Jackie DesForges was suffering from anxiety when she moved from Los Angeles to New York City. NYC made it worse, especially all the noise in her hour and a half-hour subway commute each way. The strangers, the germs, the noise!
It was just a parade of noises, every minute, every hour, everywhere I went, all the time.
I have always been prone to anxiety, but after a few months in New York, I was starting to feel like I might be losing my mind. I felt angry constantly. I couldn’t control the physical reaction that I was having to the noise.
She consulted a physician. The physician suggested she "could get some headphones and block out everyone else’s noise with my own." And shat do you know?
And wow: music. Do people know about music? I’m humbled by the effect it has had on my life over the past three years. I feel like I’ve just entered my adolescent music phase, something that most people go through when they are adolescents. I’ll bring up a song or band to a friend and they’ll say, “Yeah, I loved that song ... five years ago.” I’m making Spotify playlists with the same ferocity and dedication that others once devoted to mix CDs.
In my book on music, Beethoven's Anvil, I argue that anxiety is, in effect, a jangly disrupted neural flow, in effect, a neural traffic jam or, to change metaphor, bad neural weather:
Think of the brain as a complex landscape and the mind as the swirls and eddies of air, water, and dust blowing through it. And think of defense mechanisms as forms of neural weather. Denial, projection, dissociation, repression, sublimation, and all the rest, they're complex patterns of activity each involving the whole brain. This, it seems to me, is one area where psychoanalytic thought is going to prove out.
Music calms the storms, brings order to the flow.
I have since moved to a new city, still carless, and still dependent on the metro. I’ve never once left the apartment without my headphones; I consider them to be my armor. Those headphones and the music steaming through them have allowed me to build a little wall around myself when I need some space from strangers. They have given me control over the things I want to listen to and think about when I’m walking or riding from place to place.