Barbara Altman, a St. Louis, Mo., native, earned her Bachelor of Music degree at Fontbonne University and taught music therapy at St. Louis Institute of Music. She now teaches piano and guitar in her home and offers music therapy at nursing homes. Her book, Cry Depression, Celebrate Recovery: My Journey through Mental Illness, recounts her struggles of growing up with an abusive, alcoholic father and her ongoing battles against her early onset of psychosis, depression and anxiety disorder.
Barbara Altman is originally from Los Angeles. Her early training was with Gretchen Geber. She received her formal training at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. At Eastman, she earned the Bachelor and Master of Music with Honors in cello performance as a student of Ronald Leonard. She spent one year as a member of the Milwaukee Symphony and several years as a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Upon moving to Georgia she performed as a member of the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra for over twenty years.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Altman’s book offers more than just a memoir of her endeavors to battle against mental illness. She gives us an overview of traditional and nontraditional methods of healing, detailing the methods that have helped her, and provides us with a set of affirmations that we can all use to direct our thoughts in the positive direction. Altman, with support from her family, counselors, support groups and physicians, uses her own inner strength to transform herself from a victim to a survivor and healer. Her dedication in providing us with this book is a perfect example of, in her words, God’s goodness shining forth.
Altman’s credentials, education, and work experience all revolve around music education and music therapy. She is neither a traditional nor an alternative healing expert. Her words, however, ring true with the authenticity of someone who has actually gone through the difficult experiences of being an adult child of an alcoholic, a survivor of major depressive episodes, of psychosis and chronic anxiety. It is in this context that she tells how she uses her own combination of diet, lifestyle, and integrative healing to build a satisfying and successful life. She points out that while the protocols outlined at the end of her book worked for her, there is no guarantee that it will work for others. The alternative methods and system of health care she uses were adopted long after her last psychotic episode at the age of 19 and were therefore not curative but implemented in the hopes of fine-tuning her health.
Altman begins her story on Father’s Day 2004, when she is 61, a day, she says, of profound grief. Memories of her father’s drinking, screaming temper tantrums and verbal abuse made her weep. His own negative outlook on life influenced Barbara’s mother and was passed down, as well, to her. Altman writes that her father’s dark mantra was, “We’re nothing more than miserable ants crawling on the earth. God can crush us at will.” Despite his own self-effacement, Barbara loved being the child of a blue-collar worker and was always proud when she saw pictures of his tools, his horse and milk wagon. Her disappointments, rather, came when he stayed out drinking, when she would arrive home for school, finding an empty garage. As she says, “His addiction blinded him to his family’s suffering.” Surrounded by this negative outlook and blindness, coupled with the fear of her illness being discovered, Barbara’s early life was experienced as a girl without a voice. She asked herself, “Would my father ever see the pain in my eyes or the ache in my soul?”
From the age of 6, when she hallucinated an enormous, terrifying ant of nearly her own size, past the age of 19, when she was horrified to witness the heart-stopping, contorted hallucination of her face in the mirror, with eyes at the bottom, mouth at the top and ears askew, Altman hid her own illness. She later worried that knowledge of it would end her college career, music studies and the life she had planned for herself. After years of hiding her psychosis, depression and anxiety attacks, by using the help of psychologist Caroline Penberthy, Altman learned to express, rather than suppress her anger, and to finally find her voice and confidence. Through her learned tools of expression, reframing, observation and emulation of healthy individuals, through trial and error and by adopting positive affirmations, she integrated herself into a newfound social life. Her mission, as she states, to impart hope to her readers for healing from depression I find to be quite successful. Her story offers hope and positivity and gives inspiration to all of us.
In addition to this inspiring story, the book provides a guide for those wishing to face their own mental difficulties and to reframe their lives in a more positive direction. While not a technical manual on such difficulties, it is a heartfelt organic whole that comes through the actual living of such trials.
Her words of forgiveness and acceptance are integrated within her own religious connections. As she states, “Forgiveness is a key component of every world religion.”
The latter part of her book provides a description of the major mental disorders, a discussion of the traditional medical treatments and counseling as well as a chapter on complementary (alternative) therapies. She gives thanks and dedication, reminding us that we are all social beings. She writes of a single tiny gosling, among seventeen, slowly limping across a parking lot. Rather than abandoning it, the other sixteen adapted to its pace, nudging and encouraging him, with the strong helping the injured. She writes, “Counselors and doctors, ministers, and rabbis, friends and family you are in a position to help those who suffer from depression, psychosis, and anxiety so we don’t feel so isolated and lonely. You are the healthy goslings guiding the impaired. Thank you . . .”
Through her own own strength, nudging and encouragement Barbara Altman, in providing us with this inspiring book, deserves great thanks as well.