therapy

In-Between Days

By Caroline Royce

 

I was crying — alone at home — for what felt like the thousandth time.

It was a few weeks before I was due to give birth to my first child, an occasion I had waited and planned for and wanted for a long, long time. Why was I crying during this happy time? Boy … take your pick.

My time being pregnant was one of eager anticipation but also cold, hard depression. It was both the most creatively stagnant period of my life, and the loneliest.

About four months into my pregnancy, I was let go from my contract job at General Mills, where I was a graphic designer. It was well paying, and I had a flexible schedule. Most importantly, I enjoyed the work. Suddenly unemployed and pregnant, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find another job before my October due date. Finding a job, in my experience, was a demoralizing task, even without the added pressure of pregnancy.

Long before I was pregnant, or even had a regular job, I still knew that when I had kids, I would be a working mom. I am a feminist, and while I know that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to work when you have kids, it’s been a motivation for me to be my own person; I don’t want to be solely defined by being a mother. I want to show my kids that there is value in working, and that both mom and dad have an equal role in providing for the household. Plus studies show that mothers who work are generally happier, as they have social interactions outside the home, and aren’t totally bogged down by the stress of raising children full time.

The decks are stacked against women no matter what. Mothers who work, on average, make less than women without children. And we already know women make less than men.  Truly a damned-if-you-do scenario. Even though I’ve always wanted children, I’ve never been totally sure what it means to be a mom. The image that seems most prominent in our culture is that of the mommy blogger; the woman who quietly puts aside her job and hobbies to become fully devoted to her “LOs” (Little Ones) and writes self deprecatingly about how hard it is (ok, guilty). On the flip side, there is the super cool, J. Crew-wearing mom who continues her fast-paced marketing job and somehow is wearing skinny jeans three weeks after giving birth. I was worried about becoming the mother whose life became completely dominated by being a mother.

On top of all this--losing my source of income, and my main creative outlet--I’d lost something that could’ve kept me sane: a social life.

Not only was I unemployed, but pregnancy had profoundly changed my circumstances. As someone who already has suffered from lifelong depression and anxiety, this new element to my life was crippling me socially. I didn’t know how to relate to people. I couldn’t go out drinking. I was usually too exhausted even to hit up an early trivia night. Here and there, I would do the occasional lunch with a close friend, even once or twice going out after 10 for dancing. The buzz you get from seeing friends sustained me for a while, but eventually I slipped back into a deep despair, feeling guilty that I had all this free time, and no earthly idea how to enjoy it.

I would think back to what I would do with days off from work, and the answer was usually along the lines of lunch, movie, shopping, errands. If every day is a day off, those once-enjoyable activities become tedious, almost an obligation (i.e. “Maybe I should go see a movie, but I don’t want to, ugh”). Then I would start to think how pitiful it was that I couldn’t come up with any ideas for how to spend my time other than to go to the mall again. One particularly difficult night found me hunched over my desk at home, sobbing into the crook of my arm while my husband stood next to me, totally helpless to console me. I was stricken with self-pity. I didn’t know what to do with myself, and that made me depressed.

I was trapped between two lives. There was the happy, creative career gal, who went out drinking and smoking with friends--some great days to be sure. Then there was the woman with great days ahead, raising a child and getting to know the little person that I made. The time between these two lives though was agony. It felt like a life without purpose.

In my third trimester I began to see a therapist--a cool, compassionate woman specializing in Postpartum Depression. I had a feeling that I would be extremely susceptible to this form of mental illness, but what I had not anticipated was that I would suffer greatly from Prenatal Depression, which I’ve hardly ever heard anyone talk about. Have you? Would you want to listen to a woman complain about how sad she was all the time? Basically nobody does. People asked me all the time during my pregnancy, “How are you feeling?” Lonely, existentially conflicted, in constant discomfort, waiting for my life to have purpose again. I was pretty sure nobody knew how I was feeling--and I didn’t figure they were actually interested in the messy truth--and that is the worst, loneliest feeling of them all.

