Written by Milli-Rose Rubin, as part of Youth Music Next Gen.
For me, music and mental health have always been connected, on an emotional and practical level. It is extremely easy to fall into comparing yourself physically, emotionally and creatively to others in the music industry. We are conditioned to do so, especially as social media is the new norm, but in reality, life is very different. Music and creativity can help us express ourselves and support our wellbeing. Being able to explore music in the way that I choose to, and hopefully use it to help others too, is truly rewarding. Here are some things I’ve learned on my journey so far.
You define what success means
Growing up, my mother and I travelled and lived in various places together. From living in Amsterdam, to Tanzania in Africa, and seeing how different people live their lives, changed my thoughts on “success”. My mother is a filmmaker and from a young age, I was writing music, songs and poetry. Despite having very little, we made use with the resources and I quickly learned that to be creative, you do not need the materialistic factors in order for it to be an amazing piece.
We came to London when I turned 12 or 13, and I was slightly overwhelmed by the amount of opportunities there were, both creatively and socially. While I managed going to school with working on my music, it is fair to say that you can lose sight of maintaining your mental health when chasing success in the music industry. It can be competitive, and at times intimidating. To combat this, I would make lists of things that I wanted to improve on musically, for my own benefits, and not to fit a particular criteria of what a “creative” must be like.
Once I started my A levels, I started working with children outside of school hours, running Creative Sunday classes. The class would have an open discussion about any potential problems the children would be facing at school, at home or just generally. Having an open talk, and at times, debates, made communicating a much more organic and approachable process.
From here, we would collectively think of ways to portray these feelings into a form of creative art (music/film/poetry), and if they felt comfortable enough, they would share their work with everybody and explain the creative process. Understandably, it is not always easy to articulate why you may be feeling a certain way or communicate when something is wrong, which is why combining creative arts and mental health works so well.
Even though children face different types of problems, watching how their emotional distress can be shifted into something creative shows that regardless of age, we all need to be aware of creativity being interconnected with mental health. I have equally learned from them as they have from me, and even though I am an adult on paper, I still struggle to communicate my feelings and assess my wellbeing from time to time. Teaching this class from the age of 16 up until the present has taught me that despite your age, where you are from or what you do, creativity is a form of therapy for all.
Learning to pace yourself is important
Maintaining a healthy balance between your wellbeing and the drive to do more, and be more creative, can be challenging. There are so many different factors that can position you to feel like you are not doing enough. The important thing to remember is to pace yourself.
In London, where everything seems so fast paced, it is easy to fall into constantly thinking about what you want more of. I have learned to appreciate how far I have come creatively, and to be kinder to my mind in that sense.
Maintaining a balance of personal life, family life, work life, creativity and/or any other parts of your life is exhausting and draining. Bringing music into your ritual, in a way that betters your mental health and not because you feel obliged to do so, will ease the pressure and from experience, you produce better music that way too.
Remember why you’re creating music in the first place
Success. We can all be sucked into a world where gaining other people’s validation can be what drives us to do more. But more importantly, remembering why you have written a particular song or made something creative, reminding yourself what it means to you, will install a much more fulfilling reason for doing what you are doing.
When I was younger, I would alter different parts of my work in order to please others to a certain degree. I would forget why I was making what I was making. However, documenting what each piece meant to me reminded me that it is okay if it does not fit for everyone. If your piece of creative work is not seen to be ideal or the right fit, it is okay. I learned to be content with rejection by writing down what I thought went wrong, what went well and how I can move forward from here.
Meeting one person's version of success does not matter. As long as you are satisfied with your own work and are confident that it reflects you, and the story that you wish to tell. Uncertainty is a massive factor in the music business. Although it may be stressful to get to the top (whatever the top may be), what you learn on the way is far more rewarding.
I learned to have fun with creating, collaborating and getting more involved with music-based organisations (such as the Roundhouse in Camden), that facilitate the space to be explorative without any expectations.
You can’t force creativity
The idea of maintaining the drive, the competitive mindset and the need for success resulted in me becoming unhappy with myself. I speak from personal experience when I say that a lot of my energy was consumed by trying to put on a front that I was ready, and positive and creative, when in reality, I was battling with having just lost my father. You cannot force creativity, especially in a time where you are at your most vulnerable. This took me some time to get used to.
Come to terms with the fact that being unproductive can also be productive. Allow yourself to have the space to “do nothing”. If we were all to be constantly on the go, trying to get into the business, and battling with other personal and emotional factors, there would be no time to be genuinely creative. Again, I found that when I realised there is enough time, and that taking time out is still being productive, I became happier when writing music in general.
My mother is truly my inspiration here, as she has always instilled into me that nothing needs to be done in linear context. We are conditioned to feel like we must go to school, to then go to university, followed by working a nine-to-five. My mother studied Film at university at the age of 48, which taught me from a young age that life in general, especially the creative arts, does not work in a straight line. All age groups should have access to it, and from this, I learned to not pressure myself into anything I did not feel emotionally ready for.
It is clear that we face challenges within the music industry that can affect our self-esteem, confidence, and overall mental health. Remember why you started doing and creating anything in the first place, is essential. Not everybody will understand the personal stories that go into your work. Music is not a “one size fits all” piece of work. Take the time to assess your wellbeing. Document your feelings and express them to somebody close, or even just keep it as a written document.
With the balance between mental health and music, creativity will become far more natural. Assessing why you are doing what you are doing, reminding yourself that your creative practice is all for you and that it represents your story, will become a far more joyful process proceeding in the creative arts and facing challenges ahead.
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