PTSD And Music

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short. It’s a trauma/stress disorder that can develop after someone experiences something traumatic basically. This can be any experienced that happened during childhood or adulthood. With PTSD the brain doesn’t process the trauma the right way, it doesn’t always realise that it is a past event which can result in reliving the experience over and over again.

My PTSD really started when my dad died. I’d either relive the whole day, little moments or relive it in the form of nightmares. With PTSD you get ‘triggers’. Triggers are something that basically triggers the memory to play in your head. Triggers can be anything from a smell, word, voice, sound, place, sensation, anniversaries or even a person. I’m gonna focus on a specific trigger I had which was a song. Sam Sparro – Black and Gold. Back when I was 12 I loved this song. Knew all the words, sang it every time I heard it and always played it. I was playing this song when I heard my mum scream downstairs, I waited a few seconds but then went down to see my dad having a heart attack. I could hear the song playing upstairs through the speakers in our computer room and after that I could never hear that song again. I didn’t want to and I was scared to listen to it. I remember it being on a TV advert and I had to switch the channel or leave the room if I heard it. The song was in the charts for a while and every time it was mentioned I’d get flashbacks of that day along with unwanted memories and emotions that I had no control over. It was exhausting.

The song always stayed in the back of my head as a trigger which I knew about (I had many other triggers which I didn’t always know about). Sam Sparro kinda became a one hit wonder with that song so I didn’t really ever hear it again or hear of him but I was always on high alert for it. The song itself didn’t stick in my brain (I actually forgot how it went and some of the lyrics) but I always remembered the name and the songs video clip. It was like I had to always be aware that there could still be a chance of me hearing it and I knew what would happen if I heard it and I didn’t want to relive that.
When we listen to music it triggers the parts of the brain that evoke emotions. This is why certain songs might remind us of that heartache you experienced when going through a break up or that moment you were buzzing whilst watching your favourite artists at a music festival and so on. If you listen to music whilst having breakfast or something pretty standard, you are less likely to associate that memory with the song as there probably weren’t any strong emotions there. So on a good note music can bring back some of the best memories of your life, but on the downside it can also bring back some of your darkest memories.

I didn’t listen to or hear the song for many years until I spoke about it when I was going through my cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which was focusing on processing the trauma which required me to relive the whole day several times in one session and picking up on every little detail, one of the details being the song. It was painful but the more sessions I had focusing on the trauma, the easier it got to process it. I began to challenge myself. I started off by just searching for the song on Spotify and looking at the name for a bit. I began to get nervous and then I pressed play. Within the first 10 seconds I had to stop it. I couldn’t play it. It was too soon. I told my counsellor and she told me that by the end of the year (2018) any previous triggers shouldn’t be an issue anymore. I saw this as a achievement to reach. If I was able to listen to that song again all the way through without getting any flashbacks it would be confirmation to me that I had successfully processed my dads death.

Time went on and I completely forgot about the song. The name was no longer stored in my head as I didn’t feel like I had to be on high alert for it anymore. Then when I was in Cairns (May 2019), I was driving to Daintree and the song came on the radio. Within the first 5 seconds I knew exactly what song it was and the question of ‘what are you gonna do?’ went through my head. I didn’t know whether to change the station or listen to it and see. I listened to it and the words came back to me and I began to sing along. The song finished and I was shook. I knew that the song had a deep personal meaning to me and for the first time in 11 years I was able to listen to it and sing along without any flashbacks. I laughed and almost cried afterwards. It was a very rewarding moment for myself and I gave myself a pat on the back. Achievement had been reached.

To anyone who has PTSD, CBT was honestly the best thing that helped me. I had gone through counselling (which personally I thought was utter shit) and had given up with going to professionals for help until I had my breakdown. CBT not only informed me on my PTSD, depression and anxiety but informed me on ways of coping, what could happen after the sessions and how it all works. I began to actually understand how my brain was working. The sessions are hard, they will really challenge you but life afterwards is so rewarding. I have no worries about triggers or flashbacks and if I happen to take a couple of steps back I know how to move myself forward. I know when my mind is slipping, I now know the signs. So please, if you have PTSD please consider cognitive behavioural therapy. If it’s not for you then it’s not for you but you won’t know until you at least try.

Sending my love to all of you,

Emma xo