Throughout my life—especially during my ups and downs with bipolar—music has remained naturally therapeutic for me. I can turn to it any time I need a mood adjustment.
“A tired mind become a shape-shifter Everybody need a mood lifter Everybody need reverse polarity Everybody got mixed feelings About the function and the form Everybody got to deviate from the norm.” —RUSH, “Vital Signs”
Today is a special day. Not only is it my birthday, but I’m also traveling to Toronto, Canada, to see my all-time favorite band, RUSH, as they celebrate 40 years of performing together. I’ve been listening to their music for over 35 years, and, over this period of time, I have been through many of the ups and downs of life—in addition to developing bipolar disorder at the age of 18.
Music Therapy & Bipolar Disorder
There’s something about music that I find to be so therapeutic. I think this stems from being an only child; when I was growing up, I spent countless hours listening to the radio, which served as both a source of comfort and a companion.
The concept of music as therapy is not new:
“When one connects with a piece of music, the emotional experience resembles a flow of electricity moving from the singer, to the CD or radio, and then to the individual. With this in mind, music therapy uses the various types of music to manage and positively influence people’s emotional, physical and cognitive needs. It is a ‘planned, goal-directed process’ and many researchers have been studying music therapy as a treatment approach for mental illness, including its positive use in treating bipolar disorder and substance abuse, in both young people and in adults.” —Eulalee Thompson, PhD, “Bipolar Disorder and Music”
The Band RUSH & My Mental Health Journey
This brings me back to RUSH. This progressive rock power trio (comprised of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, who is the lyricist) has been recognized as one of rock’s premier music acts, most recently with their 2013 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their music is complex, and they’ve managed to maintain a fresh sound over their 40-year history.
I became a fan of theirs in high school, and when I went away to college, I took RUSH’s (at the time) seven albums with me. But things took a dramatic turn in my life. During my second semester, I suffered a psychotic break and was brought home to spend a considerable amount of time recovering in a local psychiatric hospital. It was just before this time that RUSH’s album Moving Pictures was released. I recall that the day that I got out of the hospital, on the way home, I had my father take me to the record store to get a copy of this LP.
Bipolar Disorder & Ideas of Reference
But things changed. I struggled with my mental health and suffered from delusions and paranoia. I thought that the lyrics in their songs were directed at me. This is what is known as ideas or delusions of reference.
I thought that I had some kind of special connection with the band. Fortunately, over time, my psyche healed and I no longer held these beliefs.
Inspiration & Finding My Personal Theme Song
This experience did not, however, diminish my love for their music. I began to find myself relying on RUSH’s music as a source of inspiration. One song in particular, “Marathon,” is my unofficial theme song:
“You can do a lot in a lifetime If you don’t burn out too fast You can make the most of the distance First you need endurance First you’ve got to last…”
Bipolar Depression, Music & Mood
It isn’t just RUSH that speaks to my soul. There are many others: Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Ben Harper, Bob Marley, Black Uhuru, Pat Metheny, Peter Gabriel, The Roots, Morrissey, … and the list goes on.
What I’ve come to learn is that especially when I’m feeling depressed, I can turn to music to help lift me out of my malaise. It has, in many respects, saved my life. Music has always been there for me. It has never failed me, and I can always turn to it when I need a mood adjustment.
To leave you with a sense of the power of music, I will close with the lyrics from RUSH’s song “Cinderella Man”:
“Because he was human Because he had goodness Because he was moral They called him insane Delusions of grandeur Visions of splendor A manic depressive He walks in the rain.”
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