Art Saved My Life: Master Sergeant Mike Schneider Talks With Music Therapist, Rebecca Vaudreuil

Mike Schneider: My name's Michael Schneider. I was in the United States Marine Corps for 22 years, 1994 'til just before 2016, 2015. I started out as a CH-46 Crew Chief Aerial Gunner, and moved on to the MV 22 Osprey, as a Crew Chief. I was injured. My first injury happened in 2005, and then my second injury was in 2006, a traumatic brain injury and central nervous system hit of the DCS, Decompression Sickness. At that point, move forward to 2013 is when I started to have symptoms and signs of my traumatic brain injury in the form of seizures.

Music fades out

I have epilepsy, and I was moved to Walter Reed Bethesda to help in my care, and at that point is when I got to meet Rebecca to start my therapy.

Rebecca Vaudreuil: You were actually the first patient that I was going to start fresh with in this new position with the NEA, coming in as a music therapist at Walter Reed. And I just remember being nervous walking from upstairs down to the café, and then I saw you I was like, and a kind of wave of calm came over me, and you're just, like, "Hey, I'm Mike." And I was, like, "Hi." And I remember I knew he was a Master Sergeant so I just ended up calling him Master Sergeant Mike and I still call you Master Sergeant Mike.

Mike Schneider: I also have PTSD, and when you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, meeting new people is hard. So each and every person that I came up to and met, it was always tough. But that day, I had gotten to one of my lowest points ever in my care, and I just needed a new beginning, and her smiling face, Rebecca's smiling face, was able to, kind of, key me to say, "You know what? This is it. I've got to get better."

Rebecca Vaudreuil: I think, by the end of that, we were just ready to go. It was, like, 15 minutes, maybe we chatted?

Mike Schneider: She asked me what I wanted to play, and I said I want to learn how to play the piano. And I had never played the piano in my life, had never done any of that. But in the process of playing the piano, I was starting to sing all the notes that I was playing. I'd hum all the notes, and she looked at me and she says to me, she says, "Do you sing?" And I said, "No." <laughs> But...

Rebecca Vaudreuil: I don't think you realized you were doing it. I think, almost unconsciously, as you were playing the notes, you were just matching the pitch with it and singing because you are a singer. So it was coming out, and I noticed right away that it was really exact pitch. It was...

Mike Schneider: So she brought the singing out in me, and from that point on, I moved on to singing, and still playing the piano a little bit. I mess with it a little bit, but I'd play the piano. But mainly I go there and sing.

The best part is it challenged me, and it found a new space in my brain that opened up that I never knew I had. And that seemed to be the one thing that helped, kind of, bypass my injury. I have, essentially, a 4-centimeter section of my right temporal lobe that doesn't work, and I needed something to get around that section and relearn pieces and refire brain waves, and music therapy was it. And the person and the music were what helped me achieve what I have now, and that's from the piano to the ukulele to the guitar to still singing, and then, not only me, but it affected my whole family. My son now plays the drums, my daughter plays the violin, and my oldest daughter plays the clarinet, and it's made my whole entire family more of a musical type family.

beat

Normally when we leave the service we lose all therapy. You know, I had four psychologists: family psychologist, biofeedback psychologist, cognizant learning psychologist, psychiatric care. So I had all this and I was just cared for. I had this big hug. I had this big arms around me at all given times. And then I retired in July 1st of 2015, there was nobody. There was one person in the VA that helped me to start navigating the VA who's like one of my other heroes in this world. I hope that millions of service members can bridge that gap with programs like art in the communities and music in the communities because we need it. I can tell you from so many of my buddies that music and art were a couple of things that saved their lives. Music saved my life.

Rebecca Vaudreuil: Through the NEA Creative Forces I think it's been so inspirational for me to sometimes be able to step out into the community and go to these different locations and see the arts communities that are really rallying together. Everywhere we've gone, every state we've visited, every arts council, state arts agencies, community organizations, those rooms have been packed at those meetings. This is a real opportunity for people to come together in this cohesive collective collaboration.

Mike Schneider: As a whole, the music and the different therapies that I've received provided me outlets, for my PTSD mainly, to channel my anger, to channel my aggression. And the arts is a huge way that I did that, especially the guitar. If I feel angry or if I start to yell at a family member or yell at one of the kids for doing something, I'm able to go to my room, take the guitar, and I don't really play very well, but I can play a bunch of the different notes and a bunch of the different chords. It'll calm my soul and what I can do, then, is become a better father and a better person in the family, so that I can come and engage, reengage, in a different manner.

Music up, under

I always say that the therapy isn't for us, the wounded Service Member. It was from a good friend of mine that said that the therapy is for everybody around us. And that's the most important thing, I think, to take out of everything that I learned, is that it really had nothing to do with me. It was really to put me back into society to help everybody around me, and to be a better person for my family.

Music Credits:

Excerpt of “Another Version of You” and “Everybody’s Got Problems That Aren’t Mine” by Chris Zabriskie from his album, Thoughtless, found on WFMU’s Free Music Archive and used courtesy of Creative Commons.