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Self Care in the Life of a Music Therapist

Updated: Mar 3, 2019

*** Warning - Authentic Emotions and A little Cussing Ahead ***

Realistic self-care post: I am going to start posting my experiences, occasionally, as a means of authentic sharing and connection. I tend to isolate when I am not feeling my best (over 50% of the time realistically) and I’m also a high functioning, socially anxious introvert, so this is me being a little brave (I think it might be the first I’ve posted of me singing ever, seeing and hearing myself on video is a very shame inducing experience, even for me as a music therapist. Crazy huh? Gotta self-care through that mess J ).

So, I’m a therapist and I’d like to share a couple things to begin.

We (therapists) are so far from perfect that’s literally how most of us got into the therapy world. Seeking resources to feel better, and then realizing we have a red-hot passion for helping others gain better mental health. I’d like to show you my human side, and how I am using the tools I possess to maintain my mental health, so that I can be present in the therapy room with you daily.

We talk a lot about self-care in our society and don’t necessarily know how to implement it…like we use it when we are at wits end, not 5 steps before because “we got this” or “it’s not bad enough yet.” Or worse yet, sometimes we don’t know that we are spiraling because we are numb to our pain or in denial. Then we come unraveled, fake sick, take a few days off or try and remedy it with a few beers, a bubble bath or a yoga class. That’s not self-care. That’s crisis management and it puts out fires, resets us enough to keep functioning, to maintain the daily grind. But it’s not self-care. Self-care is what we need to be doing daily to maintain quality mental health. It’s different for everyone. Mine involves being in nature daily, seeing my Dad and siblings once a week, playing and writing music (no matter how good I feel about the end product) and doing things with my boyfriend (cooking, rubbing feet, playing “Pokemon GO” or even just sitting side by side with my feet over his lap, each other and playing Clash of Clans on our tablets). You find what works for you, and make it manageable. Even on days I tell myself I don’t deserve self-care or it is too much work, I try and do the EASIEST thing on my self-care list to push through those shitty thoughts. In the end, I’ve found its worth it, even when they are screaming at you to just stop.

Today I woke up feeling super down and experiencing guilt that is no longer necessary for me to hold on to in the journey to becoming the healthiest version of me. But nonetheless, it comes up, no matter how far along my journey I have come. I was feeling like a huge piece of shit even thought I did 3 loads of laundry, cooked lunch, prepped dinner, vacuumed, worked and rearranged furniture to make room for the Christmas tree. My depression and anxiety had me spiraling hard because I skipped Thanksgiving with my family, I spend $20 bucks over my food budget and feeling financially unstable and lonely are triggers. Most people, I’m sure would say “Oh, you see your family a ton, I’m sure they understand” or “Wow, come on, it was only $20 bucks, it’s ok!” by in my mind, it was not ok and I was beating myself up, my mind taking me back to darker times when love was given to me conditionally and if I messed up, I got the cold shoulder. Sure, it’s $20, but in my mind, it was so much more than that.

So, instead of ignoring that awful stuff I was saying to myself, I took a deep breath and sat with it for a second. Allowed myself to hear the comments: “You stupid piece of shit, today its $20, tomorrow its $1,000, when will you learn?” “This is how people leave you. You are useless and worthless, a succubus, really. I’d be surprised if your whole family doesn’t up and leave you”. Then I had to pause, cause if I let it go on too long, it gets bad. Of course, on the outside, I might be a little irritable, laugh a little too much, just go to bed, or say I have a cold and you’d never know the damn difference. But I would and it’s an awful state of being.

Trust me. So…

I went to my go to self-care measure when I am alone- music. I am a music therapist, but when I play music live in a therapy session, it is not self-care for me. So, I started out by listening to “Sober Up” by AJR as it currently matched the feeling state I’d spiraled to- numb and wanting to feel better, but also a little nostalgic for better times. I needed something simple and repetitive, because that helps my brain feel better. And then, since I know for myself, I can only listen to music that matches my depressed state for a certain amount of time before I get stuck, I then transitioned to playing it live with the ukulele.

Playing music live has a totally different feel to it than just listening. I have to allow my whole body to engage, I have to be paying attention to the notes, and often times my mind is not allowed to wander when playing music live- it takes up too much attention. That is why, truth be told, I use this coping skill when I am alone. I can’t fully be present with the music if someone is listening. But, this post will change things, cause I’m coming at you “live” ish. Because I am a damn music therapist and have seen the connective power of music when my clients are brave enough and put themselves out there- so I’m gonna follow their lead.

Engaging in music live (singing, playing, etc) is being studied and has some evidenced based research that says playing music actually helps rewire your brain for greater health. The cool part about this is you can be absolutely “tone deaf” or have no musical ability to reap the benefits. So, no matter how shitting I think my singing is, I am still doing an act of self-care by pushing through my hateful self-talk and to just keep playing. Also, I don’t have to play on ukulele, I could do this acapella, with a percussive instrument or dance while I do it. Ha. I mean, I had a music therapy group a couple years back and they all joked about their singing sounding like whale calls it was so bad. So, we did a whale call group. Put some guitar chords to it, called it good. I mean, it worked, it was still technically live music and guys- it was the best. My point being, in music therapy we almost like you more if you have no musical talent. Plus, you are in good hands; I am not immune to feeling musically inadequate.

So, to end this post, I am posting a video of what my self-care process looks like. It is messy, I clearly did not do my hair or put on “real clothes.” You can hear my self-consciousness (I cuss in this video when I feel I have messed up, heads up) come through when I play imperfectly, but it is also a realistic look at someone helping themselves through a tough time.

Thanks –Lindsay


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