Some of the most beautiful moments in my admissions have surrounded music.
What made me happy was communal sharing of people’s music libraries, connected to a portable speaker, in the smokers courtyard. It made me fucking ecstatic. My friend, a fellow patient, rapping Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby with 100% accuracy. That sight is the eighth wonder of the world I assure you. Coming into the lounge and hearing blues blaring through the speakers as people tried their best to get through the day. Hearing an elderly patient, Wendy, playing a classical piece on the piano as it drifted down the hallway. Her aged fingers telling a story I knew I’d never fully know or understand.
There are too many moments to mention but they add up, and they become a signifier of what makes people ease their suffering. The Dire Straits, Van Morrison, Miles Davis, Ed Sheeran, The Hollies, One Direction, Paul Kelly. Song after song, artist after artist connected us in ways that our words couldn’t. At 7am bleary eyed and preparing ourselves for another day, we’d sit in silence and someone would pick a song. There’s something beautiful about a group of practical strangers from all walks of life sitting around a phone, cigarettes and mugs in hand just…listening. Nick Cave’s smooth voice filling the air as we waited for another challenging day.
In art therapy yesterday we spoke about the gap between art and words. The fact that art exists in a space where words can’t reach. That’s the very reason I do Art Therapy, Because sometimes there aren’t any words in spoken language to explain what you’re feeling or thinking. I think it’s the same with music. A certain string arrangement in Neil Diamond’s Prologue makes me feel the intrinsic connection I have to humanity. One note in Bowie’s Life on Mars brings makes my stomach drop so much that it makes me lose my breath. Artists put themselves into their music. Their emotions, thoughts, feelings, the things they couldn’t express in any other way. Sometimes we can all feel so different to each other, so isolated and “other”. But the connection that music brings out in people that says, “You’re not alone, I felt this too,” is life saving.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is it’s the little things. People say life’s made up of a lot of little moments and a few big ones. I used to focus on the big ones, the ones that would send my anxiety spiralling into a panic attack. But I get it now. The little ones are so important. Charlie remembering you take decaf instead of regular. Mixing paints so an 80-year-old woman wanting to make art can do it, despite her painful arthritis. A cigarette handed out to someone struggling, a seat offered to another.
I’ll end this this on what I consider my Biggest Little moments.
In one of my past admissions I’d sometimes sit and smoke with a patient who had nothing. No iPod, no smartphone, no computer and give him his requested song of the day. The gleeful look fought through his tired eyes as he was able to transport himself back to an easier time just for 3 or 4 minutes. He’d close his eyes and drift back to his 20-year-old self watching a live Skyhooks gig in a pub with his friends, rather than sitting on the concrete ground of a psych hospital. Time and time again it was the most humbling experience to witness. Music plays with reality. It enhances it or eradicates it. It takes you somewhere or keeps you in the moment. It’s magic. And so is Harry Styles.*
*Sorry, I had to.
To preserve confidentiality, I’ve had to change names and some details.