Now that I’m on the other side — blissfully exhausted and constantly overwhelmed with new motherhood, I think about all the things I should’ve done. I should’ve reached out to my friends. I should’ve gone swimming more. I should’ve reorganized my kitchen. I should’ve written a ton of blogs or done some photo projects. It’s easy to look at a time of depression in hindsight and solve your problems. Harder to see when you’re in it.


Caroline Royce is a freelance graphic designer, photographer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband Alan, son Alexander and cat Arya.

What If Nothing is Wrong With You?

By Jordan Hansen

 

What if nothing is wrong with you? What if my favorite part is the part you think is broken? 

I am a therapist. I love my work. I don’t think there is much wrong with the people I see. At least not in the way they think there is something wrong.

I find that the biggest struggle for most of the people I work with is that they are unable, for a variety of reasons, to be the only thing they are capable of being: Themselves. Not the façade-appearing-authentic that most of us cultivate as if our life depended on it. Not in the cliché, saccharine, eyeroll-inducing sort of way that we are used to either. I’m talking about the inimitable, kind, ferocious, authentic, at-ease way that we come by through sweat, tears, courage, risk and connection.

This is the journey of a person who only felt comfortable as a woman, in feminine clothes in makeup, in a small town, as a teenager, with all eyes identifying her as a man. This is the journey of the person attempting to live life without the protective shield of chemicals, bombarded by a harsh, vicious perception of human existence, tempted by the ease that comes with that first shot, hit, drink. These are the people who feel that their lives depend on producing authentic work and finding meaning, and yet can’t get themselves to put pen to paper or pick up their instrument due to some vague fear or anxiety. These are the journeys of those who feel they have no right to their pain, as if their life was too good to experience existential terror, the horror of solitude or the pain of self-loathing. Pain combined with judgment is potent. There are many who, seemingly without cause, are drawn to anxiety, depression, chemical use. We often find through our work that there is a piece of them beaten, forgotten, buried, neglected. This is what we look for, together.

The trick—under all of the techniques, pedantic jargon and fancy terms that can take the life out of therapy—seems to be to find truth. And the truth (as I see it today) is that we are really weird creatures flying around on a weird rock, doing amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring things. We are busy finding secrets in others and ourselves, and if we are able to have some idea of what we are meant to do and connect with our people and the universe around us, we can feel better. If we can find safety in our world while being the true, distilled, unadulterated, authentic people we know we are, we can find something like happiness. Even if our entire experience seems to have conspired to convince us otherwise.

I am invested in the scientific and clinically-measured approaches in my field, but I embrace them while anchored by belief in the ecstatic weirdness of the deal. Why does driving around listening to music with the windows down, heat on, music up, on a sleepy Minnesota night feel the best? I’d like to see a peer-reviewed study on the therapeutic effect of a drumset or the length of sobriety achieved both with and without an 808. Drum machines for everybody! Medication saves lives, but maybe we should mandate that it be paired with musical recommendations for specific diagnoses.

Anxiety? Mazzy Star, Sigur Ros, Spiritualized  
Depression? The Funky Meters, tUnE-yArDs, Os Mutantes

Or maybe we lean into the turn?

Anxiety: Aphex Twin, Death Grips, King Crimson
Depression: Bill Callahan, Elliott Smith, anything off Beck’s Sea Change

I want to ask for $9 million to design and execute a study to finally determine why cats are helpful for anxiety and dogs seem able to pierce the fog of depression.

So many other questions too, like ...

If I imagine motivational readings in Mavis Staples’ voice, will they be more effective? Why do the hugs at NA meetings and the laughter in AA meetings feel awful and amazing at the same time? Why can’t I write the same affected stories I used to? Will she/he/they still like me? Why do new songs feel so terrible and amazing to make? Is quitting my job to knit an appropriate reaction to crippling anxiety from a “real” job? What is a real job? Did I dance without arms when I was drinking, and if so, did I enjoy it as much as when I am able to dance alone? How do I feel comfortable dancing? Without substances? While using my arms? What do the arms do while dancing? Will I ever be OK being me? Is there another way? Why do I STILL feel terrible, even as I get better? If you hold a drink, that is normal. Maybe adding something in the other hand would work. Or, is holding two things too weird?  Can I write a blog about being a therapist and how great it is without thinking I am a fraud and contributing to some sort of in-crowd exclusion that I feel myself judging, like I would judge anybody who wrote about Bill Callahan …

There are times when I want to recommend people to people.

