A Broken Heed

I have had writer’s block before, but never like this. Having been writing and recording songs in a number of low-achieving musical ventures for the previous twenty-odd years, I was used to the odd barren patch, just waiting for the right chord or turn of phrase to come along and reignite the fire. This was different though; less of a block, more of a concrete barricade a mile deep. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t find that chord or wordplay, now when I picked up the guitar I was bored before I even began.

I began to realise this as just one of the symptoms of my depression, a depression that those around me had noticed long before me. I'd put the symptoms down to tiredness, the stresses and strains of everyday family life, a difficult time in a work setting that is mentally and emotionally draining at the best of times. I was just being the genetically-attributed ‘doomed Celt’ my mum used to describe.

Two years after my initial diagnosis, where I laughed, almost triumphantly, when I returned home from the doctors’ surgery and broke the news: it was such a relief to know I wasn’t going mad. Now, after six work-sponsored sessions of counselling, an increased dosage of medication, six sessions of group CBT, a half-term off work and six more NHS-sponsored counselling sessions, I found myself in an improving state of mind. There was no quick fix, but I had started to climb back out of the trough and found myself sitting at the piano.

I couldn’t play the piano (I still can’t) but I could get the fingers of my right hand to tinkle fragile little melodies, whilst my left hand hit bass notes that were in tune and nearly in time. There was a chink of light and slowly I began to form ideas. These sparks of thought were developed further as I pounded the streets of North Watford in endorphin-luring exercise. Words became lines which, in turn, became lyrics and then some songs were born.

These songs became a focus for something positive. I was determined to try and return the wellbeing favours I had sourced from internet sites. I recorded the songs as best I could and released a CD, with all money going to the Campaign Against Living Miserably, which promotes male mental health awareness and provides support for those affected by depression and its most extreme form: suicide. The CD was released under the name The Broken Heed. Because my head was broken.

Did I try suicide? No. Did I think about it? From time to time. Did I want to die? No. Did I want to be alive? Often not. Depression is a complex beast and no two people’s experiences are the same. I wanted to share my experiences though and help support those who also suffer. The CD went down well and I was able to shift a couple of hundred quid in the direction of CALM. Through the oft-maligned Twitter I found a number of people who helped support me through my depression, even though they had no clue who I was or what I may or may not have ever done in my life. The kindness of strangers led to CALMapalooza, a music and spoken word festival featuring a number of acts who were also affected by depression, and another few hundred quid went over to CALM to help those who need it.

Those who bought the CD would ask if there would be another. I told them I hoped not. This response puzzled them, but if there was to be another it would mean that I had more to write about, that I wasn’t better, and I’d really rather be better. This year a second album was released. I am –often – better, but there are still times I’m not. That’s just something I have come to accept and as I have looked back on my life I have realised there have often been times when I have been unknowingly depressed, and written about it in song form. The second album by The Broken Heed comprised new songs about mental health as well as some older ones I now realise were also reflecting depression.

I am well aware that collections of songs about depression do not instantly conjure up the notion of a musical good-time, but if you have read this and find comfort in writing your own songs  - or indeed poems or prose – I hope you will be inspired to plug away, find your own chink of light in the corner in much the same way I found that piano, and go for it. It appealed to my notoriously dry sense of humour when the second CD was described as “less bleak” than the first – but if that’s a sign that my head is healing, I am more than happy to take it.

Music can be a huge help to your mental health (in our opinion at least). If you're able to create it, then that can only be a good thing. Have you used music, songs or even poetry to manage your own mental health? Want to share some of your creations with our community, just let us know in the comments below.

You can follow John on Twitter, where he's @JohnyNocash. If you want to hear some of his music, then you can visit his website over at brokendownrecords.bandcamp.com