We’ve interviewed musicians about how music connects to their experience of depression, suicide, sensitivity, PTSD, and more. The interviews are intended to be thought-provoking, helpful, and healing.
Today we’re delving into the connections between music and schizophrenia. We will also talk about disability inclusion and access as it relates to the music scene.
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that can blur the distinctions between reality and fantasy. Thinking clearly, managing emotions, relating to others, and functioning successfully can be challenging. Behavior, cognitive processes, and perception are altered. The symptoms of schizophrenia can make it very hard for those living with it, and for those who care about them. While it’s a chronic condition, it is manageable, treatable, and many people experience improvement with the right treatment and support. There are many successful musicians and artists who live with schizophrenia.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing schizophrenia, please check out HelpGuide.org for information, coping tips, support, and treatment options.
Today we’re happy to present this engaging…
OF MUSIC AND MIND INTERVIEW: 7D TALKS ABOUT MUSIC AND SCHIZOPHRENIA
7D (pronounced “Seven Dee”) is an experimental composer, performance artist, and advocate located in Pittsburgh, PA. They primarily perform and release music as Bruiser Beep.
7D explains that they “strive to convey what feels like a stream of consciousness, hyperbolic musical to explore themes of psychosis and inner-child healing in a way that is authentic to my experiences.” They combine imagery and sounds that are both childlike and chaotic, giving listeners and observers an idea of the lived experience of schizophrenia: disconnected reality, traumatic experiences, and — simultaneously — self-healing, and self-soothing.
Bruiser Beep performances are influenced by 7D’s physical health issues which cause a lack of mobility and dexterity. 7D often performs while laying down, flailing, or at risk for falling. In performance they like to engage in every way, explaining that “the project has become as much of a mobility device for me as my cane is.”
“While I can’t say that my mission is to create relatable art, it is to create accessible art,” they say. 7D advocates for herself and others with a wide range of disabilities through their art, but they are actively growing other advocacy efforts for the disabled and neurodivergent communities. They have spoken at rallies, implemented peer support specialists at music events, assisted in developing a communication app for schizophrenics and their caretakers, educated at workshops, and created a survey about accessibility within the Pittsburgh music scene.
7D Talks about Being a Musician
We talked about 7D’s life as a musician.
What are your current projects?
Bruiser Beep is my focus right now. Occasionally I perform as whyyouhateithowtochangeit, my improv solo voice project.
Were you involved in any projects previously?
I’ve had quite a few solo projects throughout my life, many of them recording projects that would end up being a one album thing and then I’d feel like I was done with it. A lot of it no one has heard or I scraped off the planet. But I’ve recycled and rehashed music from each of them, some of the material ended up being used to score a mini-documentary a friend made, and various other things became homes for these lost sounds.
There was one project prior to Bruiser Beep that did last a couple of years – it was called ‘pin pin pin‘. I was new to playing around with a guitar at the time and got my hands on a toy cat keyboard and a cheap recording microphone. I was itching to experiment with multitrack recording but knew next to nothing about it. I fell madly in love with layering textures of everyday objects, anything I could find to retrieve sound from and manipulate. I started to incorporate field recordings and found sound. It was the first project I used music boxes in, which I use all the time now.
I started writing the first EP for pin pin pin during a hospitalization and released it three days after I was discharged. Pin pin pin helped me figure out why I like the type of sounds I do. It taught me how to make use of the sensory confusion I experience and this eventually brought me to Bruiser Beep. I hardly knew anyone who liked musique concrete then and I’m not sure if I even fully understood that it was an established sound-making practice. There have been these times – where I’d feel like I had “discovered” something. I used to be somewhat naive and didn’t know how experimental in nature the music I made was. I learned about my own work as people reacted to it as this “out there” thing but I was just making the music that I needed to.
In high school I was in a band with some other music students – we played jazz standards at nursing homes and business lunches. Other than this I’ve had no luck with bands. I think I’m too much of a control freak. I’d love to be in a band if I can find the right people.
What instruments do you play?
I was classically trained in voice. This was the bulk of my music education growing up. I was in a children’s instrumental ensemble that taught Orff Schulwerk, eventually becoming the student director. The ensemble focused on instruments like marimbas, metallophones, tonechimes, non-pitched percussion, and autoharps. Orff music is largely improvisational but constructs itself from tones and drones that needn’t sound like anything in particular. It’s creating by playing and layering, layering, layering! This allows for huge amounts of whatever you want. I still make music this way. I just pick up anything I want to and figure out a way to make it an instrument. I love easy instruments that basically play themselves because there’s not as much getting in my way.