“Hey. There’s this guy, Bob. He owns a coffee shop. He is kind and rad and will tell you that we are all lucky to be alive and that he loves you. See him and then meet with Laura. She’ll get you fired up to be alive. She really lives, that one. A jolt out of the doldrums when you need it.”

Add it all up, and a treatment plan might look like:

  • Drums – hit hard (or soft) daily/as necessary
  • Look out some windows for at least a half-hour each day (bus windows very effective; also looking at anything like crowds, clouds, rivers or trains)
  • Hang out with cats (dogs, or even children, can be substituted as needed)
  • Tell people about the super shameful thing that you think is unique to you, but is in fact universal
  • Listen to Lizzo or Jenny Lewis when negative self-talk occurs
  • Talk to rad people
  • Dance (exercise in other less-fun forms can be substituted)
  • Don’t beat the hell out of yourself when you sleep too much, drink, cut yourself, or have a panic attack
  • Find nice people, and do nice things for them
  • Find what makes you you, and hit it hard

This is the work of therapy. It is so much bigger than what happens in my office, but what happens in my office is meaningful. When those of us who feel broken show everybody what it looks like to be broken, everybody gets to tell us that we’re f---ing amazing and that their favorite part is the “broken” part. We get to find out why we are here and what makes us special and useful. Sometimes, we find out that the thing that made us hurt—the thing that we thought was useless, futile, random—is actually the thing that makes us uniquely useful. We find out there is something we have always been that we didn’t know about, or were too afraid to embrace—something that makes us us.

If you are hurting, find a therapist you love. Find music you love. Try to read books you love, meet people you love, love people who love you. Don’t stop until you find them. Acknowledge the pain, and hold it close when you need to and loosely when you should. Listen when the people who love you say that you are lovely and that, despite your best efforts, you have no idea how to accurately gauge your worth. Let those who love you decide. When in doubt, find a person to help, be vulnerable, listen to the little scared, squeaky voice inside you that knows the kind truth. Love that thing. Dance.

 

Jordan Hansen, MA, LADC, LPC, is an experienced clinician, speaker and writer focused on integrating the science of cutting-edge treatment modalities with the wisdom found in peer-supported approaches to recovery. His approach is based on authenticity, interpersonal connection and a steadfast focus on person-centered, evidence-based interventions. His experience within residential, long-term and outpatient levels of care is informed by his background in journalism, vocational counseling and nonprofit management. Areas of recent focus include assisting in the design and implementation of Medication-Assisted Therapy for opioid addiction, policy work with the MN state legislature, distribution of naloxone kits to local opioid addicts at risk for overdose, and artistic and literary efforts aimed at sharing his experience with long-term recovery from addiction and mental illness.  

Creative Conversations: Turning Up to 11 With Music and Mental Wellness

By Brian Zirngible

 

Like many musicians, I live and breathe music. Every morning I wake up with a song in my head. I’m in two different bands myself, and I listen to music in my car, in my office, with my clients, and when I DJ weddings (I also own a wedding business on the side). And as the day closes, I’ll usually drift off to sleep with the theme song from Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” gradually fading out inside my mildly ringing eardrums. For me, that’s a very relaxing way to end the day.

As a therapist, I am very curious and often joke that I get paid to ask really dumb or obvious questions. I am curious about how other artists take care of themselves when the world at times seems to be imploding on us. I am curious about how performing artists create when they are “blocked” or are living with crippling self-doubt in their talents and abilities. And I am extremely curious about WHY musicians write and perform music. What is the motivation or drive? Is it external motivation such as fame or money? Is it recognition among peers and family? Or is it an internal drive to create something new to the world - something that would not otherwise exist if not for them putting pen to paper, pick to guitar, lips to mouthpiece?

I am also curious about how musicians and other artists maintain healthy balance within the creative scene and how they are supported by friends, families and collaborators.

The creative life comes with some unique stresses. And there's truth to the stereotypical “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle, which poses obvious challenges to wellness. Indeed, substance use problems are relatively common within the artist community. Co-occurring mental health issues are prevalent as well. Hence my curiosity about how artists can and do stay well.

