How music set me on my path from depression to self love
Would it sound a little extreme to say that music saved my life?
Well, I’m not speaking figuratively — it really did. In fact, music set me free from several diagnoses, including depression, and put me on my path to pursuing my passions and feeling full of purpose each day.
I’ve journeyed from self hatred, confusion and emptiness, to self love. Today, I can not only look in the mirror and say “I love you, me” to myself, as you can see in my talk at TEDx Peterborough, I can even sing it for you today.
Loving ourselves is about accepting who we REALLY are
So many people are trapped in the false belief that when they achieve ‘x’, ‘y’, or ‘z’, they will feel ‘good enough’. A magical switch will be flipped, and they will suddenly feel whole, and those they care about will have a higher opinion of them.
I’ve learned that whatever you are doing with your life, whatever goal you are pursuing, if you are doing it to gain the approval of somebody else, then you my friend are on the wrong path.
The path of pleasing others is a circular one, never ending and never satisfying. You could exhaust yourself trying to reach your happiness, but much like a hamster wheel, or maybe a treadmill with no off switch, the miles never stop coming.
In order to get on the right track, you first need to step off that treadmill. It was never taking you anywhere new — it was just keeping you busy.
There was a joke in my family. “Andrea has more degrees than a thermometer.”
Getting all ‘A’s on a report card, or getting a standing ovation, didn’t make me feel good about myself. In fact, my self worth never increased based on the things I did.
So why did I study so hard? Well for me, as with most people, these behaviors take root in childhood. Growing up with my parents separated, I did a lot of talking with my Dad over the phone.
Whenever I spoke about the more creative side of my schooling, such as being in a school play or musical, I would hear the tone of disappointment. A musician himself, he had seen so many other try and fail at performing as a career, that he couldn’t help impress his concerns upon me.
I learned that to gain my Dad’s approval, I needed to study hard and get good grades. If I did that, I could carry on quietly with my performing arts.
Fast forward to University, and in my pre-med student days, I was managing to balance my interests. I studied hard, but I was also involved in theatre and the local TV station.
This is when I received diagnosis number one. My father said I was a dilettante, just like him.
Dilettante: A person who cultivates too many interests without focusing enough on just one. A dabbler, an amateur, or somebody who isn’t specialized in anything particular.
Isn’t it interesting how we slap a negative label on anything that we don’t understand without really exploring it? We label it ‘different’ and therefore bad.
Today, I am pleased to say that popular opinion is showing signs of change. International Bestselling Author, Barbara Sher, is one voice behind the movement to encourage this kind of mental diversity. She talks about the ‘scanner personality’ of people who thrive on having many passions and interests.
But back then the message I heard was that I had ‘too many’ interests, such as the less important performing arts, and needed to focus on my medical career.
So can you guess what I did next?
I became a chameleon. I did everything I could to appear serious and acceptable to my father, and to the wider community of my peers. Over time I noticed my growing sense of unease. I never quite felt comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel that I was good enough. And I was terrified that someone would find out I wasn’t smart enough.
Worst of all, I felt intense shame any time my urge to be creative bubbled up inside of me. At medical school I had to study day and night, so there was no time for the creative arts.
I became sadder, and my moods became darker.
So I went to Student Health Services to get some help. That’s when I received diagnosis number 2 — Depression.
Of all the things we discussed to help me; anti-depressants and therapy sessions, the third ‘prescription’ was not what I expected. She asked me to spend 30 minutes per day playing the piano.
First of all I was stunned that she had remembered I played classical piano, from my intake assessment with her at the start of the school year. Secondly — how many medical students have time for any extra curricular activities?
But to this Doctor, it seemed totally logical that I should spend some of my time doing things that bring me joy. I knew that playing music had always made me feel good — yet I was actively denying myself that pleasure, when I needed it the most.
My mind had been so programmed to deny, shut down, and even belittle my love of music that I was really suffering.
Well I took the advice and started playing the piano again — and to this day I’m convinced that’s what got me through medical school alive. I’d love to say that I graduated medical school with a newfound, total self acceptance… but I wasn’t there yet.
