The Day She Raised Her Voice

 It starts with a pulse inside my head. The beating of my heart; hard as lead. Can’t get the music out of my mind. The rhythm of the words, the melody, the time. Melodies of sorrow, melodies of hate; used to be my story, but now that’s changed. I found a shining light and a brand new way, to live the rhythm of my life. The words have changed, the story’s rearranged; to fit a life lived with a little less pain, but with joy…joy for the music, the music that saves. 

This is a story of a young girls whose life was changed and saved by her love of the music. “Jennifer” was 15 years old when she was first admitted to “The Home.” Angry and depressed about her life and family, she resorted to physical violence and self-mutilation to cope with her feelings. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; something she would have to live with for the rest of her life. Let’s get clinical for a brief moment…very brief: Bipolar disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a lifelong condition that can affect both how you feel and how you act. It is a mood disorder thought to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain that can result in extreme swings in mood—from manic highs to depressive lows. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you must have experienced a high period (mania). Bipolar mania is described as an “extreme high,” or feeling unusually great. Most people with bipolar disorder when ill or when symptomatic experience more lows (depression) than highs. Doesn’t sound fun, huh? Like most people with labels, she decided to live up to the reputation of being “that way.” She got into fist fights with peers and argued with adults until exhaustion took over and anger became tears. Her family had let her down and she saw no way out. “Jennifer” was stuck. Stuck in the anger, and stuck in the pain. What could save her from this downward spiral; this black abyss? She wanted to cry out for help, but didn’t know how. Like most depressed girls her age, “Jennifer” stuffed her feelings. She didn’t know how to express them in a healthy way. 

One day “Jennifer” wandered into one of my music groups. At the surface, the groups was about learning how to sing or play the piano. At a deeper level, issues like low self-esteem, poor anger and stress management skills, fear of failure, and disempowerment were addressed. “Jennifer” expressed an interest in both singing and piano, but her heart was with her voice. She started off shy, not wanting to sing songs she didn’t already know and fearful of performing in front of her peers. She was afraid of her voice and of other’s judgement. “Jennifer” doubted her vocal abilities and would give up if she felt she wasn’t singing up to her standards. As time passed. “Jennifer” and I worked together to help her gain faith in her ability to sing; in her ability to succeed at something. She had no difficulty believing in a higher power outside of herself, but her own self -worth was non-existent.

“Jennifer” began by attending music group twice a week, and slowly grew more comfortable learning unfamiliar songs. Her ability to express her feelings was first to improve. She sang songs that touched her at a deeper level, and would often lead to an emotional catharsis; sometimes for both of us. As months passed,” Jennifer” began seeking me out for more music groups, and started expressing a desire to perform. She began wanting to sing in front of five or fewer peers; performing duets with me, as I was her safety net. Throughout this process, I noticed “Jennifer” engaging in fewer conflicts with both peers and adults, and being able to focus more in school, as her grades were slowly improving. Her signing voice was becoming something of which she was proud, and her self-esteem was getting higher. For the first time, she was both discovering and owning her strengths.

Our annual Awards Night gala was quickly approaching, and I was looking for singers and dancers. “Jennifer” approached me wanting to sing….a solo! She was glowing with happiness! We brainstormed and found the perfect song; a simple, yet catchy tune. What came next? Weeks of rehearsing, minor breakdowns, and “Jennifer” ultimately mastering the song; as well as she was able. She performed beautifully; a shining star! The brightest star, in fact, and she owned it. She owned it in front of an audience of over 100 people! Was her performance perfect? No, but what was perfect was her ability to surpass her fears and take pride in herself; for who she was and what she accomplished. This was a success, not the failure she had been conditioned to. 

“Jennifer” just turned 18 and is about to graduate from high school. She sings solos with her church choir on a weekly basis, is taking piano lessons regularly, and just finished performing a lead role in the school’s fall musical performance. “Jennifer” does not have a recording contract, nor is she the next American Idol, but she loves what she does. She loves music! She seems, well….happier. 

“Jennifer” continues to have her daily struggles, but is better able to deal with them with music in her life. You, dear reader, are now witness to the power of music.