Mental Health & The Music Industry – What Nobody Told Me

Carousel Edit
Chris, Sarah, Thomas & Toby of Americana band Carousel

Some Insight

I never really thought I was cut out to be an artist within the music industry, or work as a freelancer, and now I’ve suddenly become both. Having suffered depression and anxiety for a third of my short life, I’ve slowly learnt what mental health is all about and how to cope with the lows. However, when you work in creative industries it can be really difficult to keep a hold on your mind.

Since I was young, I always dreamed of performing on stage, envisioning travelling to the next show on my tour and receiving VIP treatment the whole time. I imagined money, screaming fans, number ones in the charts. As I grew older, I realised these images were to become less and less realistic as time went on. I wrote songs in my bedroom, uploaded cover videos to YouTube and spent most of my free time on social media connecting with fellow young musicians. I started playing small solo shows that my dad managed to sort out for me – my first public performance being a friend’s charity gig at their barn, where I nervously strummed my guitar and sang with as much confidence as I could muster.

When I was 19, I put together a band consisting of my brother on bass guitar, my Dad on drums, and a friend on electric guitar, while I took the front spot to sing to my heart’s content, naively believing that there was some spark there ready to light up, and thinking I’d only be a few songwriting sessions away from a breakthrough. How wrong I was. What nobody told me was that I’d have to experience depressed days of laying in bed, being unable to even speak without crying and with an inability to look after myself. My Mum would bring food and water up throughout the day, offering a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. It was through this process that I realised not even a hug from my Mum would make this go away. I would go on to struggle a huge amount getting myself to a place where I could perform on stage while suffering a depressive state. I almost had to act like a different person, one who was genuinely happy to be stood in front of a crowd and smiling. It took me a while to realise that that wasn’t me whatsoever. The black dog has followed me almost everywhere, and whenever I thought I had got shot of it for one short day, it cropped up again and brought me back down to where I believed I belonged.

As I prepare for a life as a freelance writer and a founding member of Americana band ‘Carousel’, I now realise that mental health is so real. It affects every second of my waking life right now, and I am mid-way to accepting that it is likely to be present in my entire future as a human being.

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Hayley performing live with Paramore at The Royal Albert Hall, London in June 2017

Hayley Williams, frontwoman of rock band Paramore, has recently opened up about her mental illness:

“For the first time in my life, there wasn’t a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel…It wasn’t in the sense of, I’m going to take my life. It was just hopelessness. Like, ‘What’s the point?’ I don’t think I understood how dangerous hopelessness is. Everything hurts.”

That’s the problem. Societies and cultures today are so focused on honing in on the bad and the ugly. People using social media unconsciously quash all honesty and strive to show the best of their lives, when it most likely is not the same behind the scenes.

Williams, who in 2015 decided to take a break from Paramore, went on to say, “I just was done…I thought, ‘There’s gotta be something else that I’m good at in my life. Maybe it’s time for me to go find that.'”

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Some Opinions

As part of this article, I have decided to interview a few close friends and acquaintances who are all artists or work as creative freelancers. The idea of this is to help me explain the correlation between creative industries and mental health, and to help younger creatives cope with learning about their mental struggles.

I asked my interviewees, “How is life different working as a creative freelancer compared to working a ‘normal’ job?”

Irish singer-songwriter Brian O’Reilly, professionally known as Bry said: “I’m a trained teacher, but I can’t do normal jobs anymore…it makes me suicidal. I can only be self-employed now.”

Music producer and audio engineer Peter Waterman answered : “The biggest difference is the routine. I would say a full-time job, even when you start with good intentions, becomes repetitive and therefore you become lazy and do the minimum…When you’re a freelancer in a creative industry, you work and think about work from the moment you open your eyes in the morning at home until you lay in the same bed again at night.”

Freddie Webber, who has been writing and performing his own songs since he was 15, replied, “The main difference is discipline…When you are your own boss, especially when it comes to being creative, it’s very easy to be ‘ah I’m not feeling it today’. You don’t have to answer to anyone else, which can be counter productive.”

Freddie Webber
Freddie Webber

I then asked, “Do you find it difficult to motivate yourself, and what’s the drive behind your motivation?”

A close friend of mine, Chris Asher, immerses himself in music, painting and writing. He responded, “The only real drive behind anything I do creatively are the words of encouragement from those closest to me. Their words help me rationalise and remind myself of the passions and creativity I cautiously hide away; they are helpful reminders to be free and the only person I can be – me.”

