, the two always went together.  What I was suddenly seeing, in glorious technicolour, and complete with feelings of abject horror, was scene after scene of things that had terrified me growing up in that family when I was a very little girl - from the perspective of the child I had been.  The nightmares were all scenes from early school age or before.  Soon I was getting more scenes like that coming back to me in broad daylight.  And there were more and more and more of them.  It went on for months.

The Great Wall Of China had suddenly collapsed.

Within a couple of weeks of the start of "movie season" I was really tired, hardly sleeping, really low on energy and starting to get despondent.  Insomnia has never agreed with me; if I don't get 8 hours of sleep a night at least 6 days a week, I start to run down - and this wasn't mere insomnia, this was insomnia with bells on.  I couldn't use my usual tool, exercise in fresh air and splendid scenery, to reset my sleep cycle because I had zero energy to do anything strenuous.  Just thinking about a mountain exhausted me.  Realising this wasn't just going to go away by itself in a reasonable time frame, I went to see my GP.  She was relatively new to town, we got on like a house on fire, and I knew and liked her well enough to feel comfortable with the idea of talking to her about what was going on.  Also, mental/emotional health is one of her areas of special interest, so bingo.

As I'd not yet processed all this rubbish coming out from behind the ruins of The Great Wall Of China, it was really difficult for me to talk about it, despite the fact that my GP is brilliant.  I was so afraid that I was going to cry all over her in the process and not stop, because since the start of "movie season" I suddenly had random emotions bursting out of me all over the place like a rampaging herd of elephants.  Looking at that now, of course someone who's suddenly revisiting their deepest childhood traumas from the perspective of a little person is going to cry, in fact like that little person should have been able to in the first place (and over the next year or two, I finally cried all those tears for the little girl).  But, the little person often heard, "If you don't stop I'll really give you something to cry about."  So if you didn't stop crying, you got hit, yelled at, shamed, sent to your room, and soon you learnt to hide your tears, and push them to one side, and distract yourself.  I was a fluent reader at age five and I loved books, that was my favourite place to go when I needed an alternative universe with kind people, happiness, adventures, flowers, kittens, wizards etc.

I said to my GP, "Why now?  It's insane.  I've known this all along, that this was there.  None of it is news.  I've been constructively dealing with it for years, in some way, shape or form, and knowing it was there.  Why does all hell break loose now?  Now that I'm happily married, we've just built our own house and it's like living in our own piece of art made with our own hands, we've downshifted, neither of us work fulltime anymore, we've got time for each other, we've got all this space and all these reasons for life to be happy."  She said to me, "Yes, that's typical.  You're off the treadmill, you're feeling secure, and it's far less destructive for that to come out now than at any previous point in your life."

Thinking about it, I would not have been able to face going into an office or working with groups of people with that stuff going down.  It was different on our farm; I made my own hours, simple physical work is easier than brain-related work when dealing with this kind of stuff; and I could work when I was up to it, the world wasn't going to end because a few things were going to lie around for a while.

But I also said to her, "When is this going to end? I understand I need to process all these emotions that are swamping me right now, that have finally broken through from the past.  But it's making me miserable, and I can't sleep properly at night.  I'm finally in a place of security and happiness; I don't want my past to destroy my present; it's already hurt me enough all my life."

All my life I'd lifestyle managed all this stuff: Enough sleep, plenty of exercise, healthy nutrition, books, music, community involvement, friendships, self-education, journalling.  I was like the poster kid for healthy lifestyle, and it was 100% necessary for me to do it.  It was compulsory if I wanted to be able to hold it together.  Without all that looking after myself, I'd start to fray around the edges quickly.  In my 20s, I couldn't believe people went nightclubbing.  It would have killed me.  I wanted to sleep at night.  I gagged once I got past half a standard drink.  To this day, that's still my limit.  We both like cider - a nice, dry one, not that sickly stuff - but it's an occasional thing, and we share the one, unless I'm naughty and persuade my husband to have another one all by himself, just to watch him get a bit tiddly.  He's funny when he gets tiddly - he's very English, not through birth but DNA, upbringing by English parents, and marinating himself in the BBC and British alternative music; so he doesn't let his hair down as easily as me. The one time I've seen him actually drunk, he took all our books off their shelves and arranged them artistically on the loungeroom floor, and kept barging into the bedroom to tell me I should come out and see the great artistic masterpiece he was making; it was going to be famous and win art prizes. :rofl  That was before he started throwing up, and he never did that again!  :rofl  I've never needed alcohol to get completely silly; it's a setting I can switch on at will.  I have psychedelic experiences from eating too many profiteroles (although that's an oxymoron :) ).   Neither of us regret lacking an alcohol habit; it means we can buy more books and CDs, which usually don't make us vomit or give us hangovers or liver disease.  (But let me tell you about that CD of Italian folk accordion music that nearly did...:rofl)

