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Breaking Through the Cycle of Mental Illness with Music

I killed Darth Vader a couple weeks back. With my bare hands. His confetti guts all over my clothes, clinging to them like cat hair, my kitchen floor covered in his remains. No stick or anything, just punched a hole right through his chest and started beating, then ripping and then stomping.

I wish I could tell you there was candy inside that Darth Vador piñata or that I was busting it up for a healthier reason, like for some hipsters ironic 30th birthday bash or in support of my sons Star Wars faze. But alas, no hipster friends to call my own and no Star Wars loving spawn either.

I was just a girl seething in front of a piñata, asking it to take a beat down for her.

Sweat dripped down my face and into my enormous audio technica headphones as Elton John blared in my ears, scoring the violent alternate ending to Vador, far from any death George Lucas would approve of or any fanboy for that matter, but that’s how he bit the dust that day, he got his ass handed to him by a 34 year old angry teenage girl.

“It’s lonely out in space.” It was and I was running out of piñata to take it out on. The metal door in my kitchen quickly turned punchable.

“I’m not the man they think I am at home, oh no no no I’m a rocket man” I’m an idiot, one who’s almost certain she broke all her fingers, oh no no no.

“Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone” sweat and tears burning up the sides of my face.

I had my winter coat on and my gym bag was strapped to my back, heavily packed with boxing equipment. I had every intention of making it to the gym that day. I had every intention to hit a bag, not a wall or metal door or a face but I was “stuck,” as I call it.

It had been over an hour since I tried to leave my apartment, but the minute I reached for the doorknob I knew I had to check the stove, then I had to check the other doorknob, then the stove again, then the outlet in the washroom, my cat and then the window. It was a cycle I would get stuck in. I had no clue how many times I’d checked, or how much time had passed, I would just keep checking the locks, stoves, windows and outlets until some part of my brain felt certain it was safe to leave my apartment. I didn’t understand it, all I knew is that I was getting worse.

I was so stuck that day, I couldn’t tell myself to take my coat off or my knapsack, or my headphones and I had no clue I had been “checking” for over an hour. I was angry and so lost in my mind. To every fly on the wall l must have looked like a toy who’s batteries were dying. I was so frustrated that I yanked Darth Vedor from the ceiling, I had been saving him for an emergency. It was finally time for him to meet his maker, if I didn’t kick the crap out of him, it was going to be the _________. Insert whatever, I had no preference as to what I’d smash. Table, iMac, TV, champagne glasses, the despondency dwelling inside of me knew no bounds.

Hanging piñata’s in my kitchen was one of many temporary band aid solutions I had come up with until I could find help. I was in a new city again, coming off of another bout of having nowhere to stay, no car or cash, I didn’t know anyone and I was on multiple waiting lists for mental health supports and about to be passed on to (yet another) new social worker. I couldn’t stay grounded anywhere long enough to gain stability and I was at the end of my piñata rope. But more then anything else, I was lost.

In November of 2019, I found something.

“Work, work, work Senora. Work your body line. Work, work, work Senora. Work it all the time”

Harry Belafonte was all I had for a long while. It was just Harry and me, well Harry, Vader and me.

“My girls name is Senora, I tell you friends I adore her.” Harry Belafonte blared through my headphones anytime I needed to calm the f*** down or snap out of any PTSD related daze. Harry had a tough gig.

“Ok, I believe you! Jump in the Line, rock your body in time” The song played on repeat as I stormed the sidewalks of Hamilton and there wasn’t a snowballs chance in hell I was changing the tune. Bulls on Parade by Rage, Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit, anything by Eminem – all excellent, understandable and appropriate song choices to be irate to but they would only fan the fire. It was up to Harry Belafonte and his 1960’s calypso classic to get my ass to the group meeting I had read about online.

“The LOST organization is a community peer support group open to all individuals struggling with mental health issues” I continued reading the websites homepage over and over as I walked, half of me was telling myself going there was a good idea, scary but good. The other half of me was adamant on the fact that there was nothing wrong with me and that I was fine.

I practically flung myself through the doors of 148 Ottawa Street North, Hamilton.

“Get in there you little psycho, it’s for your own good.” I told myself, probably sounding similar to a parent dropping their kid off at military school.

“Hey, are you here for group?” A kind voice asked soon after I walked through the doors, I whispered that I was. I struggled to make eye contact with the kind voice and sat down in a circle of pink and purple yoga mats. It was there, in that circle that I realized…I may never need to purchase another piñata again.

The LOST organization, which stands for Living Outside of Suffering and Trauma, is as simple as this – four walls filled with people and stuff that will help bring you back to life should you be struggling. There’s no referrals required, no waiting lists, no fees, no judgement.

Music has always been a safe place for me, when I play music I feel like it holds my hand through whatever the hell is happening.

“Memories by Maroon 5. It’s a feel good grieving song” said one girl.

“Al Greene Lay it Down. I love Al Greene” said another.

“Blake Sheldon. Some Beach. It’s a song I use.” These were songs I wouldn’t normally listen to but this wasn’t your average music discussion or tune swap, it had nothing to do with taste or preference, nor would it evolve into a pissing contest of who owns more records or who’s seen more shows. I had never talked music in this context.

Faun, a German pagan folk band and Mayonnaise by Smashing Pumpkins would never have ended up on my recently played if these people hadn’t shared their struggles through the music they play to help them get through it. It was time to introduce everyone to Harry.

Isolation was something I dealt with for a long time, and there I was, laughing and telling complete strangers how I make Harry Belafonte hold me back when I’m feeling the impulse to smash everything around me and then stomp on the remains.

I like to consider myself to be one of the OG’s of mental illness, I’ve been fighting this stuff for a long time and in my experience getting help for it isn’t as cut and dry as walking into an ER with a broken leg, or a busted nose. The help isn’t immediate by any means, there’s a process, protocol, rules, there’s month and year long waiting lists involved, multiple offices and advocating for yourself while ill isn’t as easy as ringing doorbells to sell Girl Guide cookies. But what happens when a person doesn’t have that kind of time or enough juice left in them to wait?

Inspired by her own recovery story, Rebecca Taube founded the LOST organization. Through her journey she felt mental health and addictions supports were lacking imagination and inspiration so she built a sustainable environment for people in recovery.

“Her spin on free peer support groups are hands downs some of the most creative and innovative methods I’ve seen in all my twenty plus years of dealing with this crap” was my snippy answer when a hospital aid asked why The LOST organization was working for me over any other program or pamphlet. “It’s the first place I’ve been made to feel like a human being who’s hurting vs. just being a file or a case on someone’s desk, one that will be responded to in two to three business days or six to eight months”

If you are suffering or at the end of your own piñata rope, if you live in the Hamilton area or are feeling a drive to a place that could rock your world then come and get lost with us. With a brand new two story location opening up in a couple weeks, there’s more than enough space and time for whatever you deem too big to handle alone.

“It’s LOST Vegas. What happens at LOST stays at LOST” promises Taube, so grab that album you cry to every day since shit hit the fan and hit the Mindful Music Melodies peer support group on Wednesdays or any other group and begin the journey back to truly believing that everything will be ok.

To make a donation or for more information please visit https://www.wearelost.org/