"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


Music and mental health by Danny Sumbler

Blog | By Danny Sumbler | May 24, 2021

  • I am a singer songwriter with Tourette's Syndrome. I also have testimonials from Johnny Cash producer Jack Hale.
    My mother is a healer, my father an antiques dealer, so I have healing hands and history in my genes.
    The story of my family's awareness of mental health issues began when my father was only a child. He watched from the window as his older sister, my Aunt Lillian, who was only six or seven at the time - was put into a black Morris Minor and taken to a mental institution. He never saw her again. What makes this story sadder, is that she probably had a form of Tourette's or Asperger's, something that we can now understand more and help with - yet she ended up spending the rest of her days there alone.
    This though, by treading the road of alchemy, is where my learnings and knowledge of this subject stem from. Just like spirit is invisible much of the time, so are many forms of mental illness; so I feel compelled to reveal them to people through music and word. It is a love without duty, which to me is a blessing.
    I had absolutely no idea I was any different from anybody else until I was told so. I don't think any child does until they are made aware of it. I thought the rituals I performed, OCD that is - not Satanic; although I did look like I was possessed whilst twitching some days, were things everybody did as I knew no different.
    I am also sure everybody has them in some form, just in lesser or greater degree. Children though can walk around with buckets or flower pots on their heads and nobody blinks an eye. I feel it should be the same for all mental health conditions.
    There is a big difference between laughing at the situation or condition, rather than the person - and that is healthy. Also remember that different doesn't mean bad; it can mean wizardry - and we'd all like to be Merlin really - if only we could find the courage to do so.
    In my eyes, Tourette's is a magnified version of many people's lives, as many Tourettians are masters of suppression in public; because we have to be when we can muster the strength through fear of judgement. Suppression though is never a healthy thing as it will always manifest later; in the most inappropriate way at the most inopportune time - like when I get home some days and I look like Fred Astaire on LSD.
    Please understand also. Not all Tourettians have involuntary shouting and swearing, which is called Coprolalia. Only around ten percent of those with it do. I have my own version of it. As a people, just like you, we have similarities, but not one thing defines us completely.
    Much of the time though, I find my own way to overcome and deal with each random symptom through channelling it through my creative work, or weaving my tics etc into the everyday things I do. You know like when you are running for a bus, and you fall over - so do a forward roll at the end to make it look like you did it on purpose? Ta,da! Like that.
    Humour is the essence of my survival. I only take life seriously when I need to - otherwise, I am missing the point of living; and so much beauty that follows. With Tourette's or without it, I have far too much experience of my own behaviour to waste time being offended by others; it's an inverted form of judgement in most cases anyway - and it must be so exhausting staying offended all the time.
    Eventually though, art and music also became such a welcome healer - and thankfully, because it became my solace and my expression all in one; a bit like one big satisfying twitch.
    Although I am very aware of how debilitating mine and many other mental health conditions can be at times, this is about taking responsibility when we are strong enough to do so, and turning something that can be destructive into something productive. We may have to work harder than others, but our rewards will be greater for it.
    We have flaws; yet everybody does - and I feel the greatest spiritual teachers have. They are more human and easier to relate to; to aspire to.
    That's also why I love those with mental health conditions so much; because there is nothing contrived about them - and those who survive these conditions are saints and heroes to me.
    We mustn't be afraid of the dark; the darkness is our teacher if we befriend it. Mental health conditions, in fact any state of being out of the norm, can induce wonderful art; just as wonderful art and creativity, creating it yourself or experiencing another's, can induce healing for any mental health conditions that turn into mental health problems. All people have them in one form or another. In fact we call some of the most dangerous people on this planet sane - think about that one... To date I have written over 300 songs, written 4 books and painted until the moon has hung low in the sky. Through doing so, I am hopefully creating awareness by not being defined by my condition. Tourette's teaches tolerance - as many other conditions can. It is a bridge to Zen. It is also Kintsugi and alchemy. Tourette's is the Heyoka of mental health conditions; a beautiful oxymoron.
    Danny Sumbler's website is www.danielsumbler.com