Although I don’t play music any more, music still a big part of my life. I feel it’s played a huge role in my recovery.
And though I didn’t realize it for a long time, just like other things I’ve inadvertently devised as part of my personal self-care program, it seems I came up with my own individual music therapy. I wrote before about my former life as a guitarist; now I’ll write a little about how music influences my current post-stroke life.
I’ve had a couple of people recommend music therapy since I’m so into music. I tried to read some about it but after a couple of websites that used descriptions like, music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program, I gave up.
But I did learn some useful information about music therapy, things like how music therapy was useful in the speech recovery process for Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who suffered from a bullet wound to the head.
Music therapy is useful for:
1. Lessening the effects of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
2. Reduce asthma episodes.
3. Reducing pain in hospital patients.
4. Improving communication skills in autistic children.
5. And lots of other conditions.
But I couldn’t find many examples of actual music therapy music–although I admit I didn’t look very hard.
One place where I was able to find a good example of how I envision music therapy music is found on the site of my UK friend and fellow blogger Michelle Munt’s website. It’s at jumbledbrain.com and automatically plays background music that I think is very relaxing (Michelle is also a brain injury survivor, blogger and life coach–check her out).
As for me, I was talking with my long-time friend and caregiver, Nancy. I mentioned my intuition about how my music has helped me in my recovery. Nancy said the kind of music I listen to tends to be a bit complex, melodic, and layered. Those qualities, she thinks, stimulate my brain and penetrates to my higher brain functioning. She mentioned that people with musical aptitude often have heightened math ability. Not me, but often when I lay down and listen to music in the dark with my eyes closed, I can see geometric patterns and see the different melody lines moving with and against each other. I know that sounds goofy, but I don’t know how else to describe it.
I wonder sometimes if the music I listen to might release endorphins–hormones released in the brain that do a lot of beneficial things for you like make you feel calm and happy, and increase energy. They also ease pain and do lots of other positive things. I write a lot about having a positive attitude and releasing endorphins in your brain can help a bit with that. I think music might help with increasing one’s endorphin output.
I tend toward positive, optimistic, life affirming music–but there is a lot of music out there that I view as negative and angry. That kind of thing might be kind of cathartic to some people, but to me, even a few minutes of it can leave me unsettled for the rest of the day. (I won’t mention any particular bands or artists because I might name somebody you like a lot).
Here are three examples of some music I’ve been listening to. I’m tending to lean toward more instrumental music these days. I still like guitars, and these tunes have guitars but are very melodic and for me, very expressive, uplifting and emotional.
The first is by a British band called Sky and is absolutely one of my favorite all-time compositions. It has intricate interplay and to me it is very hopeful, optimistic and relaxing. I have described that this composition as what my heart and soul sound like.
This one is by the group Santana.
And the third is by another British group called Camel. The guitar isn’t prominent but it’s there.
These are just three examples of music I think has been instrumental in my recovery, but not by all means, not all. This is what works for me–something else may be right for you. I hope you will give my examples a try. I don’t expect you to like it, but I sure do.
It keeps me at peace with myself and the world and gives my brain fertile ground to do its work recovering.
Do feel free to listen to whatever works for you.
So what are you listening to?
(Editor’s Note: Writer and stroke survivor Isaac Peterson shares his love of music, before and after his brain injury, as well as the positive impact it’s made on his recovery. Enjoy this two-part series! KT)
By most accounts it seems that the rapidity of my recovery from a stroke so far has been pretty remarkable, at least judging by the number of comments I hear all the time.
I like hearing that my improvement is something people can see, but it’s not happening all by itself. I credit my progress to self-care. I’ve talked about what I do for my own self-care program but I haven’t really said much about how I think music has been part of my recovery. It looks like I’ve discovered my own form of music therapy.
I’ll explain how I currently use music in my personal self-care program, but something is making me want to talk first about how music has been a big part of my life. I think I’ll have to do two blog entries, the first one about then and the next part about now.
I’ll skip over the part about my early addiction to popular music on the radio. I could write books about how much I was into that and my addiction to the radio as a teenager.
I will say, though. that my intense interest made me want to be a musician as far back as elementary school. But my parents wanted me to focus on school and didn’t want to pay for music lessons anyway.
I did get my father to spring for a portable keyboard eventually, an electronic organ that folded up like a suitcase. It didn’t take long before I figured out how to play by ear. By the end of high school I had taught myself songs like A Whiter Shade Of Pale by Procol Harum (turns out it was based on a piece by Bach called Sleepers Awake).
But when I started college, I couldn’t have my organ in my dorm room, so I took up the guitar. I learned a few basics then proceeded from there to playing by ear, as I had done before on organ. For years I pretty much only played when I was alone.
Then after I got my bachelor’s degree and moved to Minnesota, I finally started playing in bands. My first real band was called the Reactors (I never liked that name but I was outvoted by the other guys in the band. I can’t remember the name I wanted–it might have been the Dust Bunnies or Iron Grease Sucking Machine or something.)
