Catharsis in simple terms means release
I first learned the word when I was studying method acting at LaGuardia High School (The Fame School) in NYC. Acting is a form of catharsis because you are releasing emotions as the character and as you, the actor. Good old Stanislavski taught me something special about releasing my emotions on stage and in “real life.” As an actor, I had to be in touch with how I was feeling on a regular basis. As a teenager, my emotions overwhelmed me to the point where it felt like they ruled over me. I wasn’t able to temper them. I was depressed, anxious, and I was having panic attacks on a daily basis. Some of my feelings were based on trauma I’d experienced, but others were residual emotions that were unresolved from old childhood and pre-teen memories.
I needed a way to cope with my overwhelming feelings
They would build up in my mind and body to the point where I couldn’t function. I was literally sick because of all the anxiety. I wanted to eat but I couldn’t. When you are filled to the top with anxious energy, what’s the solution? For me, it was to sing. I sang while walking down the streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I belted out “Criminal” by Fiona Apple, I let it rip with Alanis Morissette’s “You Learn.” Singing was my catharsis, the way that I released my pain, anger, sadness, frustration, and fear.
There’s a theory that in musical theater when the character’s emotions get too strong they sing. This is true for me in “real life” as well. Right at this moment I am singing “My Prerogative,” by Bobby Brown. I relate most things people say to 90’s songs. Singing isn’t a hobby, as I’ve said, it’s a form of therapeutic release. I remember the day that my heart was broken, shattered into millions of tiny fragments when I found out a guy I was dating cheated on me. I walked five miles home from Midtown over The Brooklyn Bridge and I sang the entire way home. I went from singing Maroon 5’s “Payphone” to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On,” I was belting out with all the songs I knew.
Years later when I working in residental treatment as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, there happened to be a microphone in the dining hall one day, and I decided that I wanted to sing The Jackson Five “Who’s Loving You?” I barely needed the microphone because I’m used to projecting my voice. As I sang my soul out to the cafeteria, the residents turned to face me in shock, confused that it was ME singing Motown loudly with no help from a microphone.
“I didn’t know you could sing!” Exclaimed one of my clients. It made me smile and glow, but then again I was pregnant with my son at the time, so I suppose I was glowing anyway.
Singing will always be my form of emotional release. I’ve thought about starting a band. I once auditioned for a band, but I never actually pursued it. Maybe this is my year to be an emotional rockstar. I believe they call that “emo.” If I don’t start my band this year, I’ll keep singing while walking down whatever street I happen to be on on a given day. If you see me, feel free to join in.