I guess I’m what you’d call a ‘semi-professional’ musician. I make money from performing and writing music, but in order to pay the rent I do temp work on the side. I actually like the office work – it’s good to have something steady and stress-free to work on. I never have to take that work home with me which leaves me a lot of time to work on musical things. However the fact I’m not a full time musician often makes me feel crap. I work hard, but the fact is not many people are willing to pay for music at all (just last week I was approached by a band I’d never spoken to before who asked me to do some session work for them… they were offended when I expected to be paid for this work…).
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a sense of entitlement. Getting anywhere with music is challenging, but it’s what I love doing and I want to work hard at it – often that means getting up before 6.00 to do a shift at my temp job, to go straight to rehearsal, then to soundcheck, to the first gig of the evening, then to the second, then transporting all the band’s gear back in my car and arriving home at midnight. I wouldn’t dream of complaining about those 18 hour days – they’re my happiest!
My point is just that a lot of the time it can be difficult to stay motivated and self-confident. It’s easy to compare myself to other musicians who look like they’re getting further ahead and feel like none of my effort has been worth anything – those days are tough.
After my last post, some people asked me what kinds of things I find help when dealing with depression and anxiety, so I thought I’d put together a small list. This isn’t intended as a definitive list of instructions – everyone’s different and first and foremost if you’re struggling you really should speak to a professional. These are just some of the thing I find help.
- Ignore all the pop-psychology bullshit people post on facebook.
We all have one friend who posts ‘inspirational’ quotes on their newsfeed every day (often over the top of some irrelevant photo, like a bridge or a sunset). They’re usually about following your dreams, or some misquoted Marilyn Monroe nonsense. They’re probably the same friends who post banal articles like ’15 things happy people do’ or ’20 things successful people do.’ Don’t be sucked in. These articles are not your friends. Firstly, comparing yourself to anyone is a road to a dark place. Comparing yourself to a fictional image of a perfect person is even more damaging – you’ll only end up feeling bad about yourself for not living up to impossible, oversimplified and vague standards. Honestly, I just read one that had ‘They don’t forget to dream’ and ‘They don’t forget to be happy’ in. If that’s not constructive advice, I don’t know what is.
This isn’t to say you can’t look for ways to help yourself – the answers just aren’t as simple as these ‘inspirational’ articles make out. Changing the way you think and improving your mental health so you feel happier in yourself takes time and practice, but there are free resources online that can help you. If you do find yourself feeling depressed for a long period of time, the best thing to do is to visit your doctor for advice. If you don’t feel ready for that, you might find
that Moodgym is a good place to start. It’s a training programme based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it’s absolutely free.
- Resist the urge to Netflix binge
There’s nothing wrong with having a Netflix day. Everybody needs time to relax and some days you don’t feel like going outside – I get it. But overdoing it can make you feel crap for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you’ll wonder where your day went (if you had plans to do something useful, that is. If not, skip to reason 2). I often start my day with a Netflix episode and before I know it, it’s 4pm and I never did get round to doing the laundry or sending those emails, or practicing… The solution? Use Netflix as a reward system. Done an hour of practice? You earned an episode of The Good Wife.
The second thing to be wary of during a TV marathon is that some shows are going to affect your mood. I love House and Orange is the New Black as much as the next person, but watching a whole season of a hard-hitting, tense drama in a few days will be tough on your emotions. Maybe stick to comedies if you’re feeling down and need a duvet-fort day (4oD has loads of comedy boxsets).
- Make lists (carefully)
I love a good ‘to do’ list. It’s satisfying to set and meet goals and helps keep my mind occupied. As somebody who worries a lot, I find that I need to have a plan to work to in order to feel motivated. Otherwise my mind stops being focussed and I worry seeps in. Worry, it turns out, isn’t all that useful. There is a knack to a good list. The list needs to be a good length and the tasks need to be manageable chunks – a feeling of achievement at the end of the day is better than feeling disappointed you didn’t meet all your targets. If you’re wondering, my tasks range from seemingly small things like ‘getting out of bed’ or ‘showering’ to ‘buying food for the week’ and ‘writing a chorus.’
Sometimes if I’m feeling pretty low I make a ‘have done’ list instead. It’s exactly as it sounds – I list everything I did manage to do that day instead of dwelling on all my shortcomings. So I didn’t manage to finish that song, but I did clean the kitchen and have a shower. When you’re depressed those things are big achievements.
- Talk to someone
This is probably the most important thing on this list. Sometimes it’s hard to talk to people, especially if you care about them and don’t want them to worry about you. But do it anyway. Invite them for coffee. Talk to them about anything at all, it doesn’t have to be about how you’re feeling. I’m guessing if they care about you, they’d hate to think of you suffering alone.
My vocal coach used to say something that helped me when I felt like I was being a burden. The conversation went like this:
Tutor: If someone you knew, a friend, relative, acquaintance asked you for help with something or needed to talk, what would you do?
Me: I’d help them, obviously.
Tutor; Would you think they were being a burden?
Tutor: Right, so what makes you so fucking special that you’d help someone else in need, but nobody else would?!
He makes a good point.