The Reactors was a band that would play anywhere, any time, partly to get our name out there, partly to try to make a little money (and the money was very little). We played parties, a wedding once, a few corporate gigs, and lots of bars. The thing I liked most about the Reactors was that we played mostly our own original music but I didn’t contribute much at first.
Then I got the double neck guitar you see in the picture on the left. The bottom neck is six-stringed. the top one has twelve. I really wasn’t that good a guitarist until that point; that guitar seemed to open up something inside me and my playing took off. Sometimes I felt like I could fly while I played it. I got my hands on an old surgeon scrub outfit and dyed it black. That outfit and guitar was my calling card. Some people called me Guitar Doctor.
And I finally started writing music.
The very first music I ever wrote was called Dancing With A Mannequin. The keyboard player and the bass guitarist wrote the words to it, but the music was all mine, and it was a real crowd-pleaser. It got so that women would come up sometimes to dance with me while I was playing it–not that I ever complained.
People would come see us just to hear that tune and would holler out, Play Dancing With A Mannequin!
There were people in the crowd who would sing along. You can hear a studio recording of the song right here on this page (Invite your friends over. Invite your neighbors. Invite your friends’ neighbors.)
That tune was a real workout for the band and became our signature tune.
But we never made much money; I always had to have a day job. We never did put out any recordings. Sometimes somebody would ask me if we had a record and my standard reply was, Yeah, we got a record–most consecutive gigs without gettin’ paid.
People loved us and other bands hated to have to come onstage after us. We always had enthusiastic audiences but our problem was that we couldn’t be easily categorized, and people running venues and signing bands to record couldn’t classify us, so the only people who knew us was our cult following and our friends.
I look back on those days with fondness. As I said, I never made much money playing music but it was good for my heart and for my soul. At least I won’t be an old man wondering with regret what it would have been like to be in a performing band.
I told you all that to tell you this: That was a big part of the life of the pre-stroke me. I get prodded to get back into playing and I would but for two things: I don’t feel the need to do it any more. My new creative outlet is my writing. I find writing words and writing music to be similar processes. And the other reason is that since my stroke and TBI I just don’t have the strength, coordination, or dexterity in my fingers to play. I miss it, but at the same time I don’t. I can revel in the memories, but that’s what they’ll have to stay: memories. I can enjoy those memories but comparing my old life to my new one is a nonproductive game that would keep me from focusing on my new life and what I need to do with it. Besides, even though I kind of felt like a rock star when I was playing, the feedback I get from writing this blog makes me feel like a rock star all over again.
I can’t dwell on my past or have regrets about not playing, but I can look forward to the future I’m carving out for myself and focus on that. The first time I attended my support group I remember being asked about my prospects for recovery. My reply was this: I intend to recover–I still have amazing things left to do.
And I intend to do amazing things, like recover beyond all outside expectations.
All right. Enough about what I did musically in the past. Next time I’ll talk a little about how central music is to my life and recovery in these days and times.
The second part of this piece is coming soon to a computer monitor near you.
Isaac Peterson grew up on an Air Force base near Cheyenne, Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, he embarked on a career as an award-winning investigative journalist and as a semi-professional musician in the Twin Cities, the place he called home on and off for 35 years. He also doesn’t mind it at all if someone offers to pick up his restaurant tab. Peterson also welcomes reader comments. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s Note: Enjoy this terrific and informative article on the holidays and YOU, from writer, blogger and BEST guest contributor, Kirsten Short! KT)
I was listening to the radio the other day and The Most Wonderful Time of Year began to play. You know the one…
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings
and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all
There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year….
While humming along to this Christmas classic, an upsetting thought passed through my mind: Is it actually the most wonderful time of year?
Before sustaining my concussion in early 2017, I loved everything about the holidays: the decorations, Christmas trees and twinkling lights, the eggnog and mulled wine, the family gatherings and traditions, the snow, the carols, the craft fairs and markets, Santa Claus, gift giving, and (insert anything and everything you can think of related to the holiday season).
Since my injury, however, when I think of December, I find myself wishing for more silent nights and less rockin’ around the Christmas tree. The bright lights, loud music and large gatherings can be so overwhelming, lonely, exhausting and painful for someone with a brain injury. Now, instead of looking at my holiday schedule with glee and excitement, all I see is a lot of can’t do’s and stressful situations.
It is daunting.
By the end of the song, I was close to tears and feeling blue, so I took a few deep breaths and gave myself a stern talking to: Kirsten – you’re being awfully negative right now. Can you take off your self-pity pants and put on some positivity? Why are you so fixated on your weaknesses? And what you can’t do? What would happen if you focused on your strengths and the things you enjoy doing instead?
Good questions, right? I turned to Google for answers (shh… I know that you do this, too) and stumbled upon the field of positive psychology.
