What’s your song? What tune do you go to when your heart is troubled, or when you need to dig deep to find some joy?
By last Wednesday I’d been sheltering in place for about 10 days, and up until then I had been pretty positive about it. I was looking on the bright side, finding humor on Facebook in an unprecedented situation, and I felt that as long as I took precautions I would likely be okay and not get the novel coronavirus.
On Wednesday afternoon, however, I had to go to the doctor for a follow up to discuss the results from a bunch of lab tests and a couple of scans I had taken four to six weeks ago. From November to early February, I’d been coughing non-stop. I had lost a lot of sleep, I was exhausted, and my lungs had been constricted in a scary way. It got to the point where, by January, I needed a couple of breathing treatments and had begun using a rescue inhaler regularly in addition to some other medicines that treat asthma.
I didn’t grow up with asthma. This was all new to me, so I had lived through the winter of 2019-20 more frightened than I cared to admit to myself. Each night for weeks, I would remind myself that God tells us to not be afraid. So I would shove my fear from my mind before attempting to sleep, and focus on other things. Tired as I was, I was able to rest in the peace of knowing that Jesus was there to pray to and that He would shelter me with His love.
A few years back, this would not have been the scenario. For several years in my thirties, I suffered greatly from anxiety. I feared death, and I hated not being in control of things. My husband and I love to travel, but I battled with my anxiety constantly while flying in airplanes, being in teeny tiny hundred-year-old hotel rooms in the U.K., or finding myself in a car where we were driving on the opposite side of the road that we were used to in the United States. My anxiety consumed me and pretty much robbed my joy for way too long. It was like having an extra roommate we had to deal with, the kind who wouldn’t pay rent and demanded squatter’s rights until you figured out a way to kick him out.
Anxiety is real and often comes with a physical response. If you’ve ever experienced it, then you know what I mean. You feel as if you are in a tunnel, and your imagination runs wild with all the what-if scenarios…you think worst-case for every possible situation. There were times during those years when friends or my husband would have to help me breathe through a panic attack. There were nights when I would pace the living room floor, or need to open the front door to walk outside and look at the stars and breath the cold night air just to calm my fears.
I was able to do my job and do it well, and I acted like nothing was the matter. But night time was the worst, once the day’s activities were over and the house would get quiet. Lots of time then to start thinking and wondering. And worrying.
It was the worst of times. It is something I vow to never ever go back to, now that I feel I have conquered the anxiety.
Ironically, those are the years when I paid little attention to music, one of my first loves.
As a young girl, I found that I could escape in three things: books, Jesus, and music. As a musician, music became a part of my daily life. When I began teaching full-time after college and moved to a small town, the music faded away. Coincidentally, my anxiety was born. But I have to wonder if that is a coincidence after all.
Music is so powerful, and right now as we are all sheltering in place…as we sit in our homes or walk or ride bikes outdoors six feet apart from each other, I’ve noticed that music is making a come back.
It’s always been around…from a distance. For decades, we’ve turned the stations on our car radios as we drive and we may turn up the tunes in our homes as we clean house or get ready in the morning, but in this time of quarantine music has reminded us that it has the power to lift our worried frowns into smiles and ease the frustration of having nowhere to go.
The first time I noticed people were turning to music for comfort was when someone shared a Facebook post of neighbors in a city in Italy who were singing in unison from their windows one evening. They couldn’t leave their homes, but they found a way to be united and bring each other joy.
Once our town was told to shelter in place, I began seeing on Facebook hundreds of ways people were getting creative while they were home-bound. Lots of art and home projects, but the thing I’m seeing the most is how music is being shared. Regular citizens are recording themselves at home, celebrity musicians are taking requests through Instagram and Facebook, professional and collegiate musicians are finding ways to collaborate remotely and produce some really beautiful works that are uplifting and that help to ease our minds, and even get us up and dancing.
There’s something about music that hits so many of our emotions. It’s amazing to me how there are particular chords that can match my feelings of joy, sadness, confusion, and even anger. When we hear those chords put together in song, we may not even be having those certain feelings before we play the song, but as we listen it evokes those feelings from us as if we were listening to a story. Words are not even necessary. You just feel it.
So last Wednesday, when I came home from my doctor’s appointment I started having anxious thoughts because I had been out in public and at a medical facility, no less. My imagination was getting harder to reign in and, because of my former experience, I was able quickly recognize the signs that these were nothing but anxious thoughts trying to slither in. But I’ve been committed to not giving anxiety any power over me.
And one of my weapons to fight anxiety is music. The next night, I asked friends on Facebook to list the most beautiful song they could think of in that moment, and before going to sleep I listened to each one. Halfway through the first song, my mind was calmer. By the end of the last song, my breathing was steady and I felt contentment and strength.
So as I shut off the light, I left on some music—the six cello suites composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. If you haven’t heard them, they are six songs for an unaccompanied cello. Just the cello sings, a rhythmic and peaceful composition that helps me to tuck all my other thoughts away for the night.
I slept peacefully and woke up feeling rested.
That is just one example of the power of music and how it can suddenly take us on a journey that provides solace in our times of sadness and distress.
Find your song, friends. You will feel better for listening.