When I perform as Bruiser Beep, a lot of the compositions are pre-recorded because they’re these big, complicated things. Depending on what I feel like doing, I’ll decide what parts of the composition will be the foreground and background and amplify each component as needed to get the sound I want. I’ll play chord organ, toy keyboards, bike horns, bells, dog whistles, wind chimes, tapes, record the audience blabbering and play it back, and usually something percussive with a piezo mic. I guess technically I play guitar and synthesizer. I’ve been experimenting with pitched glass and recording sounds that clink in my kitchen sink lately. I play with anything I like the sound of.
This is a big one: What does music mean to you?
I have a complicated and oftentimes strained relationship with music. I don’t know how to stop making music, tried to quit many times. I became so intensely wrapped up in music at such a young age that I never learned another way to communicate without it feeling wrong. I’m not sure if that’s what being born with a deep love of music is or if I have an unhealthy obsession with it. I like to ask myself “what am I doing and what does it mean? or “what am I trying to discover?” type questions because it helps me stay on track with my explorations. I come up with all sorts of answers but ultimately music has just always been what I know and I cannot escape it. Oddly enough, I have figured out ways to explore my strained relationship with music in what I create, and I have healed a lot of the wounds just by investigating it.
Tell me the story of how you got into music.
My father was a DJ (among other things) so I was around music constantly. A lot of my time was spent in radio and public access TV stations. Before I reached school age, I was already a challenging kid – hyperactive, had behavioral issues. But the adults in my life noticed that I seemed to have musical aptitude. I had impressive aural skills and vocal control at a young age. I think there was some hope that my behavior would improve if I learned discipline by studying music, because I was already obsessed with it. I started performing in musicals at community theaters when I was 5. Directors also noticed my aptitude, I was given lead roles and opportunities to explore and study music and performance in a variety of other capacities. Became my entire life very quickly. But I was just this poor kid from a bizarre, troubled family who couldn’t afford my involvement. So my lessons, summer vocal intensives, any costs affiliated with music and performing were paid for by credit card fraud and people who were not my family – donors who believed I was going to “be something” ya know?
My childhood success in music continued into my teenage years until my behavior began to change. I was all set to study voice at conservatory when my schizophrenia onset happened. I lost touch with reality, was in the hospital constantly, med changes constantly. There was just no way I could keep up with the demands of music school. I didn’t want to live in a group home so I had to get to a point where I was lucid enough to accept my situation and make it work for me. Amidst all of that I began experimenting with new sounds and writing my own music more, which was something I never had time to prioritize before. I started going to local shows often and eventually began performing at them and booking them. I ended up doing all of these different things! Became my entire life very quickly. I’d been enlightened to the world of DIY Music and at the time it felt like some sort of salvation.
What are some of the challenges you experience as a musician?
Disconnection from reality, which is off and on now. I have trouble understanding the intentions of others. This makes involvement in the music community very difficult. I can become paranoid and develop delusions about music peers out of nowhere. To ensure the safety of all involved parties, I have to separate myself from people for seemingly no good reason. I struggle to not believe that people have plans to harm me, or that they can read my thoughts and broadcast it to the entire music scene. I have to mask my thought processes, mannerisms, perseverations, hallucinations and do my best to filter myself with some semblance of coherence. It’s like performing sanity on top of performing music. It is exhausting but I’m pretty good at it. No one’s usually surprised when they find out I’m schizophrenic – people usually think I’m just strange.
My music and performances are also difficult for people to categorize, it seems to make people uncomfortable and I get frustrated by that. Sadly I have to drop performances all the time because of my physical health problems. I’ll get asked to perform in other cities but never can because I’m terrified of getting sick in an unfamiliar place. However I’ve learned how to incorporate my unstable gait into my performances. I’m a very physical performer, I love to make the border between myself and the audience unclear. I slink and flail around because I have to move that way if I want to move. I feel very punk rock when my hip dislocates! If only my digestive issues were as sanitary to include in performance.
Poverty is challenging because I can barely afford bus fare to get to [shows], much less tour. I’m a welfare baby, I’m good at being poor. I can smell the rich art school kids! I kinda refuse to pay more than $25 for any gear if I can find it in a dumpster or thrift store. But this creates the challenge of being judged by the intelligent synth man for not having “real” gear. I’m terrible at promoting myself and HATE doing it. I’m very paranoid about social media.
