It has been generally accepted that both listening to and creating music can have various positive effects on mood and mental health. Incorporating music into your everyday life can help to: elevate your mood and motivation, aid relaxation, increase the efficiency of your brain processing.
Iraqi singer-songwriter Sarah Shébani is no stranger to this statement. Dive deep into her journey in Part 2 of our interview with Shébani.
Take us through your mental health journey.
Where do I even begin! Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is one of the most common hormonal disorders amongst women, yet the least discussed and spoken of. I was misdiagnosed from a very young age. Growing up, aside from the excessive uncontrollable weight gain, I noticed many strange symptoms on my body, but was told that I just need to exercise more and eat less. You can imagine how confusing that may seem to a 15- year old.
Many of the women I've spoken to about this today have suffered from the same issue (and the rejection stories these women experience with some doctors are absolutely heartbreaking). PCOS is a lot more intricate than it seems, some even struggle with levels of fertility. It is common, yes, but we don't often talk about the different types, the symptoms it causes, and the effects it has on a woman's mental health. A woman with PCOS, is required to work twice as hard and twice as long to reverse the symptoms she's experiencing.
It took me about 14 years and a really sweet, invested doctor to finally understand what type of PCOS I have, why I experienced many painful, hormonal imbalances, and what the visible physical symptoms were. They're not easy to deal with if you don't have the knowledge and the education of the way your body functions on PCOS. Things can really get out of control, and the more you're unable to control it, the more you lose hope in even trying to reverse it.
However, the good news is that it IS reversible. And yes, a healthy active lifestyle is the best way around it. But I've come to learn that I only managed to control my physical health, once I paid attention to my mental health. I needed to talk about it with people who helped explain it to me, I did the necessary and the RIGHT tests to get a proper diagnosis, I needed to research and understand the ins and outs of it, and I had to be extremely accepting and loving of the situation I was in. Things do unfold eventually.
What was the turning point?
To be honest, it's always been something that I tried to speak of, but the highlight of it would be when I shattered my ankle in 2018. I feel like my life took a very drastic turn for me then. I was speeding up way too much and mostly brushing all my problems under the rug, but I had to undergo two surgeries and sit in bed for about 5 months. That sudden break allowed me to reflect and think about all the things that I wanted to improve when I was able to walk again. My sister was there by my side through it all, she has seen how my mental health has deteriorated throughout my life.
I've always had a very unhealthy approach to body positivity and the way my appearance was. I grew up never really liking the way I looked. She took me to an incredible doctor when I started walking a bit, and from then on, it was all history. For the first time, I was properly diagnosed, I knew exactly what kind of PCOS I was dealing with, I was informed and told about how to tackle the many symptoms that come with it, and I did it all in the kindest way possible.
What’s your biggest fear?
I hate to sound righteous, but my priorities and fears have shifted ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I feel as though a sense of clarity and calmness took over me. My pre-COVID answer would probably be, to not reach my full potential in my career, to not achieve my goals and fail my expectations. But I don't see that anymore. Don't get me wrong, I still thrive for it, I'll still be working towards it, probably even more efficiently now. But the pandemic has reminded all of us that we are nothing without our health and the health of our loved ones.
People lost their jobs, and even worse, their lives. And that would be my biggest fear; to lose a loved one. I know who I am in every difficult situation that comes at me, I know I'm a fighter, and I know that I can get through it. Resolve it somehow. But I don't know what I'd be like if I lose someone I love, it scares me so much, and I don't think I've wrapped my head around the idea of death yet. Life is short, and I plan to savour every moment of it with my family and close friends. Love is real, you know? It's really really important. It's my inspiration at the moment, and probably forever.
Talk about your music and how it helped you. Your songs that were birthed out of your mental health journey.
Music has always been my favorite way to express myself. If I feel it, I write it, then I sing it. And suddenly, I'm empowered. It's a therapeutic activity for me. Some people get the endorphins from an incredible workout, I get my endorphins from writing a song. 'In The Fire' & 'Be Me' are two songs that I feel are about self expression. Mainly about the way I see myself, they celebrate both the darker days, and the self-loving, empowered days.
How do you handle nervousness?
I let it be. Fighting your nerves will only make things worse for you. I learned through experience that nerves are actually good, they only push you towards the right energy to give an incredible performance. Embracing the nerves is the secret here, it means you love it, it means that this thing right here means a lot to you. So take the nerves by the hand and let it come on stage with you, mold it into the energy that will allow you to give an inspiring performance, accept it and don't fear it. It's not going away! And of course, with practice, you'll probably even enjoy it. I've heard some of the biggest artists talk about how nervous they get. Even after years and years of performing in front of thousands of people. It's natural and exciting.
At what point would you recommend talking to a therapist?
At any point! Therapy is not something to be ashamed of or try to avoid, but unfortunately, we still face a lot of judgement from certain cultures who believe that therapy is "taboo". We NEED to start normalizing therapy, it's incredibly helpful and beneficial. So, I'd say please go to a therapist at any point in your life and do not bottle things up!
You don't have to wait for severe depression to hit in order for therapy to be the solution you resort to, speaking up about the way you feel is not a last resort, and you are entitled to speak to a therapist (or even friends) about your day to day personal life, your career, any obstacles you face, your feelings and emotions. If therapy was normalized amongst our families and society, if we were able to speak up proudly and shamelessly about our depression, suicidal thoughts and pain, then trust me, we'd be saving many lives.
my priorities have shifted
How are you coping with the past months?
It's been a roller coaster mostly. Like many people, I'm sure, I've had my good days and bad days (bad mostly haha). Lately though, I've been listening to my mind and my body a lot more, I've slowed down and took time off. And I learned to not feel guilty about it. So what if I didn't finish writing that second verse? So what if I gained 4kgs?
So what if I'm not releasing music? I want to make sure my purpose in life and my work is sending the best vibrations and messages out to those who consume it. If I'm too anxious to create, then I'll only be forcing myself to create just about ANYTHING for the sake of having content to talk about. Quality over quantity, always. I'm also very lucky to have incredible people around me, my loved ones have been my rock. I used to feel so guilty for taking days off, I used to consider myself lazy, unambitious and "falling behind".
Quality over quantity!
That caused me to always overwork myself, so much that I developed work anxiety, I didn't know how to get a to-do list done without worrying about it, which is counter-productive, of course. I would end up procrastinating and doing something else instead. It's a weird cycle! So honestly, I've been coping by just letting things BE. I've never been a floater, and I ALWAYS fight against the current, but the past few months have taught me to just float and let the current work as it pleases to, or else I'd drown. That's a lesson I'm never going to forget.
If you're going through anxiety, depression or anything like that, please reach out to anyone. Whether it's a friend, or a stranger. Do not bottle things up, don't feel like you're burdening anyone. Your emotions and feelings are valid, they're not silly, they're not unimportant.