Tag Archives: music

The Intersection of Classical Music Studies and My Mental Illness

by Neesa Suncheuri

“You should apply for conservatories for college!  You’re very talented.”  Such was the advice of my high school orchestra teacher.  I studied privately with her husband, who was a violist in the New York Philharmonic.  I put in applications to audition for seven conservatories.

Although I felt confident in my playing, I never could practice as much as I wanted.  I always experienced despair in my mind:

You suck.  Stop playing.

 I could never push through.  I always put the instrument down after an hour.  If I didn’t, I would end up in tears.  But giving up made me guilty.

You’re lazy.  Practice more.

 A vicious cycle, even though I did my best to counter it.  I took Prozac and had weekly sessions with a therapist.  Only three years earlier, I spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital for teens.

I began undergraduate studies at the conservatory at Indiana University, Bloomington.  Even though I could not practice as much as I needed, I approached music-making with enthusiasm.  Private lessons with my professor were the pinnacle of my week.

“When you play this section, act as if you’re playing with a fun toy.”  My professor was an inspiration, and nothing was more enjoyable than performing in his masterclasses.  Not a drop of stage-fright affected me as I played for the other students.

“You’re a diamond in the rough.  We must polish you so that you shine.”  My professor’s comment made me proud.

During college, I kept up with weekly therapy and monthly medication management appointments.  I maintained myself well in the beginning, but things began to go south by junior year.   Every day after orchestra rehearsals, I walked home and spent my nights alone.  I saw myself slipping behind in my studies, and became envious my colleagues as they pulled ahead of me.

I then met a few people who were affiliated with a spiritual meditation practice on campus.  We became fast friends.

“Our guru in India is our guide.  He imbues us with his divinity, and we digest his holy food, becoming lighter and more enlightened.”

This divinity can make me a better violist.

I formally joined the meditation group and earnestly took up their practice.  It seemed to work at first.  I began approaching viola playing as a sort of physical yoga.  I strove to cultivate spiritual energy in my body.  A new sense of motivation affected me, yet my professor was confused.

“What is happening?  You are getting worse in your playing.”

“I don’t understand!  I’m practicing harder than ever!  You don’t know what you’re talking about!  I don’t want to study with you anymore!”  On a dime, I turned against my beloved professor.

Meditating ultimately failed to provide any benefit.  Clearing my mind only made room for other thoughts, seemingly coming from elsewhere.

There is energy you can see, which no one else can.

Inanimate objects and people alike now had “auras,” chock full of information.  People whom I previously perceived as benign had new, hostile auras.  When a person entered a room, the collective energy in the room changed.  All of this was fascinating, yet distracting.

After my first semester of graduate studies on viola, I returned home to New York and participated in a chamber music festival.  When commuting to and from rehearsals, stimuli overwhelmed me.

This picture of the ocean on that subway ad…I feel its breeze on my face.

 That dog is sexy.

 My nose is bleeding.  It’s my heart crying.  That happened twice.

During string quartet rehearsals, I believed I could control the other musicians.  When I played “angrily” at a person, they would grow wide-eyed and yield to me.  I felt powerful.

Right before New Year’s, I had a ticket to see an orchestral concert at Carnegie Hall.  During my commute, my mind suddenly shut down completely.

I am so cold and weak…I haven’t eaten meat in over a year…I haven’t dressed warmly in the cold …I’ve been eating lemons to stay warm…My head is hollow…

The sudden realization of these feelings overwhelmed me.  I gasped for air, grabbing a pole in the subway for support.  I emerged above ground as the evening snows swirled around me, disoriented.  With a hungry stomach, I staggered into a pizza place.

“I need pepperoni pizza!  Meat!”  I bawled as I scarfed down precious food.  My tears locked my mind into solitude.

“Ma’am?  Are you alright?”  An EMS worker came to intervene, presumably summoned by the pizza people.  “We’re going to take you to a good place.”

Back to the psychiatric hospital.  My diagnosis changed to schizoaffective disorder.  New medications covered my delusions under a blanket of sedation, which helped somewhat.  I vowed never to meditate again.  When returning to conservatory, my new viola professor handled me with kid gloves.

“You don’t need to be a professional.  You can play in a community orchestra someday.”

With a heavy heart, I dropped out of graduate school.  While my professional musician ambitions were dashed, my lot in life was revitalized.  By giving up music, I now had the chance to discover new aspects of myself.

 I started doing artistic modeling for photographers.

I went on dates with people from OkCupid.

I revived my German language skills from high school and corresponded with many pen pals in Germany, attaining conversational fluency.

I attended a closed audition for America’s Next Top Model, during which I encountered two contestants later chosen for that season.

None of these experiences could have manifested if I had remained a musician.  Perhaps it is a good thing once in a while, to give up talent in favor of living a more varied life.

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.


by Derek Flynn

janey doesn’t want anything
that’s gonna make her cry again
she says she’s wasted
too many tears
on her girlfriend’s shoulders
are so broad and his mind
is so narrow
he thinks of only one thing
and when she won’t give it to him
he says
it’s enough to make you want to hurt her
it’s enough to make you want to hurt her

the nights roll back like the sheets
she says
i’m tired from a week of fighting
and I’m tired of you
she goes window shopping
for the things she knows she’ll never use
but she tells her friends that it makes her feel safe
every time he says
it’s enough to make you want to hurt her
it’s enough to make you want to hurt her

and after a while
it doesn’t hurt you anymore
and it’s like some kind of black relief
as you rush to meet the floor
and it’s something that surrounds you
it’s something that engulfs you
and takes you in
takes you in
and all the while you know
that he never meant to hurt you
no, he never meant to hurt you

janey gave up window shopping
and took everything in hand
left him lying face down in the rain
dying to the rhythm of some
street-corner marching band
and so she moves on
with nowhere to move onto
no one to move onto
just someone else
one more person who says

it’s enough to make you want to hurt her
it’s enough to make you want to hurt her

Author Pic

Derek Flynn is an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Derek’s short story “The Healer” was recently featured in Surge, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. He is also a regular contributor to http://www.writing.ie where he writes his “Songbook” column. And because he obviously has a lot of time on his hands, he is currently working on his latest solo album.

Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt.

Never Apologise, Never Explain

I was asked to write a piece recently in answer to the question: “What would you tell your twenty-year-old self?”

Now, I’m not one for looking back. Don’t get me wrong, I love to reminisce about the past, look at old photos, etc. But when it comes to things like “What would you have told your younger self?” I balk. It’s too easy to get lost down a blind alley of regrets, of “couldas, wouldas, shouldas”. It can be debilitating and can stop you in your tracks. I prefer forward motion.

Continue reading Never Apologise, Never Explain

REVIEW: We Can Never Go Home

by Stephen Hardman

Black Mask Studios is one of the most acclaimed independent publishers around right now. Low print runs coupled with huge amounts of internet hype have ensured sell-out first prints on all their titles, and some titles being traded online for hundreds of dollars. Yet behind the hype and the frenzied scramble to get hold of the next big thing, lies a roster of seriously good comics created by some of the comic-book world’s most exciting new writers and artists.

Continue reading REVIEW: We Can Never Go Home