Whether or not we realize it when we start down the trail of pursuing a career in the arts, eventually we all have our “coming to” stories of discovering that there is no roadmap. There are a million different ways to get to where we’re going, and the only certain thing is that there’s going to be uncertainty.
And, if you’re navigating a career of uncharted waters as well as living with depression on top of it — you’re not alone, you’re not alone, you’re not alone. There are a lot of us out here.
I’m a singer/songwriter living in Nashville, and just recently released an EP that was about three years in the making. After moving from the Redwoods of California to pursue songwriting in Nashville, I launched a Kickstarter in March to help fund the opportunity to work with an amazing producer who helped bring the songs dancing in my mind to life. And while the evolution of this project has been one of the most enriching experiences, this season also required an amplified vulnerability which subsequently caused a spike in my depression.
I was diagnosed with dysthymia (mild, long-term depression) while I was in college, and that has given me more of a context for understanding why moving forward (and honestly, just being a human) can feel overwhelming to me at times. Carving out a space for oneself in the world takes grit and determination regardless, but living with depression makes it all feel heavier. Harder. And daunting. For all of the days when the universe feels open, hopeful, and ready to be on my side, there are just as many that feel clouded by a gloomy fog. Compounded with the typical artist self-doubts like questioning whether I’m good enough to belong here, navigating my relationship with depression requires an extra dose of resilience to keep staying in it and taking risks. When my depression spikes, every little thing requires so much more emotional energy — even small interactions start to feel like something I can’t “pep talk” myself into facing.
Carving out a space for oneself in the world takes grit and determination regardless, but living with depression makes it all feel heavier. Harder.
It’s a tricky combination being ambitious and driven while also trying to be gentle towards my complex inner person. But while I used to resent the extra burden that depression brought to my life, I’m slowly learning that art is mostly birthed because of, not in spite of, struggle. We all have our demons, disappointments, and distractions — and art happens not just when we can harness and make peace with them long enough to mold something — but struggle can actually open up a whole new world we’d never know without it.
I’m slowly in the process of learning depression as a teacher with gifts to offer me, rather than an enemy plotting to hold me back.
A few of those unlikely gifts…
It’s deepened my empathy.
At its worst, depression can back me into a corner, keep my world small and my eyes to the ground. But at its best, it can be a reminder that everyone has their own struggle to bear. And that knowledge has expanded my perspective. If pain and struggle connect us, then exploring and naming my own has created more room inside me to hold others more thoughtfully. And as a writer, I need empathy to imagine someone else’s world.
I’m re-thinking time.
I’m often plagued by feeling “behind” in my career (and scrolling through Instagram never helps when I’m feeling that way). There’s something to trusting that, for some reason, I need to be where I’m at right now. I used to resent my depression for slowing me down, but I’m finding that if I stop to listen long enough to let the moment teach me, there’s usually a song there.
It can be helpful to look to others for advice in how they’ve progressed in their career, but if that’s causing me to start devaluing my own story, I have to remember that my path is unique. I can’t trace someone else’s footsteps to get to where I’m going. Being specific with my goals and yet holding the time-frame loosely has been freeing. Subconsciously adopting a nebulous timeframe that I’ve pieced together from the career paths of artists I admire only induces panic and anxiety.
My situation is my story, and if I’m going to tell it, then I need to let myself delve into it. Holding my dreams alongside holding space for myself is the continual dance of taking charge of what I can control, remembering the agency I possess, and then releasing the rest.
I’m slowly learning that art is mostly birthed because of, not in spite of, struggle.
More gentleness towards my person.
In the process of writing the songs for my EP, I discovered that because it felt so vulnerable putting myself out in the world, I needed to devote more time to taking care of myself. Sometimes that meant not feeling guilty if I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to during my free morning. Sometimes that meant drinking wine and listening to a Patty Griffin record in the kitchen while making dinner. Sometimes that meant declining a social event, or showing up for book club to be reminded I’m not alone. Practicing non-judgement towards myself, allowing myself room to breathe — these small acts have helped curb the darkness.
It’s deepened the reach of my music.
Writing about the themes closest to my core has not only been cathartic, but has also paved a channel for deeper connection with others. If I’m writing something I need to hear, then chances are someone else might need it, too. Talking about depression with people you trust is a proactive step in not letting it paralyze or silence you, and weaving those themes through your art can help others feel less alone.
While my inner world has often felt like walking into a wilderness, I’ve found that creating something from my questions, curiosities, and struggle is empowering because it reminds me that there’s always a way forward, even when there seems to be none. And when we’re willing to stop fighting and possibly even welcome our depression as an ally, we might be surprised by how it grows us into a stronger something.
Forward is the work waiting for all of us, and I’ll see you there soon.
Rebekah’s EP Canyons is available on iTunes (HERE) and Spotify (HERE).
Have you had a similar experience of finding art through struggle? What did it teach you?
Images via Collin Fatke