How Music Saved My Life

By Diana C. HereldOctober 6, 2014

For as long as I can remember, my dream has been to study psychological resilience and music. I started singing professionally at age three, and I found joy and identity in creating and performing music. 

While covering a music industry event in Hollywood recently, I had the chance to speak with Benjamin Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. A friend had mentioned Ben’s advocacy for youth suicide prevention, so I took the opportunity to ask him what it was about the process of creating music that had helped him in overcoming adversity:

“When I started playing music, I realized that intelligence had nothing to do with one’s ability to excel in the classroom environment. It gave me passion. It gave me confidence. I was able to make friends and also figure out new ways of learning. Creating gave me purpose every day and will for the rest of my life…Music saved my life.”

Like Ben, I know music to be a healing tool. As I attempt to explain where the past year of my life has taken me, I’d like to tell you how music saved my life.

On July 9, 2013, I grabbed sushi with a dear friend from college. It had been at least a year since we’d seen one another due to his relocation to another state. To this day, he remains the only friend who could ever get away with his hysterical show of picking me up and spinning me around. It was simply his way of saying “hello.” We had a wonderful dinner and parted ways.

The following afternoon, I received an urgent phone call from the Los Angeles Police Department. After an inundation of bewildering questions and the request that I be sitting down, I was alerted that my friend had sustained a potentially fatal injury. The following two months consisted of a blur of countless ER, ICU, and, eventually, hospice visits, and even more fatigued phone calls from detectives, friends, and family members. After failing to regain consciousness, my friend died on August 21, 2013, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was twenty-seven years old.

In the months following my friend’s suicide, the prolonged plagues of devastation and anxiety made it painfully clear that I was suffering from severe depression. Something about being the last person to see my friend before he took his life had made my very existence unbearable. I simply couldn’t imagine a reality where I would ever feel whole again. 

One night I made a frantic request of a trusted friend, “Why can’t you just tell me it’s going to be OK?” I’ll never forget his response: “Because it’s going to be OK whether I say so or not.” 

It hit me then: I had built my entire value solely upon the affirmation of others. How could I ever afford unconditional love and hope if I did not possess it for myself? It took more correspondence with kindred spirits, more star-filled nights, more floods of tears, and more compassionate, tough love from friends than I ever thought possible, but, eventually, I began to understand that spending so many years doubting my own worth had been, in fact, the greatest torment of all. Slowly, with the help of my music and a lot of blind faith, I began turning inward to face a past that I had resisted confronting for far too long. 

It wasn’t quite until really digging into the psychology of music that I found a way not just to dull the pain but to also utilize it for courage. When the pangs of feeling alone threatened to overtake me, I discovered mercy in composing. When I found myself paralyzed by desolation and fear, melodies stepped in to share my burden. Music had not only provided a defense against panic, but it had also yielded a powerful strength and beauty within me – the will to struggle and the will to survive.

A year ago, I got the call about my friend. Three hundred and ninety plus days have passed since the night I called “Love you, buddy!” after my friend as he walked away. Over the past twelve months, I have experienced more trauma and mercy than I ever imagined possible. I’ve loved and lost more deeply than ever before. But I’ve also applied to – and received a full fellowship to attend – my top choice graduate school for music and psychological resilience.

Every now and again, it may seem as if there isn’t a soul alive who understands what you’re experiencing. When life becomes painful, it can prove incredibly tough to embrace it. For me, my faith, my friends, and my music carried me through the darkest moments. When my collapsed sense of self risked personal harm, gentle souls appeared to remind me of what I’d already overcome. Going to the record store, taking in a show, passing an evening alone with a piano – these things have all served as constant reminders that there is too much beauty to quit. 

As we hold on tightly through life’s trials, we must remember that nothing lasts forever. Reach out to those who love and support you when you can’t discern the path ahead. Keep going, for there is another way. There is always hope. 

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Comments (8)

  1. Ashlyn

    This writing is heart warming. I can’t thank you enough for putting into words what I (and others) have felt. After losing my dearest friend in the same manner this past February who I donned as my musical guru, it is music that now tears me apart but then puts me back together, heals me. It is truly a saving grace. Your words are very touching. Keep seeking out the hope that lies disguised in the tunes. #loveisthemovement

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    1. Paige

      “It is music that now tears me apart but then puts me back together, heals me”. So beautifully worded and so incredibly true.

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  2. montse

    Amazing really ! Amazing I always keep alive because of music, my faith and family and you words help me more 🙂 there is stil hope !

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  3. Jessica Villa

    This was such a great read! Inspired by TWLOHA and my past personal experiences struggling with depression/self-harm, I knew I wanted to start a movement of my own. My passion for music and love for bands/concerts fueled me everyday to keep going, to keep looking forward to tomorrow. It really kept me going and I believe it saved my life. The movement that resulted from this is called SUPERBANDS, which is a nonprofit movement dedicated to the power of music in helping music fans stay strong and keep rockin on. I hope it continues to grow as much as it has been doing, and that I can help tons more music fans. Thanks for this great article, really inspires me to keep pushing forward with my movement so I can reach out to so many more people struggling. Here’s to a musical tomorrow. Big love xx

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  4. Dena Yohe

    I was deeply moved by your words, Diana. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend. Yes, it’s so true, music is very powerful in the affect it can have on the human soul. It has calmed my heart, uplifted my spirits, and soothed emotional pain many times over the years. What a gift it is. And I hope you will go on to write/compose some healing, inspiring music yourself that can do for others what it has done for you.

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  5. Addie

    It was so lovely reading your story Diana, and I am deeply sorry for your loss. It resonates a lot with what I’ve gone through this past year too. I’m a violinist, and the morning I received a phone call that my closest family member had passed away, I got up a few hours later for the first rehearsal with orchestra of the Brahms violin concerto… I cannot describe the pain and the beauty seeping through those notes and how deeply that experience shaped my journey of grief into one of gratitude. In the words of Karl Paulnack, “Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does”, and I love hearing how how this rings true for so many!

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  6. Heidi Butterfly

    Music is truly medicine for the soul. 🎶My deepest condolences for the loss of your friend.🙏🏻Thank you for sharing your story. 🤍

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  7. Haley

    Wow! I did not realize how much I need this article. It has given me a glimmer of hope in my dark , lonely times! Thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable.

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