(Trigger Warning: depression, suicide)
2018 began with the death of an old friend by suicide. It was particularly devastating because he was one of the brightest and funniest talents I knew. He had so many things going for him, and was deeply loved by so many, but then depression came along and swallowed him up. I felt especially saddened by the wish that I’d made more of an effort to stay in touch over the years. Then we lost Kate Spate, and then Anthony Bourdain. And just before them was Scott Hutchison of the band Frightened Rabbit, whose album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010), had gotten me through some of my own darkest times. I found myself listening to those songs again, tears pouring down my face, wondering why so many of the most brilliant minds are so tormented. And, more importantly, wondering what I can do to make a difference.
I’ve been doing a lot of personal growth work for the last 10 years or so. If you knew me in college, I was, to put it nicely, kind of a mess. I was in a lot of emotional pain that I didn’t know how to process, and that pain had become part of my identity. But then, in 2006, I discovered that yoga helped with my back pain and helped me reconnect to my body, and that sent me down a new path. I was finally able to quiet my anxious mind and really connect to myself.
Another life-saver during those dark times of mine was Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. It started me down a path of self-care and personal development, which continues to be a priority for me. I began to see that I would still be myself if I let go of all the darkness I’d been carrying around, and that I could make simple changes to help myself feel better, one step at a time.
I’ve also learned that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, which explained so many things that I thought were just weird quirks. I’m just wired a little differently and my nervous system is more sensitive than most, so I get easily overwhelmed. I am grateful to have found coping strategies that work for me, like meditation, yoga, and giving myself quiet time to decompress. (I will be sharing more about these strategies in future posts– stay tuned!)
The more I have learned to take care of myself, the more I wish I’d learned these things sooner. Why didn’t my fancy music school education teach me how to stay sane in the high-pressure life of a professional musician? I certainly wasn’t the only one struggling under all the pressure. Why are young singers still being told outdated and incorrect information about whether exercise is good for the voice? Our bodies are our instruments, so why not learn how to properly care for them? Fortunately, some schools are starting to include wellness skills as part of their music programs, but this is not yet the norm.
Everything I’ve been through has helped me find my true calling as a voice teacher: to help singers and other artists unlock their true selves and true voices. I am creating an online community where singers at all levels can support and encourage each other on our paths to health and healing. In the future, I also plan to offer retreats and workshops where the community can connect in-person and learn together.
I believe that it’s time for creatives to release the “tortured artist” ideal and start becoming whole, healthy performers. I believe that we can create our best art when we choose a life full of purpose, joy, and creativity.