From songwriting to healing: Chris Blackstock uses music to help him with his mental health

Music can be healing. Listening to a favourite song can release dopamine which activates the brain’s pleasure and reward system. It has also been known to have a positive impact on a person’s mental state.
One local found that not only listening to music but writing songs has been a cathartic experience to help him heal from past trauma. Chris Blackstock is from Port Colborne, Ontario but moved to Mansfield in 2019. He reached out to THE EQUITY because one of his lyrics debuted as a spoken word piece on an album titled Music for the Mind: Veterans Edition. Seeing his first song released has given him the encouragement to keep going.
For him, music saved his life, and that’s what he wanted to share.
Growing up and being part of the Sea Cadets marching band in his hometown was his first introduction to music and he’s loved it ever since. In high school, he took music for four years and played the clarinet and baritone. After joining the Royal Canadian Navy in 1982 it was hard for him to keep up with his passion and had to put it on hold.
He served with the Royal Canadian Navy for 25 years mostly in submarines but he also spent a few years in the fleet onboard a few ships. During that time he served in the Persian Gulf war in 1990-91 and then the conflict in the Balkans in 1994-95. A major challenge was being away from his family, who were living in Halifax.
Being away for months on end had a negative impact on his mental health. “I started having mental health issues, and I had no idea what was happening to me,” he explained.
In 2006, he was released from the Navy and sought to live a regular life, but living at sea since the age of 18 made it very difficult. The years following his release were turbulent as he faced many hardships as a result of never grieving the passing of one of his children and being deployed soon after and fear of being sent home in a body bag during the Gulf War.
He was eventually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a veterans affairs case worker noticed he wasn’t well, which was the catalyst that helped him

understand what he was going through while in the Navy and long after. Being diagnosed made him feel relieved.
“After I got out how it’s been explained to me by the psychologists and psychiatrists that I’ve seen is that your brain all of a sudden says, we’re out of that environment now and we have some things to talk about. And we’ve got to sort some issues out that we didn’t sort out,” he said.
Remembering back to when he was in the Navy he described it as a high-pressure job and working in that environment day in and day out, there was no time to deal with one’s emotions. “When you’re on a submarine someone’s trying to kill you all the time. Like if you’re down say 500 feet that water is trying to crush you. And there’s always something that could go wrong. So a lot of that stuff came back,” he said.
Through those tough times, he rediscovered music. “That’s when I found that even just listening to music helped me so much.”
Later in 2018, he entered Acute Mental Health in Pembroke twice, he knew he had to change his life and move to a new place and start over. During that time healthcare professionals recommended journaling, but he didn’t feel that it was for him so instead, he started writing songs. Doing that allowed him to connect with a long-lost passion, music.
“I thought I could put all these emotions into songs,” he said.
When he moved to Mansfield, he set up a music room in his home where he would escape to write, record demos, study music or practice playing his guitar. “The turning point for me was really moving here, because it’s peaceful, very quiet,” he said.
In 2022, wanting to learn more about songwriting he looked for retreats he came across the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick and saw that they had a call out for songs, poems, and spoken word for a CD called Music for the Mind: Veterans Edition. For that, he submitted the lyrics to The Corporal. The lyrics were inspired by a tragic death of a soldier in Afghanistan in 2006, thats when he began to assemble ideas for a song. It wasn’t until 2018 while attending a songwriting workshop conducted by a Canadian recording artist, that he began to develop his song idea, he explained.
Sharing his contribution on this CD, he thought could possibly inspire something like that to happen locally he said. “There’s no reason why we couldn’t do this locally if some producer would say ‘hey I really liked that idea let’s do this as a fundraiser for Quebec mental health,’” he said.
Through that experience, Blackstock realized he wanted to better his skills in composing music. Seeing a sign at the local grocery store he reached out to a guitar teacher in the Pontiac who has helped him in his journey to put music to words. For almost a year now, he continues to learn new skills. Something he never thought he could do was a guitar riff, going on 60 years old he didn’t think he could learn it, but he realized he was using that as an excuse.
During covid is when he wrote the most, having no outside distractions and being stuck at home he used that time to write.
The songs he has written include events he was involved in while at sea, about friends and family and some tackling difficult events like suicide. To date he has written 26 songs and they are all at different stages of production.
Creating music even just for himself has allowed him to stay grounded and remain healthy because he has goals and positive reinforcements when he achieves them, he explained. “It’s been huge in my mental health journey.”
“I may never sing some of these songs, but they’re written right now, they’re for me. I’ll decide later which ones I want to be heard by other people but it was healing and it helped me put an end to some issues that I had, like putting them on the shelf and saying ‘no, you’re done,’” he said.
Other self-care practices that he has introduced in his life include reading, gardening and being outdoors with his two dogs. Living in Quebec he also hopes to become bilingual as he started taking french classes.
Working on developing his music, Blackstock hopes to release an album with 10 to 12 songs in 2023. Down the road, a big dream of his is to one day be able to get up on a stage and perform some of his own music.
One of the hardest lessons he’s learned throughout his mental health journey is you have to take control in order to get better. “You may have your medical professionals but they don’t know what you’re doing at home. They have no idea. So you’re responsible for your own well-being and you can’t rely on other people. That’s one of the huge takeaways.”
People can listen to The Corporal on all streaming platforms and on YouTube.

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