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The Struggle is Real

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Illustration by Andy Au

I just finished another wildly successful show and I feel terrible. It feels like everyone is happy about the results except for me. The crowd cheered, the artists were lit and I could hardly feel worse. I’m filled with self-doubt. If left unchecked, these unfortunate attributes of myself can lead to depression, or worse. All too often, I walk away from even the biggest gigs without revealing that I feel this way. I’m afraid to let people know that I am not as proud of the end result as I should be. I would rather sulk in my bunk than admit to everyone that the show was not perfect. I can’t always look people in the eye and tell them that I don’t trust their approval. Sometimes, I self-diagnose a case of the “blahs” and sneak away to medicate with whatever the runner has picked up that day. Some days, it’s tacos; some days it’s rum. For others, they turn to even more potent “remedies.”

I am fortunate enough to be aware of this affliction and I can address it. I am able to discuss it with my readers and with my crew. “You’re being too hard on yourself” is the most common response. “Everybody loved the show” is generally the follow-up. I slap these polite words on my open wounds like a Band-Aid and suck it up. The bandages allow me to conceal the wounds but they don’t actually address the inner hemorrhaging.

I am not alone. Artists and crew alike share this struggle. We all get a case of the after-show blues from time to time. We all know that we missed that one chord, we forgot that one focus position, or we just weren’t feelin’ it. In 2016, Help Musicians U.K. completed a study to see just how many other artists felt the same way. The study, entitled “Can Music Make You Sick?” found that 68.5 percent of musicians believed they had experienced depression, while 71.1 percent believed they had experienced anxiety and panic attacks. These figures starkly contrast with the 19 percent of people in the U.K., aged 16 or older, who had said they had experienced anxiety or depression.

Other studies have revealed that those whose job it is to entertain the general public considered the possibility of suicide up to seven times more than the general population. Road crewmembers contemplated taking their own life almost nine times more than the general population. These struggles are real. There are four major causes for these; self doubt, loneliness, lack of sleep and the inherent depression that follows. I would like to take a moment to address these ailments and what we can do about them.

‡‡         Self Doubt

As artists, our work is subjective. We can present our art to thousands of adoring onlookers and receive numerous forms of acceptance. The only real acceptance that we are looking for is self-acceptance. We are, all too often, the first ones to deny our own self-gratification. We look at what we have created and know that it could have been better. We tend to focus on the minor mistakes and disregard the major accomplishments. We can dismiss overwhelming amounts of positive feedback as misguided.

‡‡         Loneliness

In an attempt to seek self-gratification, we are all too willing to disengage or withdraw from the social functions that follow a great performance. Being alone is a great way to reflect on the show and figure out how to make it better, but extended periods of solitude lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Traveling the world with our “road family” is reassuring but they are not our true family. We are a temporary tribe that has been assembled to produce the best ends with appropriate means. We can only support each other to the level that professionalism allows. We cannot soothe each other in the same way that our spouses and children can. It feels stupid to feel so lonely on a crowded bus but loneliness exists in our brains, not our surroundings.

‡‡         Lack of Sleep

When our egos are pulverizing our own self worth, we can start to overthink ourselves. Our brains race and pulse with introspection and self-contemplation. Put bluntly, our minds just won’t shut up. The snoring from the top driver-side front bunk will never be able to drown out the incessant yelling of our own inner-ego. It’s difficult to sleep when our minds are contemplating every little macro that we could write to ensure that we don’t forget to disable RDM on the next show. We get off work at 1 a.m. and need to be asleep by 2 a.m. to wake up at 7 a.m. We are unable to obtain those precious minutes of sleep if we are staring at the little LED display on the top of our bunks and contemplating our own self worth.

‡‡         Depression

Self-doubt, loneliness and lack of sleep can lead to depression. Depression by itself is dangerous enough. When artists and roadies start to self diagnose and self medicate their ailments, depression can turn deadly. Depression has many warning signs that only reveal themselves when people are looking for them. Reckless behavior, extreme mood swings and prolonged complaining are the first signs of depression. Increased drug or alcohol abuse is a more noticeable indicator. It can be very difficult to spot the difference between and eccentric leader and a depressed individual. That’s why we need to rely on professionals to determine who is who and how we can help those in need.

‡‡         One Solution

Here is how we can prevent others and ourselves from following the path to depression or suicide. I have recently been made aware of a not-for-profit organization in Toronto that is dedicated to brining the music, addiction recovery, and mental health industries together. Over The Bridge (OTB, overthebridge.org) has committed itself to making it easier for the music industry to gain access to support resources. OTB is helping artists and crewmembers to respect, inform and involve the music industry in the research about addictions and mental health. I stumbled across OTB while researching Naloxone. Naloxone is a synthetic drug, similar to morphine, that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system. It can be used to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. I discovered that OTB is providing free training sessions to artists and crewmembers throughout Canada and is working towards providing the same services in America.

The most recent Naloxone training was during the 2018 Vans Warped Tour stop in Toronto, ON. Throughout three training events, OTB has trained 250 people (artist/local and touring crew/security/venue staff) and given out over 300 free Naloxone and Narcan kits. In addition to its music industry members the peer-to-peer Over The Bridge: Music Industry, Addictions & Mental Health Discussion Facebook group (www.facebook.com/groups/overthebridgedotca) has counselors and a registered psychotherapist in the group to help oversee and interact with members who may be showing signs of possible self harm or to clear up miscomputations on mental health or recovery. Some of the topics that are talked about are, depression, anxiety, bi-polar, eating disorders, suicide, addictions, recovery, happiness and self-care. To help members of the music industry who reach out to OTB for mental health or addiction recovery, they have a psychotherapist on staff to assess and plan an achievable recovery strategy tailored to what best suits their needs. OTB is one of several organizations that are supporting a healthier, more enduring lifestyle for roadies who spend their lives on a bus “living the dream.”

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from any of these ailments, please reach out to www.overthebridge.org or send Chris Lose an email at close@plsn.com.

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