This topic has always been a hard one to open up about, but probably the most important thing we can talk about with each other, on and off the road.
Being away from home is tough. Period. Add dealing with mental health issues on top of the pressures and stresses that come along with the job, it can be incredibly overwhelming, and scary.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues for as long as I can remember - for me it's agoraphobia and panic attacks. A sickness that does not typically pair well with travel and being out of your comfort zone. This has always been a strange one for me to accept and understand, as I’d consider myself a very outgoing, adventurous, easy going individual who loves being out of her comfort zone - on the inside and out. I live my life wildly loud and free and that’s how I like it.
However, when I experience waves of anxiety, I internally go into a state of complete panic and fear - shaking, sweating, fears of losing control of myself and my actions, irrational thoughts racing through my mind and no end in sight of getting out of the downward spiral that is going on in my head. I want to run and scream and find a space where someone can bear hug me and let me cry until the pain goes away.
The thoughts and feelings are so painful and so wildly uncomfortable to talk about. How could I tell someone I am in a panic with racing fears that I am going to lose my mind and go jump off a bridge (not that I wanted to, but what if I did? what if, what if, what if?)? How could I tell someone that I was scared something was taking over my brain and body that would make me act out in a way I didn’t want to? When experiencing panic on the road, I’d often take a breather outside the venue and just break down in a pool of tears on the phone with a friend until the panic passed. Once the attack would finish, I could never fully recover the rest of the day - I was exhausted, depleted, fearful of it happening again… fearing fear. A vicious cycle.
The thing that always bothered me the most was that I couldn’t understand WHY. I’m happy. I love life. I love my job. I have a great family, a big circle of close friends who I could very openly talk to about all of this. Lots of adventures on the horizon… nothing that “should” trigger such breakdowns. It took a long time to accept that this was just part of me. Part of my chemical imbalance. Something that may never fully go away - I just needed to learn how to better manage it and not be so afraid.
At the height of the panics, I was on the road with Matt Good (Shout out to Matt - who is an incredible ambassador for mental health - I am thankful for people like him who speak so openly about their challenges.) I found comfort in knowing he would understand, but was still never able to open up. The panics had gone from sporadic to daily. Like clockwork, I’d wake up, and instantly walk on eggshells, fearing the next rush of emotions. I’d pop Ativan’s to get through the day. Maybe get a green juice down the hatch. Drink a bottle of wine each night (at which point my anxiety would feel under control for this first time), then indulge in fast food as I finally had an appetite due to the anxiety settling. I’d Sleep for 3-4 hours, then Inevitably wake up feeling worse as a result (Hello Hangover anxiety!!!!). And repeat.
This pattern went on for months and I really thought I would break. However, on the outside, I was fine. I was hiding it. Doing my job. Having the time of my life. Being outgoing, fun and friendly. How would you know!?
I ended up leaving that tour really scared, but really ready for change. Is this feeling forever?! Could I ever tour again?! Would this happen every time I went on the road?! HOW much longer CAN one live like this before snapping!?
It was shortly after this that I was on a gig in the UK, where I was starting to think critically about the decisions I was making and how they were impacting my mental state. I needed to put the 4am nights, and excessive drinking to bed if I wanted to survive, and continue the personal and professional path I was on. Luckily, a lot of the crew I was touring with was feeling the same after living similar years of excess. We all made a pact to do better. Or to at least try to.
We started running to and from site daily, and drinking significantly less each night. I started to notice my panics decreasing, and finding myself internally happier. Feeling good got addicting.
I got home and signed up for a half marathon. I signed up for spin classes. I decided my health was no longer an afterthought, but something I wanted, and quite frankly needed to keep at the forefront of my mind if I wanted my panics to be under control.
It’s been about a year and a half since I started making this a priority and I can truly say that my mental health and agoraphobia is more under control than it has ever been in my life and I believe that is directly related to the lifestyle decisions I am making.
I have finally found a good balance in life that works for me. Balance is a fine line, and means something different for everyone. I still love my indulgences and don’t sacrifice those things that make me happy (good food and drink!), but…I take my sleep seriously. I take my exercise seriously. I take my daily eating and drinking seriously (for the most part…). For me it's about progress, not perfection.
If you are struggling with mental health issues on the road, my biggest pieces of advice to you would be:
Tell someone. You do not have to go through this alone. Sometimes having that ‘safety’ person you know you can run to in a pinch is enough to ease some of the pain.
Sleep, Sleep, Sleep. Lack of sleep is such a big trigger to your mental state. Take it seriously. FOMO can be real, but your mental health is realer.
Make time for yourself. Whether that’s a walk each day, a run, a little workout - take that time for you. Get out of the venue and breathe some air and get your sweat on.
Limit your alcohol. Again, I am not going to preach that I have this one totally under control. I don’t. I still get hangovers, I still indulge, but, I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce this, and be more strategic and thoughtful about my consumption. In saying this, when my panics occur today, it is almost always due to drinking blues.
Don’t be afraid of medication. I say this because I was. I couldn’t accept myself as someone who needed it. Once I accepted that taking a medication for mental pain is just as acceptable as taking something to relieve physical pain, my days started to get easier. I truly believe the medication I was using helped me gather the strength to get through a tough period that I do not know if I could have alone. That said, I no longer need it since my lifestyle change (and been 6 months clear of anything), but I still thank it for what it did to help me through a bad period. It may not be for everyone and certainly not something that needs to last forever, but do not be ashamed of it if you are in need of an option.
Eat balanced. Get your greens in. I by no means eat entirely clean, but I try to at least do the 80/20 rule. Most of my meals throughout the day are healthy, but I won’t hold back when in a new town to try the local delicacy…balance!
***DISCLAIMER: This is not professional advice - just what has worked for me.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with mental health on the road, I encourage you to reach out to Over the bridge - a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect the music industry to addiction recovery and mental health, education, training, and long-term support services. Not only are they great people, but they get it. They’ve been there. They’ve seen it and heard it all.
You are not alone!