Music, Depression and Meltdowns
Part 1 (Just some easy to read bullet points)
If music is your life then your mental health will always be apart your music life too.
Your health can influence your music and music will most definitely affect your health.
You can talk to Breathing Space and Samaritans about your music problems. They won’t sound silly. The people there can help and have helped me before.
Whether you’re bedroom musician, a studio musician,, a weekend gig act, a full time gig act, session band act etc... I know you are as committed and as professional as you can be if you’re reading this.
I’ve been late to rehearsals or missed them entirely because of poor mental health. It has caused me to leave bands before. Caused me to miss out starting them too.
I know of calm mature musicians who’ve wrecked houses, smashed gear, made fools of themselves on stage in their lowest moments.
This darkness can affect musicians where they are happiest, for me on stage. It can happen anywhere. Anytime.
Sometimes I can’t even look at my guitar in my house. Can’t even touch it.
Paranoia and fears of turning up to a gig, session or rehearsal are often bad signs.
Feeling that self doubt when setting up your equipment can often be hard to overcome.
Sometimes the severe anger with yourself when you struggle to learn songs no matter how experienced you are is completely overwhelming.
Just being all out self destructive sometimes. Not caring about what damage you do to yourself whether physical or psychological is terrifying and dangerous
This is a long article I’ve put some bullet points above because if you’re feeling down with low hope your not going to want to read a long article. These bullet points and the article describe what I’ve dealt with in my music whilst having autism and troubles with depression.
This long article is about just one fight I’ve had with my mental health in regards to depression, anxiety, and music. This fight is generally a hindrance on my ability to practice regularly and put on a good show. It details some of the recognisable worst areas of this nightmare and what coping strategies there are to use if any.
The Long Article
"Write your problems down" can seem a rather redundant saying. It's not regularly said enough by people with your interests at heart who won't condescend you. It seems misleading. It can make you wonder why a counsellor would say it sometimes, are they bored of your voice?
Here I'll say it is a coping strategy I've used on my own terms in my silent war against depression. Here is a tale of a personal battle against a daemon that I won on one specific day and hopefully it can explain how writing something down became a shield and then a powerful sword.
As a musician I’ve talked to breathing space and samaritans. I’ve mentioned music trouble to them before but today I didn’t speak to them. Today is rough. Despite frequently taking my medication for the past 3 months today like any day can be today is extremely rough. At least I know I am rough. What is written below is the coping mechanism for that day.
Just frantically writing every thought in my head on my phone….
Just chilling in the rehearsal room waiting for some food. Carlton is lovely for food, the equipment is good but sometimes the amps seem quite old though I'm definitely not complaining because of the cheap rates. It's the 7th of November and I've got the room booked for 6 hours, 12pm - 6pm. £12 for 6 hours (solo musician rate). Arrived here at half twelve exhausted so I've straight away ordered a munch. I booked the studio on Monday but even being two days ago it seems like an eternity. Can never be sure how you're going to wake up. There's always a bad day in a good week. I had a meltdown last night. I'd had a nap before bed (I'm not sure if being upset caused the nap or if I was just tired) however I was very upset about this. I knew now I wouldn't sleep at all that night. I don't like naps in the first place. I could say I'm slightly scared of sleep. One's mental health could always be very different after sleeping. Dreams and sometimes night terrors have a big impact my waking self. This morning I see my bedroom door opening and I'm terrified even though it's just my mum. I feel under threat like those shadow figures are back again but it's definitely her I realise.
Less than four hours sleep. Very tired I know but the main thing is I'm very low on energy too.
Look over to my rechargeable power supplies for the guitar effect pedals I'll be using today. Black one is charged. Pink one is 3 blue dots out of four. Well I've done something right. The important bit. Can't play today without my effects. 13:13 (thinking to myself in the studio) ‘good on you Stefan. That might be the only thing to go right today. Fuck it. Just relax.’