What inspires you to keep playing music and performing?
Deep excitement and romance for the world around me, feeling despair and confusion deeply. When the universe shows me something the only way I know how to deal with it is sounds to soothe the too-muchness of my senses. I like to make myself laugh and cry. When people in the audience laugh and cry, I love that too. I love to learn new things! Learning is a huge motivator because that’s how I have fun.
7D Talks about Living with Schizophrenia
We talked about 7D’s experience with living with schizophrenia and the role that music plays.
Do you – or have you – struggled with mental illness?
I have schizophrenia and C-PTSD [Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].
How long have you been experiencing these things?
About 9 years. My schizophrenia onset story is pretty typical. My behavior began to change when I was 17. I became easily agitated and aggressive. I stopped trusting everyone and started to isolate myself because I was becoming very paranoid but I understood the paranoia to be the absolute truth. I couldn’t maintain any organization which was plain to see because of how involved in music I was. I started having disorganized speech patterns, it was difficult to understand what I was saying. I would ramble on and on about all theses nonsense things, fixating on people who I thought had plans to harm or sabotage me. There were instances in which I was violent. I began having auditory and visual hallucinations. That’s when I started being involuntarily admitted to psychiatric hospitals. I had to go on homebound from school so I wasn’t there for the last 3 months of my senior year. I didn’t walk at graduation, perform in any final recitals, and I was disqualified from awards and scholarships. Everyone who had believed in me stopped and rumors about me going crazy started.
Tell me what your experience of schizophrenia is like.
A different way of experiencing reality via a sensory processor on overdrive.
Do you have any theories or ideas about why you experience schizophrenia?
I do! I believe that schizophrenia is just the deepest of feelings combined with a different kind of sensory processing that is somewhat similar to autism. The subjects of hallucinations and delusions one might have tend to make sense if you learn about someone’s life and trauma, like expressions of memory manifested in huge ways. In many other cultures, people that Western Medicine deem schizophrenic are considered to be prophetic or shamans because we see and hear things other people cannot. I also believe that genetics play a role. My father and several other family members have schizophrenia and other mental/neurological disorders.
What role – if any – has music played in strengthening or alleviating your mental health concerns?
Both schizophrenia and music permeate my life so much that they are impossible to separate from one another. When I was heavily medicated, writing songs was difficult. I was chemically restrained 24 hours a day. I made the choice to get off meds partially because I wanted to have my creativity in full and didn’t care about anything bad that might happen – I had a very “nothing else to lose” attitude. I’d already seen hell so the risk meant nothing to me.
I didn’t ask my doctors for help with the tapering process because in the past doctors would try to scare and essentially threaten me with the consequences of being unmedicated. That being said, the tapering process was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Antipsychotic withdrawal felt like dying. I could literally, physically FEEL chemicals moving around and changing my brain structure. It felt like cold, mushy, electric water moving around. I developed tardive dyskinesia and attempted suicide twice in the summer prior to moving to Pittsburgh. It’s been two years and I still feel like there are things moving and sorting out in my brain post-meds.
[Editor’s note: As a Licensed Social Worker, I have to say this! Stopping, tapering off of, or changing medications improperly can be extremely challenging and potentially dangerous. Particularly for medications to treat mental illness, stopping cold-turkey or tapering improperly can lead to terrible withdrawal experiences including illness and/or to violence against self or others. Educate yourself, determine if this is the best choice for you, be extremely cautious and patient, seek the support of a trusted healthcare professional (find one first if you don’t have one now), use healthy coping skills (if you haven’t developed these yet, work with someone to help you), and seek the support of trusted family and friends. It’s going to be hard, but with these supports in place it can be done safely.]
I’m also convinced that the reason I have so many physical health problems like chronic pain, impaired dexterity and gait, lack of muscle control, severe digestive problems, aura migraines, etc. is because of long term antipsychotic use. I’m pissed about it. I believe it’s a slow genocide that we endure. I have so much healthcare-related trauma so I have extreme difficulty seeking treatment for any present symptoms. I don’t think I’ll ever be non symptomatic and this will never not effect my music. But I’m at a point now where I can articulate myself rather well. I find it hard to be constantly in and out of reality, it is new for me because I was used to either total psychosis or chemical restraint. I have a lot of difficulty keeping jobs, I have so much shame surrounding that. But I am realizing slowly that this new-found clarity is a gift.
