We sat down with industry professional, Molly Hudelson, to discuss working in the music industry while struggling with mental illness.
Molly Hudelson, a writer, photographer, and industry professional, has always loved music. Fascinated by music magazine interviews and record reviews from a young age, it’s no wonder her path led to a full-time career in the music industry. Molly originally attended college for pre-med, but then switched gears after beginning to book shows with her school’s program board. At this time, she had also enrolled in a class “History of Rock and Roll,” where she discovered how much she loved writing about music. This sparked her aspiration to write for a big magazine, so she decided to start by creating her own blog. Right after graduating, Molly worked on a few tours, and picked up several freelancing gigs taking photos and writing. Now, Molly works for HIP Video Promo, a music video promotion company, and as a writer/photographer for Substream. Like so many in the industry do, Molly chased her passion, mixing and matching different freelance jobs along the way. Throughout this journey, Molly has struggled with depression and anxiety, which she has learned to manage and now wishes to share her insights on this ongoing battle with others.
Can you tell us about your experience with mental health issues?
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for about 12 or 13 years - since I was 14 or so. When I was in middle school, I never fit in. I never had a lot of friends, and I think that’s why I took a lot of comfort in music. I went off to a private school for high school and started struggling a lot. I wasn’t sleeping, my appetite was all over the place, I was crying for no reason - I just felt sad. I started cutting myself because I didn’t have words to express how I was feeling. I started seeing a therapist who then referred me to a psychiatrist, and I remember being in the psychiatrist’s office, freaking out in cold sweats, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. The psychiatrist asked, “Have you ever had a panic attack?” and in my mind I thought “I think I’m having one right now,” but I didn’t know what it was. So, I ended up taking some medication for depression throughout most of highschool and it helped, but I definitely got to the point toward the end of high school where I was feeling stable, for the most part. I think it’s a myth with mental health that it’s a one and done kind of thing. Most people unfortunately are going to struggle with it for the rest of their lives to some degree. But I was feeling pretty stable and went off medication, and I felt like myself again.
The first couple of years of college, I struggled with depression a lot - I had knee surgery freshman year which made things hard. The summer after junior year, a friend of mine and I were driving to a show, and while I was driving I had an awful panic attack. It got to the point that I had to pull over to the shoulder to stop, and told my friend that he had to drive the rest of the way. The next day I made an appointment with a psychiatrist who prescribed me some medication for anxiety. So that definitely helped get it under control to some degree.
After college I went on tour, which can definitely bring up its own challenges, but I was living out a huge goal of mine. Once I came back, I struggled for several years after that. A lot of my concerns were largely focused on finding a job instead of what was going on in my own head. But then, I went back to struggling. I came back from a trip visiting my friend and I couldn't sleep. I would go to the gym and have meltdowns. It took me almost three days to reach out to my best friend and tell her I was having a hard time and didn’t know what to do. I realized it was taking me so long, and that it was so hard for me to say anything to someone who I talk to everyday. That was a wake up call for me. But I started seeing a therapist again which was a tricky process with insurance, and that’s been helping.
You’ve mentioned this a bit already, but what to you do today to help cope with your depression and anxiety?
Therapy has helped, and medication has helped me in the past, though I’m not currently taking anything. For me, eating right helps a lot. I am vegan, but oreos and french fries are vegan! It’s not to say I don’t eat that stuff, but if I’m making sure I’m getting enough vegetables and eating protein, not just carbs, eating a balanced diet helps a lot. I even realized recently that there are days where I’ve been so stressed that I forget to eat, or forget to eat real food. Exercising has helped a lot too. In college I started getting really into running, which was the best thing I ever did for my mental health. I was on the swim team in highschool and that helped a lot too. But running was huge. For me, the feeling of accomplishment and runner’s high, which I’ve never felt with any other kind of exercise. My problem the past few years is that I’ve had a few surgeries on both my knees, so running is out now. I have a gym membership, so I’ve been going there sometimes to do some cardio, and occasionally weights. Sometimes I will do pilates videos at home, which I really like because that focuses a lot on breathing. And if it’s nice out, I’ll go for a walk outside. Having my go-to comfort songs that I know will help me calm down also helps. Same with watching TV or a movie that’s really familiar. That and making and effort to talk with friends makes a huge difference.
Has being a part of a music community helped with feeling like you have people you can go to?
Most of my close friends are people that I know through music or being on tour. In that sense, the people that I turn to when I’m having a bad day are people that I know because of music, so I’ve gained something valuable through that. I think the sense that this is something I’ve wanted to do for so long, and finally making a living doing it, brings a deep feeling of satisfaction with that. As a writer as well, having the opportunity to write some pieces for large audiences is terrifying but a big weight off of your chest. It has also made me realize that people don’t just care about the stuff I write because of what artist I’m writing about. They care because of how I write it.
Has dealing with mental health issues ever negatively impacted your experience working in the music industry?
