Maintaining the public semi-fictions we present to the world can be exhausting. There is pressure to become the most digestible and uncomplicated versions of who we think we should be for others to see and acknowledge. But this picture we present usually lacks what I would call ‘personal substance’ – that private world where our depth of feeling, tangible rawness and vulnerability resides. This under-the-skin honesty is too heavy to be shared out loud in person, and something we are expected to tuck away deep within ourselves and not burden any others with. As a singer-songwriter, I seek to recover these private truths of the heart that we keep hidden under lock and key. Doing this can be deeply personal, dark, and unnerving – but also oddly therapeutic, for the artist and an audience able to identify with the music. I find so much beauty in recognizing, identifying with, and then emerging from these places of darkness, as pained and wearying as it sometimes can be. From my perspective, it is the best way to appreciate the sweet radiance of light, when it does finally come along. I have heightened empathy for this wider range of human emotional experience because I have been touched by mental illness – just like you or someone that you probably know.
I am very fortunate to have come to a point in my life where by and large I have my sh*t together, but this wasn’t always the case. I used to get so depressed and lost in intense turmoil that I could not move forward in life. Time stood so painfully still, my moods were out of control and frenzied, and at my best it took all of the energy I could muster to maintain the semblance of “normal”. I wasn’t myself, or the person that I wanted to be, and it drove me to madness, clinically so. What anchored me back towards wellness back then (apart from having a wonderful support system) was the drive and desire for musical expression. It remains my sanctuary, release, and helps me find meaning from psychological suffering that sometimes doesn’t make any sense.
But while music can stabilize and heal, finding your way in the music industry can have quite the opposite effect. Speaking from my own experience, trying to stand out among others with more experience, talent, resources, connections – you name it – can wreak serious havoc on your self-esteem. It is also very easy to get down on yourself by equating any number of perceived career mishaps or rejections with something personally wrong with who you are as a person. And the lifestyle that the business dictates – late hours, endless traveling, a sleepless work ethic, and constantly wondering if or when the next gig/paycheck will come through – is not exactly something one aspire towards. All of this can add up into very negative self-talk that exacerbates any medical condition you may already have.
That being said, I still absolutely love pursuing and fighting for my place in the music world. I am still relatively new to the business, but learning the ropes and proper way of handling things has taught me so much about being patient, gritty, and – above all – resilient. I have never felt more authentic as a person being so vulnerable and exposed at the same time. Extracting the light out of these darker moments in the industry has actually helped me find humility, growth, and a strength I never knew I had.
Darlene Cuevas – a.k.a. Darling Cora – is a Toronto-born folk-rock singer-songwriter, mental health advocate, and occasional trickster. She loves to bare her soul out via the music, and has a glaringly obvious soft spot for dogs.
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