Positive psychology, as defined on the Positive Psychology Program website, is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behavior with a focus on strengths instead of weakness, building the good in life instead of repairing the bad, and taking the lives of average people up to ‘great’ instead of focusing solely on moving those who are struggling up to ‘normal.
Under positive psychology, it is believed that each of us possesses 24 core strengths in varying degrees (they are listed in the image below). Accordingly, we all have a unique character strength profile or a ranking of these traits from 1 to 24, with 1 being our best quality and 24 being our weakest.
I know what you’re thinking: this is cool (do people still say cool?), but why do I need to know about my strengths and what order they are in?
As reported on the VIA Character Strength website, when skillfully applied, character strengths can actually have a significant positive impact on your life. Studies show that frequently using your best (i.e. your top four) strengths increases engagement, happiness and well-being.
I wasn’t entirely convinced until I stumbled upon a study that examined the correlation between positive psychology and patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Here is the conclusion (you can read the whole article here):
Positive psychological interventions are approaches aimed at cultivating positive behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. Given the strength of the associations between positive aspects of character or ways of perceiving the world and positive feelings about one’s current life situation, it is possible that treatments focused on facilitating these virtues and strengths in persons who have experienced a TBI may result in better perceived outcomes, potentially fewer comorbidities [which is other diseases or conditions co-occurring with the brain injury, such as anxiety and depression], and better use of resources.
Sounds promising, right?
I found out my ranking by taking a quick, easy and free online assessment (click here). Based the results, gratitude was my top quality. Since taking the test, I have been flexing this strength regularly (just like a muscle) by setting aside time every day to savor a pleasant experience that I’ve had. I am also more mindful of things that I take for granted and I try to tell at least one person each day a reason why I am thankful for them.
The results? Overall, I feel a lot better.
Dr Ryan Niemiec wrote that humans have other strengths in addition to character strengths, such as talents (what you do well), interests (what you enjoy doing), resources (your external supports), and skills (developed through training).
My bet is that regularly using a mix of all of these would bring you even more positive results. Tim Ferriss, a bestselling author, entrepreneur and public speaker, would agree with me. He has been quoted saying that, it is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor. The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre. Focus on better use of your best weapons instead of constant repair.
And he’s a big deal, so it must be true.
I know it would be naive for me to think that focusing on your character strengths, talents, skills, resources and interests will solve all your problems this holiday season. I don’t even expect you to take the self-assessment quiz that I referenced above. I challenge you, however, to make time to do what you are BEST at. We work so hard all year improving our weak areas and rehabilitating our deficits that I think its time for us to feel accomplished and happy by doing the things we enjoy and are good at. Maybe, like me, practicing gratitude each day will raise your spirits or perhaps you are an excellent baker and making cookies for your loved ones will bring you extra joy. Whatever it is, do it and make time for it! And maybe, just maybe, it can still be the most wonderful time of year and the hap-happiest season of all….
Let me know how it goes.
Kirsten Short was born and raised in Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada. She has a Bachelor of Business Administration from British Columbia Institute of Technology and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia. From 2010 to early 2017, Kirsten worked in accounting firms where her client base consisted of small and medium-sized owner operated businesses, private companies, co-operatives, not-for-profit organizations and large public entities. Accordingly, she has a wide breadth of tax, advisory and assurance experience.
Unfortunately, Kirsten has been on medical leave since she suffered a concussion in February of 2017. However, she manages to stay positive despite her post-concussion symptoms, chronic migraines and visual snow. When not working on her rehabilitation, Kirsten takes full advantage of her ‘good’ hours by advocating for brain injury survivors and their families; this is a new passion of hers. She also enjoys yoga, reading, writing and taking her Boston Terrier, Charli, on walks. You can read more about her story on her blog: Concussions and Lawn Chairs.
Since November is the month known for giving, we know a real-superhero who embodies the spirit of the month beautifully.
November is also known for thankfulness, and here at BEST, we are definitely thankful for the same superhero mentioned above.
And that special real-life superhero has just been named our BEST Superhero of the Month for November 2018.
Kirsten has been a BEST guest blogger and contributor and we are so grateful for her words.
Here’s what Kirsten’s nominator had to say about her:
Kirsten Short infuses wit, humor, wisdom and critical resources in her personal essays, articles and blog posts. Kirsten’s personal blog, “Concussions and Lawn Chairs,” along with her regular contributions to the BEST website blog, inform, inspire and create important conversations about traumatic brain injury and Post-Concussion Syndrome. Kirsten’s words resonate with readers; she asks important questions and explores the answers in a powerful and poignant way. Kirsten’s openness to share her personal experiences and journey forward, coupled with her passion to help others, is indeed superhero-worthy, in the highest order.
Thank you, Kirsten for all that you do!
Know a special real-life superhero in the brain injury community? We’d love to hear about them. Click here to learn more and nominate someone today!