Sad songs

By Alison Langdon

Recently at a small dinner party, the conversation turned to the current state of mental-health services in Ontario. Every one of the other seven people there could and did refer to a family member, neighbour or friend who had suffered from schizophrenia, depression or some other psychiatric disorder, and all were united in condemning the paucity of mental-health services in Ottawa.

I stayed quiet. Mental health has affected my family too closely for me to discuss it in a social setting. I have flirted with depression myself off and on in the past. There are still occasions when the black dog gets too close, and I need to head him off at the pass before he catches up with me.

I am one of the lucky ones. I can at least recognize when I need to take action to fend off the darkness. I have a number of options that I can call upon including walking, preferably outside in nature, or talking to a good friend. Rather less admirable is going to bed with the covers over my head or binge watching Queer Eye on Netflix, simultaneously stuffing my face with tea and chocolate.

I can also listen to my music. There are some old musical friends I can go to in times of need. On a sad day, I find it helpful to turn off my phone, TV and laptop and lie down on my back on the sofa. My go-to sad music includes Gorecki’s Symphony No.3 and the swelling strings of Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the film The Mission by Ennio Morricone is very healing as is his theme from Cinema Paradiso.

Most importantly,“Don’t Give Up” by the wonderful Peter Gabriel and the incomparable Kate Bush has to be on this list of therapeutic songs.

These pieces have one thing in common. They are all so beautiful that you cannot help but be moved by their plaintive melodies. Yes, a few tears may well trickle from the outer corner of your eyes and run down to your hair as you lie there, but they will be tears of relief as you let go of the breath that you hadn’t realized you had been holding until that moment.

Those tunes can move you into the next stage, which is a gradual rising from the depths. Try “The Lark Ascending,” particularly Nicola Benedetti’s recording, or “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. For that matter, why not try Barbra Streisand’s version of “As Time Goes By” or “I Find Your Love” by Beth Neilson Chapman.

Maybe another day you will be pottering in the kitchen and find yourself humming along to “Here Comes The Sun” sung by Nina Simone or “Why Worry” by Dire Straits. If you have a child still small enough or even a cat, they may tolerate you cradling them while you sing “You and Me Together” along with the Dave Matthews Band.

The day will eventually come when the cloud lifts, sometimes as mysteriously as the day when it came. I believe it’s important to recognize these days, rather than just using them to do all the jobs you have let slide during the down days. Put your tunes on then and play all your favourites, sing at the top of your lungs and dance around the kitchen. Pull out “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Vive La Vida” by Cold Play and “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles. Dance to “Arroz Con Mango” by Zigo, Cuban music that demands you move those child-bearing hips. Or, as Canadian musicologist David Huron observed, it is impossible to be down and listen to banjo music, a phenomenon he termed “the Steve Martin effect.”

Those for whom mental illness is a persistent and heavy cross to bear, my heart goes out to you. I hope you have a friend you can talk to, a friend who will truly just listen without judgment or advice. And I beg you: go to your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t help you with medication or talk therapy, ask him or her to refer you to someone who will. There are help lines available if you feel there is no one to talk to. There is an answer out there for you. Don’t give up.

A retired physiotherapist, Alison Langdon has lived in the U.K., Canada and Jamaica. She moved to Ottawa in 2017 and discovered a love of writing when she took a class in memoir writing at the Glebe Community Centre.

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