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Beethoven’s 7th Symphony

When I mentioned that I was the odd one out, I was not exaggerating. I listen to Beethoven, marvel at the texture of a large stone on the side of the road, and buy Sharpies when on a shopping spree. I find incredible comfort in these eccentricities when I’m at my lowest. They form a familiar, stable ground that I can stand on when everything else takes the form of a loud, towering, shapeless monster. They become defined, tangible pillars that I can rest against while my brain races to find clarity.

My friendship with Beethoven started when I was seventeen. I was unhappy. I felt out of place. Encaged. Locked. Muffled. I wanted to escape. I needed to soar, but the environment I was in clipped my wings. So, one afternoon, as I sat on my drafting table on the third floor of my university building, I put on Beethoven for my very first time, closed my eyes, and let his music draw imaginary wings for me. And, oh, I soared! I could almost feel the wind blow against my cheeks. I could see the blue sky above, the rivers flowing below, and I could hear the birds chirping.

This was the start of my finding solace in Beethoven’s and other classical musicians’ works. Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, in particular, is my favourite. It is my saviour when all else has failed. I know that Beethoven is not everyone’s cup of tea, and he often isn't mine on my good days; but when I’m drowning, he is my life jacket.

It is Wednesday late morning. The sky is gloomy and so is my mood. I wake up feeling less terrible than usual. I have the capacity to set an intention for the day (a sign of progress): doing what I find ease in, and not pressuring myself into anything my gut resists. I go for a walk, have a productive and easy therapy session, and start working. Suddenly, my heart feels heavy. The chaotic monsters in my brain roar unbearably, and an anxiety attack creeps in. I am unable to identify the thought that triggered this, but my mind goes wild—quietly wild. I need a little bit of peace to be able to carry on with work so I try different management techniques: I clean, I disconnect for ten minutes, I try a breathing exercise and a few others tools I've developed over the years. Unsurprisingly, it is all futile. These past few months, my anxiety has been outpowering my tools, so I fail to ground and regain control. My mind still lacks clarity, and was moving loudly and in very slow motion.

So, as I resign to giving up and prepare myself to spend the next few hours waiting it out, a voice inside me calls out Beethoven’s name. I have completely forgotten about Beethoven since the onset of my depressive episode, and only remembered him a few days ago when I heard some Western classical music playing on the street. I quickly put on the 7th Symphony, and the second it started to play, my lungs let out a long exhale of relief—one of those exhales you breathe out when you’ve finally come home after a long, exhausting, and irritating trip. I close my eyes and let his music redraw my wings, and I soar to a land of crisp simplicity.

Its Friday midday, and I get a message about a friend going through a hard time—one of those life challenges that you cannot really control nor fix, and can only cross your fingers and pray for the best. My anxiety is provoked and starts to wake up. I feel my breath getting shorter and more uneasy, my heart racing, and the lump in my throat forming. The skin on my forehead starts to burrow as I involuntarily frown.

This Friday, I am lucky to have been able to notice that an anxiety attack is underway. I am also lucky to recall that I have an effective management technique under my belt. So, my hands move in the motion to start Beethoven’s 7th once again. I close my eyes and allow Beethoven to transport me to the land of liberated emotions. Ten minutes in, my breath is under control: it is at near-normal depth, and my emotions are not at a monstrous scale—they are unhappy but tamed. I am lucky once again, because I remember that if I retrace my thoughts, I would be able to identify the single thought that poked the bear. I retrace my conversation with my friend, but am unable to identify the triggering thought. I forgive myself for my obscured mental capacity these days. And I am overwhelmingly grateful to have been able to somewhat control an anxiety attack in 10 minutes, compared to my usual 3-4 hours I have been experiencing since the onset of my depression.

So, as I navigate this episode, I am beginning to remember more resuscitation tools for my anxiety attacks which Beethoven’s 7th is one of them. And, I am hopeful because, as we say in Arabic: أول الغيث قطرة ثم ينهمر (the first of (welcomed) rainfall is a drop, then it pours). To me, Beethoven’s 7th is the first drop, and I hope that a lot more pours in.


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