On Mental Health:
In this special installment of FQP, we seek to shine a light on the joys and heartaches that lie at the intersection of the LGBTQIA community, the world of alternative music, and the complex issue of mental health. Nine artists —many of whom are a part of Philadelphia-based label, Get Better Records — weigh in on what the broad subject of mental health means to them…
Shannon Ledbetter of Ramona
– Sloppy Poppy Punky Dancy Sad Times from Seattle –
How to Cope
Lately, I feel fear. A crushing paranoia that my family and friends could be in danger from our own government. Ever since election night, people have been getting bolder with their hate, while i just feel like hiding.
So how does one go about their respectable lives while experiencing the ever-present threat of oppression? I don’t know. I can only tell you what works for me. Making art helps me sort through my feelings. Playing with Ramona is the best therapy I can afford.
I’ve surrounded myself with folx who care and support equal rights for all people. What helps me the most is pretty simple actually.
Openness and talking about my fears with those I care about is essential to my own self-care.
Right now, being queer and Black in America feels like I have a target painted on my back. We have to be there for each other if things take a turn for the worst. I strongly believe that underneath the desperation we feel as a community, there is hope. As long as we are willing to fight to hold onto it,
We will be okay.
KK of Plastic Heap
– Dark, catchy, freaker punk about struggling to stay alive from Columbus, Ohio –
For most of my life, I didn’t know how to talk about trauma. I didn’t have the language to express what I had experienced or what I was feeling. I didn’t even know how fucking angry I was for a long, long time. I found the strength to leave my abuser after attending a survivor speak-out at my college in 2011, and, with it, the voice to name my pain and start screaming about it. I haven’t shut up since. As a lyricist, I have gained so much power over my trauma by sharing it with other people and finding love and community in the people who relate to my experience.
Though I’ve been just as explicit and noisy in other projects, Plastic Heap songs are mostly about the oppressive nature of living as a queer trans person in a straight cis world, dealing with having a human body through the lens of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia, healing from abusive relationships with friends, partners, and family members, and trying to fucking survive in a constant battle with your own damaged mind. Self-identifying as “sick” and “crazy” has actually been a helpful tool for me in the past year or two of healing to distinguish what work is mine to do and what I do not deserve to be punished for. I’ve taken a lot of shit from myself and others over the years, accepting myself as “too sick” to be a good person, and I’m over blaming myself and condemning myself to misery and isolation. I try my absolute best every day to take on the responsibility of doing the difficult emotional work of learning to identify my feelings, process them, and express them in healthy ways that don’t do damage to myself or the people I love.
I am so grateful for the community I’ve found around the world of compassionate friends who are as dedicated to this work as I am, and we can all continue to lift each other up along an arduous journey. This work is hard but incredibly important to participate in, as any member of a community that serves survivors, disabled folks, people dealing with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, and folks of marginalized identities who face discrimination-based trauma in their everyday lives just existing. Despite my everyday struggles with my mental health, I deserve to feel support and experience happiness.
And now… Members of the Get Better Records family sound off!
What is Get Better all about?!
“Get Better Records is a Queer-run independent label founded by Alex Lichtenauer,” explains Pierce Jordan of the Philly hardcore four-piece, Soul Glo. “A Philadelphia resident, Lichtenauer uses Get Better as a personal effort to reverse the constant underrepresentation of the city’s Queer arts community, with a specific focus on punk, hardcore, and alternative rock music. Get Better’s work is meant to extend to those who need it most. Get Better prioritizes those seeking relief from the turmoil of their lives, those like the families of the victims of the June 2016 shooting of the Pulse Nightclub in Florida, to whom Get Better extended proceeds from a compilation of songs by artists on the label’s roster and from the Philadelphia area. Get Better is also responsible for a local festival by the same name, which holds showcases at Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church and venue, PhilaMOCA, donating all door sales to the Trans Assistance Project, Youth Emergency Services, and Women Against Abuse.”
of Get Better Records
A few years ago, I developed severe anorexia and anxiety, partially due to an abusive relationship, and had little to no support to help balance my physical and emotional health. For about a year, I was afraid to reach out and learned firsthand that emotional distress can lead to physical/self-harm. I eventually was too sick to help myself, but a previous partner helped me to move to Asheville [North Carolina], where I attended acupuncture and herbal medicine school.
