For World Mental Health Day five artists share their experiences and struggles with mental health, and reflect on how their music has factored into this.
Whilst dialogues surrounding mental health have opened up significantly over the past few years, and organisations such as Help Musicians and Music Support exist to offer support for musicians, there’s still a long way to go. And with the ever-mounting pressures and existential dread surrounding, feeling able to open up about mental health struggles and get the help we need is an urgent and pertinent issue. We speak to Marta, Vulnerable World, Val Astaire, Luna Pines and Somebody’s Child about their respective deeply personal experiences.
CW: suicide, panic attacks, self-harm.
Two words that are often overlooked but are extremely important in today’s society. I believe everyone can recall or think of a way mental health has made an impact on them or a friend, relative…
As for me, it’s been a thing that was always present in my life. Starting music at 7 years old, I was prone to a lot of stress, responsibility and tasks meant for someone more than twice my age. Later on, when all my friends were going out to the cinema, I’d stay in practising guitar because I had an important audition the next day, or had a song to finish… I felt left out, strange, awkward, bullied… It made an impact on my mental health and made me feel extremely isolated. I had the help of my wonderful parents, but sadly every time I’d go to school it would just keep getting worse and worse. Finally, I dealt with it by seeing a therapist and changing to mostly online schooling and was able to graduate over a year early. Finally, all I could focus on was music. Then I realized the music world really is like high school and you can feel just as left out and made fun of my “mean girls”, but those mean girls can also be online. I am doing better but I feel like mental health, like I mentioned, is too often overlooked and the access to it is still too tricky and expensive. I really hope that with raising awareness we can strive to make mental health a less taboo subject and more affordable.
Mental health to me is something I have noticed to be a growing topic that our society is finally and will hopefully continue to make a very important one. Personally, I have seen literal mental health issues regarding my little sister Haley. She has severe autism and it has been a stress on my family, but also has brought us closer. Where she lacks articulation and speech in certain ways, she outshines us in innocence, happiness, and honesty. This circumstance in our family has created depression, doubt, anger, distance from one another due to the stress it can bring as it is a 24-hour job and seems cruel of the universe. So early on I learned how to be patient and how not to be overwhelmed by small issues and most importantly see the world through my sister’s eyes. […] In my opinion, good mental health comes from the way you react to adversity or the way you appreciate the small victories in life. I for one have to get out of a negative space in my head daily because I tend to want to push myself too hard and set very high expectations for myself.
In my current project “Vulnerable World” through music and lyrics, I am trying to help individuals in a healthy way tap into and express what makes them feel weak so to speak. I believe it is important to slow down your mind and put your “demons” on the table and move forward.
I didn’t understand. I had no idea my brain was sick. Mostly because I didn’t know my brain could be sick. I spent ages 9-23 trying to figure out what was wrong with me. Was this who I am? “How selfish. My parents – both single young parents each respectively raising me to the best of their abilities, always making sure I never went without. Both with their own struggles. What did I have to be so damn sad about? How selfish.”
There was a lot of guilt. And because of the guilt, came harm. I hated myself. I bullied myself. I thought if I said it first it’ll hurt less when others around me say it. But the long term harm I was causing myself far exceeded what anyone else was capable of inflicting on me. I was feeding it. I was giving the voice something to thrive on. Because you see, as I found out later – our mind moves in the direction of our most dominant thought. Whatever I believe, I am. And I only believed I was worthy of nothing. I only believed I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, handsome enough. I believed I wasn’t worthy of love because I couldn’t imagine loving myself.
I’m not a believer that you can’t love someone until you love yourself – because sometimes, someone else loving you hard enough makes you like yourself. But I do believe I am capable of whatever I want to be. So loving myself didn’t come in the form of pep talks in the mirror every day and pushing down the bad thoughts and only perceiving myself through rose colored lenses. Loving myself came in the form of patience. “Yes it’s difficult to get out of bed today and we’re having a bit of an existential crisis but do me a favor, brush your teeth; you don’t have to fully shower but at least wash your face and let’s give this a shot.”
Be kind to yourself. Breathe. Be patient. You’re still here which means your track record for getting through bad days is 100%. You are ok. You are real. You are loved.
Lotte from Luna Pines
On August 12th, 2016, I woke up and I couldn’t move. In the next few weeks I had to quit my job, cancel all my plans and reconsider going back to University in September. I couldn’t go anywhere without being afraid of everything. I lost most of my friends, and couldn’t bring myself to speak about it because I had no idea what was happening to me. I thought I was dying – I went to the doctors multiple times, they tested my blood, checked me for any physical problems, and essentially recommended I just go to therapy. I ignored all of that advice because I was ashamed, and thought I should be stronger than this. I then ended up swimming against the current for the next year. In my third and final year of University, I spent most nights abusing anything that would help me forget how I was feeling, and I developed a dependency on a number of drugs and alcohol, which gave me the sense of feeling safe that I missed so much.