Knew this morning would be slow. My mum says the shower is free. I reluctantly go for one. Too confused to do much else. Think to myself I'll skip shaving today, not enough spoons. (Spoons being my measurement of mental health levels and how capable I am to do tasks that day). I get in the shower, its warm. After a few moments warming up I decide to shave anyway. I do a not so good job. Just enough not to be noticeable on the camera today I think. I regret shaving in the first place. I tired though. I get out the shower and my hair is heavy and I'm all wet and not drying fast enough for my liking. My hair is long again as it should be though this is a bit problematic on the bad days as it takes more energy to dry. Dried off just enough I decide to just put my bed clothes back on and go to bed though staying awake whilst checking my phone while it's charging. 85%. When it gets too 100% I'll maybe be up to 30%.
Resting I relax some more knowing I'll probably be late to Carlton today. Not to worry I think. 6 hours so plenty of time to catch up. No one expecting me to be there. No repercussions for being late. No need to explain myself to anyone. For once an upside to performing in my band alone.
Relax some more. I'm certain I've got an emergency alarm set and my mum is off work today so if the alarm doesn't go off I'm safe from a disaster. Drifting off I let myself charge. The alarm on the phone goes off though rather more pleasantly than expected. Still very tired though.
This time I get up on my own accord and go get breakfast. Special K with lots of milk. Finish up and put the bowl in the kitchen sink. It's about 11 o’clock. Going to take ten minutes to plan out all the things I need to pack (guitars, cables, pics, video camera and lots more). I charge up again with the phone. Don't drift off this time. Half 11. Right time to do this. Look over at the pedal power supplies, both charged. Excellent.
I go into my music room and pack everything very slowly knowing I'll be bound to miss a few things in my state.
Pedalboard in the rucksack. Cables and other stuff on top of that. Guitar in the case. Power supplies in the pockets. This is all done unbearably slow. My head is pointed down as I walk around. Lucky me, whilst walking around I find my bus pass on the tv table and not inside my wallet. Good. I also remember at that point I need to put guitar plectrums in my pocket. Two headaches avoided.
My mum has some tea served for me. Yep, I'm definitely having some of that. It's 11:45. Get a taxi in? Damn I'm too skint and my credit card balance is high. Bus it is. Going to be later than late.
Put my day time clothes on and my fleece and jacket on. Try putting the rucksack on. Wow this is heavy. I put it back down. Taxi? No I'm skint remember. Damn. Put it back on again. I'm feeling very restrained and tangled. I try shuffling about. It helps a little. Grab the guitar case. Time to walk to the bus stop. I take a Sertraline tablet just as I walk out the door and hope it helps. I've been on them since August. One a day, 50mg. Is it working? I doubt it. Though I know I'm not taking them as a solution to my condition. I'm taking them as a routine. I decided in August if I tried and kept the routine then it counts for something. I can be in charge of this depression.
Walking along the street I can feel the weight of all my gear on me. This is horrendous but I don’t stop. I miss my Hofner Shorty guitar that I'd left on a bus a few months ago. I never got it back unfortunately. The guitar I'm carrying is an Epiphone Sheraton II. It's a lovely guitar. Full of a variety of good tones but it is heavy. Very heavy compared to the tiny Shorty. Persevering as I walk I go over my usual anxieties when using the buses.
Can I get a seat? Yes it's 12pm on a Wednesday. It's quiet and definitely not rush hour.
Do I have my concession card? Yes.
Are the buses on? Yes.
Am I a faker and don't need my concession card? (That one is always on my mind). Autism and other mental health conditions are disabilities too I remind myself). I’m barely out the house and panic a lot.
Will it look odd that someone with a concession card is boarding with a guitar and rucksack? Eh yes, definitely.
Will I be questioned about this by the driver and have my card confiscated? Not today and it's never happened before. I heard of one horror story of this happening to someone but no it hasn't happened to me and don’t think it’ll happen at all,
I get to the bus stop and wait for the bus. Relieved to put my gear down. Get my card ready. Bus comes quite quickly. Number 75. There's empty seats and as usual no questions asked about me, my music gear and concession card that I usually worry about in my head. Take my seat and put the ipod on. Headphones on. Block out the world for a bit. A necessity on any glasgow bus.
4000 songs though I need to add more. Feel like I’ve listened to them all even though I haven't listened to them all. I'm really into Elliott Smith at the moment so listen to some songs from Either/Or. Wish I had made time to put more of his songs on to my ipod. Listened to his Either/Or album many times. I have another of his in the house but still to add it in.
