There is a lot of buzz these days about mental health care – depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD and a host of other conditions affect millions of people daily and I’m deeply thankful that the taboo is thinning around open discussion surrounding these topics.  Depending on where you live and the culture of your community, the conversation may be more accepted than in other places, but it is happening, and thanks to the internet we all have access to resources we wouldn’t have had not that long ago.  (that said, be careful about what you’re trusting online!)

Two weeks ago we brought a dog home.  She is a beautiful two-year-old Shetland Sheepdog and we are in love with her.  We have made no secret that she’s joined our family in the role of an emotional support animal for one of our children – but that child is currently in England visiting her grandmother.  So today the benefit was mine.  Twice I got out for long walks, and the exercise coupled with the fresh air did me a world of good, mentally and emotionally.  Especially when I reflect that on this day off what I wanted to do was nap and watch curling – I’m much better for having had to walk the dog.  At the same time, this Dudes and Dogs article came up on my Facebook feed – I recommend passing your eyes over it, especially if you’re a man.

Reading that article it made me think both of my Brotherhood of Strings groups, and the Song-Sharing Circle coming up on Thursday this week.  (Feb. 27)  What do either of those have to do with mental health?  I’m glad you asked.

Men in our valley get together to ski, to bike, to run.  Pretty much every reason for men getting together has to do with working out – and not for talking through how they’re really doing.  At the Brotherhood, we don’t pour our hearts out or share a heck of a lot about daily grind or emotional stuff – but the simple act of gathering around music, of making good noise together and experiencing the sounds of familiar songs creates bonds, releases endorphins and connects people in ways that are entirely different from going for a ski together.  There is a spirit of collaboration, not competition, and a sense of having done something well in good company at the end of the night.  We’ll have a new Brotherhood chapter launching at the end of March, probably.  If you’re interested, contact me.

As for the original Song-Sharing Circle, there is a lot of power in telling your story – and having it heard.  Whether you’re writing about love found or lost, menopause, a fight with your metronome, or a song for a friend, an ancestor or a child – each song (or part of a song) creates connection; knowing you have been heard is affirming and in many cases, healing.  The knowledge that you have shared something of yourself and that you are not alone is powerful.  That is true even if your song is about your pyjamas.  Most of the stuff that people share on these nights might make it as far as an open mic or a Whistling Duck Music event – but they’re all valid and it’s wonderful to hear the pieces of each person that they choose to share.  Some of these songs are Juno-worthy.  Some are mere concepts.  Some won’t ever go very far but we’re all better for having shared in the experience of hearing them.

I haven’t talked about the mental health benefits of Guitar Mama Showcase or singing in a choir – they are legion as well.  With the Mamas, we tend to be more open about our emotions generally – and you are most welcome to join in that.  But if you are on the edge of jumping into a community music experience whatever it is, I guarantee that your mental health will benefit from it.  Let me know how I can help you. If song-writing intrigues you but you don’t know where to start, the amazing Ellen Braun is running a course on that in Canmore starting in March.  Or come out on Thursday to the Song-Sharing Circle at the Iron Goat and we’ll talk.

In the meantime, a lot of my people tell me about practicing in front of their dogs – it’s something I haven’t done yet but will start tomorrow when I have some time for playing for my own health!  We’ll see how she reacts.

You have a light to share, friends.  If mental health concerns are dimming that, I encourage you to start a conversation about that.  You are not alone.  But no matter how bright or dim you’re feeling, your light deserves to be seen – and to shine on.

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