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OP-ED: How listening to happy music helped me through my depression, and why I think it’ll help you too

In the last couple years of middle school, I had just discovered the wonders of wearing headphones at all times. As I became an older teenager, I switched from my obsession with Katy Perry to Pink Floyd and other figures of classic rock. It was also during those years that my depression developed. 

At 13, I started a journey of psychiatric medications that would last a decade. My chronic depression was confusing to both myself and everyone around me. The world seemed uninviting and uninspiring as I navigated it through the eyes of a teenage girl, so I turned to music as an escape. During car rides, before class, during break, at home, and sometimes during class, I had my earphones in and was listening to the darkest lyrics of David Gilmour, Roger Waters, sad Guns n’ Roses and Motörhead ballads, Kurt Cobain’s sufferings, and all-things pain. In high school, I came in touch with classical music and the powerful dramatic melancholy in Chopin, Beethoven, and other romantic composers. 

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters’ Us+Them concert I attended in São Paulo, 2018
Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Folklife Music Festival I attended in Seattle 2023

Soon after moving to Seattle, I incorporated the beautiful work of Lana Del Rey into my constant soundtrack. There I was, walking the rainy streets of downtown Seattle with a 19th Century melancholy in my eyes, hands, and whole body. In depression, there come times where nobody understands you. Not even yourself. Attributing my sadness to those songs was my best attempt at understanding it. It was an easy attempt because I could borrow the words of someone else and stick to them — let them speak through and for me. 

When my mother came to visit me in Seattle, mostly as an intervention to a depression that had gotten out of hand, she once again emphasized the importance of filling life with joyful things until they make their way into your heart and mind. She wanted me to replace my songs with instrumental music and different healing frequencies. I wasn’t going to, but in the Spring of 2023, something from my childhood spoke to me. It invited me to dance. I grew up listening to The Beatles and other artists whom my parents introduced me and my sister to from a very young age, including the colorful world of Brazilian Samba and MPB. Happy music that I’d forgotten, that I’d stripped from my identity, that I’d let go of because I believed it couldn’t speak to me and had nothing to offer anymore. Depression is known to cause memory loss, and I forgot the giggly child I was, who sang along to all the radio songs and danced in her own world. 

In the Spring of 2023, I attended Folklife — a yearly free music festival that happens over the course of four days right under the Space Needle. From then on, I returned to the special music of the 60s and 70s, and for the first time, gave a chance to what the artists of Woodstock and the Make Love Not War movements had to say. I naturally set aside my musical darkness of Puccini’s last-song-before-death arias, Del Rey’s profound sadness, and the dark side of Pink Floyd’s discography. Through the Summer, I attended a couple of other music festivals in Washington and opened my heart to new music that I resisted for so long. 

Sophia Bruscato Folklife Festival in Seattle, 2023

Alongside The Beatles, Janis Joplin, CCR, Led Zeppelin, Buffalo Springfield, Adoniran Barbosa, Chico Buarque, and the happiest songs of my aforementioned favorite artists — who are still my favorites — life suddenly appeared so much easier. Yes, with Summer comes sunshine, lively communities on the streets, and no more layers of clothing to separate us from the world. But I grew up in South America, where that’s what nearly all days of all years look like. Life was moving along as it always had, but nothing had really changed in my routine other than its soundtrack. 

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Thing Festival in Port Townsend, 2023

Apart from the encoded psychology of upbeat music and major chord progressions, light-hearted music speaks to something humorous in life. Something comical. There is a lot to laugh about in life — sometimes, laughing is all there’s left to do. Although my habit of wearing headphones or turning my speaker on for hours a day hasn’t changed — and won’t — my mind has. Of course, I still struggle with the same depression I’ve had for many years, but my coping mechanism has shifted away from that emotional attachment to sadness towards a development of good humor in front of hardship and bad days — which are always exaggerated in depression.

Sophia Bruscato Me at Folklife Festival in Seattle, 2023

It’s like a talk show audience. When the “applause” or “laughter” signs light up, the audience does as told, even if the show isn’t that funny. Or like watching a movie: our bodies know when to tense up for an upcoming jumpscare or when to shed our tears, all based on the changing music.

A long time ago, I wrote in a journal “life is much more pleasant when one can choose its soundtrack.” While I believe that with all my heart, I also believe my mother’s words from all those years ago. Even if you don’t believe in the abstract idea of things carrying energy that transfers into everything else, you are immediately affected by the sound of busking musicians, or walking into a funeral or a birthday party. They all carry an atmosphere that affects us, which I call energy.

There is value in all music, there is beauty in all art, but no human’s feelings are stagnant: they change daily, and if you don’t pay attention to those good feelings — even when all they are is small — they won’t pay any attention to you either. My melancholy clearly still exists in me, and so does my love for heart-wrenching rock ballads and those classical pieces that make you melt into the earth with despair, but joy and laughter also dwell in my heart just as much — I just hadn’t paid any attention to them in a long time. 

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Me, a happy child, 2007

Personal music taste is a tapestry woven through time, and with the inherently human love for music, we make songs of ourselves. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself – I am large, I contain multitudes” reminds Walt Whitman in his, coincidentally, Song of Myself. 

Author

Content Editor at Seattle Collegian

Sophia is an internationally published author with her book Primeira Pessoa, as well as a young classical singer. Born and raised in Brazil, music, writing, and Astronomy are her greatest passions. She believes the greatest role of a writer is to bring forth the truth, the honesty, and the humanity that echoes within each one of us. Journalism, while Art, is for her a portrait of the fraternity of the Earth. At the moment, she works for both The Seattle Collegian and the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery, while completing her AA degree with a focus on Anthropology & English.

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