Kaity Davie: AKT

I can remember the moment incredibly clearly—I was sitting in the dark, curled up on the floor of the conference room where we had our weekly meetings, and I couldn’t move. My muscles were locked in place, I was having trouble breathing, my heart was racing, and I had been crying non-stop for about 20 minutes without making a noise. One of my bosses, someone I immensely respected, knocked gently on the door, walked in, and sat down on a chair. He sat quietly until he saw me begin to loosen up, and when he noticed I was taking deeper breaths he started to talk to me about inconsequential things just to get me back on track. 

At 28, looking back, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what caused that moment. Honestly, I don’t think I could have told you at 23 either, even right there as it was happening. But there I was, in my first real job in the music industry, having a major anxiety attack on the floor in the dark. 

Growing up in my house, we didn’t really talk about mental illness. Not until one of my parents was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and was placed on permanent medical leave from their job were those words even said with any sense of seriousness out loud. I was an active kid with a big mind: placed into honors classes, training in competitive sports and dance, learning multiple instruments, reading every book I could get my hands on. I didn’t know how to sit still (I still don’t), and it was exhausting, but I kept going. I was embarrassed by not being perfect and terrified at the thought of disappointment, scared of not being able to do everything at a level of flawlessness and excellence that no one but me expected. It felt like a weight on my entire body, and I didn’t know how to describe it or fix it besides just pushing through it. That’s the first time I remember music being a true beacon for me, and I dove into whatever records I could find that helped me make sense of my mind. 

In college, I stopped sleeping and kept myself busy on a near constant basis, because I knew if I slowed down for even a second, everything would hit me like a brick wall. And I wasn’t wrong – a few months into my senior year, at 1 a.m. in the back of the library, I put my pen down in frustration and used both hands to dig my nails into my skin until I bled. I sat there in silence; that hadn’t been the first time. I saw a therapist for the remainder of that year, and it was the best decision I could have ever made. There’s a laundry list of music that soundtracked that time frame as well, from that moment in the library to high-energy and big-hearted road trips catching shows around the country. 

Between my time in radio, my internships, and my career, I’ve been working in music since I was 16. The music world has run with me through both my worst and at my absolute peaks. It’s the world’s greatest gift, because music is hands down the best thing in my life, but it’s also been the cause of some serious issues I’ve dealt with. I’ve seen some amazing successes, worked with stellar artists, and have been able to be a part of some huge moments in this world, but there’s a good handful of those that feel almost darkly tinted because of how I was feeling internally at the time. 

A year or so ago, I realized that my mental health was starting to deteriorate again. In part, it was because I had just felt stagnant in New York, as if I had been standing completely still while my brain spun itself out. My self esteem, personally and professionally, was shot. I was spending my days feeling like I was kicking ass and serving the musicians I was working with everything I had…and then I’d go home at night after a dinner or a show and would end up with a non-stop brain I couldn’t turn off. So when the opportunity to move came up, I took it—I went 3,000 miles across the country, and the new adventure I took on was anything but stagnant. I scraped and celebrated and struggled and felt victory and sadness simultaneously. It brought up every bad feeling I had about myself, pushed me through some seriously dark moments, and challenged me at every turn. But eventually, I felt myself start to level out. I’m able to celebrate my successes again, even within periodic moments of rising anxiety. 

Coming to terms with my anxiety and my impulses has been easier in recent years because of music – both the actual product of music, and the people I’ve encountered in the industry and in my overarching community. As a fan, I’ve found what feels like a mirror in so many artists within our “scene” and beyond. The feeling of that thread of connection to other humans who feel similarly to you has been so powerful and a true source of relief for me, especially when those moments of doubt or internal struggle peek through. I think one of the greatest things about loving music and the songwriters that bring me solace and motivation is that they’re the same kind of person I am—they’re HUMAN. How great is it to remember that? We’re all just humans. Sometimes we go through things from a different angle than our friends do, or we need help from medication or have a coping mechanism that’s different than others we know, but we’re all the same muscle and sinew and bone at the core. Just because we can’t always handle or process everything as severely as it comes at us does not discount that about who we are. 

There have been a number of moments over the last few years where I’ve realized I should probably see a therapist regularly, not just in moments of emergency or panic. I feel more in control of my emotions and how I handle them than I ever have (apps like Headspace and friends who understand where you’re at are helpful, and I continue to rely on music for every feeling that passes through me) but it’s still hard to come to terms with. Therapy is expensive, it’s time consuming, and it continues to chip at that image of “perfection” that teen me put in place. (That’s a whole other mountain I still have to climb.) But as with anything, I know it’s all a work in progress—that I’m a work in progress. I’m aiming to get to a point where I feel comfortable accepting that I don’t have to do things alone, and that my support system can include a professional without feeling like I’ve done something “wrong” to get there. 

