Music is a talent that I have had since early childhood, having studied the violin and viola from age five through college. But it is also a terrible poison for me. When I perform with my violin, or with an electric guitar adjusted just so…I experience schizophrenia. Racing voices in my head telling me that I am a demon. That I am sinning against some deity because I’m expressing myself. That I’m using the wrong chords, specific chords that are evil. Or that my lyrics are akin to spells…satanic, backward, and reversed. My mind believes it all, and I become convinced that I am the Antichrist.
And then there are even the physical symptoms. Cold sweats and shakiness, as if I’ve had too much coffee. The sense of disorientation, as if I’m about to fall down. I’ll have to grab onto something to keep myself balanced and grounded.
As I come to, I remember my coping tools. Deep breathing, and the mental repetitions of positive, survivalist affirmations. “I’m going to be okay… I’m going to be okay… Two steps forward, one step back.” As I calm down, I then try to just go through the motions of my day. Filing papers at work, or cleaning my room…mindless physical action always helps to wipe my mind clean. When I can, I’ll make a phone call to my mother or a good friend, and usually that helps me come through.
But even though I am able to bounce back from these schizophrenia anxieties, music still is an enigma to me. Is there a way to cure myself from my apparent allergy to music? Why am I allergic in the first place? It is saddening to me, that I cannot freely do something I love. Maybe I could work with my psychiatrist, and try some sort of medication. Or perhaps I can work around the allergy, and figure out different ways of musical expression that don’t flare up my allergy as much. Even though there have been years of defeat, I’m still hopeful.
It’s hard for me to put music on the shelf completely, because I know that deep at my core, the word “musician” accurately defines me. It is stamped on my DNA. And I never can forget my musical past, because I have learned so many life lessons from it. I’ve been in the classical music system for so long. I know how to change a string. I know the meanings of all those Italian and French words that describe different bow strokes, like portato and collé. And I’ve shed tears galore in tiny, windowless rooms. My viola probably has some dried, teary residue within its varnish.
Since then, I’ve decided other ways of musical expression far more satisfying to my soul. I love writing my own songs especially. Lyric writing is especially cathartic, and experience devoid in instrumental performance. My lyrics serve to soothe me, and are almost like positive affirmations:
I wanna do a lot of stuff before I die. Make a difference in the world, and reach real high…at least I’ll try.
Other lyrics I write are perhaps contemplative about how I view the world around me:
Reality hurts, but still it’s wrong to cry. Still, it’s wrong to cry today, as wrong as it was yesterday. We’re holding it in, and still nobody knows why.
I’m so freaking proud of my songs. Mind you, my pride is not arrogance, but rather, self-love. My brain kicks me in the face often, so it’s good to also have tangible proof that my brain is capable of creating things that make sense too.
My schizophrenia also creates mental situations that do not make sense in the common way. Lyrics then allow me to paint abstract pictures that make sense to me and my reality.
I don’t need you anymore. I’m tired of being your personality. You cannot hide me, or stifle my individuality.
In general, my songs comfort me. When I feel negative and worthless, I realize that my lyrics indicate that I am an intelligent person. And that my brain isn’t completely broken. That it’s capable of beautiful things too.
I hope one day that music will not be so detrimental to my health. I already have found my voice, in terms of what I want to say with music. I want to touch on ideas and concepts that others cannot. I want to make people smile. I want to write melodies and lyrics that stick with people, helping them to see the bright side of life while understanding life’s pain as well.
This is what I experience in my life. Hopefully, by sharing my music, people can see the world as I see it. And then maybe I won’t feel so lonely.
Maybe this is the overall purpose of art.
Neesa Suncheuri works as a mental health peer specialist at a housing agency in Queens, New York. She is the founder of a Facebook discussion group for peer specialists and other recovery enthusiasts, entitled “What is Wellness? A Mental Health Discussion Group.” Much of her creative inspiration is rooted in her now-tamed schizophrenia. She is a singer/songwriter, and performs in various venues in the city. She writes poetry, maintains a blog and is currently working on a memoir. Follow her on Twitter at @aquariumspeaks.