Then, on graduation day, I mentally collapsed. I felt sick, terrified and dizzy the entire day, and worked very hard at making sure this wasn’t seen by my family and friends. A couple of breakdowns later, I finally realized I needed help, and the doctors told me I had been suffering from an acute anxiety disorder, along with severe depression. I went on medication, and started an intense two years of weekly therapy with an anxiety specialist, to try and rewire the faulty wiring in my brain.
Over the next two years, I was up and down all the time. My band Luna Pines was a real outlet for me, and I began writing with someone who became a close friend of mine. Over those two years, I went in and out of what I can only describe as a suicidal state, but things slowly became better. Then in December my friend killed himself, and it hit me harder than I ever thought that could. I spent two weeks in bed and started slipping backwards. Over the past 9 months I have slowly managed to heal those wounds, and it ended up teaching me so much about myself, and how life is worth living, even though that idea seems selfish with him gone. I never witnessed the aftermath of suicide before, until then. I realized how bleak and pointless it was. There is always something to fight for, and there is always something worth living for. I’m thankful everyday I didn’t hit that point, and I want everyone else to realize it’s just a process. I often felt scared that I couldn’t get back to myself, and then I understood that that version of me made myself sick -I’m somebody else now, and that’s a good thing. I find that if you just take it a day at a time, it will all work itself out eventually. But you can only know that if you stick around and try.
I reckon it’s been nearly 2 years to the day since my life changed. I was in a great place. I had quit smoking, I was in the midst of my longest ever stretch in the gym (which isn’t saying much), and I felt great about myself. The funny thing is, I feel it’s these very moments where everything is going right, that everything can turn around and go so horribly wrong. There’s an irony to life that I think as humans we’re incapable of fully grasping.
On my way home from the gym, my life seemed to implode. Maybe that’s not the right word but it’s as close as I can come to describing the feeling. It was all so sudden, but I remember the feeling better than any other I’ve ever experienced. I still feel it deep inside. It was as though my consciousness, mind, being or whatever you want to call it separated from my body. I was looking through my eyes from way back in my mind. As a movie fanatic, I compare it to that scene in Get Out where the main character sinks into the deep abyss of his soul, unattached to his physical self.
Although the attack was sudden, there was some warning prior. The night before, I was falling asleep and was woken up by this feeling of ‘needing to wake up’. It’s exactly like that sense you get when you’re having a nightmare, and you realise you’re dreaming so you force yourself to wake. It’s a very uncomfortable shift between being consciousness, but you wake up startled and everything’s ok. However, I was always awake, so my reality started to feel like a dream. That particular time the feeling faded, but the stronger, darker trip home from the gym never did. Imagine seeing a ghost. You could never ‘un-see’ it. Similarly, experiences like these don’t just evaporate like most other memories.
I visited my girlfriend in Spain shortly afterwards, still scarred. Thankfully I had someone I could talk to who wouldn’t act irrationally, but she didn’t know what to say to help. How could she? Nobody could understand what I was going through. My holiday was ruined, but that was the least of my concern, my sense of self was lost.
I scoured the internet for help to very little avail in the beginning. After some deep research, I came upon a dodgy looking link describing a very poorly known condition called DR/DP. It was exactly what I was feeling. DR/DP stands for Derealisation/Depersonalization. It’s a disorder which changes your perception and makes everything feel dream-like. I knew I wasn’t dreaming, but there was a part of me that couldn’t believe my own logic. It was as though I was living in a real-life Truman Show.
Dr. Google is rarely a wise thing to use, but in this case, it helped me out greatly. It put context around my feelings, and a name to it too. I looked into it some more and discovered it was a form of anxiety, so I booked to see my doctor when I got home.
To my dismay, the doctor told me I should see a psychiatrist. I already felt as though I was going crazy so this was the worst news I could have been given. It was feeding my fear and I didn’t want pills to be the solution. He must have noticed my reaction because he suggested going to see a psychotherapist first, which was initially daunting but better than the former option.
My therapy helped me discover through talking and exploring my past that I was putting an incredible amount of pressure on myself to succeed even though I only just out of college. Stress was likely the aggravating factor behind all of this. […] Understanding is the key here. It’s the unknown that is the problem. Not knowing what it is, if you’re the only one feeling this way, if you can be ‘cured’, if you are crazy, or dying, or whatever else it is you feel. Educating yourself and having a bit of courage to trust other people and talk about it will be what saves you from your demons, and I’m sure that goes for almost every mental health issue out there. Writing can also be extremely helpful, and songwriting is great for musicians (often the darkest times are the most inspiring).
2 years on, and I feel great. I feel stronger than ever knowing I was able to get myself out of that hole. It’s a curious time to be writing this because less than 1 week ago I experienced my first panic attack in about 16 months. Everything I had learnt came back to me and I faced it head-on.
And just like life took it all away, that irony brought me what I desired most in this world. I’m doing things I never had the courage to do before, I’ve released music, I’ve played live, I’ve toured, I’ve made friends, contacts, relationships that will stand by me, I’ve even signed deals and now have a team of people around me. I like to think that the panic attacks shaped me just in the right way, and gave me the kick to go out and grab life by the balls as they’d say in Dodgeball.