Megan Jane Tredwell, a young local singer who has suffered depression for 9 years, said, “Some days are easier than others. It’s hard when you have a voice inside your head telling you that you can’t do anything or achieve anything. Some days I have to really force myself to get up and do things that take me out of that dark place.”

Chris Robson, a design engineer by day and singer-songwriter by night, replied, “My main motivation comes from booking myself into gigs so that I can use them as goals; this eventually forces me to practice. If I can get a few good gigs in succession then the buzz I get from them usually lasts long enough to keep me moving forward, so they are in themselves a source of motivation.”

Megan Jane Edit
Megan Jane

My next question was, “Is there a correlation between creative industries and mental health?” The answer seemed fairly straightforward to me, but I was eager to find out what my peers and fellow creatives thought.

An anonymous musician writes, “I think there is a correlation, albeit a weak correlation. I know lots of creative people who don’t have mental health issues, and I also know mentally ill people who are not creative. I think part of being creative is opening up the floodgates to all different emotions, and running with them. It’s listening to all the wild and crazy thoughts you have and writing them down, putting them on a canvas, or expressing them through music. A more rational-minded person may not have such irrational ideas to portray.”

Peter Waterman added, “I feel like it’s very personal and I don’t think it’s as easy as generalising creative industries with health problems but I do think you can become more susceptible to particular mental health issues when your freelance career isn’t hitting it off. We all start from the bottom as a creative freelancer, even if we have had success previously in some sort of format.”

Peter Waterman Edit
Music producer Peter Waterman

I also spoke to another anonymous creative, who works as a photography coordinator for a fashion brand. They said, “A lot of people I have met that suffer with mental illness do tend to be more creative. I think the creative mind tends to have to be more sensitive and in tune with emotions in order to be able to draw on these to create. However this can be detrimental because it also means that we take it to heart if our ideas are rejected or we face criticism. The creative industries are based on people’s opinions and everyone thinks differently so although someone might like your idea or concept, there will always be people who don’t and this can be hard to take when already suffering with low self-esteem, depression or anxiety.”

The inspiring Jessica Noah Morgan, a journalist, writer and singer responded, “It’s scientifically proven that people who are likely to suffer with mental health problems are highly creative people. I think it’s the way our brains work – by work I mean overwork. We have all these bright ideas and we work at a million miles an hour to get things done. A lot of the greatest creatives, writers, musicians, scientists, all suffered terribly with mental health conditions but produced the most brilliant pieces of work this world has ever seen. Stephen Fry, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Winston Churchill, Sylvia Plath, the list goes on.”

 

Next, I asked, “Has your creative role affected your mental health, and if so, how?”

Chris Asher said, “Yes. Because of the way that my creativity and mental health correlate so heavily it means that when I put my all into whatever I am doing; such as a written piece for my blog or lyrics for a song- I am rewinding time and reliving old thoughts and feelings I may have had in the past. These thoughts affect me a lot of the time the same way as they did before and it makes any creative progress almost impossible.”

Anonymous replied, “I think that my creative role has given me a healthy outlet for the emotions my mental health brings. If something used to deeply upset or anger me in the past, I would often end up self harming. Now I will pick up an instrument and get my emotions out a much safer way.”

 

And lastly, “Has your mental health affected your creative role, and if so, how?”

Bry answered, “When I’m recording in the studio it does. I have habits that kill me in the studio and it makes me not want to record.” He went on to tell me how he got into a repetitive habit of shaking his head, a kind of twitch, for the 6 weeks that he was recording his album.

Chris Robson: “As a performer, my depression has affected my motivation hugely. It also affected my self-esteem; no matter how good the gig is, I will always find a very creative way of twisting my emotions to find a reason why it was not good enough. I am often of the mind that stopping performing might actually be much better for me mentally than constantly challenging myself, but so far the creative drive always wins.”

Chris Robson
Chris Robson

Peter Waterman: “As a music producer, I’m always fighting against other people’s doubt and their subconscious telling them they can’t do it. Self-doubt isn’t just stopping people from giving their all in a studio/live environment as an artist or musician. It can stop people from even trying or walking away and never attempting to come back.” Having worked alongside Peter for Carousel’s debut EP, I feel he has an incredible ability to figure people out and has, at times, been the main source of encouragement to keep me going during our studio time. “My mental health has never helped my creative role and only ever inhibited it. If my subconscious stopped doubting my ability, then it would be easier.”

