Foreign Music Therapy
Last updated: April 2023
Music has the power to transport me back in time. When I hear a certain song, I find myself thinking about what was happening in my life when I first heard it or a particular event that happened whilst listening to it.
This used to be something I utilised whenever my mental health was slumping. I would go for a walk, stick on some tunes and let the nostalgia cheer me up.
Unfortunately, since being diagnosed with AS, these memories aren’t as happy as they used to be. I couldn’t stop my brain from unlocking a lot of painful memories. Songs that came out around the time of my diagnosis threw me back to the physical pain of not being able to walk for a year. Then anything before that put me through the mental pain of being reminded of life before AS and all the things I did that are no longer possible.
But I still wanted to keep using my music inspired park walks as a way of keeping my mental health in check. So I decided to try switching up my playlists completely and find new music to create happier post-AS memories with.
I found listening to music in foreign languages was the perfect cure for this. These songs had no memories attached to them for me and it was frankly exciting to see what bangers the non-English speaking world had in store for me.
Through not understanding the lyrics I found that I was able to totally clear my mind and just hear the melodies. This allowed me to be completely alone with my thoughts on these walks.
Sometimes I would even interpret the words as if they were singing about the topic I had on my mind. I had one song on repeat when my grandmother passed because there was a word in the chorus that sounded like the word that I used to call her. After some research I later realized that the song was actually about being too drunk at a party, but it helped me through that tough time nevertheless!
I am a massive Linguaphile (I promise it means someone who enjoys learning languages and not some kind of menace to society) so I liked that I was also picking up a few phrases in new languages too. Although I did have to be careful that I wasn’t accidentally learning anything offensive – Bad Bunny later put me in an awkward situation when I visited Mexico!
A lot of the music that I was listening to pre-diagnosis was bashment. These fast tempo Caribbean rhythms throw me back to parties back in the day where I was performing dance moves my new spine could never dream of recreating. So the first stop in my world tour of new music was the world of reggaeton. It was an easy transition as the genres are very similar and essentially the only thing changing is the language from Patois to Spanish.
When I first started listening to music in Spanish, my grasp of the language was limited to ordering beers whilst on holiday. This meant that the lyrics went over my head completely and left me alone with my thoughts. The summery feel of the instrumentals are great at lifting the mood on a dark day and help me pretend my body is in more exotic climes than the freezing, rainy, flare-inducing UK climate.
I had been living in China for almost 3 years before AS decided to show up and drag me home for treatment. Whilst I was in China, I never actively listened to any of the local music. But I did put a lot of effort into learning the language. Being back in South London made it hard to keep practicing, as most of us barely speak English properly, let alone Mandarin!
I didn’t want my condition to steal both my job and my language skills. So I whacked on a few Spotify playlists filled with Mandarin language songs to see if any artists tickled my fancy. I had it on shuffle whilst I went for a walk one day and every time a song came on that I caught a vibe from I would add it to a playlist of my own.
I realized that every time I was finding a song that I liked, it was almost always the same artist – Jay Chou. This motivated me to give this guy a bit of a google to find out more and I was shocked by what I found out.
Firstly he turns out to be the biggest mandopop star in the world so it is a bit of a disgrace that I lived in Asia for so long without knowing about him. Also he is from Taiwan which happens to be one of the favorite places I have ever visited. I have been daydreaming about moving there for a while now. But most shockingly, he also has Ankylosing Spondylitis.
I tried to do a deep dive on his story with AS, but there was very little documented on this part of his life. Which is fair enough, I think all of us with AS would much rather be known for who we are and the skills that we have rather than being defined by this awful illness.
Nevertheless, I found it truly inspirational that someone was able to overcome the challenges of AS to not only succeed but be the best in his field and an international superstar.
Being a mandopop star is probably out of the question for me unless I really get my DuoLingo on and learn how to not sound like a clubbed seal. But it did fill me with hope that it still is possible for me to be successful at life despite my immune system trying its hardest to get in the way of things!
Has music helped you deal with your condition? Let me know in the comments.
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