Real Talk: Depression
In this XLR8R feature, an anonymous musician shares what life is like on the road when you're struggling with depression. For those who may be struggling with depression, find comfort in knowing that perceived glamour from being a touring DJ is not a recipe for happiness. We can all feel down sometimes, regardless of how "perfect" our lives may seem.This article originally appeared on XLR8R
Real Talk is a series of artist-penned essays that appear on XLR8R from time to time.
In our latest edition, we offer something a bit different to the usual format: its author is a well-known touring DJ who has been working the international circuit for over a decade (and built a sizeable discography in that time), whose identity will remain undisclosed. The piece focuses on the plights that people in such a position face—on the road, alone in the studio, and anywhere in between—and the lasting impact it can cause.
It's a subject that has come into focus much more in recent years. Respected figures such as Prosumer and Benga have spoken out about their individual experiences with depression, and new documentaries and think-pieces on the subject are popping up all the time; however, real awareness and understanding is still lacking in much of the electronic scene, as well as the larger global population. It is for this reason that we present this today.
There’s been a bit of talk over the past year or so about the issue of DJs and depression, or DJs and mental health in general. A few have come forward and opened up a bit about their struggles and how it has impacted their career. DJs as diverse as Avicii (though I hesitate to label him an actual “DJ”) and Danilo Plesow (a.k.a. Motor City Drum Ensemble) have either ended their careers prematurely, or issued public statements describing the pitfalls of the international DJ's lifestyle and its detrimental effects on mental health. I have much more of a kinship with Plesow than Avicii. We play the same sort of circuit, and musically are no more than a stone’s throw away from each other. Also, I’d make the distinction that our relationship with the music is vastly different to someone like Avicii or other top-tier commercial DJs.
For me, dance music and its culture have been a sanctuary, a home for an outsider who has never been interested in fitting into mainstream culture. As both a producer and a performer, dance music has provided me with an artistic outlet that I can’t imagine living without, and at times, frankly, a reason to continue living. I fully acknowledge and am eternally grateful that I am living a sort of dream life, supporting myself through music production and performance; however, at the same time, the lifestyle is fraught with mental health pitfalls. Extreme sleep deprivation, mood-altering substance use and abuse, difficulty maintaining relationships, increased social media pressures, over-saturation of the market, long periods of isolation, and constant career instability: these are the topics that make up a large majority of conversations I have with fellow DJ friends.
It is hard for me to publicly detail my own experiences of living with severe depression without addressing what I would call the “DJs Complaining Effect.” I’ve enjoyed a successful career that has spanned over a decade at this point, earning both critical success in terms of recorded output and a solid place in the mid-tier DJ circuit. I make enough money to support myself without needing to work an outside job. DJing has literally showed me the world, and I’ve made loads of amazing friends along the way. The times I have tested the waters a bit and come forward as someone who suffers from depression (I have a diagnosis of Major Clinical Depression) have been met with lots of empathy, but also a fair amount of suspicion and outright hostility. Some seem to find it offensive that someone in my position would not only admit to suffering from this very real, clinically diagnosed disease, or worse yet, that the very lifestyle I have worked so hard to achieve could be contributing to it.
This is reflective of prevailing attitudes toward mental health, and depression in particular, in the larger public arena. There is a common misconception that equates depression with situational sadness. Depression is an organic dysfunction of the brain that has no redeeming qualities. It keeps people in isolation, often fearful of “bothering” others with their situation. Depressed people have a very difficult time coming forward—responses like “I was really depressed when my boyfriend broke up with me, I just went to the gym and worked it out,” or “you need to get out more/take a bath/stop thinking about it” are rooted in a suspicion that depression is a failure of character, a sort of weakness that the sufferer just has to break out of. Add into this equation that the sufferer of depression is someone who travels the world getting paid to play music for other people in nightclubs, and empathy can be pretty hard to find.