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Mental Health Matters: Change the Stigma

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It’s junior year of college at NYU. My apartment had turned into the manifestation of my mind – instruments all over the floor, dishes in the sink that hadn’t been washed in weeks with fruit flies marking their territory, clothes in every corner and all the blinds shut tight. It was psychological rock bottom. I was sitting on my bed and a beam of light broke through the window shade and hit me on my chest. I knew in that moment that I had a choice, I could live or I could die. I picked up the phone, broke down and asked for help. I’m one of the lucky ones.

I started therapy, tried the blue pills, the white pills, the pink pills, the pills that made me feel sick, the pills that made me feel more anxious, and then eventually the ones that made me feel like myself. Then I’d resist. I’d stop going to therapy, I’d drink too much, I’d eat too much, I’d stop writing songs for weeks so I could berate myself for it, I talked over people sometimes and was unaware of my actions. The doctors called it bi-polar which I refused to talk about in public so I silently called it depression. Then slowly but surely it started to get better. I realized that all mental health issues that I thought were “weaknesses”, were actually super powers. I found my “pie-chart” of daily psychological hygiene. I found that writing music was a hundred times more powerful than fear and consistently brought me back. I realized that the ability to feel massive emotional extremes was a gift, as long as I was willing to ask for help when I needed it. I’m one of the lucky ones.

Ok, so why am I telling you this? The simplest answer to that is I think talking about these issues is one of the clearest paths towards changing stigma around mental health. If we all start having these conversations it will result in a cultural acceptance of mental health being a part of society. And if I’m going to speak loudly about the importance of speaking loudly, I want to lead by example and be transparent. It’s hard though, and not everyone has people around them to talk to, or songs to write, or therapists to trust or meds that work.

Perhaps the craziest thing to me about mental health is how subtle it is. Some days it’s just a little bit of sadness that hovers below the surface, no one knows, but you breathe through it and put on a smile. Some days it’s paralyzing and you can barely move. Some days you feel amazing. My wish for the future is when you are feeling a little depressed you can talk about it openly without fear of judgement, like a headache, or if you are in a dark place you can feel as comfortable asking for help as you would if you were on crutches and needed help down the stairs. I truly believe it’s possible and it’s why I’m spending 90% of this essay talking about mental health instead of music.

But oh music… I have only recently realized your true power. For so long I was closed off to the concept that writing music was simultaneously creative and therapeutic. I think I thought admitting that writing music is healing for me at times, meant that it made me less of an artist, that it made me “weak”. Honestly, sometimes I still feel that, but I know it’s all in my head. It’s hard to be vulnerable and it’s even harder to admit to others that you are in a vulnerable place.

For the last 8 months I have been releasing a song every month connected to an emotion, this will continue for another 10 months, the project is called RAW EMOTIONS. For me, Raw Emotions is itself a public statement that art can be outwardly a part of pop culture and on a deep level, a part of our cultural mental health. This next Raw Emotions EP is a snapshot of both light and dark emotions. It captures a short period of my life after a breakdown and takes you through everything from regret to denial to nostalgia and then back. I want the EP to be there for people in whatever mode they need it; if it’s a party with friends I hope it lifts the mood higher, if it’s a day you feel lonely I hope it gives you something to lean into.

Overall I hope that I can be a part of something that creates more and more opportunities for openness and connection. With a change in stigma and more open communication, I believe we can all be “one of the lucky ones”.

Stolar is a NY based singer/songwriter/poly-instrumentalist, whose second EP from his Raw Emotions project, Raw Emotions: West Village, NY dropped on April 27th, following the one-two punch of his two co-written singles with heavily buzzing ALOE BLACC and seminal pop legends HALL & OATES (feat. TRAIN). A much sought-after songwriter, Stolar co-wrote the single by American soul singer Aloe Blacc, “Brooklyn in the Summer”, which came out on Friday, April 27th to an overwhelming widespread response. Debuting on over 25 New Music Playlists around the world, the song has already reached over 3.5 million streams on Spotify. Aloe Blacc broke through the mainstream when he provided vocals for the international smash “Wake Me Up” by the late DJ/producer AVICII.

Stolar is a fierce advocate for mental health awareness and created the Raw Emotions campaign in an effort to take his struggles with bipolar disorder and depression and bring awareness to the daily struggles that so many of us face. The project began in October 2017, with the goal of releasing two songs every month, alongside artwork and essays, with each based on a different emotion. With songs touching on nostalgia, sadness, discomfort, and more, the campaign explores the array of human emotions and invites fans to feel less alone. 

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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