I’m going to preface this with the fact that I had planned to do this post on depression and how it has affected me, and then Meghan Ihnen (follow her on Twitter @mezzoihnen) penned an article in which she talked about burnout. Give it a read at Burnout is a b****. Let’s avoid it. It hit home with a lot of the ways that I have been feeling while dealing with this cycle of emotions and hormones.
As some of you may have read in a previous blog post (Health and the singer), I suffer from idiopathic collapsing focal segmental glomulerosclerosis. Without rehashing all the details of what that is, one of the more fun (trust me, its not fun) side effects is the effect it has on my thyroid function, which in turn gives me some glorious mood swings. Up until last year, I had never dealt with anxiety or depression. Apparently this is my chance to make up for that entire span between birth and now.
I know it gets said over and over again, but depression isn’t just about being sad. For me, it’s like this constant sense of dread. It’s never really wanting to leave the house. It’s not finding the motivation to even move off the couch. I used to revel in being social, now I stress out about being in any social setting. I can thankfully say that I’m dealing with it better this year than last, but last year set a low bar for anything to qualify as “better.”
depression isn’t just about being sad
Before last year, I was a 4.0 student. While I got sick like everyone else, it never really took my voice out of commission. Now I get sick a little more than I used to (honestly not a lot more) but it lasts longer, and that stress carries over into my singing. Believe me, depression magnifies all of your problems, even if other people can’t sense it. I’m currently playing catch up in my classes for the first time since I was a cocky undergrad. Only now, its because I just couldn’t find the energy or the motivation to keep myself caught up. I’ve had a professor or two talk to me about attendance issues, and then ask me why I didn’t email them to let them know that my absence was due to illness. Well, I just don’t know how to professionally say to someone that I needed a nap. Even typing it out, it sounds silly, but sometimes I hit a brick wall with zero energy, and I need to sleep right then.
At one point last week, and this isn’t even an exaggeration, I had already in my head decided that I needed to withdraw from school. This stemmed from the fact that I needed to have a waiver for one class, and that snowballed into the prof being disappointed in me, which then affected other classes I needed to take with that prof, and so on and so forth. All in my head. I hadn’t even downloaded the form that I needed to fill out yet.
For years, I’ve prided myself on one thing that I did better than anyone else: hustle. I work as hard as I possibly can, and I get results that way. It got me through my first masters degree, and honestly has kept me going through this one, even through illness.
When you’re trapped inside your own thoughts with depression, that’s just not enough sometimes.
How do I deal with it? For one, I have a support system in place. My faculty has been amazing, and my wife listens to me and doesn’t just discount what I’m saying to her. I have to admit, its hard to talk to anyone about this, including my wife. That also seems silly, as my wife is my biggest fan, but on the other hand sometimes I think that I’m disappointing her by not being superman. Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.
Why am I writing all of this? One of my former students and I had a conversation last week and he was floored that I was having these issues because, he said, I had been the one who taught him confidence on stage. Not only that, he was having similar issues, so he suddenly realized that if I could have these issues, there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong or “defective” about him.
the number one thing that has helped me through this is knowing that I’m not alone
Sometimes you can push through the burnout and the depression, and sometimes you can’t. It’s important to understand that if you can’t, there’s nothing wrong with you, and you just need to take a step away. You can do the thing.
Keep singing, friends.