What Kind of Music Do You Listen To When You’re Depressed?

It was 1999, the year before they tore down “The Lair”—the beehive-shaped building with a central common room and four attached cabins…

The Lair sprawled between the dining hall and the lake—the perfect place to stick the junior counsellors, so the youngest campers wouldn’t be kept awake by our blaring music.

The leaders were hanging out in our common room that night, as my cohort of fifteen-year-old JCs lounged around and talked.

Brodi leaned back on the couch and asked in her husky smoker’s voice: “What kind of music do you listen to when you’re depressed?” I didn’t hear half of Brodi’s question, because Seth was gently inserting a pair of tweezers into my ear to extract the cotton that had lodged itself too far up my ear canal for me to pluck back out.

(What? Sorry? Only five-year-olds get stuff stuck in their facial orifices? Shaddup.)

“Sarah McLachlan,” agreed most of my bunkmates.

“Enya, sometimes, if I want a really good cry.”

Seth pulled the wad of cotton out of my ear canal in time for me to hear the list of melancholy albums that followed.

Megan, a petite girl with a pretty face that reminded me of a glowing moon, named a funky band with an upbeat tempo and hilarious lyrics. We all looked at her.

She shrugged and flashed her dazzling white smile. “It makes me happy. You know, when I’m depressed. It gets me out of my funk.”

She had no idea how powerful her statement was. No idea what insight she had at the age of fourteen. When the rest of us were sad, upset, depressed, we wallowed in it. We enjoyed it. Rubbed it all over ourselves like mud at a spa and let it sink into our pores. We turned on the sad tunes and invited the bad mood to stay for tea.
Not Megan. She cranked the radio up high on its happiest station and kicked sorrow’s ass right out the door.

I’ve thought of that night from time to time, but Megan’s point of view didn’t really sink in until recently.

Years later, I’m a writer, and information-gathering is a huge part of my day. Research is necessary for almost everything I write, and I am effective at it. If I want information on life in institutions, I read books, watch BBC dramas and seek out personal interviews. If I need more insight on midwifery, I trawl Pinterest and Google, diving into all the darkest corners, seeking information.

I learn about a subject by focusing intently on that subject until I know it inside out. Until I feel like it’s a part of me.

But is that always the best way to achieve knowledge of a subject? To focus only on the subject? Most of the time, I’ve found that yes, concentrating on something is a good way to expand my knowledge. But in one instance, I couldn’t have been more wrong…

This winter, the Polar Vortex hit like Jack Frost wielding a bludgeon. My little family (which recently grew to include our first daughter) was stuck inside for days. Weeks. Months.

The initial baby-high lasted all summer and well into the fall…but sometime around mid-January, my normal Seasonal Affective Disorder kicked in, and by the end of March, I was finding it hard to get out of bed before 9:00. I was groggy, irritable, lacking motivation, and generally pissed off.

I also had a gorgeous infant demanding all sorts of hugs and kisses and snuggles—and books and books and books.

My wife was home full time with her.

My workload was reasonable.

I had hours—every day—to lap up all the love I’d miss out on during commutes that I am fortunate enough not to have to make. (I don’t really like driving either, so it’s a double blessing, working at home.)
I remember thinking “I’m blessed! Fortunate! So why the hell am I not happy?”

Of course, nearing June, it’s now easy to surmise that I needed a good dose of Vitamin D and should have probably considered a brief vacation to Hawaii. (AHahaha. Did you hear my bank account laughing? Yeah, so did I…)
At the time, I wondered if I’d finally tipped over the edge from ‘occasionally depressed and anxious’ to ‘needing medication.’

I wondered if I had post-partum depression or if OCD had seized control of my synapses. But this wasn’t a new problem. It happened to me every year. And, as the years went on, lasted for longer periods… Since I had no desire to let Depression in any form take permanent hold, I decided to find out more about it.

Hello—gorgeous infant needing attention! Who has time for the cloud of black looming overhead?

I needed more information on depression and anxiety so, using my usual research methodology, I went to the library and borrowed a stack of books on depression and anxiety…

Guess what? They made me depressed and anxious.

The more I focused on the problem, the worse it got. I knew subconsciously that (to borrow the British phraseology) “if I was looking for causes, I was looking for cures,” but kept looking for the cause. Instead, I should have turned my attention to the cure.

The happier alternative.

By chance, I happened across a copy of The Happiness Project. I gave it a little scan. Its bright blue cover with fun yellow font looked like a much better time than Prozac Nation, which had an eerie wash of dark shadowy turquoise.

(I’ve noticed that books on happiness are overwhelmingly yellow. Blue and white are close seconds. Arranged all together, the spines make you smile and clap your hands, giving the impression of a sunny, clear blue sky.)
Once I got one book on happiness, you can guess what happened. Yes, I’m a library junkie. Sue me—my addiction is funded by my tax dollars!

Beaming, I took a stack of these sunny blue books out of the library. My wife looked at me curiously as I approached the car with:
-The Napkin, the Melon and the Monkey
-The Law of the Garbage Truck
-How We Choose to be Happy
-Raising Happiness
-The Happy Couple
-Pleasure Zone

She doesn’t even make jokes anymore. The number of books that pass through our house on a monthly basis is beyond funny. But I smiled anyway.

Is it the sun outside that’s making me happier, or the sun on my bookshelves?

I don’t know yet. We’ll see.

As I’m reading, I wonder, has Megan been right all these years? Is the trick to kicking a bad attitude simply not to let it take root in the first place? To crank the happy tunes and decide to be happier?

Some psychologists think so, and I don’t mind being a guinea pig. Their prescription is not endless hours in therapy, drudging up the root causes of pain, but rather: more exercise, better food, frequent sex and conscious attention to pleasure. Singing lessons? Hell yes. Sounds like a much better time to me than prescription drugs…

Bring it! Book reviews to come.