“Where words leave off, music begins.” -Heinrich Heine

I have never been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. I have never been prescribed medication. Quite frankly, at this point in life, I can’t afford to find out what a doctor would say. Without clinical designation, I grasp for words and labels and ways to describe my mood to the ones that care. I fail.

There is no accurate way to describe a funk that is causeless while its effects are as varied and abundant as the patterns at the end of a kaleidoscope that’s been robbed of its color. No explanation, no solution. All I can do is wait for it to pass and it always has – so far.

Others have described depression as waves or cycles, terms that I can relate to.
The mounting emptiness as cheer retreats.
Easy smiles replaced by the fear of leaving your bed.
Enthusiastic interest discarded for detachment.
The rising joy as the sadness ebbs.

As the rainbows fade and tatter, I chastise myself and sink deeper beneath the surface. Thankfully the cycles have been shorter and less drab recently. I credit this mostly to heightened self-awareness and forcing myself to partake in activities that I know help me. I’ve been fortunate to discover a new tactic in the fight against mental desolation: music.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have long known and appreciated the incredible power that melodic (and chaotic) noises have over us. Some of my favorite songs (which you can find at the end of this post) are those that manage to remind me that I’m not in fact in solitary confinement and that I have some power over the pain. But my creativity has never come in the form of music. I have poor hand/eye coordination, I’m somewhat clumsy, and have a hard time with tempo. My singing voice is more of a hum with words.

I played the violin in junior high. It was something to do. I was loathe to practice even a few minutes a day and did just enough to stay in the middle of the pack and know where my fingers went at performances. I love classical music to this day, but playing it (or any other kind) has seemed out of my reach.

I’ve expressed a love of Amanda Palmer before, but I owe her quite a debt of gratitude now. She has helped me combat the gloom in a whole new way, with a “wand of thunder”…otherwise known as a ukulele. It may seem insincere or naive to follow the advice of a musician that you’ve never met, but just listen to Amanda’s signature song:

Eh? You wanna pick up a ukulele, you say? I’m not surprised!
Okay, maybe you don’t, but she makes a damn good argument. The more I listened to her song, the more persuaded I was. So I put it one on my Amazon wishlist, assumed I’d never get one and thought that even if I did I would suck at it.

But then my mother texted me to ask what I wanted for my birthday. If we had been on the phone or face to face, I wouldn’t have said it. I wouldn’t have admitted it because that would probably lead to questions of why I suddenly wanted an instrument and then I’d have to explain myself and admit that I wanted something because of a song, which for some reason people rarely think is a valid reason. But I put it down on a short list of possible gifts that I knew I would appreciate: tea, book, ukulele.

Honestly, I assumed she discounted it as a joke. But when she showed up on my doorstep with a really beautiful concert uke, what was I to do but try? I fumbled around with it for a few weeks until I found a tuning app which confirmed that I have no natural ear for key. Suddenly the chords sounded right. Well, the ones my stubby fingers and childlike palms can reach anyway. I’m still fumbling, but I’m making music. I’m forming blisters and I’m batting away the darkness with “a piece of wood and plastic”.

The upswing has lasted so long this last time, that I’ve found myself fearing the return of jagged insides. I’m anxious about being anxious. Hello, Chicken. Meet, Egg.

But I’m thankful for the music inspired by Amanda and enabled by my mother. Anything that can “minimize sadness” is a relief and I agree with Palmer, because holy fuck, it’s so fantastic.



But the lows are so extreme that the good seems fucking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its absence
But you’ll fight and you’ll make it through
You’ll fake it if you have to

But maybe it isn’t all that funny
That I’ve been fighting all my life
But maybe I have to think it’s funny
If I wanna live before I die

I’m not gonna lose you
‘Cause the passion and pain
Are gonna keep you alive someday

I want to change the world
Instead I sleep
I want to believe in more than you and me

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly

9 thoughts on ““Where words leave off, music begins.” -Heinrich Heine

  1. Uke it, my friend! Uke it good! :0)

    I speak as one who also from time to time experiences fairly abrupt and violent downswings in mood, attitude, whatever. Depression comes for us all eventually. But remember that, properly understood, it is simply part of the music that is You. It is not to be feared or avoided; steer into the slide, as we say in the icy North, and explore the feeling and what it means.

    (Not that I remember to take that advice when I’m in the middle of one of my “moments.” Much easier said than done…)

    1. 🙂

      There is another song that I almost put on here but didn’t since its meaning isn’t as clear cut. It’s ‘A Song About Anglerfish’ by Hank Green: http://youtu.be/9t7E4amWDqI

      He has UC and is in pain much of the time and wrote the song basically to say that if pain is the norm for you, can we really call it pain? If it is our baseline and we accept that then we can move on from there and take it for what it is.

      Understanding it all (as best we can) and consciously working through it isn’t always possible which is why I get a bit peeved when people say “just be happy”. But our choices do matter and I try to draw strength from that.

      My song is often pained, but a lot of beauty comes from it. I’m not convinced I’d choose to be different if it was an option. Who would I be without my pain? After all, I like myself and my song. 🙂

  2. Nice selection.

    Was chatting to another blogger the other day who strongly recommends a dollop of spice (like tobacco or hot salsa) on the tongue to override anxiety.

    1. Glad you liked it.

      It’s funny you say that because yesterday I was making heavily spiced foods: sweet potatoes with several tablespoons of cinnamon and green beans mostly charred and drenched in lemon juice. I was musing that if I ever shared my recipes, most people would complain of my over spicing.

      Perhaps I have a lazy tongue that needs to be slapped around, but I like to think of it as tasting life to the fullest. Dull foods make for a dull mood.

  3. Madalyn, as if I couldn’t love and admire you any more. This took so much courage to publish, and I am moved to tears. I listened to all the tunes. “In My Mind” was my favorite, followed by “The Great Escape”.

    “Thankfully the cycles have been shorter and less drab recently. I credit this mostly to heightened self-awareness and forcing myself to partake in activities that I know help me”

    You go girl. I battled with depression for years after my partner committed suicide but I hid it from everyone and it nearly did me in. Antidepressants were not an option. They put me in ICU, so I had to find alternatives. Music was my great escape. It was my healer and comforter. Music understood the depths of my despair.

    1. You humble me. ❤
      I'm glad you enjoyed the songs. You picked a great one yourself.

      It's kind of amazing to me how much talking about it helps. Hiding it and denying it make it so much worse and so much more lonely. The alienation increases all of the misery tenfold. That's the wonderful thing about music, it can speak with us even if we are unwilling/unable to communicate with someone else.

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