Yeah, lifestyle management - and that one time it really wasn't enough.  I've always been really hostile about the idea of taking any kind of pharmaceutical that messes with my brain.  Rrrrrrrr!!!  I saw a university friend from El Salvador, who had PTSD from walking over dead bodies on her way to school, go completely blurry on antidepressants.  Her emotions were lopped to half height, her thoughts slowed down, she put on 20kg in a year.  She wasn't herself on this stuff.  So when my GP suggested it to me, very gently and diplomatically and with all the time in the world to discuss the science, I was very wary.  But, she said to me, "I'm only suggesting you try it for three months and then see."  She was recommending a trial of basic SSRIs, which she said did not usually result in what I had seen with my friend, and she was recommending it to stop the cascading stress reaction that was going on in my body and eating all my serotonin, causing the insomnia and setting up a vicious cycle of more stress and insomnia.  She explained to me that the brain of a person with complex trauma had already been messed with developmentally, and this was a countermeasure - I could try out what it might have felt like had this not happened to me.  And then she made me laugh by saying she had needed a course of these once, and now the only time she went back on them was when she had to visit her mother-in-law - then that lady could say and do whatever she wanted, and it wouldn't disturb her at all. :rofl

It was an interesting experiment.  We went with minimum dose.  The first thing that happened is that I slept 16 hours a day for the first three days, and after that, I got back into a normal sleep pattern.  I had less nightmares at night, but spontaneously remembered so many, many painful things in the daytime.  I'd be in the kitchen, and an egg would slip in my hand, and I'd get a sudden ringing in my left ear and duck.  And then I realised: It was my body remembering for me, just like with the nightmares.  My mother had a habit of slapping me open-handed on my ear if I dropped something, or offended her.  That wasn't the only move in her repertoire, but it's amazing how specifically my body was remembering these things. The SSRIs worked out acceptably for me.  I extended them to six months at the starting dose to work through all this stuff at a more leisurely pace than would otherwise have been possible.  I wanted to hear the birds singing and notice the sun, not just compulsively self-educate about emotional trauma.  It was useful for that, and for sleeping properly at night, and I have to say, I did not get in any way blurry or not feel like me anymore.  I was a rested me, and I got my energy back.  The most adverse effect for me was that SSRIs made me so totally relaxed that I wanted to spend hours sitting on the sofa reading, and had difficulty kick-starting myself to do other things.  So I ended up halving the dose after six months, which reduced that problem, and eventually tapered off these things altogether.  I think it would be fair to say that it was a helpful experiment.  I also realise now just how much I had been driven by nervous energy all my life (without actually feeling nervous), and have scaled that back a bit now.

By the way, the mysterious Intermittent Adrenaline Events I had all my life are called emotional flashbacks, and can occur independently of any cognitive memories surfacing.  Mine were mostly happening in the form of night terrors.  The feelings from those past events need to integrate with the memories, like they did for me that Christmas, before most people realise what is going on.  Here's a good link on the topic.

In the first six months, I was processing stuff on a daily basis, and highly driven to understand what was going on, above any other thing - it was a really intense six months, where I was spending at least half a day every day dealing with the old traumas, and basically only working half-days.  Then, it became gradually less time-consuming.  Two years later, things were nearly back to normal.  I basically swapped the mini black hole I once carried inside me for regular popups of past situations that my brain is bringing to my attention, as if to say, "Look at this! Look what happened!" and these days this still happens, but not distressingly - you just basically are doing the equivalent of listening to a three-year-old and giving her a hug, and then she runs away happy again, until she finds the next thing.  You just keep hugging her.  She's OK now.  You just have to love her, and to re-parent her.  She's not sitting in a corner afraid anymore; she's exploring her world, and she's quite feisty now when she says, "Oooh look, I found another thing like that! Yecchhh!"

Music was one of the helpful tools in my recovery.  I have a violin, with three years of lessons back in my late 20s / early 30s.  Just playing notes on an instrument with a beautiful tone is incredibly therapeutic.  The brain gets all focused on making patterns, and the verbalised thinking stops.  You can just be.  It was one form of meditation I was always able to do, like really listening to music on headphones.