I’ve learned a lot from resources like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a superb book recommended my own former therapist. I’ve also learned from and been inspired by the stories of people like Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong, who, in a recent Rolling Stone article, discussed his struggles with substance use and how he finally was able to reach out for help. Thankfully, more artists are opening up about their efforts to be well.

I recently checked in with two Minnesota musicians – Holly Hansen and Justin Bell – to discuss their perspectives on creativity and wellness. Big thanks to them for their time, energy and honesty.

HOLLY HANSEN

Holly is the former lead singer/songwriter for Zoo Animal and is currently writing and recording as a solo artist. Although Holly and I have never met and I’ve never seen her perform, we struck up a conversation after she posted this question on her Facebook page: “How does an artist not feel guilty?” Her comment stood out to me, and I needed to learn more. You can also listen to her inspiring interview with Andrea Swenson, host of the “OK Show” on 89.3 FM The Current, and watch a documentary about Holly’s history and development as an artist on Pioneer Public Television.

Q: When did you first realize you were a musician?

A: Hmmmmm, I'm not sure. I feel like it all just kind of happened. And yet, I'm still not sure I am one.

Q: What are some healthy ways that you maintain a "work/life" balance?

A: I used to be horrible at this. Now I am super picky about what I agree to do. I also make sure i have at least one whole day every couple of weeks that has nothing scheduled. I need time where I can just float, I've learned that.

Q: How important is it for your music or songs to be "perfect?" I know there is pressure from record labels, fans & band mates to make the music "just right." When do you know when a song or album is complete?

A: I actually struggle to care about perfection. I am a big idea person, so the details can be exhausting to me. I do care about them though, although I often find the best details are things that happened without effort. I like to work in a loose structure and let the details fall where they may.

Q: How do you practice self-care, and is there anything you would change about your routines?

A: I make sure to get enough sleep, eat greens whenever I can, and try to scoop out some meditative time in each day.

Q: What are some of your musical inspirations?

A: Everything always. Music is the way I process everything I experience. Are there certain artists that get you excited about being a musician? Always changing, but at the moment... Aphex Twin, Jenn Wasner, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Curtis Mayfield, Lijadu Sisters, PJ Harvey, Kanye West, William Basinski, Tsegue Mariam Gebru, Angel Olsen, Bill Callahan, 2 Chainz, Nina Simone.

Q: Do you have another job or career? If so, is your employer understanding of your music career and schedule?

A: Yes and very much so.

Q: How important was your formal school education to your current career as a musician?

A: I have a sound art degree, from MCTC (Minneapolis Community and Technical College). It has been very, very helpful. Love that place, it's a great school.

Q: Does your family and/or spouse/partner support you as an artist? If so, what are some of the best ways your loved ones support you?

A: Yes, she is very supportive. Helps me stay calm about money. Doesn't make me feel guilty when I spend money on gear that I find inspiring. Doesn't make me feel guilty when I hide away for hours making weird noises.

Q: Do you ever struggle with songwriting or ever experience "writer's block?" If so, what gets you through to be able to create or write music?

A: Yes. So far in my life, my lyric writing comes in three-month purges; then there is a two- to three-year waiting period. Luckily I feel like there's always enough material to always be making something if I feel like it. What helps? Listening to other music, reading books, experiencing something new, listening to lectures.

Q: Why are you a musician? I hear it's a pretty rough gig!

A: It is. That's why I work a day job.

 

JUSTIN BELL

Justin is a singer/songwriter and the frontman of j.bell & the Lazy Susan Band. He is currently in the process of releasing a new album, “Underneath A Minnesota Moon.” Full disclosure here … I am in two different bands with Justin, and we share more than 20 years of personal and professional history. It was great to sit down with him and have a lengthy conversation about music and mental wellness.

Q: When did you first realize you were a musician?

A: I started playing violin when I was 4. Not sure if you could call that being a musician … but I knew then that I wanted to make noise on instruments. I played a bunch of instruments as a kid, but everything changed when I got a guitar. My uncle Rick was a guitarist in a band, and the way he talked about playing music was always captivating to me. I love talking to other musicians about music and about instruments and gear.