My healing process has been a slow one, and every day continues to be a constant struggle. I often try to keep myself busy enough where I don’t have time to think about my own needs and try to not let myself dig deeper into the emotional scars I have. I moved to Philadelphia a little over a year ago, have been working closely with a therapist and eating disorder nutritionist. I am still far from “healed,” but the important thing is that I finally have the emotional support in my life to finally overcome this difficult chapter in my life.
L Mathis: Poet/Artist/Musician
– Soft prince in Philly trying their best –
Too often my pain rots into something quiet and unspoken. I don’t know how to touch it, so I let it collapse into silence. When I am having a hard time, I feel like I’m back to square one of healing. I ignore texts, I cancel plans, I melt into self-destruction in the stillness of my room and construct a public mask of contentedness.
Last year was terrifying. I spent a great deal of it being swallowed by self-destructive urges, but didn’t communicate this to anyone. I was afraid of vocalizing my mental state, because that meant accepting it as a real, horrible thing I didn’t have control over.
I’m thankful for friends who I shared quiet moments with; our intimacy gave me the space to communicate hard feelings once I was finally able to do so. We can’t save each other. We can’t cure each other’s mental illnesses or undo our traumas. But we can help. We can show support when we have the energy—by asking each other what we need or giving reminders that we care. We can forgive each other for our self-preserving periods of absence, while celebrating each other’s successes. We can view our prioritization of our own mental health not as selfish, but as sometimes necessary steps of healing. We can sit quiet with each other’s pain until we are ready to share it.
Kristine and Rye of Het Ward
– A vicious disdain for cissexism and transmisogyny to the tune of angry hardcore punk from Pittsburgh –
Kristine: I have severe PTSD. I all too often note how my mental illness and trauma plays a role both in my writing as well as my participation in music. This band has provided me a means of healing, and a lot of what I write about entails both the negative experiences and the trauma that came from them, as well as ways I used those experiences to fuel my writing and healing. I have found real recovery and growth here.
Rye: My anxiety often prevents me from making deep connections with people. Playing music and being in bands has helped me battle feelings of debilitating uneasiness and sadness. Het Ward, in particular, helped me find a queer community that I’ve been wanting since I started going to shows.
Nick Berger of Paper Bee
– All-trans lacy pop from western Mass –
I hear music in my head most of the time: all genres of music, sometimes songs that already exist, sometimes fragments, occasionally grand, fully realized orchestral compositions that I could never translate into anything real with my limited knowledge of music theory. They form and simmer and twist around themselves and are most often fleeting and immediately forgotten. Sometimes I can reach out and grasp a small melodic thread and follow it into a song or at least a small piece of one. Every now and then, these threads can lead me out of a fog and into a place of greater clarity and understanding of a situation or problem. A lot of the time, writing a song doesn’t really make anything feel better, but sometimes it can. I’ve been writing music as lullabies for my own sadness for as long as I can remember.
Music has also served as a map with which to locate myself. It has always been hard for me to find tethers to a more consistent sense of self, especially when I am experiencing extreme mental states. Looking back at my old writing is generally not super helpful, because I see more of what I was hoping to convince myself—or others—of, rather than what I was actually feeling. My lyrics are an exception to this. When I read my old lyrics or listen to older recordings of my work, I can see so much more of a self that I relate to peering out at me. The format of songs has always felt safer as a place to expose more tender parts of myself—maybe because the words are layered within the context of melody and instrumentation.
When I listen to music by other trans, queer, and mentally ill artists, I often feel an undercurrent of connection. Many of us are so isolated—slowly, or furiously, sorting through grief, loss, anger, despair, and the small joys and hopes we find in each other, or the way the light filters through the window. Like the way we are filtering the whole world, or a tiny sliver of it, through our broken bodies and translating it into sound from our many bedrooms. It feels so important for marginalized people to connect with each other through our art. Music gives us a way to reach out and find each other, to relate and feel seen, even when it feels impossible to get out of bed. Music can be a tool to ground, connect, and stay in motion.