Next on my career journey was my medical residency. Cue the 100-hour work weeks, plus studying acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. So again I heard a judgmental voice telling me to focus on, you guessed it, “Just one thing!”
This time it wasn’t my Dad, but my peers. It seemed the people around me were confused by my holistic approach to wellness, and thought I was unfocussed.
There was that word again.
But why do we have to be just one thing? And why can’t we celebrate all parts of us?
Have you ever felt bad for having a lot of ideas and interests? If so, then you know exactly how I was feeling. My peers started telling me I had ADD — welcome to diagnosis number 3!
I pushed back against this negativity by working harder than ever, gaining more qualifications to build up my credibility. The joke in the family was that I had more degrees than a thermometer.
The more certificates I gained and the more wealth I earned, the emptier I felt. It was only a sense of obligation that got me out of the house in the morning. I was a functional depressive at this point — keeping up with the daily grind, but feeling empty inside.
But you would never have guessed it from my outward appearance. From the wide smile I wore in public, to my multiple guest appearances on Oprah and other TV shows — I looked really happy. But the burden of keeping this up led to a darker state of depression, and eventually burnout.
In 2005 I hit rock bottom. I wasn’t suicidal and had no plan to physically harm myself; but I asked God to take my life, and I meant it. I did not want the life I was living to go on any longer.
While I was on vacation in the Mediterranean I was invited to sing in this glorious hot spot in St. Tropez. As I was on the mic singing, I watched a sea of people before me, all swaying along, and I felt free. I actually felt as if I was being received AS ME!
When I got back to my hotel in Cannes, I felt torn between the pure bliss I had just experience, and the dread of returning to my real life in two days time. That’s when I lost it! I cried out to God asking him to take my life, my body, my talents, the lot, as I didn’t know what I was doing with it.
As I cried I shook and flung myself onto the bed. I felt myself melting into the bed and there was an intensely bright light drawing me into it. It felt like God was answering my prayer and taking me from this life.
That’s when I saw several visions that completely changed my perspective on life. I saw a review of my life, where each decision I had made had consciously led me to where I was today. I also saw that when we come to earth, it’s up to us to decide who we will become. It’s not up to our parents, society, or even our religion. It’s up to us.
In that moment I understood that I have the power to choose the life I experience, based on the decisions I consciously make. Finally, I was shown a beautiful, sparkly vision of my future — one that inspired me to say yes to life. I came back into my body, and my depression was gone.
From that point on I knew that no matter the drama and trauma we endure, or the karma we accumulate, at our core we are pure, truly loveable, and we deserve to be celebrated for our uniqueness — not crammed into some box of conformity.
Thanks to the surrender that came from my music-induced epiphany, I was able to awaken and let go of my ego. I got to move past my old programming, and leave Cannes a changed woman. The last city I visited before flying home to the US was Barcelona, where once again I stood on stage to sing. That was where I met a beautiful soul singer called Meritxell Negre, who’s known as The Latin Queen of Soul.
It turned out we lived less than 30 minutes apart in DC, and we pinky-swore that we’d get together back home. It’s funny how the universe immediately starts sending magic your way once you surrender!
Well, Meritxell and I did get together to perform, and more! We wrote a song together, which you can hear me sing at the end of my TEDx talk.
Reconnecting with music saved my life. It allowed me to live as my authentic self. I was able to replace my dark cloak of depression with a light cape of creativity.
It also inspired me to launch my non-profit movement, The Real Self Love Community, where we share resources for healing — these tools range from books, videos and talks, to of course, music!
My journey to real self love was quite a long, convoluted journey. But I know now that there is a gentler path. So please don’t feel that you have to travel half way around the world, sing on a stage or have an out of body experience to reconnect with your authentic self.
Reconnecting is about returning to your true home.
So how about you? Have you been wearing that mask of ‘I’m fine’? Perhaps you have been labeled with a diagnosis that doesn’t feel right, or you may recognize denying a part of yourself.
If so, I invite you to reclaim those lost parts of yourself. You can reconnect with those parts of life that make your heart sing — and it doesn’t have to become your career. But it may be the catalyst for your rebirth, allowing you to step up and live as your authentic self.
Originally published at http://www.andreapennington.com on June 4, 2019.