A young(ish) opera singer's random thoughts and observations.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Man's worst friend

It's taken a few attempts to write this post, especially as it is the sequel to an unexpectedly viral blog I wrote some time ago... I often feel the urge to write about my ongoing struggle with depression when I have a bad day, when I find it hard to talk to people and yet feel an overwhelming need to try and make myself understood... I find writing easier, because (unlike in conversation) I don't choke up and retreat into myself. On good days I sometimes find the fact that I'm on 'happy pills' quite funny (in a surreal ironic kind of way), and it's when I was in that state of mind that I posted a photo on social media that, while lighthearted, broadcast to all my online acquaintances that I was on antidepressants.

It's not just the depression I want to talk about, but the response I've been experiencing since 'coming out' with it. For me personally, the moment when I could be open and almost casual about a problem that has by all accounts defined my life for the past year or two was a massive turning point. I proved to myself that I could, (given counselling, medication and an incredible network of friends) do my job, prepare music, participate in rehearsals and be a valuable member of 'the team' despite this (at its worst, crippling) handicap. I thought 'OK, I'm somehow managing a life, my depression will not have to be an excuse, so why hide such an important struggle and add the stress of keeping it a secret to my list of troubles'.

By the response I got from a casual mention of pills, I can say there are a lot more people who never made the choice to be vocal about their depression than I would have ever believed possible. We are everywhere. Among the struggling frustrated artists, sure (as you'd expect?), but also among those who by all accounts are at the top of their game, with secure international careers. 

I posted an inconsequential status update and received an unbelievable outpouring of support from the most tenuous of facebook contacts! It was truly overwhelming. And unexpected. Why? We are in an 'industry' that boasts an incredible concentration of sensitive souls. Depression is a surprisingly prevalent condition in the population in general. We singers face rejection on a regular basis, we often live our lives away from home for long stretches (I write this post as an expat currently doing a national tour) - making relationships and family life hard to maintain, a vast majority of us are freelance - meaning we constantly worry about how to fill the diary with paid work... 

If you're in this business chances are you know a few closet depressives yourself. They may not want (or need) to admit it to anyone, or like me they couldn't face up to it themselves for years. I just put on my bravest face, but was forever dwelling on perceived failures and shortcomings, and even if I recognised the good in my life, the successes, I felt undeserving and was convinced someone would find me out as such, and take away what little I felt I had (and what a self-fulfilling prophecy that is!). I came to believe that it's just how the world is, my lot in life. I had never considered depression, until it got so bad I could no longer function. But now I'm treating it, and there are days, even longer stretches, that I feel like I'm myself again. 

It's not about being sad, or disappointed if you fail at something, or about not being able to have fun. It's something that dwells underneath all that, eating away at you. And it comes in as many varieties as there are people, so my experience with it is just that - my personal experience.

But what has been huge help to me was that outpouring of supportive messages I mentioned, and knowing I'm not alone. Just knowing others got through it, people I know and admire, helped. So for everyone who, like me, is trying to house-train their black dog - it's been done, there are people out there who've beaten it, and we'll damn well beat it too. And if you're a singer, try to remember that you're not doing this because you happen to be good at it and need to make a living. We do it because we love it. It's just a bit too easy to lose sight of that...

1 comment:

  1. Jan you are reminding me of the documentaries by the great Stephen Fry who has my greatest admiration about bi-polar depression which seems to hit more people of ultra sensitivity like those in our world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj8hqXd7N_A. I think it is very informative and also supportive