PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Minds Over Matters
TODAY is a very important one for anyone who has to deal…
with a mental health problem. It is World Mental Health Day and, rather than this being a chance to ‘make space’ for the issue: many are sharing their stories and revealing their struggles. There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to mark World Mental Health Day. For a start; there are many musicians who suffer mental health issues – and many other psychological disorders – and have to keep their illness s secret. Some of the biggest names in music go through mental health struggles. In fact, when researching for this piece, I came across an illuminating piece in the Independent. In it; Nothing but Thieves’ frontman Conor Mason revealed his struggles – and the way pressure and expectations sit on his shoulders:
I don’t want to be the guy to burst the bubble around the typical view of a rock ‘n’ roll frontman. The sexed-up, drug-fuelled lothario; the party animal who doesn’t give a monkeys about anything but himself and the road.
But we can’t all be in ‘Towers of London’. The way I work is somewhat different, because, I suppose I’m just made of different stuff. I’ve never seen myself as an alpha male stereotype, so instead of trying to fit that mould I find myself swaying effortlessly towards the opposite. I see myself as the frontmum of the band instead of frontman, a sensitive chap who wouldn’t bark at a fly - and I’m cool with being an anti-cool figure.
IN THIS PHOTO: Conor Mason/PHOTO CREDIT: @NBTConor
When the going gets tough, that archetypal male survival mindset doesn’t kick in for me, I don’t ‘man up’. I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean. Grin and bear it? Shout at it? Lash out at it? Does it mean ignore your issues and don’t speak to anyone about what you’re facing? Feel it but don't show it?
I just can’t do that. I’ve really tried, but as I’ve grown up I’ve realised how much cooler and frankly healthier it is to be open and express myself. I just try and be myself and not care about what people think of me, so in turn that makes me sensitive to everything, I care a lot. Ironic really.
The music industry is an alternative reality. It can give you a hall pass to deal poorly with normal life. This doesn’t account to everyone in the industry, not by a long shot, but a large number of musicians I meet have problems they suppress and never deal with correctly. I have friends who have messed up their marriages, hooked on drugs and women because it’s so readily available on the road, using them to block out difficulties in life. For people who come into this lifestyle as kids it's a bewildering, with no rule books and very little guidance, but that's the price of having the best job in the world, creating and performing music.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
It is a candid and revealing feature – read the entire thing; it is a very good read! – but, rather frustratingly, embed between the paragraphs are adverts, inane posts and banners! It seems, even when discussing something as serious as someone’s mental health issues – it cannot be given its own space without being wrapped around irritating garbage and spam. It is not the fault of the newspaper/website itself but it is annoying seeing a great and open piece spoiled by advertising/money-making distractions. As someone who suffers from mental health issues; I find myself being overlooked and buried, to an extent. It might seem like a rather bad metaphor but I am the advert inside the article: the minor bird trying to get its voice heard. For me; mental illness defines me and what I have done since I was young. It struck me when I was about eighteen and has been responsible for a lot of bad moments – some good in there, too. I can confidently say the reason I am a music journalist is because of my mental illness: it is debatable whether I would be as driven and single-minded without it. That sounds rather destructive but (poor mental health) has translated into something productive and, I think, good. Many assume musicians have very little to be worried and down about. As we can see from Conor Mason’s piece; there are downsides and perils being part of a band – the slumps and endless hours; the huge expectations and stress. I have found my mental health issues exacerbating for a number of different reasons.
My blog is becoming more popular and, with it, the requests filter in wildly. I rarely say ‘no’ to anyone so it means my days – away from the full-time job – are spent emailing interviews and writing. My weekends are consecrated to the pursuit of music-writing and there are few hours spent away from the laptop. I can detach and tear myself away but I feel guilty if I take moments off and it would cause me stress – I have not had a ‘day off’ in over a year. Many see my pieces come out and assume I am happily typing and everything is breezy. In actuality, if one positioned a camera in my room – no office or suite: a small-ish room in a normal house – they would find a man who suffers a lot of stress. Every Internet drop-out and website issue causes me near-heart-attack-levels of anxiety and stress. I can be incredibly cold and distant in these times. In fact, a lot of my writing life is spent isolated and jettisoning human contact. That is my decision but I feel, aside from family, there is nothing that offers fulfilment or any connection – writing is an outlet where I can be myself and express what is inside me. My social skills are not great and there is a sense of awkwardness and lacking coordination – in terms of conversation and relationships.