Anonymous added, “With poor mental health, a person is likely to dwell on situations, meaning that they’ve probably already thought of all the worst possible outcomes, and come up with solutions for it before it’s even happened. This is very useful when you’re your own boss, although it does sometimes mean you’ve worried a lot for nothing, but you are prepared for the worst!”

Freddie Webber responded, “I look at it like this: My creative role is the owner and my mental health is a dog. My creative role’s job is to take the dog out on frequent long, adventurous walks, to both please and tire out the dog. If it isn’t taken out then that’s when there can be issues.”

I also managed to ask singer-songwriter Bry if he had any advice for young people who aspire to be in a creative industry. He said, “That it doesn’t cure you. I feel you have to keep yourself busy. However, a friend of mine hates touring and gets really miserable on tour. She shares it on instagram though,” which, to me, is how we should all be approaching social media. Honest representations of our lives online are few and far between.

Bry
Irish singer-songwriter Bry

 

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Some Facts

‘Help Musicians UK’ ran a 2016 campaign called ‘Music and Depression, which questioned “Can music make you sick?”. It “aims to break down stigma and start conversations within the music industry about depression, and other conditions linked to mental and emotional well-being”. The outcome from phase 1 of this campaign showed that 65% of musician respondents had suffered depression, and an incredible 71% had experienced anxiety or panic attacks.

“This suggests musicians may be up to three times more likely to suffer from the illness compared to the general public.”

The campaign also stated:

“Respondents attributed this to the poor working conditions within the industry including: the difficulty of sustaining a living, anti-social working hours, exhaustion and the inability to plan their time/future.”

So, what do we do about this?

“Compounding the problem is that 54.8% of those surveyed feel that there is a gap in the provision of services for musicians, with 46.6% wanting to see a dedicated counselling service for musicians.” https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/

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Some Encouragement

I believe that those who struggle with mental illness can gain many benefits from working in a creative industry such as music, however it does have its drawbacks. Self-employment has allowed me to be completely flexible with my work schedule, yet I’ve had to be tougher on myself to find motivation and set goals. I am still not completely at ease with a freelance lifestyle, as I know money will always be tight and I will have to continue dragging myself out of bed when I’d rather just stay curled up.

My advice to creatives who aspire to be a part of the industry would be to just keep on going. Know that any low moments won’t last, you won’t feel that way forever and tomorrow is a new day.

Jessica Noah Morgan: “I truly appreciate the journey I’ve taken to get to where I am and I highly recommend those who are looking to take the plunge into a freelance world to do so immediately – you won’t regret it. Life is made for creativity and big ideas.”

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Some Music

One of our aims in Carousel is to reach out to people through lyrics and songs, and a few of our songs have been based around themes of mental health. Here’s Carousel’s singer and guitarist Thomas Eatherton talking about the creation of the song ‘Comfortable Skin’.

“It is just about the most raw and honest song that I think we could have mustered up. The fact that it seemingly fell from the sky – written in one sitting, with no revisions to the lyric or melody – only adds to how proud we are of this song and its profound meaning to us as people. The subject found here in the lyric is mental health. During the past couple of years, this has been cast to the forefront of our personal lives without our consent, much as it has for many other people that we know. Huge stigma follows mental health and this prevents people from reaching out and asking for help. This song is written as a plea to those who suffer to speak out, talk to someone who cares, to have hope and realise that they are not alone.”

You can now hear ‘Comfortable Skin’ on Spotify on the link below, and it will be released on our upcoming EP this September. For more about the band, visit www.carouseluk.com.

 

 

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How Silence Makes Me Feel (And Other Digressions)

This is a response to one of the questions in a book titled ‘Writing Prompts for the Creative Scribe’. 

How does silence make you feel? When you’re alone? When you’re with other people?

Silence makes me feel unsettled. When I’m alone, I often retreat to my old ways of negative thinking and I start having bad thoughts about my life, unless I have a distraction. A dog, a song, an activity, a creative idea. Sometimes that still isn’t enough and after a little while I begin to wonder why I still exist. What are my reasons for living? Even when I list what and who I have in my life, it still sometimes doesn’t feel real. Like I’ve been living a lie for the past 24 years.

Silence when I’m with others is a lot more bearable. It’s difficult to allow those negative thoughts to overcome me in someone’s presence, especially if that person means a lot to me. In other’s company, I can reflect on my surroundings a lot more. I can occupy myself with what they look like, what they’re doing, what they might be thinking. This unfortunately means I am also riddled with anxiety if I don’t know my company-keepers entirely well. I judge others without meaning to. I really wish I wasn’t the sort of person that judges, but I am. I also assume that strangers do the same for me, when they’re most likely not judging at all. I should stop assuming, but it feels so natural to me.