Brett suggested I borrow his iPod starting around that time, for when I went to work outdoors, and I sampled more of his huge music collection that way.  (Eventually he gave it to me outright, and bought himself a new one.  :heart-eyes )  I wrote about all that in the essay linked to in another section here (an essay I wrote because I had a bee in my bonnet) - and here's the link to that again, which will save me re-telling the story of seriously discovering The Cure as a band:

In a way, dealing with childhood trauma as an adult gets you back into the same sort of serious thinking and re-assessing everything, that you first do as a teenager.  I found myself magnetically drawn to music in both those phases in my life - that's when things have more emotional impact.  And what I have discussed here today is something I left out of my essay, which was written for different purposes and really didn't need to be any longer than it already was. :angel

So finally, without further ado, here is the song that became an anthem for me when I was re-assessing my own relationship with the world as a result of all this - the fallout of bereavement followed by the collapse of The Great Wall Of China.  It just struck chords all over the place for me.

SueC is time travelling


Here is a song this thread desperately needs.  It always has me in stitches!  :rofl

From the guy who also brought the world the Nokia ringtone!  ;)
SueC is time travelling


It's time for a bit more music.  This is an example of a rather hypnotic Celtic song from the Cape Breton tradition.  The percussion and voice are so mesmeric I can listen to this on repeat for hours.  There has been research on "The Mozart Effect" - and that's not the only music that can affect your brain in a constructive way, of course...

Hello to anyone reading.  :cool  Everyone is very welcome to join in and post songs they find helpful for brain management and life in general.
SueC is time travelling


I can't mention Mozart without actually playing something by him.

When I was 13, I'd never consciously heard a piece of classical music that made me go, "Wow!"  The family I was born into wasn't very musical, and didn't play music in common or interact in any way over music.  We didn't sing together, dance together, talk about music - nothing like that.  No lullabies when I was little, and we didn't go to concerts together when I was growing up.  The only thing I remember is a general broadcasting station being on in the mornings when I was having breakfast before going to primary school in Germany, on a tinny radio.  Besides news bulletins, there was a lot of talk and occasional music.  One song I do remember because it was played so often is Morning Has Broken.

School made up for the deficit for me when I was very young.  Our fabulous, warm, enthusiastic Year 1/2 teacher played at least six instruments I can remember (accordion, recorder, percussion, xylophone, harmonica, acoustic guitar), and frequently played and sang for us as part of music lessons, or just to wake us up between maths and language lessons, or as an accompaniment to art sessions.  She taught our class traditional walking songs sung in multiple parts; the harmonising nearly lifted me off the ground when we did it. I loved loved loved being in that class, and thrived for the first time in my life from being in an environment of emotional warmth, constructive feedback, fun and learning - the world was suddenly amazing, and full of astonishment and wonder.  She also played back a lot of nature documentaries for us reel to reel, and I remember us begging her to run certain historical re-enactments backwards, so that, one memorable time, the jousting knights were falling onto their horses from the ground - now that was a trick! :)

I do remember hearing classical, folk and contemporary music as part of the music education lessons in Germany (I left after Year 5 - music was a specialist subject at that point, and the teacher that year was Beatles-obsessed and made us sing Yellow Submarine, which felt like a nursery rhyme to me after learning multiple-part singing as as a seven-year-old).  Because of differences in the education system, I skipped into Year 8 (first year of high school here then) when coming to Australia, and there the music teacher tortured us with the dreary Planet Suite (well, I found it dreary at age 11, my husband is putting in a good word for Mars-The Bringer Of War and says he thinks the rest of it is pretty tedious).

I sort of thought at that point that classical music was generally either dreary or twee, involved a lot of sawing of the worst kind on strings and screeching opera singers shattering windows arguing over "love" (and perhaps what was for dinner), was written by old fogeys with wigs, and really had nothing to do with me.

And then, at the age of 14, the year after it came out, I saw the film Amadeus, and that totally changed my attitude.  I realised that human beings made music with whatever was available to them culturally, and that just because someone had lived hundreds of years ago didn't mean they were never young, or that they had been terribly boring.  It's like with contemporary music, or any particular genre really - some of it will appeal, other stuff will not.  I'd just never heard the things that later on lifted me into the sky.

This scene dramatised the writing process for Mozart's Requiem Mass - his unfinished last composition:

Now that was music I could relate to.  The Confutatis and Lacrimosa parts remain my favourite sections of that composition to this day.

Classical music increasingly became part of my listening repertoire, alongside folk, from my late teens and into my 20s.  At the same time, grunge was appearing on the contemporary music scene, and that really didn't appeal to me at all, so I burrowed deeper into the things that did.

Here's some highlights...and as with contemporary music, no justice is done to this music by playing it on tinny speakers.

...more to come... and to finish for today, this isn't exactly classical, but works extremely well on classical instruments:

SueC is time travelling