RED Day 3: Music and memory

Music has the power to lift us up and also to bring us down. It evokes memories of happy times and sad times. It reminds us of people and situations, and acts as a marker of time and place.

When I was diagnosed with, and treated for, breast cancer, music was my saviour, I would lose myself in the lyrics and allow the rhythm to flow through me, blocking the pain I felt inside. When well enough I would go for long walks, my headphones acting as a buffer against the world. When overwhelmed with intense anxiety, I would turn to music to give me strength. Music was my coping strategy.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs as a result of an individual having experienced a traumatic situation, this can happen to anyone, and is common in those with a cancer diagnosis. PTSD is an exaggerated stress response which persists for some time after the trauma. One feature of PTSD is the re-experiencing of the trauma, where the individual can experience intrusive memories, emotional or physical reactions. These can occur at any time or can be triggered by an association with the trauma.

I have strong associations (traumatic memories) between music and my emotions at the time of diagnosis and treatment, as such these songs act as triggers which, for me, cause an emotional, and sometimes physical, reaction. At the moment I avoid listening to these songs (avoidance being another feature of PTSD) in an attempt to level my emotions.

R.E.D. for me means listening to music while I run and owing to the triggering impact of some of my favourite music, I have instead been listening to Amazon’s recommendations and enjoying discovering different artists, Birdy, Rag’n’Bone Man, Sam Smith, and Hozier, among others.

I used to think that exercise music needed to have an energetic beat to motivate and maintain drive but in reality it’s more important, at least to me, that the music suits my mood, that it calms my mind and soothes my emotions.

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