In the meantime, I’ve got a pair of headphones, access to amazing songwriters, a solid group of friends and peers that understand where my head’s at, and access to mental health care professionals whenever I find I am ready for it… and that’s what will keep helping me find the strength I know I have within myself to do whatever it is that’s best for me.

Alexis Howick: Synergy Artist MGMT

My name is Alexis Howick, and here’s a little piece of my story. I went through most of my life without ever really experiencing the effects of depression or anxiety, but by age 20 they had completely consumed every aspect of my being. 

Rewind to 17-year-old Alexis: I was mostly happy and healthy, I had a strong family life, I was involved in dance at my school, and life was good until I entered into my first serious relationship. At the time I had no idea that my relationship would turn out to be the most unhealthy and emotionally traumatic experience of my life. I weighed 130 pounds at the beginning, and by the time it was finally over and done with about 3 years later, I had dropped all the way down to 99 pounds. My college grades had plummeted, I failed my first class, my relationships with my family members were strained, and my life ended up revolving around my newly prescribed anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicines. 

During those years I started distancing myself from my family without even realizing it. I kept things bottled up and chose to keep secrets instead of talking about my problems. I developed a heavy disdain for the world and lost almost all emotional control. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my sister-in-law about my mental and emotional state that I realized my pain and suffering was also hurting the people around me. From that point onward I decided to take matters into my own hands, focus on my mental health, and start taking steps toward getting better. It was then that I finally reached out for help. 

I was the first person in my family to ever take medication for anxiety and depression, which was really scary at first. I started seeing a therapist named Kelly, who was the most incredible woman I’ve *ever* met, and together we started working on rebuilding the broken foundation I had based my life upon for years. I had bad days, ok days, really high highs and really low lows, plenty of emotional weeks and setbacks, but in the midst of the process I’d occasionally experience a rare, really great moment or day. I clung onto those times for dear life and took them as signs that things could actually turn around. They gave me hope that this process could actually work for me. Kelly deemed them my “pink cloud days.” Somehow, even though the process made me so uncomfortably vulnerable, I put my trust and effort into it not knowing where it would lead me, and eventually the struggle paid off. 

Seeing Kelly three times a week eventually turned into twice a week, and then twice a week, once a week, every other week, once a month, and finally to whenever I felt like I needed it. After 2 years, I felt confident enough to step away and start my new chapter. My new found confidence led to me applying to my dream internship at the time with Alternative Press magazine, which led to a full time position, and eventually I merged into artist management in Los Angeles where I currently reside. 

The hard times in my life were long and difficult, but in the end they were worth this wild journey. Through all of my little life successes, getting through a time I didn’t think I could survive has been my biggest victory. I found ways to cope. I started eating healthy. I started to organize EVERYTHING. I got into spiritualism. I started traveling by myself. I went to shows by myself. I’d go shopping completely alone (17 year old Alexis would have died doing anything alone). And I started really investing my time into my design work, clothing, and photography. I gained a new sense of independence and the “pink cloud days” naturally became more frequent. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned through all of this is that anxiety and depression can’t ever fully be cured. Instead, you learn to cope with them. You learn how to adjust and you learn how to manage the things in your life in a new way. You surround yourself with the right people, and the people that are meant to be in your life show up when you least expect them to (s/o to Patrick). You are fully capable of restarting your life, re-learning yourself, and letting light back in. It’s hard at first but I promise it’s worth the time and effort. Something that Kelly said that has stuck with me to this day is to not fight through the feelings. Feel them. Acknowledge them. Let them pass. In time, the feelings DO pass. They always pass.

Hannah Hines: Idobi Radio, The Alternative, The Punk Pit Stop

I didn’t know what I was fighting at 16, I just knew my weapons of choice—young adult novels and poetry, alternative/punk/emo music, a One Direction fanbase Facebook group of friends I had never met, lacrosse, and writing lyrics or quotes on everything I owned. My school notebook had the Saosin lyric “You’re not alone / There is more to this, I know / You can make it out / You will live to tell” smudged on the back in sharpie. My locker had a picture of Ernest Hemingway’s quote “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places” taped on the inside. I think I reblogged My Chemical Romance’s music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” (the Dialogue/MTV Version) every day on Tumblr. I was a walking homemade self-help book taking pieces of whatever I found hopeful and making it my own. 

I’m 22 now. I am still fighting, but I know what I’m up against and I know why I fight. 

My mental health destroyed any consistent friendships I had in high school because I was just “too serious” and couldn’t “just relax.” In retrospect I don’t blame the people I lost because I couldn’t even handle or understand myself; we were taught all about algebra we wouldn’t even use and nothing about this universal issue of mental illness. For years I was just coping, just waiting for this “phase” to pass because I blamed it all on the high school environment. Even if it was just situational, I should have asked for help. I’ll revisit this but know: if you want help, you deserve help and should ask for it. 