I need to realise that I’m never truly encapsulated by silence. There’s always something to focus on – a small detail of sound, an essence of noise, a droplet of unprovoked nature in the air.  I try to describe what I hear to attempt to rid the negative thoughts in my head. But how long can I distract myself for?

 

My Letter To Depression

Depression,

Why do you mask the amazing parts of my life and drive me to sit behind black cloud with no vision of getting past it? Why are you constantly there, cramping my style, and the only way I can find to fight against you is to speak out about it? But then, why is your sidekick Stigma always nearby to kick me in the face every time I feel like I’m getting somewhere? Please tell me, is this fair?

Why do you not let me enjoy things anymore, like band rehearsal? Why do you insist that the music is way too loud, when it is just as loud as it is every week? Why do you force me to sit in the corner, with pins and needles worming their way down my limbs, withdrawn from my bandmates for 2 complete hours? Please tell me, is this fair?

How do you propel me so deep into your despair that no amount of embraces from my partner can relieve my sobbing? Why do you refuse to give in, compelling me to push away my loved ones under constraint? How can you manipulate my brain enough so I ignore messages from people I care about, until they don’t care anymore? Where do I stand? Or do you just completely control me? Please tell me, is this fair?

And by the way, your friend Anxiety…Why do they make me feel nervous when there’s nothing to be nervous about? I’m sitting at home, quite comfy and content, but then my stomach churns and I feel impending doom all of a sudden. I feel like I’m in trouble and my life is over. Please tell me, is this fair?

No, you’re not killing me. But you are extracting the soul out of me. You’re ripping me apart and stripping my quality of life. Please tell me, is this fair? Because I really don’t think I deserve this.

From Sarah, the one who will continue to fight until the end.

7 Tips For When You Feel Completely Lost

I sometimes get periods of time where I’m not particularly suffering anxiety or depression, but where I’m stuck in a rut somewhere in the middle, re-evaluating my life and unsure of why. I can never think logically about what to do – I can’t cling on to any sense of identity or concentrate on anything to take my mind off of it.

It is such a specific numbing feeling, and at the same time very blurred, making it completely overwhelming.

It’s a topic I haven’t yet found to be addressed from a mental health perspective, and I know various others who experience the same feeling. None of us have read an article about it before, and it’s time we did. To tackle this, I thought I’d really put my mind to the test and try to give some good ol’ agony aunt advice. Here’s some tips on what do when you’re feeling like a loose end that never ties up.

1. Talk to someone – whether its over the phone, through a message or in person, sharing your thought-load with someone will take the pressure off you. I normally find that once I admit to feeling down or lost, I start opening up about it and there is a feeling of acceptance in the air. Leading me nicely onto tip numero deux…

2. Acceptance is one of the hardest things, but being aware that you are feeling a certain way can be quite comforting sometimes. I find that when I realise how I’m feeling and say it out loud, it motivates me enough to find a new spark of identity, or at least create some movement amongst my thoughts to think clearly. I believe that acceptance of a situation is halfway to recovery.

3. Change of scenery – moving somewhere new can do the world of good. If I’m in a cold room with no sunlight, I will tend to move to a warmer room with the sun shining in, and where I can cuddle my dog! I find that it allows me to be a little more comfortable, and I can then put more of my energy into thinking clearer and realising I’m not a lost soul.

4. Listening to music really can change my mood quite dramatically. If I want to feel more thoughtful, I will listen to calming music with honest lyrics (which also makes me want to write too!), and particularly if I’m feeling a little lost I will try to put on music that will either distract me or give me knowledge that I’m not lost and alone. A band that currently motivate me are The Lone Bellow – their music is a mix of upbeat feel-good tunes and story-telling ballads with a folk/country flair. Be sure to have a listen.

5. Make sure you have a network of people around you. Knowing you have friends and family supporting you will give you comfort if you ever feel on your own. They can distract you from your mind’s situation for a little while, or just cushion the blow when times are rough. And I know, times can be so frickin’ rough. You must also remember that pretty much anyone who is human will have a time when they feel lost or don’t quite know which direction to take. We lead vastly unique lives, however most of us will share the same feelings and similar situations. Stick together.

