- Posted September 26, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Are you living with depression?
A Performing Artist's Vantage Point
My first full depression episode came on when I was 10 and we were about to move yet again. No, I was not a military brat, I was the daughter of parents whose definition of "success" meant more than their kids' emotional and social well-being. Powerless to stop another uprooting of life as I knew it, and having to say goodbye to friends with whom I had just started making ties, I still knew I couldn't say a word to my parents for fear of being belittled and labeled as melodramatic. I fell into a week of heaviness, almost to the point of not being able to move, barely getting through the school day and coming home only to go straight to bed. And through it all my mother just treated this as a nuisance and I was just one more thing to have to take care of on her already supposedly busy agenda. I learned then that if I couldn't go to them with the emotions and sadness I was really experiencing for the first time, who could I talk to? Who would take me seriously? (No one, especially not at school, because they'd just go back to my parents with their concerns, and all I'd get was an interrogation and admonishment to snap out of it, it wasn't all I was making it out to be etc.)
So I held it in. Learned my first performance role -- to use the bright mask to present to the outside world in order to be seen as “having her sh*t together” and taken seriously as a person. Learned to "fake it til I made it," acting all energetic and go-get it and joking and hey, nothing can touch me! Screw the world and its agendas, I'm invulnerable and nothing can get me down! And at the end of the day, tear off the mask, throw myself on the couch and not move for hours, and let the crushing weight overtake me. Let the phone ring and go to voicemail. Barely have any energy to pour myself a bowl of cereal for dinner, then go straight to bed. The next day, back to the role of relentless overachiever in just about everything I did.
Then along the way I discovered rock and metal music had the power to lift me up out of the rut. I got into a few bands, then later started my own with a couple of friends. As the vocalist for a metal band, here is my nirvana, pardon the pun – the drug of being on the stage, the adulation, heck even the hours of hard work and practice and camaraderie that comes with bandmates that holds the depression back. And it’s a much more effective catharsis than therapy ever will be. Why? Because we get to let it out in our instruments, and, more personally, I get to scream it out in song. Here’s the thing -- in the metal community, there are a LOT of us who are battling depression – situational, clinical, SAD, bipolar, you name it. And among us metalheads, over a couple of beers or just hanging out, we can admit we’re going through a rough patch and for the most part, the response will be “I feel ya, man, I’ve been down that road myself.” That’s also why we’re not happy bubble-gum pop stars. We feel the rage, anxiety and downward spiral that feeds our music. We're more accepting of a wider range of people than most. We have to let it out.
Even today, only a very select few ever see me in “crash” mode. Maybe because deep down I’m still trying to undo what my parents taught me – that people won’t respect me as the capable, fearless, can-do individual I see myself to be on the good days. But there it is, waiting to bite me at moments I would let my guard down, or even when I was alone for too long. The still stiffness in my face, the lead that weighted my limbs, and the fog I’d look through knowing I wanted to get things done and people I wanted to see, but couldn’t muster enough motivation and energy to care.
Yes, exposure to certain people and the random occurrence can suck me into the vortex. I'm still crazy enough to work myself into exhaustion that can trigger one of my episodes. But I do it because the results of the work feel great. What saves me is now I have friends who get it, and are supportive of me taking care of myself while having my back. I try to keep the black dog at bay as naturally as I can with exercise, music, and friends who get me. Call me "straightedge" if you will, but I'm holding out on any chemical treatment for this because I've already had a brush with becoming dependent on substances and I refuse to go through that again. It's now become a battle with my own endocrine system first – i.e. it’s more the devil you know at this point and I will not allow myself to be dependent on any external chemicals to live. And most of the time my depression episodes are physical – while in one episode I feel like I can't move, have no motivation to do anything but sleep for days, and my emotional responses to everything are apathetic or blunted, I rarely have any feelings of self-harm, suicide, etc. because I’ve got so much I still want to do, so many people I want to meet & touch with my music. The stage and the crowds are my lifeline, and my friends and fellow metalheads are my community and lifeblood. I’m still trying to look at each incipient crash as a warning to take care of myself, instead of a weakness that is to be looked on with contempt and scorn.
Two years ago I was able to open up to my manager and a few other people about what I go through. The band ended up writing a song that describes the downward spiral of emotions that comes from being condemned at birth with this disease, fighting with the bright hard façade like I did and a call to “confess it today” to someone. It ended up being the first single off our most recent album. I’m hoping the message comes through -- if you don’t confess to what’s under the face that you see in the mirror, the mask that you don’t let anyone see beyond, then no one can help you if you don’t take the steps to help yourself first. There are a lot of us who pass off as normal, but who are fighting an exhaustive battle inside. I’m still learning to work with it, maybe continue using it as inspiration for other songs that will hopefully help others understand they don’t have to wage war with depression alone.