JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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• The Cerebellum Blues Story: Chapter Seven, Psychotherapy.

In preparation of my album launch, which should happen in May, 2011, I'm recapping how I got back into music. In this chapter:

Depression / Myths about creativity / Psychotherapy / Emotional uprising

In chapter six of this saga, I described how I started writing songs in earnest a few months after my accident and put forth my theory on how my brain had changed the way it processed emotions to let the music flow. About those emotions...

When you suffer any sort of life changing medical condition, depression is a very real and likely possibility and it needs to be aggressively managed. My case was no different. Every doctor I talked to following my hospital stay recommended psychotherapy and a treatment plan that combined talk therapy with drugs. I was cool with the talk therapy part, but wary of going on Prozac and its ilk, so I started talk therapy first. The month was March of 2006.

If you’re not familiar with talk therapy, it works like this: you enter a nice room where the therapist is waiting, you sit on a couch or chair across from the therapist and you talk for about 50 minutes. There is a small clock showing you both the time, so you kind of know when to wrap things up, and that’s about it. There is virtually no small talk, because everything you say gets analyzed. If you say, “Hello, how are you?” one day but not the next, the therapist will ask you why. It’s maddening at first, but there is a method to it, namely to get you to think about the way you think by having you attempt to express it all to someone else. And you keep going deeper. After a few months, I finally understood Peter Gabriel’s song “Digging in the Dirt”.

During those early talk therapy sessions, I remember madly mulling whether over or not I should add drugs to my treatment. The docs were unanimous -- take the drugs -- but psychotropics seemed like such a huge step. Plus, they really do alter your brain chemistry, and hadn’t my brain been altered enough? I started doing some research. At first, I turned to the Internet, but it’s just not very helpful in these matters. You read stories like I went on Prozac and woke up one morning to find I had put my cat in the microwave, along with a hot dog. I mean, the horror stories are so outrageous. Plus, they far outnumber tales of triumph. I mean, as the Internet tells it, no pharmaceutical has ever helped a soul. So I bought some books, two, to be precise: “Against Depression” and “Noonday Demon.” Both books made a strong case for the benefits of drugs, but two factors stood out in convincing me to give anti-depressants a shot.

First, the books convinced me that popular culture’s tendency to hold depression in high regard for its ability to inspire great art is bogus. Take Van Gogh. People love to cite how his personal anguish drove him to create paintings unlike any the world had ever seen. Or consider Hemingway, who supposedly did his best work soaked in beer and tears in some Parisian dive café. Well, here’s the truth. According the books I read, Van Gogh didn’t paint shit when he was in the grip of depression. It was only when he was “up” that he grabbed a brush. As for Hemingway, he was only depressed in the very last years of his life, having lost his prodigious capacity for memorizing things because of multiple concussions (it’s been said that he could recite whole conversations years after the fact), which he believed meant he could no longer write.

The second clinching factor was strong evidence that depression is a pernicious peeler away of brain health and if you don’t do something about it, the damage can severe and irreversible. Having suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, I hardly needed further brain damage. I decided to try the drugs.

The verdict: I’m glad I did it. I used antidepressants for about six months (I did talk therapy until the end of last year). I credit the drugs with staving off severe depression, and I also credit them with making me more receptive to putting into practice some of the things I was learning in talk therapy. Most important, anti-depressants did not stifle my creativity. On the contrary, they seemed to let it flow, by preventing me from slipping into a downward spiral that ends in a dark, locked-up room the only escape from which is a good night’s sleep.

So, again, about those emotions...

I think I had been squelching a lot things for a long time and through talk therapy and antidepressants, I was able to let my emotions rise up and not ruin me. I could sit with them for longer, which was key to letting me turn some of them into songs. In fact, in the end, the songwriting uptick that had started after my brain injury accelerated with therapy and for that I will always be grateful.

I’m nearing the end of this saga, the moment I decided to make an album, but before I could get there I had one last hurdle. Stay tuned.