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.
Images via Carly Hoskins and Erica Lauren, respectively.