6. Schedule something in your calendar – don’t completely fill it as it will be harder to achieve. Just 1 or 2 things that will give you direction. The other day I went to the library by myself (a massive achievement for the anxious side of me!) and I really enjoyed scanning the array of books on every shelf. I borrowed a couple of books about writing, and also found myself drawn towards the photography section – a hobby I haven’t really touched for a good few years. This one hour of my day gave me heaps of inspiration, aspiration and direction.

7. Be mindful – go for a walk, exercise, meditate or be creative in some way. Painting is one of my favourite things to do as it feels incredibly therapeutic, and I end up focusing more on what my paintbrush is doing than what my head is doing! Yoga is also a love of mine – it gets the oxygen flowing, gives me space in my head, and tricks me into doing exercise!

Many of us will have ‘off’ days where we feel a little lost, but then some will go through long phases of ruminating these thoughts and feelings. Be it one day, a week, or several months that you feel this way, I hope you utilise these tips and get back to being the amazing, unique person you still are. 🙂

Sarah x

How My Rescue Dog Has Rescued Me.

I persuaded my boyfriend to get a dog. He wasn’t so sure at first, but he didn’t realise that it would soon be the best thing we ever could have done. We visited the Dog’s Trust in Basildon shortly after my birthday in March this year, and it was there that we found Murph – a bundle of energy that jumped up at us to say hello as soon as she saw us. She was a clumsy-footed, strong-willed, lump of fur that pulled me for a walk on the lead, and she was a lot bigger than the ‘small-to-medium’ sized dog that we were originally looking for. Nevertheless, we knew we couldn’t leave without her. Murph, or Murphy as we renamed her, finally came to her forever home with her forever parents a few days later. And little did we know that we’d adopted the soppiest of pups!

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My reasoning for getting a dog was to help me feel happier, less lonely, and to assist me with the separation anxiety that I constantly felt for my boyfriend Tom. Having a companion that I felt a connection with meant that someone or something would finally understand me without even having to speak.

Murphy, our 2-year-old German Shepherd crossbreed who we believe was once a stray in Ireland, seems to have a sixth sense and knows how I’m feeling sometimes before I even recognise it myself. I still find it incredible how this intelligent creature can detect when I feel sad or down, and will come for a cuddle and a ‘kiss’ (lots of face licks!) to make me feel better in these times of need.

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Having a dog comes with heaps of responsibility too – lots of money for food and toys, vets bills, daily walks, picking up poop, and finding the time to train them and give them the attention they so desperately require – especially when you are majorly in a rush to leave the house and they roll over for a belly rub and give you the ‘puppy eyes’! Murphy has given me the motivation to get up out of bed on a lot of occasions (which is a real achievement for me!) and has gifted me with the drive to start my day. She has also gifted me with a lot of chewed up possessions! However I am currently in France for a week without Murphy, and this has made me realise what she brings to my life. When she jumps on the bed to wake me up in the morning. When she goes crazy after I jingle her lead ready for a walk. When I watch her playing with other dogs at the park, like I’m watching my own child play and socialise with other children. When she’s still learning how to coordinate and jumps sideways trying to catch a ball. When she sits and watches TV with me. When she keeps me company if I’m feeling alone.

Without a doubt, she has completely enhanced my quality of life.

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Going out and about is personally very difficult – there’s the depression and lack of motivation that causes a struggle for me to get out of bed. Then there’s the anxiety that kicks in before I get out the door and holds me back when I do finally step outside. Having Murphy has created a reason to go out every day, and since having her I’ve made a conscious effort to walk her. A few months back, my challenge was to walk her on my own, up the road to the park, round the park, and back home. It seemed like it would take years to complete my challenge, as at first I would only walk her if I was with someone else – normally Tom or my mum. I gradually built up the confidence to walk her round the block on my own, and then round the block twice on my own. A few weeks passed and I was able to walk her to the local park and back, but not yet round the park without my anxiety taking over and making me pretty much run back home to safety. Cut a long story short, I completed my challenge. It took about a month, but I did it. The problem, now, is that I’ve got to a point again where I very rarely take her for a walk on my own. I didn’t keep it up, and now I’m back to square one. However, it still does me the world of good being able to get out and about, even if Tom has to persuade me and my overpowering anxiety. It opens up my eyes and the fresh air cleans my lenses – I begin to see the beauty of the world. Well, as much beauty as the backstreets of Southend can possibly provide. =D

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I knew that I’d give a dog a second chance in life by rescuing it, but I didn’t realise that the dog would give me a new lease of life in return.

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, please #adoptdontshop.

http://www.dogstrust.org.uk