How To Deal With Depression As A Musician
Mental health can be a bit of a touchy subject in any setting, but an important one nonetheless.
Depression is a common condition, often thought to be the result of something that hasn’t gone well in one’s life. But this is just one type of depression – circumstantial depression, to be exact.
We all experience circumstantial depression. We might lose a loved one. A great opportunity may pass us by. A relationship may come to an end. Life is full of surprises and challenges.
But depression can also be clinical, and can turn into a full-blown disorder too. This type of depression is involuntary, and difficult if not impossible to control. You may have the occasional good moments, or even good days, but you just generally feel down all the time for no reason at all.
If people are telling you to “just feel better” or “think yourself out of it”, but you can’t, recognize that they don’t know what you’re dealing with. Positive thinking may be of some use, but I can almost guarantee it will not set you free of your troubles.
So, what can you do? How do you deal with depression as a musician?
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Remember To Take Breaks
It’s summer 2017. I’m at my 35th birthday party, jamming with some friends, and I’m not enjoying myself in the least. I know I’m depressed.
The next day, I’m not feeling much better. I’m still down, not even for a good reason.
I don’t think much of it, because I usually bounce back quickly. But then, I ended up being depressed for three consecutive days. I knew something was up.
At that point, I had been planning to get away from normal life for a while, and this depression alerted me to the fact that I needed to do it for myself. I needed to go on a vacation regardless of what I thought the financial consequences might be.
Don’t get me wrong – you take yourself wherever you go. This is one of the things many people don’t realize about travel. Yes, it’s exciting, and fun, and new. It can be relaxing and enjoyable. But you sober up quickly when you realize you are who you are no matter where you go. Your old tendencies eventually show up, even if you manage to break patterns for a while.
I felt excited on the drive out of town. But when I showed up at the motel and saw my room, my heart fell again. In that moment I knew my restlessness wasn’t just going to go away on its own. Whether at my desk or in a motel room, I found it hard to sit down and focus on my work, even though I still had to force myself to work at times.
So, I kept exploring the locality. I drove to nearby towns and cities. I went to the beaches. I saw the sights. I ate at restaurants I had never been to.
And, about five days later, my head started to clear. My sleep reset. I felt better. I felt less restless.
I’m an author, entrepreneur, and musician. Life requires a great deal of me, and I expect a great deal of myself. I’m known for pulling long hours and barely giving myself time to just enjoy life or take breaks. That began to change for me this summer.
The point is that we all need to take breaks. You can only plow through obstacles with superhuman strength for so long before you burn out. As I said to one of my friends, “even the superhero within me is tired”.
It’s best not to let yourself get to that point if you can. Be on the lookout for warning signs of burnout. And, if possible, deal with it before it begins affecting every aspect of your life.
Surround Yourself With Positive People
It’s spring 2010. After a brief visit to Portland, Oregon, I’m headed down to Redlands, California for my stepsister’s graduation.
Sometimes the problem with too much free time – like you tend to have on vacation – is that you get to thinking too much. On that trip, I got to thinking about all the problems I had – issues connecting with family members, trouble making friends, financial issues, and so on. In particular, I was troubled by my inability to make new friends.
It was nice being away from home and visiting new places, but I didn’t find I was doing any better connecting with people.
One day, I visited the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, with my mom and stepdad. We went for lunch afterwards, and I remember breaking down in the restaurant. My mom asked me what was wrong, and I wasn’t willing to share at first, but eventually told her that I didn’t feel like I was connecting with people my age. I also told her about the other burdens I’d been carrying – things that were out of my control.
After talking about it, my mom said, “a burden shared is a burned halved”. Words of wisdom. I have embraced those words ever since.
It’s easy to isolate and stew on your problems when you’re depressed. We don’t want to be a bother to others, and we worry how they are going to perceive us when they get a glimpse inside our minds. The reality is that they’ve probably been through dark times of their own.
Now, I would caution against sharing your thoughts with just anybody. If you’re working with someone in a collaborative capacity (band member, investor, partner, etc.), it’s usually best not to go too in-depth with them, because they may end up using your weaknesses against you. You can (and maybe should) let them know that you’re going through a tough stretch though.
But no matter what you do, do not isolate. Find positive, supportive people you can talk to (preferably more than one).
Lean Into Your Music
It’s summer 2008. Only a few months earlier, I had fallen in love for the first time. Up until that point, I hadn’t even considered that I would meet someone special. I felt unworthy, and based on how little interaction I had had with the opposite gender to that point, I was sure I had no redeeming qualities women found attractive.
Unfortunately, that relationship ended in heartbreak, and I was devastated.