Q: What are some healthy ways that you maintain a "work/life" balance?

A: I am an anxious person by nature. I always have to have as many irons in the fire as possible. I get very antsy if I sit around too long without doing something. So I’m probably the wrong person to ask this of. Because for me, it’s a matter of having enough things going on to keep me interested moment by moment.

Q: How important is it for your music or songs to be "perfect?" I know there is pressure from record labels, fans & band mates to make the music "just right." When do you know when a song or album is complete?

A: I don’t think they’re ever perfect, and sometimes songs have to age. I have songs that I’ve been playing for 10 years that I am just now figuring out how to play. You can continue to tweak forever if you want to. I like to try and capture the essence of a song, get it out there into the universe and let it become what it’s going to become. That can be frustrating when listening back to older records and thinking, “I wish we would have recorded that the way we perform it now.” Some of that comes from being an independent band with day jobs too. You can’t spend all the time you want to rehearsing/recording/perfecting. You have a finite amount of time, and you have to make it count.

Q: How do you practice self-care, and is there anything you would change about your routines?

A: I suffered most of my life from pretty severe insomnia, and I think that caused a good deal of the other problems I had as a teenager and young adult. I would frequently stay awake for days at a time or sleep only a couple of hours a night. I tried embracing that by working extra overnight jobs or being productive during that time, but it was just a bad scene. Nowadays, I sleep pretty normally and get six or seven hours a night. Because of that, I feel better now than perhaps I ever have. Exercise is the key to that for me. When I exercise regularly, I sleep better, I eat better, I focus better - everything is just better.

Q: What are some of your musical inspirations? Are there certain artists that get you excited about being a musician?

A: I’ve always had a hard time fitting into a genre or style, or describing my music to other people in a meaningful way. So I’m drawn to other artists that have the same kind of deal. My favorite band is Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers. They became my favorite band when I read on one of their album covers, “This ain’t country like Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett ain’t country.” That really spoke to me because I feel like I like that style, but you can’t tell most people that you like country music because you get bombarded with what is called country music now (Modern Country or “Bro Country”), and I really don’t like or relate to that. I also have a lot of Minnesota roots, so Soul Asylum, the Jayhawks, the Replacements (and Paul Westerberg’s solo work) and Golden Smog are a big part of where I come from and what I consume. I recently got to meet one of my musical heroes, and he listened to our “$80 Whiskey” album. He said, “There’s a lot of Jayhawks in there. Even the harder rock stuff has Jayhawks flavor.” I said, “I grew up here. I can’t help it.” I’ve also been obsessed with a few bands lately that make me want to keep writing and playing: Shovels & Rope, Dawes, the Old 97s.

Q: Do you have another job or career? If so, is your employer understanding of your music career and schedule?

A: Yes, a few! They don’t really affect each other, but all of that is time management. I’m a firm believer that if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it. I hate when people use phrases like “free time,” or say “I don’t have time for that,” because in my experience, people do what they want to do and are willing to work for. The rest is mostly excuses. Too often, I think people expect things to be placed in front of them in a perfect little package, when most of the time it’s going to take some work, and it’s a matter of priorities and OWNING your priorities. “Oh, I can’t practice 2 hours a day.” Well, you CAN, but you prefer to prioritize other things, and that’s different, and perfectly valid. But don’t talk about it like it’s out of your control.

Q: How important was your formal school education to your current career as a musician?

A: It helps in a few ways. My knowledge and comfort with music theory helps things move faster and makes it easier to communicate with other players and producers. I don’t have the ear that some of the other guys in the band do, so if I had to figure everything out by trial and error, it would take a long time. I know what harmony parts are supposed to be without having to try them out for 20 minutes first. I also can’t stress enough how much my improvisation training and experience helps. There’s a certain amount of “just go with the flow” that the guys in our band have that other bands don’t. We rehearse, but not as much as other bands do, and I credit our jazz & improv background there. Like Tom (Adams – Lazy Susan Band bassist) has said, this band can get to 80 percent of new songs in about two dry runs. Many other bands rehearse over and over and over again to get there. I actually credit my improvisation background with some of my success in other areas of my life too. I am frequently credited with my ability to think on my feet or “wing it” in any situation. I think that comes from studying jazz. You get a lead sheet, a basic structure of a song, and then you just go for it, and what happens … happens. I’m always surprised at how many people aren’t comfortable with that. I do a good amount of public speaking, and often someone will ask, “Did you write out and practice a speech? Do you have your speech memorized?” And I’ll say, “Nah, I’m just going to talk for a while.” That really surprises some people. I don’t need to see everything and have everything worked out to do something or feel comfortable. If I see the basic structure (real life lead sheet), I’m fine jumping in.