I’m also negatively effected by behavior and formality expectations in arts communities. Now THAT is crazy. What I mean is, I can’t always behave like most people can as default. People like to go on about the harm of “othering” but schizophrenia is different from depression or anxiety. I think I would benefit greatly from people accepting this. Generally, people in radical communities that overlap music communities understand depression and anxiety but I’m always blown away when I talk with someone who knows basically nothing or nothing correct about schizophrenia. Like — HOW!?
How do you cope with your schizophrenia? What keeps you going despite these challenges?
I cope by staying away from people, places, and situations that I’m prone to feel some sort of paranoia about, or that induce unpleasant hallucinations. I force myself to stick to a regular sleep schedule. I don’t drink or do drugs. I keep my home clean and organized. I eat healthy, take vitamin supplements, stay hydrated, and exercise. I write almost everything down so I don’t forget it. I constantly search for meaning and reevaluate what I’m doing and figure out if it will bring sustainable fulfillment or be detrimental to my wellness.
Early on in my escapades at the University of DIY Music, people would suggest to me that I write about my hallucinations and delusions. It took a while to learn how to do this in a way that I felt was accurate. While I do think that it is important for people who experience psychosis to know that we have more options than doctors usually present us with, I also think that is very much like the “American Dream”. I think the lives of schizophrenics should be important whether we make art that entertains and inspires or not. I don’t wanna be perceived as a “better” crazy person than the shouting homeless people who are feared and ignored or the non-verbal people in group homes because I’m a musician. That’s bullshit. I also don’t want to exacerbate my symptoms for art’s sake.
I think spite and tenacity keep me going. When I lost my mind, I became so full of rage and that fire has kept me here.
Lately, I have been focusing a lot more energy into advocating for people with mental illness, neurodiversity, physical disabilities, and chronic pain/illness. I created a Survey on Accessibility in PGH Music, which is leading to planning a community meeting to address issues of access and start to plan and implement things to help. The response has been incredible. I recently led a workshop for gFx‘s ITWxW that I called “Emotional Processing through Processed Music.” I can’t deny that at times I am paranoid, disconnected from the community, and this makes me feel lost and spiteful. But I feel a lot of love and gratitude for it too. I think having this balance is another positive component of schizophrenia, that ability to tap into things, mixed with how my heart operates.
Take the Accessibility in PGH Music survey.
Read an interview 7D did with leatherhard: Artist 7D is Working to Expand Access to Pittsburgh Music.
What role – if any – has music played in fighting or alleviating your schizophrenia?
Music brings me more joy than I can possibly describe with words. Making music myself gives me something to do, to obsess over. Gives me a sense of pride and purpose, whether that is real or imagined, I don’t think matters. Psychosis is not always misery and terror. Sometimes it’s hilarious or beautiful and animated. I’m in touch with some magical database so I never have to try to unlock ideas, they’re always with me. Usually I have to slow down ideas rather.
What songs of yours best sums up the experience of schizophrenia for you?
This song is describing some qualities of my first visual hallucination that had a specific personality.
“The Rats Have Toys The Rats Have Sex”
You can find a live performance of this song and more here.
This song draws connections between the instances in which I’ve grown paranoid of people and severed ties, and relationships with trusted friends who I maintain a distance from because I fear growing paranoid of them, causing me to become more isolated. I change my stance on the situation as the song escalates. The title comes from the Rat Park study which is about addiction specifically but I was really yearning for a Rat Park of my own to escape the isolation I was feeling.
We are thankful to 7D for their honesty and determination to help others! Do you relate to what 7D shared? What are your thoughts? Let us know!
The point of these interviews – aside from being interesting – is to open up the conversation. We hope that they provide you with information, validation, a reminder that you are not alone, and a look into where the music comes from. Remember, if you (or someone you know) is experiencing thoughts of suicide for any reason – reach out to get help and information! Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (they’re available 365/24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website to chat online) or, in Southwestern PA call resolve Crisis Services (they’re available by phone 365/24/7 at 1-888-796-8226).
Subscribe to Of Music and Mind to get articles right in your inbox.
Friendly reminder: Of Music and Mind content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the assistance of qualified providers (such as some of those found on the Resources page) with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions.