What We Can Learn From Bruce Springsteen
William Coffey is a staff therapist at Council for Relationships’ Center City and Voorhees, NJ offices.
I first saw Bruce Springsteen, aka The Boss, in October 1974 in the gymnasium of West Chester College, now West Chester University. This was a full year before he exploded nationally when he released Born to Run and was on the cover of Newsweek and Time in the same week. He had a big following in Philadelphia thanks to a local DJ and I was a follower. What drew me to his music was not only the melodies and, of course, the sounds of the tenor sax of Clarence Clemons, but also the stories that his songs told, many of which introduced us to some interesting characters from Springsteen’s imagination. Rosalita, Mary Queen of Arkansas, Jimmy the Saint, Crazy Janey, Wild Billy, Hazy Davy, and my favorite, Sandy, are just a few from his earlier work. There are later examples, most notably Tom Joad.
Although Springsteen did not have any actual experience with these folks, they clearly told us what was on his mind. In his music he took us to places most of us have never been, and he chronicled the hopes, dreams, joys, disappointments and sadness of people in the heart of America. However, in a recent interview in Esquire magazine and the terrific film, available on Netflix, which is based on his one man show, Springsteen on Broadway, he has let us know that the most arduous journey has been dealing with his own mental health.
Springsteen talks openly about the difficult relationship with his father Doug who fought for years against his own mental health. Springsteen describes his father as a man who sat in the dark at the kitchen table at night brooding, sad and alone, and who would be eventually be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. In the early 1980’s, after a moment of deep reflection watching some families at a fair connect with each other and really enjoy life, he entered therapy. He realized that he had isolated himself from others as a defense to contain his emotions and the defense was clearly cracking. He knew that he was hiding himself from whom he was as a person. He also intimated in the interview that he has been and currently is on medications.
Depression is very common in creative people and sometimes they hide behind their art to avoid the pain of the loneliness felt from poor family relationships and other traumas in their past. There are so many stories of creative people dying at an early age from overdoses or suicides, but to hear Bruce Springsteen, suffering from a lifelong mental illness and treating it with therapy and medications, is something we all should take notice of. Depression is a disease that can be treated, and it is a sign of strength to admit one needs help, seek it out and find some solace.
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