Creative people are often big-thinkers; like power from a source, this can be used to light a room but it can also burn! The reason any of us might be in a bad place mentally can vary as much as opinions on the topic of mental health.
For some a chemical imbalance might be a suggested reason for slipping, whilst others might point towards painful events or major shifts in ones life for feeling like the point has gone. Challenges in the music industry can be difficult to deal with, and many struggling musicians from beginners to professionals have periods of time where a mix of these things propel anything from a loss of hope, to numbness and/or clinical mental illness.
The following article could be at risk of seeming to trivialise or oversimplify the topic of depression, though it is written from personal experience from what has worked for the author. It is not intended to be a definitive magic pill for the reader, but working through these steps will, for some, hopefully highlight some important things to try for musicians who feel like options are escaping them.
The ‘O’ next to each heading is for you to tick when you have successfully done that step. It’s just an option for those that want it.
1. Realise that you are depressed O
When one is sad for a little while, it is fairly easy to be aware of the fact. When that person has a prolonged depression, that awareness can be lost. Sometimes this is due to adapting to becoming accustomed to the sadness, and sometimes this is when the person has gone through enough to become numb. This can be a very dangerous place when mixed in with other mental illness and instability in living conditions.
The first thing for you to do if you feel deep down that you might be going through a depression, or similar, is to acknowledge that awareness in your own mind. Decide to do something about it today. That goes for the musician that has had problems with depression in the past as much as it does those of you who might be feeling these things (or not feeling anything) for the first time.
2. Tell Someone O
One of the most important things – especially in cultures where sharing feelings of fear or vulnerability is a sign of weakness – is to tell someone. If you can’t tell someone verbally, write them a letter and give it to them to read. This might feel risky to you. It might feel like you are exposing your deepest vulnerability to a system. Just step outside that barrier and do what you need to do to let someone know what is going on in your mind.
I want to refrain from putting to much of my own story in this article, as it is on the LinkedIn platform, but just for this I will say that I wrote a letter to no-one first – I just wrote my story out in writing. Then when I finally had the courage I showed a friend. After they read it, rather than disregarding it, or saying “man up”, they actually got goosebumps and said that they could relate. That stepping outside of my comfort zone to share a very personal writing with a friend, broke down the barrier a little. Unfortunately after falling deeper into a depression I felt it was my time to leave this world. I didn’t feel sad. I told my Mother on the phone and she said that I needed help, and arranged a meeting with the doctor. I am telling you this because it won’t always be you that tells a health professional, but open up to someone, and if the chance is presented to you to get help – be honest and talk.
3. Seeking Help O
Ultimately we need to help ourselves but we can’t do everything on our own. From simple things like getting your guitar strings into shops, to sharing more advanced techniques online – being a musician takes other people. The same can be said for getting support when you are in that dark place.
This thing of seeking professional help can have it’s own roadblocks, and there can be prejudice towards working with a professional. The best sports teams have coaches for a reason, and even if you have had negative experiences with health care professionals in the past – there are thousands that do a brilliant job and have their heart in the right place. Here are a few organisations that provide guidance and support:
Music Minds Matter (U.K) https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/
Pieta House (Ireland) https://www.pieta.ie/?/help-someone-whos-suicidal/useful-links/
MusicHelps (N.Z) https://musichelps.org.nz/about-us/
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (U.S) : https://adaa.org/finding-help
IMAlive (online help) https://www.imalive.org/who-we-are/about-imalive/
4. Take Responsibility O
Whether it is in overcoming challenges in the music industry, starting to write a book, quitting alcohol or moving to the other side of the world – we need to make the hard decisions and act on them ourselves. It is up to us to overcome the mental blocks we have and turn the finger that we are pointing to the world, back towards ourselves but in a compassionate way.
You might have had terrible things happen to you and feel that is the reason for a lack of progress with your music. Regardless of what happened, it is up to you to take responsibility for what you say and do now. In the music industry its not a matter of ‘if’ you get ripped off or ‘if’ someone shows prejudice towards you, it’s a matter of ‘when’ – so be aware that it is in the response to these situations that you need to show that you can take responsibility; use it to turn you in a positive direction rather than using it as a prop for the pile of reasons why you aren’t doing anything.
Listen to this episode of Musicians Values in which I talk about ‘responsibility’ – Musicians Value #2
“It is up to us turn the finger back towards ourselves but in a compassionate way.”
