Back in 2008, I was 14 years old when I realised I wanted to become an artist. I guess it all started with curiosity; I remember watching Carl Cox on stage, feeling his energy, his connection with the crowd, and deciding - this is what I want to do. The first stage show I played was a 1 PM slot at the Sunburn Festival. Only about ten festival-goers attended, and five times that number of family and family friends came out to watch me in the scorching heat. That’s when things began. I was still a kid in school, and a lot of people laughed it off; I wasn’t the fittest guy, had no fashion sense, and probably looked the furthest I possibly could from being a performer.
Here I am, ten years later. The last decade has taken me on a journey outside production and touring that I don’t always put up on social media but one that I want to share. Maybe it can help someone navigate their own journey.
When I was 18-19, I wasn’t paying explicit attention to my mental health. Between touring, gigs, school, production, and studying, I never really had any time or space to think or be alone. When I came back from University, I had a slump in work and releases, and it was a period when I had nothing to do except just be with myself. Instead of playing at shows, I was at home watching Netflix and playing video games. There were enough times I woke up feeling purposeless, with a heaviness in my chest and a darkness in my head. The confusion, loneliness, and anxiety were at a peak, and they weren’t just ‘good days and bad days’ anymore.
Honestly, I still get anxious when I think about that period of my life, but it changed me a lot. I sought help, and I went for therapy to try and comprehend what was going on. The process allowed me to understand what was happening and gave me a space to learn about my mental health. It was easier said than done, but I think I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t blame anyone for that phase anymore and have come to respect that all of us have our own battles to fight. In retrospect, I don’t remember that time in my life very well. When my mental health began to suffer, I think I suppressed a lot of those memories. But it’s been a long journey, and it continues till today – to accept and be okay with not being okay.
I think it was sometime back in 2015 when I played the Sunburn main stage; there were 40,000 people in front of me, and it was a dream come true. I remember someone capturing the moment, and I started crying on stage. It was after this moment of pure joy that I had never felt before when I suddenly didn’t feel okay anymore. Once the crowd began thinning out and my family and team left, my emotional state completely switched. I suddenly felt confused, anxious, and extremely irritable, seemingly for no reason.
It was only 2-3 weeks after this episode when I stumbled on ‘Post-Performance Depression’, something many performing artists experience. It’s the euphoria of performance, the adrenaline rush and flow when you’re on stage in front of a crowd. But then, you come back to an often empty hotel room – no audience, no applause, no energy - and a sudden crash into what feels like emptiness. It sounded similar to a drug high, and it took me a while to understand I was susceptible to this. The experience made me realise that if I wanted to continue in this industry, I needed to take care of my mental health and seek help.
Unfortunately, I think many people believe that talking about your mental health and how you feel is something to be ashamed of. Being a guy, expressing your emotions is often looked at as a weakness, and that’s really sad. To some extent, I experienced this with both my parents too. Through everything, I think I have been able to talk to my mom a lot more about the way I’m feeling, but with my dad, the expectation was not to spend so much time dwelling on emotions. This has been a journey for them too, and they have come a long way in being self-aware of their mental health along with mine.
When I was younger, I lost one of my closest friends to cancer. Growing up, I lost another friend I hadn’t kept in touch with to suicide. In 2008, within a month, I lost both my grandparents and at some point, I became used to feeling loss. After my dog passed away recently, I went to the ocean with her ashes alone to say goodbye. And while it didn’t make dealing with things any less difficult, I tried not to take the easy path by throwing myself into distractions. Instead, I gave myself time to grieve, cry, and feel what I needed to at full force. It’s never easy dealing with grief or loss; all of us cope with it differently and in our own ways and timelines. My journey and therapy have taught me not to escape from my emotions instinctively, but to sit with the way I feel, no matter how difficult it is, because that’s what it means to be human – and that’s okay.
During the lockdowns last year, I experienced the loss of a loved one and of what I loved to do. That’s when I changed how I thought about spending my time with people and things that don’t have an infinite timeline by trying to be grateful for every single day. Sometimes, it almost feels like once you go through anxiety and depression, it never leaves you completely. You just keep learning how to cope with it and surround yourself with people who can support you. But mostly, you try not to be too hard on yourself. It feels easy for me to say after going through what I have, but it never felt that way during the time.
I hope, someday, we can normalise how we talk about mental health both within and outside the artist and creative community across the world and make it a safe conversation for so many who need it.