We rarely consider music professionals and what goes through their mind. Depression, anxiety and poor mental health are not reserved to certain professions and sectors! It is an indiscriminate beast that feasts on the noble and hopeless alike. Among my musician contacts; I have seen everything from bipolar affective disorder and B.P.D. (borderline personality disorder) cause irreparable damage and change. A lot of musicians get into the industry in order to normalise and stabilise their mental health issues – putting it into song and finding a like-minded community. This, to me, is a side of music that is overlooked: how much support and love there is online. Perhaps the average workplace is less aware and educated about the depths and true heartache of depression, let’s say. I am not suggesting everyone in the music industry suffers mental health problems but the statistics are more alarming than the national average. It is said one-in-four (or one-in-six, as other outlets claim) of us suffers mental health issues at some point in our lives: I find that statistic rather patronising and myopic. There are a LOT more people than that who would knock that statistic – the fact people do not disclose their illness means the figure is rather biased and misleading. Musicians do not have a propensity for depression and psychological disorders - but one can draw a link between creatives and emotional unrest.
I found myself the outsider at school and had to foster a reality outside the social cliques and bike-shed-dwelling cool. I feel like an outsider still but have managed to find a sense of tribe and family (outside my own). The fact it is online is both a blessing and curse. Being able to connect with so many people who understand my problems – and share my weaknesses – is rewarding, comforting and humbling. Strip away the words and what is left is emptiness. These people are not real – they exist, but not in my daily life – so any friendship is ersatz and/or tenuous. Many on there I have a fondness for and respect them greatly: once the laptop is off; the hollowness strikes hard. Maybe social media and dependence on the Internet have made it harder to tackle mental health issues and worsened our sense of loneliness and addictiveness. One of the other reasons my mental health issues have become more pronounced is associated health issues – painful legs and chest cramps among them. Some might say that is a precursor to heart problems but I identity (these symptoms) as physical manifestations of depression. I can empathise with the plight and complexities of mental health problems; the realities and sadness many of my peers feel. We often ignore musicians and their minds because we bond with the words and music – few consider the personality and skin behind the sounds.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Today should not be a one-off day where we feel obliged to shine a light on mental health struggles and people who undergo psychological illness. It is a way of opening up and taking stigma out of depression. Not only do people feel embarrassed or reluctant to open up to someone: many associate mental health problems with depression alone. Few realise the range of sub-categories, associated ailments and full psychological platter. I have mentioned borderline personality disorder but there is bulimia, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress – so many other problems one can face. Perhaps few feel confident talking about their mental illness through fear of recriminations and ignorance. I often hesitate because, often, there is a sense of cliché and lack of understanding – not from family but other people in society.
I do not reveal quite how bad things are but I recognise things need to change. Knowing I am not alone is a relief but it can make me feel even more alone. The more people diagnosed with mental health problems; the harder it is to treat and speak to all of ‘us’. Today is not for the few and the misaligned: it is for anyone and everyone who has any mental health problem. Rather than hide it away and feel embarrassed by any perceived sense of ‘weakness’ – this is a chance to talk to other suffers and get your story heard. So many musicians undergo all manner of mental health problems and it can be hard talking about it. There is so much pressure on their shoulders and their daily existence is so busy and stressed – maybe that is making things worse?! I do worry we are putting too much pressure on musicians and that, in turn, is causing many to suffer needlessly. Lots of love to anyone and everyone who has to feel the daily sting of mental health’s cruel whip – massive respect for sharing your experiences and being brave. Not only does it help others come forward and feel less alone about their problems. Importantly; the more we talk about mental health issues, the quicker we can reduce…
THE number of people who have to suffer silently.