Mental Illness as a Musician, Part 3

Many musicians live in a world that does not value what they do day in and day out.  I think this rings true for most non-musicians.  What happens when we cross the daily slug with mental illness?  What happens when every effort is monumental, and insignificant?

The result of mixing depression with the grind of daily life is crying at the job, anxiety attacks, one’s throat closing up, shaking, not feeling good enough even on the best of days, fearing the good news as well as the bad, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

As I have said before, this is not a pity party.  Most people do not want these symptoms, no one deserves them, and most people do not want people to feel sorry for them either.

But, these are common experiences for musicians, and others who have to survive at best, and struggle as normal.

When opening up one’s email inbox scares oneself, when one procrastinates to avoid pain, but instead worries about the pain while procrastinating, one knows how those with depression and anxiety feel.  When it seems that there is no way to make a living off of one’s passion without being incessantly “on the job”, no time to rest, 7 days day-in-and-day-out, you know my and other musicians’ struggle for years.

I broke that.  I have a good job now, but the anxiety and depression remain.  Am I good enough?  Will my panic attacks (I call them “shame attacks” because they paralyze me with thoughts of shame) ever end?  What can I do to make my life better, free from these pitfalls?

The nervous system is truly a “nervous system.”  What I mean by this is that we are hardwired as humans to be nervous, and so while you may or may not be a musician, you have this within you at some level.  For some of us, it is brought to the surface more easily.  But all of us can be triggered to have this arise, regardless of our innate chemistry.

Why do I post this?  Does this even solely apply to musicians?

I post this because this has been shaped by my career as a musician, and it has shaped my musical career just as much.  It is all that I know, and since I see this through the lens of a musician, I approach this from that–from my–perspective.  We all struggle.  The idea of a starving, tortured artist battling demons can be real, but in truth we all face this uphill battle.  To flip that metaphor, life is not just rolling a stone up a hill: it is falling through the air, constantly, with no start and no end, no ground below us, but no control over our fall, and nothing to grasp onto.  (These metaphors are not my own, and are instead ones I have read of.)  The truth is, musicians deal with this, and we all do.

I am lucky that I am on good meds, see a good therapist, and have a good job.  How lucky and privileged I am!  I have been given the chance to fight this, which is a lot more than many of us humans (not just musicians) have.  I am in a really good place.  But the right trigger could prove a (temporary) setback.

In all, I fight, and should you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression, fight like hell.  Becoming the best you can be, is an action that is never complete.  It is a verb that will always have an “ing” at the end.  You will never become.  You will always be becoming.

And yet, you are you.  You are enough.  Your work matters, no matter if the rest of the world recognizes or values it.

Fight.  Don’t overcome; you can’t.  Just keep fighting, becoming, and sharing your story.  That’s all that matters.


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