As well as filling this magazine with our thoughts and opinions of mental health in music, we thought we could also talk about mental health and music in our own lives. Every issue we will both write more personal pieces where we talk about ourselves and our experiences. This is my first installment and I hope you enjoy!
I’ve always had some sort of relationship with music. I’ve been learning musical instruments from the age of five and have been a keen listener ever since, more recently I’ve dabbled my hand at some music journalism. For all the involvement though it’s not always been a smooth ride. I have and still do battle with depression; and music seems to be both the cause and the treatment.
Growing up I loved being able to play music. I always loved playing in ensembles, sharing that buzz of a great performance with a set of close friends is a high to which nothing compares, and I have been lucky through the years to be involved in some amazing bands with some truly wonderful and talented people. The problem however is that not all of being a musician is playing to a packed crowd on a Saturday night with your mates. With higher studies in music came long and lonely hours trapped in practice rooms, playing music that fit the criteria for an exam or assessment, but that in reality, I had no passion for. What ultimately arrived though was pressure. Pressure to do well, pressure to improve, pressure to be the best. Now obviously this comes from my own already existing anxieties and it’s hardly fair to blame music entirely for the immense demands I’d put on myself to be at the top of my game, but it added fuel to the fire. Throughout school I was heavily involved in music, I enjoyed being in all the bands and choirs I could be and it made me feel good about myself knowing I was a big part of the music scene. I also played in a band and sang in a choir outside of school, I joined as a shy teenager and left as a young man who thrived on the opportunity to stand front and centre stage, dancing and playing to my heart’s desire. At this point in my life I couldn’t have been happier with my relationship with music, she’d introduced me to people I’d never have met and presented me with some amazing opportunities. So, where did it all turn sour?
Uni, is the short answer. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at university, but my relationship with music took a hit. The pressure I placed on myself to do well really took a hold of me. I spent hours in practice rooms playing music I began to despise, punishing myself with sheer frustration when I struggled to play technical parts or was having an off day. I made plenty of great friends in the department but I began to distance myself from them, through no fault of their own.
I saw that many of them were better than me and felt deeply anxious at the prospect that I was not anywhere near the top at my Uni, let alone on a wider scale of the competitive music industry. Whilst many people may use this as motivation to improve I already had extremely low self confidence and this took me down a different path. Friends would show me clips of talented musicians and instead of being inspired as I once would have I’d just start to have negative thoughts, “If they’re that good what chance do I have? I’ll never be on that level”. What should have been pushing me on to work hard became further fuel to the raging fire within which my confidence burned to a crisp. The more I distanced myself from people the worse it got, and the worse it got the less I would leave my flat; I entered a spiral. I began to get anxious about the future, having little plan after Uni and accepting I didn’t have the necessary ability to make it as a musician as I thought maybe I could have once. I saw no future where I was a success and punished myself for it every day.
Despite going to Uni as predominantly a performer, by the time I reached my final semester I actually dropped my performance module altogether, opting instead for another essay laden musicology subject. Having spent a long two and a half years falling out of love with playing I actually welcomed a double in the amount of written work for the semester in exchange for a bit of freedom. When I started that final semester I had thought that the pressure would be off, instead of practicing every day as I had done previously I would go three or four times a week and that with the shackles taken off I could buy more interesting music, mess about with fun pieces and actually enjoy what I was playing and fall back in love with music. But even this was too much to ask. So heavy was the burden of constant rehearsal based frustration that I actually barely played at all, and I have found this has continued since Uni. I have joined some ensembles since returning home but find myself falling more and more out of love with playing, shunning my instruments in my free time and only making use of them when a group rehearsal comes calling.
However, when one door (partially) closes another opens. Despite my struggles at Uni I still look back at it as a very positive time for me and not one I would change. I learnt a great many things about myself and about music, but I also learned of my love for writing. A journalism based module in my second year saw me writing an album review. I decided on Logic’s Everybody, bought the album and listened on repeat, dissecting every song. I had never really listened to music in this way before and it opened my eyes to what you miss when you don’t pay close attention.
When it came to writing I struggled to keep within the word count, I had so much to say, so many thoughts and feelings about the album that I was desperate to put down on paper. After turning my work in I was genuinely excited about what I had produced, and how good it felt. From then on instead of shutting myself in a practise room I began writing articles. Small ideas would present themselves to me, some would work and others would not, but I enjoyed the process either way. There was something so thrilling to me about presenting my very own thoughts in written word, and even more exciting when I had one of my articles published in the Uni paper just before I left. I’m also enjoying the lack of pressure; I may not be the best writer around but I can honestly say I don’t care. Of course I’d be thrilled if people enjoy what I write but it is so uplifting to genuinely be able to say that I do it for myself and the joy it brings me regardless of anyone else. Whilst I hope still to one day fall back in love with playing, and I’m sure I will, it is a relief to know that despite our differences music hasn’t ended our relationship, but simply presents herself to me in a different format; the blank page.