AUDIOTHERAPY The healing power of music

After documenting years of experiences, diary entries, therapy, psychology study and self-discovery, Perth Artist Sun-Mi Clyburn has learnt a lot about mental health from her own journey. She believes that sharing her stories and experiences are a powerful way to break down the barriers between people facing similar challenges, and encourages others to do the same. Her FRINGE WORLD show Audiotherapy runs from Tuesday, January 29 to Saturday, February 2, Downstairs at The Maj (at His Majesty’s Theatre) from 7.30pm onwards (get more info and tickets here). She caught up with BRAYDEN EDWARDS to discuss her story and the therapeutic power of human connections, storytelling and music.

It’s fair to say it’s hard for someone who hasn’t experienced issues with mental illness to really understand what it’s like. What do you think are the main misconceptions that people have?

I’d say that one of the main issues in discussing mental health is that people tend to think of it as something separate to physical health. Mental health and illness have to do with the functioning of the brain which is just as important as any other part of the body. And then there’s the misconception that it is something that one can control, because “it’s all just in your head”. That’s like telling someone with a broken leg to “just get over it” without medical intervention. I have had multiple injuries, undergone surgery and extensive rehab and I can say with all confidence that recovery from mental illness takes just as much work, support and consistency.

And in your opinion are mental health issues something that an individual can solve or is it more something one has to adapt and learn to live with?

It really depends on the condition of the individual. Some cases are circumstantial or seasonal, others are chronic. Some symptoms and underlying issues are easier to identify and resolve than others. In any case, self-care, self-awareness and self-compassion are essential for progress and recovery. We also live in a world that tends to only see straight lines in an upward trajectory as progress. However, recovery for most of us looks more like squiggles and spirals. We fall and relapse and get back up again. That’s all perfectly fine and part of the process.

Research has shown people in the music industry and creative arts in general are over-represented when it comes to challenges such as depression and anxiety. Do you think that’s because creative people are more susceptible to these kinds of things or is it part of the environment in which they operate, often involving late nights, alcohol and ambitions that aren’t always realised?

I think creative minds are naturally chaotic and experience the world more intensely. Art is all about channeling, communicating and experiencing emotion and that can be exhausting for the mind and body. Of course, the realities of the entertainment industry can contribute to or exacerbate mental health issues and artists who dedicate their time and energy to their passion rarely experience stability. It doesn’t help that society doesn’t consider working in arts to be “a legitimate job” and many still think “exposure” is an acceptable form of payment for artists’ services. That’s one thing I love about FRINGE WORLD – for one month our art isn’t seen as “just a hobby”. It’s what brings Perth to life, it creates a sense of community and is celebrated.

Having said that music can be an amazingly therapeutic, both to listen to and be part of. Was that part of the premise for this show? What message are you trying to get across to people with Audiotherapy?

Music has always been a big part of my life and storytelling and music are probably the artistic formats that speak to me the most. Music is a universal language and healing to the soul and art is an effective way to convey ideas and challenge conventions, because we don’t view it as threatening and it connects with us on a primal level. The premise of the show was to tell a story of many people who suffer in silence, who feel they don’t deserve a voice. I want to tell people that there is no normal and they are not weak for being human.

How about your own story? What have been your experiences and what was it in your journey that took you to the point of wanting to do a show a like this?

I’ve struggled with depression for most of my adult life and after a few injuries and surgery I developed chronic pain and anxiety as well. I’ve always been a writer and storyteller and it was just natural for me to put my experiences down on paper and then on stage. Essentially, Audiotherapy is the sum of three years of experiences, diary entries, therapy, studying psychology and self-discovery. I find that reading and listening to other people’s stories helps me through my own struggles, so I guess I just wanted to pay it forward and hopefully do the same for someone else.

And is there a particular artist or song that you find can really lift you when you need it?

I’ve got to say that Shape of You by Ed Sheeran is a bit of a guilty pleasure, because it reminds me of the six months I spent studying and travelling around Europe. Other than that – anything Motown! I also love driving my car and singing along to the Dreamgirls soundtrack.

You’ve described this show as being very welcoming for people that might be going through things they might not be comfortable talking about elsewhere. What kind of atmosphere and environment are you hoping to nurture?

I believe that human connection is the meaning of life and want to create a space where people feel they are not alone. Last year many audience members would stay after the show, not only to share their experiences with me, but also with each other. It was a beautiful thing to see and be a part of.

What kind of experience are you hoping people will have when they come to experience Audiotherapy?

I created Audiotherapy to be as relatable to people who have struggled with mental illness and understandable to those who haven’t. I’m hoping that the show will be a cathartic experience for all the people who come to see it and that people will leave the show feeling relieved, empowered and motivated to help others and ask for help when needed.