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Mental Health Matters: Coping with PTSD in the Music Industry

There have been a lot of stories over the past couple of years about sexual and domestic abuse within the music industry. These conversations are mired in hot takes – debates about legality vs. morality, about “call-out culture” and the prevalence of so-called witch hunts, and about separating the art from the artist. I’m not here to debate any of that today. Instead, I’m going to talk about the other half of the abuse coin – the mental health repercussions that can stem from it and how has played into my own career in the music industry.

When I went to college, I started a band. Shortly after, I started dating a bandmate – yeah, I know. Shortly after that began a nearly 3 year period of innumerable patterns of abuse and dysfunctional behavior, ultimately culminating in me waking up one January morning and walking away from our life because it was going to kill me if I didn’t. Throughout the course of the relationship, I lost myself, I lost my passion and I lost my will to live. Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived it – but I did. I will not elaborate, and I will not provide receipts because I know what happened and this isn’t about that, or him. (Don’t worry – from what I’ve been told, he’s no longer active in music, although he still crops up in LA circles from time to time. Not unlike a fungus, but I digress…)

Last year, nearly 2.5 years after I left, I finally went to see a psychiatrist. Why wasn’t I better? Why did seemingly inconsequential things make me feel as though I was right back in his bed again? Why couldn’t I just move on, the way everybody else seemed to? Why was I afraid of certain venues, or of attending music festivals? What was the problem? Surviving that first year was like death by a thousand paper cuts – except I never died. I was trapped in an emotional Groundhog Day and I couldn’t find my way out of it, no matter how badly I wanted to be done with it. To be done with him.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a proposed subcategory of PTSD with the following proposed definition:

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD; also known as complex trauma) is a psychological disorder similar to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which results from repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic.

There it was. That was the reason I would see a silver Envoy drive by and would hear his voice. That was the reason the sight of the building where we lived made me vomit for years. That was the reason I was irrationally afraid of anyone who shared his name. That was the reason the first time I set foot in the Denver airport after the breakup – he was the first person to take me to that city, which I subsequently fell in love with – I hid in the bathroom crying for 30 minutes because I was convinced he was going to walk around the corner. It’s why I’m crying while I type this, even though I’ve progressed by leaps and bounds since all of this started. They say that healing isn’t linear, and that has never been truer than it is with post-traumatic stress.

The music world in Los Angeles is a very small place, and we were bound to run into each other. After all, we (somehow) still have mutual friends, nearly all of whom are musicians. I expected that. I didn’t expect that he’d taunt me when we crossed paths – but he did. I didn’t expect that our “friends” would do nothing to intercede, or that some would choose to scream at me that I was going to be fine during my ensuing panic attack, or suggest that I be the one to leave – but they did. Loving him nearly destroyed my relationship with music. After all, he was my first love, in my first band. And I walked away from that love a fragile, nearly destroyed thing, and I’ve since had to learn to operate on my own in a scene that has showed little regard for those with stories like mine. But then the thing I expected least of all happened – one baby step at a time, I started to take my life back. Since then, I’ve made music I couldn’t be more proud of, gotten bylines I never thought I’d get and generally created the life for myself that I thought was beyond my reach. My mental illness is inexorably linked to the thing that gives me purpose, and so I did the only thing that I could. I decided to reclaim that part of who I was, and I turned the mental illness into art.

Music didn’t save me, but it gave me Staircase Spirits. It’s the reason I was able to save myself.

Author bio:

My name is Anna Acosta. I’m half of the pop-feelings duo Staircase Spirits from Los Angeles, CA. Additionally; I’m a contributor to Chorus.FM and the calendar editor for local blog Buzzbands.LA, and a freelancer with past bylines including Substream Magazine, AltPress, Infectious Magazine, and more. I’ve also struggled with insomnia and major depression since age 5, and was diagnosed with c-PTSD in 2016 after exiting a long term abusive relationship.

You can find me on Twitter or Instagram. Stream our latest EP, War Stories on Apple Music or Spotify or purchase it on Bandcamp.

You can find Staircase Spirits on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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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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