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Mental Health Matters: Why Don’t You Sing?

I’ve always been one of the more sensitive people in the room; I still think that people can relate to my experiences regardless of the intensity of my feelings. In an attempt to understand the confusion, mental health is often categorized into labels, as if “depression” means that one has to have a certain level of sadness to qualify. As if “anxiety” means that one has to have a certain number of panic attacks of a certain intensity to be considered anxious. As if one feels so misunderstood to the point of having to label oneself as “bipolar”, despite the absence of mania, just to find some identity.

I challenge and urge you to let go of any mental health label you identify with for the duration of this article, for you may find that we all have a lot more in common than we think.

Upon revealing that I am a ‘singer,’ most people feel the need to express that they either cannot or do not sing. Every once in a while I meet someone who says that he or she likes to sing, but only when they’re alone because they’re not very talented. Some people just simply say they don’t like to sing and if I ask for a reason, they usually aren’t able to give me a grounded or confident one.

In today’s society, singing has become something that is too vulnerable to do unless you can compare to the voices you hear on the radio. That being said, the urge to sing remains–even if it is small. People wouldn’t idolize singers so much if they didn’t admire and desire the ability to sing and perform like them. I’m sure many of us can likely recall a time when our creative efforts were criticized, leading us to abandon our attempts to express ourselves. For many people, all it takes is criticism from one person to silence his or her voice. Personally, I’m lucky that no one ever told me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t sing; I would have likely shut my mouth forever.

Growing up, I really enjoyed watching talent shows like American Idol. It was exciting to see people chasing after their dreams, even through difficult times. The suspense of who would be eliminated each week gave me butterflies in my stomach. The judges seemed to know everything about singing, what was good and what was bad.

During the early American Idol auditions, I laughed (as many do) at the people who “didn’t have what it takes.” I was entertained by the idea that some people thought they’d ever make it with their inability to sing in tune. I thought it was funny to hear the judges mock people who auditioned, for they were clearly unaware and ignorant in regards to their amateur sounds. I thought, “Hey I’d like to be like those good singers someday, but not the bad ones.”

I was 5 years old.

I was 5 years old when I learned that singing is something that better be ‘good,’ or it’s fair game to be ridiculed.

I was 5 years old when I learned that humiliating someone on TV is okay as long as it’s what people want to see.

I was 5 years old when I learned that if you don’t sound “good,” not only will people not want to listen to you, but you shouldn’t sing at all.

When I was 5 years old, I didn’t have depression or anxiety. I didn’t spend half a year of school in the hospital. I didn’t experience sexual assault. I didn’t drop out of college for the third time because I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t feel hatred for myself or wonder whether my life was worth living. But I did feel insecure about my voice when I was 5. Eighteen years later, I still do.

At an early age, we learned what it means to be perceived as different, and how scary that can be. We learned to repress our creativity, most likely unaware of what was happening or why.

I’m not trying to say that music shouldn’t ever be competitive, but that we, as a culture, have normalized the concept that the ‘quality’ of an expressive art form can be measured. It’s not like a running race where one can measure who came in first place based on the fastest time. There are no points being scored. It’s rarely understood that singing, in a competitive form, is judged based on norms or interpretations of the art. It’s rarely understood that these norms aren’t to be taken as canon.

What if I told you that for six years, the only reason I sang was because I wanted validation? It wasn’t healthy. And, that being said, if I had spent six years not singing because I felt like I wouldn’t get any validation, that would be just as harmful if not worse. The common concept from these two scenarios is ‘validation.’ For me, the toxic desire for validation would serve as a weapon that I would use against myself in some of my darkest moments. Singing was merely a scapegoat for inauthentic validation. It acted as a vehicle of shame and inadequacy that followed me all the way from childhood until I dropped out of music school.

I just wanted to be good. I just wanted attention. I just wanted people to like me. Of course I still want all of those things but they don’t take priority anymore. Choosing to let go of those things has helped me find my true passion for music. I feel liberated; I’d like to encourage more people to give it a try. To start a conversation. Now, I’d give anything to hear my friends and family sing, regardless of what it sounds like.

So, why don’t you sing?

The Weekend Run Club is a five-piece band that combines the technical guitar stylings of alternative rock with the upbeat, dance-y feel of indie pop music. The band released their first single, “Holliday,” on July 13, 2018, which was followed soon after by the release of their debut EP, “Okay For You.”

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Angie is a Boston-based music photographer, journalist, and marketer. Catch her out and about at local shows and drinking more coffee than she should

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