The Music That Got Me Through the Hard Times After Traumatic Brain Injury
As early as I can remember, music has always been a major part of my life. I remember being a young girl while some of the greats like Louis Armstrong or Patsy Cline were echoing in the background. Before my TBI I was regularly attending concerts, music festivals and I even dabbled with being a music manager temporarily. Music lit up my soul and I couldn’t wait to dance freely at the next concert. On March 9, 2013 I went to my friend’s concert, and little did I know it would be the last concert I would attend for years.
I ended up in the ICU for 5 days because I was experiencing multiple strange symptoms. I was hallucinating, delusional, I had no control over my legs, extreme fatigue and every time I woke up I didn’t know who I was or where I was. Too much light or sound would send me into a downward spiral and I would accumulate more symptoms. This went on for days which turned into weeks, and eventually turned into months. I was experiencing one of the most difficult times in my life and music couldn’t be there to bring me comfort. I remember feeling so broken, fearing music might never be a part of my life again.
After a couple months I was laying on the floor in my laundry room, seeking salvation. It was the only dark, cool, quiet place in the house and I would often go there when my symptoms were flaring up. I was in a lot of pain and I was reflecting on what my life had become. I went from going to school, working, tutoring and going on adventures to stumbling from my bedroom to my laundry room a couple times a day. I saw my life stacked up against me and at that point I was questioning whether I was tough enough to make it through or not.
I remember reaching over to my phone and finally hitting the play button on one of my favorite playlists. “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men began to play and music was introduced into my life once again. My eyes swelled up with tears as I began to mumble the lyrics. “Don’t listen to a word I say…Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right; your mind is playing tricks on you my dear.” There couldn’t have been a better song to hear first. It related to my soul and guided me through my situation. I laughed, cried, questioned myself, and found myself to this song.
Dr. Johnathon Burdette, a neuroradiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center conducted a study that measured how our preferences of music affected functional brain activity using (fMRI) imaging. “Those fMRI scans showed a consistent pattern: The listeners’ preferences, not the type of music they were listening to, had the greatest impact on brain connectivity — especially on a brain circuit known to be involved in internally focused thought, empathy and self-awareness. This circuit, called the default mode network, was poorly connected when the participants were listening to the music they disliked, better connected when listening to the music they liked and the most connected when listening to their favorites. The researchers also found that listening to favorite songs altered the connectivity between auditory brain areas and a region responsible for memory and social emotion consolidation.”
Music has the power to shift the connections in our brains based on our own personal experiences with the song. Music has been with me through the dark times, happy times, love, break-ups, deaths, goodbyes, celebrations and everything else in between. When everything seems impossible, or I feel alone, music uplifts me and carries me to the next chapter. Below is a playlist that I have listened to frequently when my traumatic brain injury seemed daunting or was getting the better of me. Those songs have brought me the will to fight, to grow as a person, to love myself, to laugh, and to be free. I hope you get as much enjoyment out of them as I do.
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Thinkstock photo by Demaerre.