Productive Anger

Artsy will hold its fifth annual Salon this July. The Salon is an art show for employees to share whatever they’ve made with each other, and this is the third year that I’ll be performing guitar (see performances from 2017 and 2018). I’m preparing this year’s set list and setting the practice goals, and as a yardstick for my progress, I decided to record one of the songs last night.

What really struck me, upon listening to my first few takes, was how much more expressive I sounded. Over-expressive, almost. I stopped to reflect on it.

The song, Stop Error, is by my favourite artist John K Samson. The song tells the story of a depressed programmer living in rural Canada; as a programmer from rural Canada who has spent a decade dealing with depression, the song resonates with me.

I learned to play the song two years ago, but this over-expressive emotion is new. Within the past month, maybe? Reflecting, I think this might be both time that’s passed since I finished Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and also maybe because it’s been two weeks since I finished my anti-depressant prescription regimen.

The emotions that come through in my recording are anger and frustration. The way I over-emphasized “trying” and “execute” – really laying it on thick. I was initially a bit repulsed by what I heard on the recordings, but I decided to lean into it and I’m glad that I did. Taking time to reflect on this has helped me better understand where I am in my recovery.

I am angry, and I am frustrated. I resent having to deal with depression, and those feelings came through in the song. I reset the fact that I’m statistically more likely to enter a depressive episode in my life than not. I’ve recovered, but it’ll always be there. Depression is just a part of me that I learned to deal with.

But here’s the really neat thing: I didn’t notice the feelings and then use the song to express them; rather, first I expressed them through the song and then I noticed them. And that’s really interesting.

That’s a kind of productive anger. It’s an anger that I use to make something, and while making it, I get to loose control a bit. In a productive way. As someone who has had lifelong issues dealing with anger and frustration, it is so freeing to get to use these feelings instead of just being subjected to them.

CBT skills involve noticing when you’re feeling something, observing the cognitive distortions that your mind has habitually invoked, and bringing your attention back to the present moment. It’s an incredibly effective way to stay in control of your emotions without shutting them out entirely. But sometimes I want to lose control, and music let’s me do that in a structured, productive way. I get to fully feel the anger and frustration that I legitimately have about my depression, but without feeling overwhelmed by them.

I may have finished CBT, but I don’t think I’ll ever finish learning the skills.

And I’m really looking forward to the Salon.

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