The thing with a mental illness is your reality does not necessarily reflect reality. This is hard to overcome when you’re convinced everyone hates you, when you are sure you’re in danger, when you’re sure there is no way it gets better. I couldn’t understand that, so I escaped it. 

Music became another realm for me to go to, a safe place where I got to be alone without actually feeling alone. I downloaded a few albums on my Nook which would end up being my portal to that place: Mayday Parade’s S/T, Brand New’s The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, Paramore’s All We Know Is Falling, Relient K’s Mmhmm, All Time Low’s Put Up Or Shut Up, Secondhand Serenade’s Awake, and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. I had no idea the emotions I was dealing with back then. I could have never written about them myself, but somehow I was able to identify with the pain a lot of these artists were singing about. It was the cathartic release I needed. I don’t want to say that music saved my life but I also don’t want to imagine where else I would have turned to deal with life if I had not had music that was both empathetic and hopeful. 

When I made it to college I was sure all my problems would disappear. I was still carrying my baggage around from years past, but I was moving forward so I didn’t think it was weighing me down. I was still alone but I was happy to be in a new place where no one knew me and I could find myself. But we need other people, we deserve a support system. 

I started to understand music more deeply; I had always been highly empathetic but I was starting to have my own experiences that I needed to work through. I remember once at a Pierce The Veil show, their lead singer Vic said “Take this song and make it your own.” I finally gave myself the freedom to access art in this new way where a song could be about a breakup but for me it would be about losing my grandfather etc. In high school I was really numb, music was just something I consumed and used. With age, music became something I needed to be involved in directly. 

So freshman year when my internet friend Erin asked me if I wanted to go to a show in Washington DC to meet our other internet friend Kaile, I let myself say yes. We had all met through that One Direction Facebook group but liked the same music outside of that. We went to the Resolution Tour with Action Item, Paradise Fears, and Before You Exit. That one date turned into going to the Pittsburgh and New Jersey dates of the same tour. It was my first experience with traveling for music and realizing I found that feeling of home hundreds of miles away from my actual house. The people at those shows were complete strangers to me, yet I felt as if I were a part of a community, one that accepted me right where I was. Ever since, live music has become an important part of my life: It has helped me find my best friends and given me a reason to travel all over the country. It still is one of the few social environments I am comfortable in, it’s hard to even express how crucial that is for my mental health. 

All of this wasn’t enough, though. I couldn’t go a week without having a panic attack. I either slept for 14 hours or not at all. I wasn’t taking care of myself and I didn’t care. I was scared of myself, of where my own mind would go. I wouldn’t even allow myself to drive a car. I felt totally out of control.  I was cancelling plans whenever I could. I had self-diagnosed myself with anxiety at some point as if just knowing what it was, was sufficient. 

Going into my senior year of college I re-read The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. I finished it on campus and walked straight to the counseling center. Those first six weeks of therapy were some of the hardest. I was relieved to have an official diagnosis but I finally had to deal with all the burdens I had been carrying around. I had to start understanding how my brain worked, how to recognize when it was wrong, and how to fight it so I could live with it. I didn’t want to tell my family but I wanted to continue getting professional help somewhere more permanent. I’m not going to lie, it was very difficult, and maybe they didn’t totally understand, but they were still understanding enough to help me. I had never given anyone the chance to help me. I had always just assumed everyone knew something was wrong with me but didn’t care enough to ask. My only regret is that I didn’t ask for help earlier because I deserved it, we all deserve to understand ourselves and have other people that try to understand us. 

We all have mental health. We can all practice self-care. I think we can learn something from therapy. Don’t let the stigma that surrounds therapy and other professional help to stop you from reaching out. There is nothing weak about asking for help; in fact, one of my strongest moments was walking into that counseling center. I don’t share my story for who I am, I share it for who I was because 16-year-old me needed this honest conversation about anxiety/depression even if it is dark. 

“Recovery” is a journey, not a destination. Some days waking up and living is enough. Some days you still have to cancel plans or take a break or admit you’re struggling and that’s okay. Mental health is just as important as physical health. You deserve to be honest, you deserve to have friends and family that support you and don’t make you feel like a burden, you deserve to KEEP LIVING to your full potential despite whatever it is you deal with. 

That’s why I see myself as a fighter. I have new weapons now too: Sometimes a pen is a sword and paper is my battle ground. I take care of my body so I can keep fighting. I have a strong army around me in case I need to rest. I have my books with characters that teach me how to fight. I always have and always will have music to help me; to be a war cry; to block out the battles for a moment so I can think; to remind me I’m not the only one fighting; to encourage me to push through; to connect me with other warriors (maybe that’s you). But the point is I fight. I fight for myself and my dreams and my passions. I fight the causes I believe in and the people I share life with. I fight for the moments I feel invincible and the days I make an impact. I fight for the lies I once believed about myself and the people who still need to learn the truth. I fight for my role in the world because no one can replace me, no one can live the life that I will. We are irreplaceable.