After writing, recording, and releasing my first solo album between 2005 and 2006, I felt uninspired creatively and had nothing to write about. But when my heart was broken, unexpectedly, I found my muse again.
I put everything I was feeling down on paper, and wrote about 15 songs that summer. This collection of songs was meant for my second solo album, which has yet to be released. That’s a whole other story.
At that point, I wasn’t just dealing with heartbreak – I was also dealing with anxiety. I’d had a panic attack at the end of February, and wasn’t sure if I’d ever be the same again. But fortunately the music also served as therapy for panic and anxiety.
I remember going to Hawaii that fall, and I was still feeling heartbroken. I even wrote a song on ukulele while I was there, and it’s one of my more popular numbers on SoundCloud (“Everything Reminds Me of You”). But gradually I started to find healing through music.
Sometimes, leaning into your music can bring tremendous healing with it. I’ve encountered situations where I couldn’t sit still long enough to write, but for heartbreak, I know of no better cure than writing music. Just don’t force it if it doesn’t seem to be coming.
Take Care Of The Practical
Every January, I set three theme words for the year. I got the idea from entrepreneur Chris Brogan.
This January, I selected “adventure”, “collaboration”, and “health” as my three words. I could talk about each of these in depth, because they truly have been defining my year.
But for the intents and purposes of this guide, let me talk specifically about health. This year, I’ve made many decisions to pursue health, even if it meant shelling out some money or carving out time in my busy schedule to make it happen.
This year, I’ve:
- Been walking a lot. Especially during the summer.
- Started working out with a friend once or twice per week. We do very intense workouts.
- Tried hot yoga and loved it.
- Started cleaning up my diet. Dairy and gluten are mostly out, but I do have the occasional cheat meal.
- Gave up energy drinks. This was not easy, but they produced quite a bit of anxiety and even led to agoraphobia.
- Started growing spiritually.
- Started taking vitamin B, D, and omegas in addition to a clean, multivitamin.
- Been taking humic and fulvic acids on and off.
- Gone to a couple of counseling sessions with a psychologist. I didn’t feel the need to go back after, because of how happy I was around May/June, but have been thinking about going back again.
- Prioritized friendship and travel.
- Bought a new toothbrush.
I’m not saying pursuing health will solve everything. It doesn’t work that way. I wouldn’t be in a fragile state right now if that were the case.
But I am proud of myself for making the decisions I did. I know I look and feel healthier. I know I’ve pushed through a lot of mental and physical blocks and my confidence has increased. I know I have a solid foundation for achieving my fitness goals.
I alluded to the fact that prioritizing health can cost time and money. But the reality is that it’s more of an investment than anything. You have nothing if you don’t have your health. You may not be able to make music or explore your creativity if you aren’t healthy enough (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, etc.) to do it.
Don’t think about what you’ll lose pursuing health – think about what you’ll gain, especially in terms of energy.
It’s present day. Summer 2017 is behind me, and it was a life-defining summer at that. I’ve learned so much about myself I never knew. But there are a lot of loose ends hanging in the air, especially with regards to my relationships.
A lot of things are going well. My podcast listenership and email database is growing. I have a social life. I get to write for cool blogs like Music Industry How To. Plus, my second book is on its way.
But despite the time I took for myself this past summer, I’m still feeling burnt out, or more accurately, weary.
It’s so strange to me that things could be going so well in certain areas of life, but could be so uncertain in others. Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle, but I know I would regret not taking a chance. No risk, no reward.
Outcomes are uncertain. There is so much beyond my control. I’ve had to affirm this time and again. I’ve had to surrender, release, and trust. I’ve found myself doing that a lot in the last three months.
My mental state isn’t perfect right now. I’m moving towards healing, but I know it’s going to take time. I have another trip coming up this fall, and I know that will help a lot. In the meantime, all I can do is trust that things are unfolding exactly as they are supposed to, that whatever happens, it will be the perfect outcome for the situation.
If all else fails, seek professional help.
In most cases, depression does not need to be treated with drugs, and I would look at pharmaceuticals as the last resort myself. Chemical imbalances are rare, though they do affect a small portion of the world’s population. It can’t hurt to get checked, just in case.
But everybody can benefit from seeing a counselor or psychologist. You don’t need to be in a bad place in your life to find value in a listening ear, which is hard to put a price tag on in the first place.
Depression is no laughing matter. There are times when it can’t be overcome with mere positive thinking. If you’ve reached a point where it seems completely out of your control, depression has got a hold of you, and some things in your life need to change.
It can be hard to take the first step, but please don’t give in to the pain. You are not alone, and there are people that care deeply about you.
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