For starters, a lot of people who make their living in the music industry aren’t full time employees, or don’t have insurance through work. A lot of people who are struggling might know they should go talk to someone or wonder if they should be taking medication, but they don’t have the means to get the necessary treatment. I think that’s a very real problem for a lot of people.
You mentioned tour brought up challenges, what was that like?
Yes, going on tour can definitely be challenging. No matter what you’re doing on tour (and everyone on tour will claim they have the hardest job on tour), it’s hard. You’re in a constantly changing environment, probably not getting a solid 8 hours of sleep, probably not eating three healthy meals per day. You’re probably drinking too much caffeine, you’re not seeing your loved ones often. It’s a lot harder to do the things you need to do to take care of yourself on tour, and that makes it a problem for people. Which is why when I’ve been on tour, I’ve made it an effort to text people, try to eat decently when I can.
In terms of working in music in general aside from touring, I think mental health has been a challenge as it would be to some degree in any field. But especially since I balance a full-time job and other side gigs, it’s often trying to find a balance of self-care and trying to do what I need to do to take care of myself, while also doing what I want to do to advance professionally.
How do you think the music industry is addressing the topic of self-care and mental health?
I think it’s definitely getting better, I think it’s made a lot of progress since 7 years ago when I was just getting my feet wet, and that’s really important and something we should acknowledge. A big issue is that many people in the music industry experience burnout. I think people who want to work in music are generally very passionate about music, where in other fields that may not be the case. I think largely because of that, it’s kind of created this culture (which probably exists in any field, but is especially noticeable in music) where, because you WANT this job, employers will ask a lot out of you. It’s very much a culture of “You should be working and available and accessible at all times.” But even on top of that, I think there is a pressure we all feel that we should be doing something to advance our career at all times. It’s important to eat right, take the time to meal prep, getting enough sleep, exercising. People are starting to realize this importance, but I don’t know in the music industry if employers have caught on to this as well, in terms of what they expect from people.
You went to school originally to study pre-med and psychology. How has your background in psychology informed your approach to dealing with mental illness in yourself and with others?
In terms of dealing with myself, it has to some degree helped articulate what I’m feeling in that I am able to realize that when I am not sleeping, not motivated, when I’m randomly crying, I am probably depressed. I am able to put those things together. I interned in the office of a crisis hotline as well, so I went through some of the training for that. I learned from that that when people are struggling, when someone turns to you and they’re having a hard time, sometimes they want advice and sometimes they need advice. But sometimes, people just need someone to listen. Active listening is what they call it - learning to piece together what someone's saying and say “Wow that sounds really hard, I understand why you’re feeling XYZ.” Just being a listening ear, being supportive, and reassuring people that they are not crazy, they’re not stupid, they’re not a burden for opening up. That’s a big thing I got out of that.
What advice do you have for someone who may be struggling but doesn’t know what to do?
I would recommend everyone try to figure out health coverage now. If you are not able to get it through your employer or your parent’s employer, you can buy your own insurance. Depending on your income level, the Affordable Care Act will work with you to find a price point that works. As a disclaimer, it doesn't always work out in your favor and sometimes the prices - even accounting for income and tax credits - are still too much for some people (especially if you have any pre-existing conditions). It's absolutely not a 100% perfect resource, but it is certainly an option to look into.
And I would also say: remember you don’t have to be at your absolute lowest point to reach out. And from the other side, even if you don’t think someone is having a hard time, check in with them. Ask your friends how they’re doing and pay attention to how they respond. But if you’re struggling, reach out to someone you trust, tell them what’s on your mind, and be honest if you don’t know what to do. If you think you’re having some problems with mental health, look for mental health providers through your insurance website. Or call them up and let them know what you’re looking for in your area. But I think even before you reach out to your insurance or make an appointment, lots of times reaching out to a trusted friend or family member can be a great first step.
What advice do you have for someone who doesn’t understand what it is like to struggle with mental health issues but has a friend or coworker who does, and wants to be there for them?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of what it means to be there for people. I think it comes down to two things. Number one: checking in with people--making it a point to reach out to friends not only when you know they’re having a bad day, but also just so they know you’re thinking of them. I think if you want to be there for someone and you don’t really know how, I think a big thing is asking people what’s going on. You don’t have to know what it’s like when someone shares what they’re going through, but sometimes just saying, “That sounds so hard” or “I’m so sorry but we can get through this together” helps. You can even ask people, “Do you want advice right now or do you just want me to listen?” That is huge because sometimes people don’t want advice, and you don’t want to give unsolicited advice.
The second is educating yourself on mental illnesses and what they look like, as well as the warning signs of suicide. There are plenty of resources from organizations like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, MusiCares, and To Write Love On Her Arms, that will help educate you on the signs and symptoms of suicide. Researching things like that and learning more about the illnesses to give yourself a better understanding can be really helpful.
Interview By: Katie Zaccardi
Note: The contents of this article relate the experiences of the interviewee for informational purposes and should not substitute for professional psychological advice. Always consult a qualified mental health provider with any questions you have regarding a medical disorder.
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