I then put some Ministry on next. Listen to their second album Twitch. Very industrial and chilled out too. I listen to tracks The Angel and Over The Shoulder. Wow these are two bang up tunes. Wish they played songs like these in pubs.
The bus ride goes quicker than expected. Get off at my stop rather uncoordinated after slightly disturbing the fellow passengers with my music gear. Did say excuse me and waited for then to shunt out the way and I thanked them plus the driver as I got off. Rucksack back on and guitar in hand. Walk to Carlton. The music now finished was nice. Ipod back in my pocket. Still feel the cloud on my head but I ignore it and just walk. Get to Carlton and go down the stairs. Go through the cafe and see Barney at the office bit. Arrive safe. He says I'm in room 4. I head straight through. In the room it's all set up. Mics ready. I put my gear down and consider setting up. Forget it. I go and order some food. Cheese and ham toastie and a bottle of Lucozade. ‘Oh please’ I hoped. Let this give me energy.
I go back to room 4 and just sit down and wait for the food. I get my phone and realise I've little signal in the room. I go over my messages anyway. Just the usual silliness from the family Whatsapp group. There was a message from my friend Lee on messenger that made me smile a little. After checking the messages I try social media but have no luck. Not enough signal. My head is still sore and cloudy. Whilst waiting for my food I decide to start writing for a bit. It's the only outlet I could do at that moment.
Definitely not enough spoons now for setting my gear up and singing a song so writing on the phone is the only option. I could go outside and phone Breathing Space or Samaritans (yes I'm feeling that bad). I've phoned Breathing Space before about musical woes such as when I've been panicking about making it to a band rehearsal with other people. Panicking about songs I’d thought I couldn’t play in my head even though I was good at them. Breathing Space were a big help that day. They calmed me down and told me I was good enough to play in the band and I managed to get myself to that rehearsal and ended up enjoying myself.
Today though, it was cold outside and that’s where I needed to go if I wanted to call them. The rehearsal room was warm. I decided it'd be best to continue writing. My toastie arrives and it's brilliant. Good old Carlton food.
Munch on the food and then just write what's in my head in attempt to let it all out. There's no one here but me. No one depending on me and I can recover on my own time. I write and start to enjoy it. Always looking for something more to add to my memos and blogs. I think about that Frank Zappa book I read whilst typing away. He could spend 20 hours in one day in the studio alone. Today I'm going to be lucky if I get a three hour rehearsal out of my allocated six hours. I just can’t be as productive as I want to be. I can only do well with the good days and creative short bursts of at most four hours. Still it's enough for me to learn and write songs. Enough to master my craft and give the great performances on stage that I’ve done in the past.
It's half past two now. Two and a half hours of my allocated time spent not touching my instrument. My head slowly becoming less cloudy. I've one task today and that's perform a setlist in front of my mum who's recording me on my camera. She's arriving at four I expect. Enough time for me to set up. If I'm not ready by then her motherly motivation will be a good motivator though I'm certain now I should be set up before then. I'm considering getting another toastie and Lucozade. Perhaps I will though I will have less money for the open mic I was planning to go to tonight.
Well if I'm recording myself playing my setlist today. I can send that setlist to gig venues to try get my solo act some gigs. If the recording goes well I can be content at that. I'll just have to see how I feel come 6 o’clock regarding the open mic.
I prefer planned gigs anyway. More time for performance and more time to have fun with people who are there for the music. I'm definitely not a social person but I do still try open mics and I’ve been playing acoustic recently.
Still want to go to the open mic. I just want to start again and surpass where I've been before. Even in the worst of my bad days I still want to go on.
2.47pm. 3 hours 13 minutes to go. Time to get set up. Set up first and then consider another toastie.
I start to wake up and my clouds disappear by half three after setting up and managing to play through a song. My mum arrives at half four just as I’m eventually feeling ready to actually perform. The recording goes well. I feel a buzz by 6 o’clock by the end of the rehearsal that I’ve previously had when in bands with other members. The buzz is still good even with it just being me. Grateful I took the time to let myself recover by just writing things down.
This was just one day…
Below are some articles I’ve looked at before about the bad sides of music and mental health. If this article wasn’t helpful or insightful to you then I recommend you have a look at these too as they very insightful.