As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week (14 - 20 May) I thought now was a particularly relevant time to address the extent to which music has helped my PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). In recent years scientific studies have proved that music causes the brain to release chemicals which distract and relieve our mind and body from stress. For as long as I can remember I have listened to music on a daily basis, the act of putting my headphones on as I walk out the front door forming an integral part of my day to day routine. Over the years I have listened to a variety of genres and shall examine closely how particular types of music have been therapeutic.
In the past, as a result of my PTSD, I found visiting new places very difficult. However, travelling to a new destination with music I was familiar provided me with a sense of security as I was at least well acquainted with what I was listening to. In August/September 2015, I travelled down the West coast of Turkey from Istanbul to Fethiye, visiting ancient ruins along the coast such as the Pergamon Theatre in Bergama and Ephesus near Selcuk. From Turkey travelling on to Kos, Cyprus and Israel finishing in Jerusalem.
This trip marked my first extended time abroad since I had been diagnosed with PTSD in 2014. It was no easy feat getting up at an ungodly hour to travel to Heathrow, I vividly recall the previous night feeling consumed by my fear of the unknown contemplating not going at all. Our primary form of transport in Turkey was a small bus, the rickety vehicle hurtling through vast expanses of arid, mountainous landscape, the long journeys often taking several hours. As the others slept, I was left with my thoughts and at these moments would feel the most anxious, as my mind would trace back to difficult memories, it is when I was faced with intense these feelings of anxiety that I would plug in my music. On these prolonged drives, American folk band, Fleet Foxes were intrinsic to my state of calm, their songs lulling me into a soothing place of tranquillity. As the mini-bus rumbled along the dirt tracks, I graphically remember gazing out of the dusty window onto the surrounding mountains and feeling absolutely at peace by the time I had listened to ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’, ‘Heard Them Stirring’, ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ and ‘Your Protector,’ all from their 2008 debut album. An album I was very familiar with which I recall purchasing in HMV at the top of Buchanan Street in Glasgow when I was just fourteen. If we analyse this album closely, it is evident that the majority of the tracks stick to a similar metre and set of predictable patterns. On a subconscious level this familiarity soon built rapport within me, taking me to a place of serenity where I could let go of past traumas holding me back. The sensation of being carried through a track where I knew more or less what to expect, allowed me to relax and let go.
It is because of this experience and similar incidents that I believe music has the ability to heal wounds which medicines and other forms of therapy cannot. It is because of music that I have been able to regain control of my anxieties and feel empowered, music fundamentally helping me heal from past traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, as with most mental illnesses, there is not usually one simple cure, however I can certainly say music has definitely been an essential foundation to my healing, providing a highly cathartic emotional outlet.
For more information on dealing with PTSD and other mental health disorders check out mind.org.uk
Words Issy Villiers