A verse in a song goes like this:
I don’t want to move
I don’t want to do anything at all
I just want to be here with you
Sounds like a touching sentiment from one lover to another — until you realize that the “singer” represents depression.
That changes things, doesn’t it?
The song is just one by the hard rock band Sufferer. On its first album, the band, made up of four members from Billboard-charting indie rock bands, portray what it’s like to have depression and anxiety. In each of the album’s 10 songs, which the band calls “chapters,” the singers represent the voices of anxiety, depression and the subject of those disorders. The band describes the concept on its website: “From the time he wakes up in the morning to the time he finally calms the voices in his head enough to fall asleep, listen to him struggle through his fears, his doubts, his reservations.”
“The idea was born while I was experiencing a pretty deep depression around 2014,” says Shane Gann, who organized the project and voices depression on the album. “I wanted to listen to an album that connected specifically to how it feels to be in such a dark place. It was a deep yearning, it felt so real, and I couldn’t find anything like this. I knew I had to be the one to take charge and create this thing.”
Gann enlisted Cory Lockwood (the voice of anxiety), Forrest Wright (the subject) and Blake Dahlinger. Lockwood and Wright also experience anxiety and depression and contributed to the music and lyrics, Gann explains. Dahlinger, the drummer, “doesn’t suffer like we do, but we needed someone who hits hard to drive the rhythms home,” Gann says.
A Kickstarter campaign in 2015 raised more than $10,000 to record the album, which took about two years. It was released in September 2017 and has more than a half-million streams on Spotify. The band embarked on a three-week national tour this past September. “It continues to do well, and more important it expands on its own,” Gann says. “We are not pouring a lot into the marketing side of this thing, but because of the message and time and care we put into the product, it’s gained its own legs.”
Those legs are being put to philanthropic use: The band announced on Kickstarter that 35 percent of all income the project earns “from now until forever” will be directly donated to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Creativity: ‘the Opposite of Anxiety’
Gann says that fans already familiar with “our music scene” — which is definitely loud and hard-edged, in the neighborhoods of heavy metal and punk — feel a direct connection to the music. But the music also resonates with people who are not familiar with these musicians and their full-time bands, he says, because it hits a powerful chord.
“I don’t recall any other musical act like this,” says Dr. Michael Ziffra, a psychiatrist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Ziffra thinks the album can have concrete therapeutic benefits for listeners with anxiety and depression. “When artists like this can communicate what they’ve gone through, it provides validation and helps people realize they are not alone. Artists can put into words feelings that other people don’t quite understand,” he says.
Creatively exploring one’s emotions and feelings is also beneficial to the artist, or anyone dealing with a mood disorder. “It may be hard to put emotions into words. Doing it through creative endeavors, whether it’s music, painting or something else, is a way to communicate more effectively than just talking to someone,” Ziffra says.
For the artist and the audience, the shear act of being involved in something other than the illness is extremely helpful. Both making music and listening to it, he says, “requires some mental and physical activity. It gets you out of your funk, out of your own head.”
Indeed, engaging in anything with passion is “the opposite of anxiety,” says Debra Kissen, executive director of the Light on Anxiety CBT Treatment Center in Chicago and co-chair of the ADAA’s public education committee. “If you are connected to music, art or learning something, you are living in that moment. By definition, anxiety is a future-oriented state of, oh no, what if … You can’t really be in both at the same time. A good treatment for anxiety is to engage in life, rather than engaging in compulsions or running from them.”
Gann found that to be true. “It was absolutely, hugely therapeutic for each song,” he says. “Each one means anxiety or depression to me in a different way. Finding a creative way to express myself is immensely beneficial. The act of being able to put it in any other form lets you reflect on your own feelings.”
The band is currently writing songs for a second album, while still enjoying the fruits of their debut. Gann is proud of the effort and what it has meant to fans who, like him and his bandmates, are sufferers. “To see it out in the world, to hear and feel this as something that exists not just in their head or heart has done wonders for people,” he says.
And he feels that the album offers hope. Another song has a line, written by Gann, that repeats, over and over: “I can’t help it.”
“To me that meant despair, it’s just a part of you, but there is also strength in that,” he says. “The more fully you accept that fact, the easier it is to live with.”
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