THE HIRS COLLECTIVE
– LGBTQIA anti-authoritarian bullshit thrash with punk ethics –
Oh god, oh god. How can I bear through this day? This week? Nullibiquity disconnects me from this body and floats me high above my self, my spirit. Pure fear, undistilled fear of fear itself; it numbs my throat, paralyzes my brain. I’m flash frozen and turtling into myself through a tornado of clear panic. Everything bad that has ever happened ever swirls within me tighter and tighter, till the dark star of brutal pain explodes within my leaden shell of self and a sucking vacuum hole is borne. Into that gaping drain goes everything positive that has ever happened ever. Not just to me, but to the whole universe. I shudder with the weight and lightness of it.
“Then, in me, hands light lamps.” It could minutes or years, but eventually, a drain plug is found and stoppers up this energy-suck temporarily. I’m afraid, so fucking afraid, for the day when I become one with the hole, or am sucked down it to the pitch and unknown.
Forward to dawn and I am drowned in light.
Luke Romano of Cottontail
– Sentimental anarchist pop/melodic punk from Philadelphia –
Being asked to write about mental health couldn’t be a more suitable topic, as lyrical narratives in Cottontail are usually attempting to weave radical politics with the everyday issues that surround what gets called mental health. While anti-authoritarian ideas and activities have typically been more interesting to me than punk or other music subcultures, I’ve also found that surrounding myself with obsessive creative types—necessarily of a radical and/or queer variety—keeps me engaged with the world more efficiently than building a personal network based strictly on political affinity. This is important, because it’s easy for me to spend lots of time by myself. I chalk it up to my own version of a mental health requirement. I’d personally love for there to be more overlap between radical and artist communities, but I get the tensions between them at the same time. So, I navigate it via songwriting. General anxiety, severe panic, and the social/external problems that I view as partially complicit in these experiences become central themes in doing so.
I promote the usual critique of psychiatry; individualizing mental illness erases the harmful impacts of external forces like capitalism, the state, etc. and how these forces interact with biology and chemistry. I’d like to see psychologists take up complete destruction of the totality of authoritarian culture as part of a global and long-term mental health strategy, because individual happiness as a goal isn’t sufficient. I’m also studying psychology traditionally—the knowledge base of a discipline that has historically played a central role in the maintenance of an oppressive status quo—so that I know my shit before going hard full-wingnut style. In the meantime, meeting our immediate needs must often take precedence over the lofty ideas for the sake of survival or morale. That can look like medication, breaking things, drugs, exercise, therapy, caring for friends, etc. For me, it oscillates among them all. Sometimes it looks like a stack of books, a refusal to hold my reclusive temperament up against the traits and qualities that are materially rewarded by capitalists and authoritarians, sometimes it looks like a drink. It definitely involves a level of rage, distancing myself from notions of legitimacy or respectability, but also fostering tenderness and compassion. And, most of the time, a punk show is great too.
Luke Henderiks of Teenage Halloween
-Eight-piece weirdo power-pop ensemble from Asbury Park, N.J.-
To me, the only thing I could do to stay a touring artist is repress all my inner demons that find ways to debilitate my daily life. It very much sounds like an “easier said than done” thing, but for me personally, it was a challenge I needed to take to make being a DIY artist possible. Sustainability was something that haunted me when I started thinking that the songs I wrote couldn’t be performed in front of audiences all over because of myself. Like any outlet of performance, insecurity and worry were things that controlled me for years. Anxiety is something that’s incredibly hard to deal with in a scene of basements and sighs. There are many things that could constantly go wrong: you could get $10 one night for a 10-hour drive, you could find an unsafe situation within a space that takes confrontation to address, you could accidentally spite someone due to miscommunication, etc. Social situations are a very tough, there are platforms given to artists that are very hard to speak on because of one’s influence on younger audiences; these obstacles are incredibly hard to overcome.
Deep breaths and processing go a long way, creating perspectives and angels and devils regarding situations is a very important thing to consider. As an anxious person, it has been very positive for me to look at most situations without bias or expectations. Though it has been hard, mental health has helped shape my identity. I’m glad that, as a lyricist, I can find people that understand what I’m saying and show solidarity. It’s really meaningful and therapeutic to have someone come up to you after a show and say, “You are not alone.” That’s what makes all of this worth it, in the end.