“Maybe if I try to make them like me. Smile a little wider, seem inviting. They won’t ask to see the darkness I’ve been hiding.” Yes, I’m starting this off by quoting one of my own songs, “Heavy Heart.” This is a shame-free zone. The title of which I also have tattooed on my left arm. Permanently engraving this phrase was a difficult decision because I didn’t want strangers to ask what it means. What would I say? Oh, that, It’s a song title of mine and open up the lengthy conversation of “what kind of music I make” or say, “Oh, it’s just a phrase that represents years of untreated depression, multiple suicide attempts, and sexual trauma.” I usually say it’s a song title.
“I don’t write music for money. But I do. So, you see my dilemma here.”
Writing music is therapeutic, cathartic even. I write angry songs about sabotaging people in my life that will never see the light of day. I write songs when I see a cute stranger at a coffee shop and imagine spending our entire lives together. I write songs when I remember something embarrassing I did six years ago and after all this time still feel like an idiot. I write songs when I drink, and I cry and cry and cry. The closest thing to a happy song I’ve written borders on more sassy or empowering, but even those songs stem from anger. I don’t like to talk about my diagnoses because labeling myself makes them feel more real. But walking around with “Heavy Heart” on my arm and a catalog of songs detailing my most self deprecating thoughts, I guess the cats out of the bag. Or more accurately, the PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety is out of the bag and on display. For money.
When your therapeutic practice becomes your source of income, you may not realize you’re doing it, but you start to find more reasons to go to therapy. You start drinking more and more. You put yourself in dangerous situations. You go up to strangers, just to have something to write about later. Something to regret later. You may not realize it, but you start to think that if you solve your problems, you won’t be interesting anymore. You won’t have anything to say if your deep rooted issues are sorted, by color, in an array across your bed ready to be folded and put away. The ‘You’ I reference here is me, by the way. Recently, someone that works for a record label told me, “You should’ve popped off already. There’s no plateauing in music. You’re either going up or going down.” I’m not sure if he meant this as a compliment, that I *should* be more popular, but I’m not, and that it’s only downhill from here. Thanks, guy, but I don’t write music for money. But I do. So, you see my dilemma here.
“I’d bring a big bottle of whiskey so I could have the courage to say what I actually thought and not just politely go along with suggestions I didn’t agree with.”
I started to resent writing music when streaming checks started rolling in. At first it was validating, it inflated my ego, but I couldn’t write if my ego was inflated so I found ways to deflate it. Oh god, what if this emotional outpouring isn’t as lucrative as the last? I stopped producing on my own as much, taking sessions with other musicians so there would be more pressure to finish something. I wanted to write music alone but I needed to feel the presence of others, so I’d bring a big bottle of whiskey so I could have the courage to say what I actually thought and not just politely go along with suggestions I didn’t agree with. I was constantly comparing myself to the artists people kept comparing me to. Opening instagram to see all of my friends and peers achievements became a masochistic form of torture. It stopped being fun and often I asked myself, why even bother? I should’ve pursued science. Or architecture. Or anything that doesn’t include capitalizing on myself, my issues, and packaging them in a way that others can relate to.
I’m not going to quit writing music, I decided. But I realized that I needed to keep music sacred if it was going to have any longevity. I needed to keep it as my therapy, my escape, my passion. So I needed more hobbies to fill the rest of my time. I needed a schedule. I started a garden, but I only have to water them once a day so that didn’t take enough of my time. When I got anxious with the feeling that I should be writing, I did my laundry. I folded my roommate’s laundry. I’d ignore the dishwasher and wash the dishes by hand. I’d take out the trash. Being domestic became a form of rebellion. I started writing comedy skits. I started going to open mics, not performing, but watching amateur comedians try out new material. I worked on my own stand up skit and performed it to any poor soul that encounters me when I’ve had too much to drink; I’d grab a shoe or hairbrush and use it as a microphone and tell jokes. Writing jokes is like writing lyrics because a chorus is the punchline of a song. I started writing a self-help book, but I don’t plan on putting it out until I’ve helped myself first. I started collaging, or rather, cutting images out of magazines and just keeping them in a pile on my book shelf. I’m still collecting hobbies. It’s my new hobby, collecting hobbies, so that the music can have room to breathe again.
Header Photo Credit: Lissy Elle for The Propelr