Playing electric guitar and writing music are my outlets for helping me cope with bouts of self-doubt and anxiety.
My therapeutic relationship with the guitar started in high school. I was shy and introverted, making it difficult for me to approach people and easily make lasting friendships.
My perfectionist nature also put pressure on me to maintain high academic marks and participate in the time-demanding sport of rowing, while navigating loneliness and alienation from people due to my shyness.
The emotional toll this mounting pressure took on me caused me to develop insecurity, self-doubt and anxiety that often lingered in the back of my mind or weighed me down. I struggled to find the words to articulate how I felt, and all I craved was a safe space to privately get in touch with my emotions and express myself freely, without judgment.
I found that safe space in the electric guitar. I had been learning how to play acoustic guitar from the age of nine, but started playing electric shortly before starting high school.
The first time I plugged in and played my electric guitar, a whole new world of creative freedom was unlocked. I felt like a mad scientist, experimenting for hours with guitar tones and effects on my amplifier, especially with loud distortion – much to my mother’s dismay.
As soon as I got home from school I would go to my room, pick up the guitar and forget everything causing me grief. I would practise or learn songs by my favourite bands, and mess around and play any melodic or rhythmic ideas that came to mind, trying to understand how the guitar worked and find sounds I liked.
Whenever I started to play, the weight on my shoulders would magically fall away and I would close my eyes and imagine what it must feel like to play music on stage in front of people, instead of overthinking stressful aspects of my life. I finally found my safe space that allowed me to release pent-up emotions by playing things that expressed how I felt, instead of struggling to find the right words to explain them.
Writing music is another form of therapy. The song–writing process often begins for me when I come up with short musical ideas that could potentially be developed into full songs. I immediately record them in rough form on my laptop.
Once I have the basic melodic idea recorded, I spend hours writing more ideas for the other parts of the song, and keep recording them to my laptop until I have a final demo version. Writing and developing music kicks my creativity into overdrive and makes me forget my anxiety, because I am motivated to capture the inspiration and finish the song.
I always feel a self-confidence boost when I play the recordings back and hear how I translate the music in my head into sound, through the guitar. It is the opposite to how choked up I feel trying to talk about my emotions.
The guitar has also been a fantastic therapist in helping me mitigate anxiety about the future during the covid-19 pandemic, and gives me something constructive to do as a break, working completely from home.
Some days during hard lockdown last year were challenging. The sudden loss of routine made me feel that I always needed to be working, with less time for music. The joy I always felt from playing music was replaced with a hole in my life, with no easy way to climb out.
I struggled to get out of bed some mornings, because my anxiety shot through the roof out of fear for family and friends’ wellbeing.
A bittersweet realisation and comfort that I was not the only musician feeling this way came from Facebook posts by other local musicians, who were also struggling and felt too burnt out, working from home, to play music. It broke my heart reading that some had to sell their instruments to pay bills, or lost their primary income as full-time musicians and were going through some of the hardest times of their life brought on by the pandemic.
These harsh realisations made me more aware that I am lucky to be in a financial situation to keep my guitar, and that music is what keeps me happy, no matter what.
From that moment on, I decided to redirect my energy to nurturing my talent to keep me going, instead of being hard on myself about things beyond my control.
I leave my guitar in arm’s reach of my desk where I work every day, ready to be grabbed when inspiration strikes. Picking up the guitar for even just 10 minutes daily motivates me to keep a positive outlook and stay optimistic, as the world keeps turning through unprecedented tough times.
FEATURED IMAGE: Matthew Nijland. Photo: File
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