Faced with panic attacks and depression, SOUND member Kate Corbett-Winder looked to her creative past for inspiration on how to improve the present. Rediscovering singing proved the turning point she needed.

When it comes to looking after your mental health, there is a lot of advice about what to start doing and what to stop, but sometimes the remedy is something that has been in the background all along. Which poses the question: what have I stopped doing that once made me, me?

About six years ago I started having panic attacks. I began my journey to crack them with traditional tools, including therapy, keeping active, meditation and medication, all of which were a great help. Thankfully, a year later medication was no longer needed and neither was therapy. Problem solved.

Frustratingly, about a year after that, when I was seemingly happy and healthy, I started to develop depression and began to have panic attacks once again, and this time they were far more debilitating. I tried what I knew best and went back to my previous toolkit, but I was still struggling and far from feeling well again. Until I got some new advice.

My childhood had been filled with creativity. School and, later, university burst at the seams with music, art and dancing, yet for most of my adult life these outlets had been neglected. A therapist I had been seeing told me that mental health issues are incredibly common among the creative minds of the world, the so-called “tortured artist”; no surprises there. Yet what we explored was the opposite: what happens when your creativity is suppressed, when you hold back an energy that is ingrained in you? I began to wonder if part of my mental health struggles could be due to the neglect of my creativity: dormant self-expression going nowhere and morphing into anxiety.

I love to sing and, when I was younger, I did what a lot of teens did in the 90s: formed a band, learned every Spice Girls routine out there and performed them at school assembly (or the occasional after-school concert with our soon-to-be-famous signatures on the back of each ticket). To rekindle my creative side, I decided to get back into singing and audition for every top established Renaissance chamber choir. Not very Spice Girls. Not so smart.

Then I discovered a group called SOUND, a pop, funk and soul choir that sings the likes of Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe and Queen. Much better. And in what was a particularly dark patch for me, I found the courage to audition. I was amazed that I managed to put myself through such a high-stakes situation and not have a panic attack. The audition itself was a win for me, never mind how I did.

I remember clearly the day I got the email saying they would love me to join them. I was on the top deck of a bus and let out a loud squeal of jubilation. I could not stop smiling to myself for the rest of the journey. It meant a lot.

I have now been a member of the choir for three years, rehearsing every Tuesday. I love the community, the challenge, the performances and the fire it lights in my belly. It reminds me of who I was at school. My path back then was always “do what you love and do what you’re good at”. I studied dance because I loved it and sang because I loved it, and my entire education was filled with fond memories because of that, and I was now starting to build that back into my adult life.

Although my job is in the creative industry, the day-to-day skills I use are not so I have had to learn the importance of finding time to include creativity in my life. I sing, go to dance classes and make my own Christmas cards. I fear that if these creative outlets stagnate I may relapse and if keeping healthy means doing things I love all the time, I am certainly not going to complain.

My anxiety attacks came out of nowhere and, to this day, I am still clueless as to what sets them off. Now, though, I am feeling a lot better. When I am anxious, distraction is key and singing does exactly that. It sends me into autopilot, a state in which my body works without instruction, but with pure passion and joy – a meditative state.

Don’t get me wrong, there are weeks when the last thing I want to do after work is go to choir practice and I long to go home to bed. But I go because I know I am guaranteed to come out feeling great. I will leave having loved every second, learned something new and progressed my vocal skills. More importantly, I will have exercised my creativity and held my anxiety at bay. What more could I ask for?

Originally published by The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/jan/13/joining-a-choir-helped-me-combat-anxiety-and-find-a-meditative-state-of-pure-joy