Music and Mental Health go hand in hand. Music is therapeutic. It can make you laugh, cry or feel like you’re on top of the world. Learning to read and play music can help build self-esteem and confidence.
For me, music was an escape. I grew up with a mentally ill parent, but we didn’t talk about mental illness in my house. It was this giant elephant in the room. I used to think that if I could ignore the elephant that it would just go away.
I started playing piano at age 5. In high school, I added viola, bell choir, chorus, orchestra, and guitar to that list. Between lessons, rehearsals, and gigs, I stayed after school almost every night, and I had hours of music to rehearse once I got home. On the plus side, it kept me safe and out of trouble.
By 18, I was burnt out. I went to college undecided, but it only took a semester to realize I didn’t want to do anything else but music. I ended up majoring in it, but by graduation, I was burnt out again. I thought that my music degree had served its purpose by acting as a form of therapy. I put it aside for a decade and became a fly on the wall – watching, listening, learning, analyzing. I have notebooks filled with ideas, all waiting to be pieced together like a wonderful puzzle.
But I missed music so much. I participated in a show called This Is My Brave in February, and played the first song I’ve ever written. Midway through the song, I tried to do that whole moment where you look out soulfully into the audience. The lights weren’t bright enough and I saw someone in the front row wiping away tears. I was caught completely off-guard. I made somebody cry?!? I had to choke down the frog in my throat to finish the song and realized in that moment what I needed to do with music. For years, I didn’t reach out for help because I had this strange belief that “How can a therapist help me when I don’t even know what’s wrong?” In that moment I realized that I could use music to spread a message that there’s hope and healing for mental health.
The music industry can exacerbate mental health symptoms if you’re not prepared for it. There is a pressure to do everything and be everywhere. If YOUR name isn’t on that marquee, then someone else’s is. You have to Go. Go. Go. Don’t stop.
I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The diagnosis has been helpful because I now have a framework to understand my feelings and emotions. I also have the tools and support I need to stay healthy going forward. I have a tendency to take on too much too fast and then get overwhelmed and crash while all the balls are still in the air.
However, I’ve had to stop and re-think my overall approach and strategy towards music and learn to put my mental wellness first. Recently, I did a show that ended at 10pm. I stayed after to mingle in the lobby, and then had a 45-minute drive home. By the time I wound down and went to bed it was after 2am. I was exhausted the next day and realized that I can’t keep doing that on a regular basis and stay healthy.
Down the road, my tours will be short and scheduled during the summer so my family can come. Maybe a show every 3 days instead of every night. The benefit of being an independent artist is that I call the shots. For the time being, I am having fun playing covers – I take requests via Twitter and then post the videos on “Fan Request Friday.”
So, if you are struggling, please know that you are not alone. It’s okay to not be okay and there are people who can help you figure out what’s going on. You don’t have to do this by yourself. Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!
Kayje spent a lifetime running from the stigma of mental illness. Recently, she decided to step outside her comfort zone and face her fears, one note at a time. She makes music and other art to spread a message of hope for others struggling with mental health issues. Keep up with Kayje by following her on social media:
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