The Depressed Voice Doesn’t Sing

My Dad had a beautiful voice (as did his father, my grandfather), but he never sang in a choir. He loved song. We heard the love of song come flowing out at times, though that was unusual except during Sunday church services. I believe the love of singing and a voice to sing with was there in him.  That love and that voice was passed on to his children, three of whom sing in choirs regularly. I’m crying now, for his children get so much joy from singing.  My father with reoccurring major depression missed a world that brings so many rewards to his children and to me.  A world of joy, beauty and companionship.

As a child, I asked Dad,” How about joining the church choir?” His response was to look grave, shake his head no and say “No, I can’t read music”. It seemed as if I had asked him a really distant question. Singing in the choir seemed to be for those who deserved to sing, who were good enough (as persons) and who had friends in the choir. There was no possibility in his mind for him to join choir.

But he would have been welcome.

You see, despite the potential great reward, the risk may have been too high for my father to have sung in a choir. Risk? Singing in a choir? Yes, for Dad had high anxiety often, which is common with major depression.  The necessity of performing in front of an assembled congregation may have led to some real anxiety issues on Sundays. And something else, perhaps more subtle but more dangerous: Riding the waves of emotional highs and lows that are necessary to express when one sings the lyrics with meaning may have been too uncomfortable for my father. For there is no lack of opportunity to travel from the depths of despair to the heights of all grandeur and sublime to sweet simple unadorned joy when one sings good music. He may have been moved to tears when singing; even been unable to sing. When depression is near the surface, surging emotions are not safe.

And something else got in the way. Depression often blocks out the bearers knowledge that they have the talent to do something. “I’m not good enough” is a frequent negative thought and self-talk holding people back.

And yet singing brings great joy to many people and that passion for singing can lead to other benefits as well. Our singing brain is bathed in dopamine which brings feelings of pleasure and alertness as well as serotonin, another neurotransmitter associated with feelings of euphoria and contentment. I remember feeling that going to choir rehearsal at the end of the working day was a trying task, requiring a lot of physical and creative energy. But so agreed with a friend and choirmate who often remarked that he was dead tired and didn’t think he make it until the end of rehearsals. “But then,” he said, “something magic happens and I revive….it happens almost every time.”

Singing, I believe, can bring healing.

 My father missed this world:

The first track on Chanticleer’s “Out Of This World” CD (1994) is titled I Have Had Singing, and it touches me every time I hear it sung with such beauty for I know its meaning well. Here is the story of the song:

A book by Ronald Blythes Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village, recounts the difficult lives of the inhabitants of a tiny East Anglian village in Suffolk, England. In one interview, Fred Mitchell, an 85-year old ploughman, recalls his difficult childhood. When asked what they did for fun, he took a pause, then replied:

“I never did any playing in all my life. There was nothing in my childhood, only work. I never had pleasure. One day a year I went to Felixstowe along with the chapel women and children, and this was my pleasure.

But I have forgotten one thing —the singing.

(Here I insert the lyrics used in the composition)

“Singing, singing, oh the singing!
There was so much singing then!
We all sang, and this was my pleasure too.
The boys in the fields,
The chapels were full of singing, always full of singing.
I have had pleasure enough,
I have had singing.”



Communities in Action to Prevent Suicide, part II

Spring in Wisconsin has brought us needed and gently persistent rainfall. Nourishing rain on fertile ground; good food for our thoughts together.

Ursula’s keynote message, “…Zero Suicide and the Engagement of Those with Lived Experience” was a blend of her experiences working with others, and of new directions advocated in “The Way Forward: Pathways to Hope, Recovery, and Wellness with Insights from the Lived Experience, 2014”.

The Way Forward is the most readable, engaging, no-nonsense document that I have ever read. In fact, it is so good and there is so much to learn from it, that I read deeply through the report twice! It is a unique and creative look at suicide prevention. Prepared by the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the report’s recommendations are based on and prepared by people who have previously attempted to take their own life, and are now helping others in a crisis situation. Over the next days, I will highlight core values and recommendations from the report as presented in Ursula’s keynote. The first core value is:

Foster hope and help people find meaning and purpose in life

Pervasive hopelessness is a major risk factor for suicidal thinking and behavior. Studies have found that hope and optimism can help guard against suicide. From The Way Forward: “Hope is also linked to self-esteem and self-efficacy, as well as improved problem-solving. The pursuit of meaning can help a person cope with pain and suffering. Similarly, research on reasons for living has demonstrated that meaning and purpose are keys to recovery in many different groups of people who have lived through a suicidal crisis.”

I know this well. In my own suicidal crisis, I was saved by my husband who knew, somehow, that he had to teach me how to hope. (Please see Oh So Real: Pregnancy and Suicidal Depression) I had no hope for me or our unborn child, but I did have hope in our beautiful daughter who was about to turn 5 and start kindergarten in the fall…….when the baby was due. So Jim taught me to focus on specific events or achievements or activities of our daughter. One hope at a time, sometimes very small, got me through those difficult days and hope for her life certainly gave me a reason for living that had meaning and purpose. While the psychic pain of feeling suicidal is or can be overwhelming, meaning and purpose dull the pain…….take pain from the driver’s seat to the back seat.

It is possible to fuel a very small hope.

On Healing and the Caring Community

Recently I have been re-searching the book, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets for more wisdom.

The book’s author is Rev. Craig Rennebohm, founder of the Mental Health Chaplaincy  in Seattle, WA. This UCC minister speaks of the illness experience and how healing can occur even with serious illness. He places the experience of illness in perspective with many other factors in life. He writes,”…. Our illness self, may predominate at any given moment, but is not absolute and does not determine finally who we are. An illness, no matter how grave, is but a part of our larger identity; our wholeness as persons encompass the moment of illness and far more.”

I first heard him speak at the 2013 NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) annual convention held in Seattle that year. I learned although there is no cure for mental illness but there is recovery for many, that I am experiencing healing “…within a larger frame of personal growth and caring community” as the next stage in my recovery.  Continue Reading more on his profound message.

Offering True Support

Most of us have found ourselves, at one time or another, wanting to provide a friend or relative with a listening ear… or to be a helpful sounding board; in other words, to provide support. What is present when someone is offering true support?

True support is present when the recipient feels listened to and understood. Some emotional needs have been shared and supported together. Just listening well and empathically may help someone clarify options or sort out thoughts. If you’re unsure if the support you offer is satisfactory and your intention is genuine, I suggest asking the recipient gently: Did she feel really listened to? Did he feel a lifting, even temporarily, of a burden? If yes, you have given someone a great gift!

My experience as a support group facilitator and as a trainer of facilitators, both in giving and in receiving support from people with mental illness through an adult lifetime guide me to these recommendations (Under “On Healing” in the menu bar). I hope you find them thoughtful.