5. Exercise (mind and body) O
As living organisms we like to grow. If a plant doesn’t get the nutrients it needs it starts to wilt and wither and the same goes for ourselves. Exercising physically gets us moving and makes us feel better. The trick is to find something that you like doing. If you like boxing but try and go to the gym, it probably won’t work unless you find that you like lifting weights or doing gym-based workouts. If however you like boxing and join a boxing club – there is a higher chance that you will stick with it. Find what physical exercise you like or at least what you have more interest in, and use that as your exercise first. Often when we are choosing to invest in our physical wellness, we are also more inclined to eat better and develop healthier habits.
As well as exercising the body one can benefit immensely from exercising the mind. Start with easing back on the prejudice towards people who speak or write in different ways to you. When I was first making the attempt to lift myself from depression, I was doing what I call ‘brainwashing myself with good information’. Rather than taking in all the sadness and bickering from around me, I would listen to audiobooks of authors and speakers who had found success and whose works talked about methods for feeling good and being productive. I still had a beaten up old van, but I would drive around the nice countryside areas just thinking about the change I needed to make, and letting myself soak up all of that good info.
As with exercise, with speakers you can find what works for you. Some might sound too “commercial” or just like they are trying to draw you in to a sales funnel, but there is so much brilliant recorded material out there too. I will list a few recordings I provide for free online below, that can help you if you listen over and over to aid you in making positive changes:
6. Goals And Plans (relaxing might be a goal) O
Look at the career of any musician you regularly listen to you will see that there were goals and plans involved. A destination gives the ship it’s course so that it isn’t just drifting all over the place, and in a similar way a goal can help you with your project. When albums are made there are plans and when tours are put together there are goals. If you are depressed your goals might have gone out the window but start with one or two goals that will help you. They might seem small, like cleaning your room or phoning a person in the music industry, but for some people those are almost overwhelming – so you will know what needs to be done. You might also talk to a professional to work together on coming up with some simple goals that can get you moving in a positive direction again.
On the other end of the spectrum, professionals can suffer from burn-out when they have been all about productivity but have had no rest. Relaxing or resting might be a goal in itself if you have been working yourself too hard every day without rest. Whether it is starting exercise, quitting some bad lifestyle choices, setting goals to achieve in your music career, or planning a new project – having some direction towards the positive is good. After all, in a years time you will end up somewhere. Where will be you be in a year? Generally we go in the direction that we face.
“In the music industry its not a matter of ‘if’ you get ripped off or ‘if’ someone shows prejudice towards you, it’s a matter of ‘when’ – so use it to turn you in a positive direction rather than using it as a prop for the pile of reasons why you aren’t doing anything.
7. Conditioning O
Two main areas of any project are creation and maintenance. It is fine to make a website for example, but without maintenance that site can quickly become riddled with irrelevant dates and broken links. The same can be said for setting up a music tuition space: without maintenance leads start to break and strings get old and the whole thing loses professionalism. When you are sorting yourself out, developing new habits is important but repeating those good habits is even more so.
Conditioning your mind with good information is a good start; Step 5 is beneficial but the incorporation of repetition into that step is where you see permanent change as opposed to a temporary band-aid put over the problem.
Start with your senses: what can you add to your environment that smells nice? What about hearing – what information is going into your brain? Visually can you improve your environment or read books to help you? Are you eating good food? Condition yourself to head in a positive direction, and you will also learn new skills for when the low points come again; because life is never problem-free but by having a sense of positive growth and developing skills for good living, you can turn those experiences into strength and get back into your music.
Author Bio: Ryan Kershaw is a professional recording artist, author and music educator. His 2014 interview on the Nutters Club opened up conversation on mental health and music in various music organisations across the world. He is the author of Use Your Buzz to Play The Guitar: The Worlds First Book To Combine Personal Growth With Guitar Creativity, ‘Make Money Teaching Guitar’ – a complete guide to having your own successful music tuition business, and Musicians Values; and is the co-founder of Goldirocks in Ireland.
Music Managers Forum award winner and contributor to Muzic.net.nz, Tune Me In magazine, Audioculture, and the Guitar Association of New Zealand; Ryan’s students have gone on to record, tour and become guitar teachers themselves. His latest single ‘Make It Go Away’ , and guitar instrumental ‘Inspiration’ are out now!
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