Q: What are some of the best ways your loved ones support you?

A: Having a supportive partner is such a crucial thing for someone like me or any artist/musician really. Someone who understands that it is a part of who you are, and a GOOD part of who you are. But logistically too. Someone who gets that this is not a regular hobby or pasttime. It means being gone for stretches of time. It means being distracted for stretches of time. When you are preparing a new album or getting ready for a big show, you need to spend maybe several nights a week focusing on that, especially if you have another job and other responsibilities. I am very lucky in that department, and I have a wife that does support that part of my/our life. I think she understands (and always has) that this is a huge part of the person I am, and without it, I wouldn’t be the person she loves. Also, it’s part of what makes me a good husband and father. That’s certainly not to say it isn’t hard at times, because it is. I’m at an age where people I know are starting to get divorced and, personally, I see some pretty clear patterns. One of those patterns is simply creating a perfect environment for resentment. For example, people who don’t do anything outside of their job and family because they honestly feel like they should prioritize that with ALL of their time and focus - they seem to miss allowing for an outlet or room to grow into a better and more fulfilled person FOR your family. I’ll never be able to say that my loved ones and partner didn’t support me and music. I’ll never be able to say that I didn’t do something that I wanted to do because of my wife. Because she’s always understood that about me. I assume that is probably pretty rare and that most musicians and artists don’t have that. I try not to take it for granted, but I’m sure I do from time to time.

Q: I know you had some "writer's block." What got you through and got you "unstuck" to be able to create your new album?

A: That was brutal for me. I went almost seven years without writing something I liked. It was a dark time, and I didn’t feel like me. I tried forcing it, and the result was some of the worst musical ideas anyone has ever heard. There are probably several factors that contributed to the end of the dry spell, but I really think about two primary things that snapped me out of it:

  1. I started playing with $2 Bill Turner (organ & piano player in the Lazy Susan Band). He and I started playing duo shows, and he was sort of new to playing in bands. He was excited about everything and wasn’t jaded like the rest of us about everything related to performing. Playing with him got me excited about gigging again and really made me want to write new material. Plus, the Hammond B3 organ is my favorite instrument and having someone who wants to be in your band that can play it was a good motivator to do something.

  2. Simple, but powerful jealousy. During my dry spell, I had worked on becoming a better producer and engineer, and built a home studio. My good friend and songwriter Sarah VanValkenburg let me produce her first album when neither of us knew what we were doing. By the time I had talked her into letting me produce her second album, I had become a significantly better producer, and she had become a significantly better writer and performer. We started getting really great sounds, and her record was sounding fantastic. Although I was at the time, and am still now, very proud of that record (Guitar Picks & Bottle Caps), I was insanely jealous. If we could make her songs sound this good, why can’t I be making MY songs sound this good? I was thinking about Sarah growing as a writer and player, getting better and better. And I couldn’t help but think that, at best, I was fading, and at worst, I was just finished. I think that was really the turning point. Shortly after that, I had one song (Ricky & Randy) just sort of fall out of me in about 10 minutes one day, and the juices started flowing again and haven’t really stopped since.

Q: Why are you a musician? I hear it's a pretty rough gig!

A: It’s not really a choice. It’s something I have to do. It’s a big part of who I am, and I’m not sure who I’d be without it … but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like that guy.

 

Brian Zirngible is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist as well as an actively working musician and performer. His passion and specialty is helping other musicians and creative artists live a more peaceful and balanced life. Clients find it helpful that he understands and is currently living with some of the challenges in the entertainment industry. This post was originally published on Brian's blog at www.brianzirngible.com