Sunday, 24 November 2019

Mental Health In Music: A Musician's Perspective #5 - Ashley Merritt (Local punk/emo musician)

Here's the latest in the Mental Health In Music series. By now, if you've been reading the previous interviews you'll know what it's all about but for those of you who're venturing into it for the first time; the series features interviews with musicians mainly from DIY/Underground heavy and punk bands, giving them an opportunity to talk about mental health from their perspectives and offering advice to those of you might be struggling. This interview was answered a friend of mine, who's also a musician from my local town.

1. The idea of this feature is to talk about the problems that musicians face, especially those in DIY or up-and-coming bands. Would you mind talking about your own experiences with mental health? 

A. My main struggles in mental health revolve around obsession and anxiety. I was diagnosed with clinical OCD in my early twenties and have been dealing with that ever since. I think it would be fair to say that I’ve always been a very obsessional and emotionally intense person but relationship trauma through my adolescence had the effect of magnifying those negative compulsive ways of dealing with hardship and conflict to the degree where it was really beginning to affect my emotional wellbeing and happiness. Since my OCD diagnosis I have been through some incredibly difficult times but through a great deal of failure and determination as well as three courses of therapy I have managed to find a way to come to greater peace with myself and my mind. My mental health struggles have taught me so much about myself that it would be hard to see my experiences as one-dimensionally sad. 

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2. Being in a band can be an outlet for people to express their feelings and to help them get over certain things in life but do you feel that it can also have a negative effect? If so, what do think these effects can be and are these linked to writing, recording, touring etc?

It would certainly be fair to say that I use songwriting as an outlet for dealing with my mental health and where this is mostly positive there are certainly drawbacks. It can be incredibly hard to contextualise lyrics about darker more internal topics to your nearest and dearest, songwriting needs to come from a place of overwhelming honesty, honesty which can hurt or worry those around you. I have also found that It can be very easy to fall into the trap of becoming over immersed in your mental illness when writing about it constantly. Part of my recovery process was putting my OCD into the fabric of my personality instead of having it be my everything, it’s hard to keep your mental health in perspective when you immerse yourself in it to explore it. 

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3. How do you deal with things now? Have you got any advice for those who are struggling themselves, musician or otherwise? 

I would count myself as in recovery, I have some hard periods but nothing like I did a few years ago. I feel like once you’ve finally started to challenge your brain and see its negative patterns as just odd ticks of how your mind works, it becomes very hard to un-learn that and as such, no matter how hard it can get, hopefully you have the tools to deal with it. If I have any advice it would be to never, ever be afraid to seek out help, never feel bad about talking to your closest friends, relatives, partners, they all want to help you and see you happy! You really never need to suffer alone. 

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4. What more do you think can be done in the underground scene or even the wider music scene to support people who may be struggling? 
Mental health awareness gigs and benefits are a wonderful thing and could always happen more. I think we should aim to perhaps even put on full festivals where the branding, message and bands put on are all there in solidarity with mental health, I like that idea because frankly, everybody struggles and I would like to think that full festival bills of artists admitting that they struggle and that it’s OK to struggle would help remove the stigma around mental health. I think a lot of people would come out of the woodwork to support that, that the public at large would never imagine. 

I just want to say thanks to Ashley for taking the time to answer my questions. Also, apologies for the lack of photos in this post. I'm not being lazy but I didn't was to use non-music/performance photos.

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