I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder two years ago, shortly after I returned from a semester studying abroad in Paris. While I was away, there were plenty of times I would spontaneously feel dizzy, shaky, and short of breath. My uneasiness would even lead me to lash out in anger. In these moments, I knew I was not like myself, but their unpredictable and consuming nature rendered me incapable of recognizing how the symptoms formed a bigger picture.
When I got back to New York, my best friend was celebrating her 21st birthday. I felt inexplicably on edge about going out, but tried to shake the sensation as I hopped in the shower. Immediately, those symptoms of dizziness, shakiness, faintness, and shortness of breath that I experienced abroad reared their faces again. The intensity of it all made me realize: I was in the midst of a panic attack. I knew at that point that going to a party was not a good decision for me, so instead I spent my evening researching panic attacks and anxiety while I drank water and snacked on Swedish fish in bed.
When my heart rate was not subsiding after three days of trying to relax as best I could, I saw my doctor who was able to confirm that I have an anxiety disorder. Giving the beast a name was an incredible, but daunting, turning point. In an instance, so much of the mystery was gone. The anxiety was still there, but my awareness put me in control. This knowledge, however, is never the solution to the problem. It is simply square one, where you must find the courage to battle onward.
Once you have received a diagnosis, the anxiety becomes more concrete, and managing it becomes a system of regular habits. Because of my diagnosis, I could pay better attention to my triggers and symptoms as well as my tactics for combating and preventing them. I could even open up to my loved ones about my struggle. At first when opening up, others’ responses like “just relax, try staying calm, it’s fine” were discouraging and isolating. I can recall an instance when I confided in my bandmates at rehearsal that I was having a bad anxiety day, but pushed through practicing. That evening over text, my band mate advised me not to use anxiety as an excuse because “we all have bad days.”
These kinds of exchanges, though less frequent now that I can better articulate my struggles, are often unavoidable when opening up about mental health issues. It’s impossible to know exactly what someone else is going through, and can be hard to know what to say when they’re confiding in you. This can cause blocks in the conversation, resulting in both parties feeling unheard. Anxiety is a bumpy road ridden with bad days along with good, with moments of major doubt along with hope. Sometimes it really is difficult just to get out of bed when your anxiety feels like a hundred-pound weight. Sometimes it feels impossible to find the patience for people who reduce your battle to a bad day that you just need to get past.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that continuing with honest conversations, even though it’s hard, allows growth and more understanding. I understand that it is also hard for others to find the right things to say to someone with mental health issues. I face this challenge myself when I speak with another person who lives with anxiety. And when I’m not sure what to say, I practice compassionate listening, finding that our differences only make me more attune to the vast and highly individual character of clinical anxiety. Anxiety largely remains an enigma in society and talking it out isn’t a cure-all. Speaking about it together gets us closer to ending the stigma, but anxiety is still something that needs to be tackled individually.
This is something that can be particularly difficult in the music industry. While I do not get stage fright or social anxiety, these are potentially huge roadblocks for a performer with anxiety. For me, the going out and drinking, which are especially a part of the professional side of the industry, are what can trigger me. Alcohol can agitate my anxiety, so I don’t drink. This stressor is frequently accompanied by social pressure and questioning (“What? Why aren’t you drinking!?”) that only make it worse--it’s frustrating having to explain yourself every time you go out. At the beginning of my journey, declining to attend an event or show, or just refusing a drink, would then also be topped with overwhelming guilt and FOMO. Now, however, I am able to shed that extra insecurity and find the strength to say no, knowing that I am doing what is necessary for my well-being.
In the fast-paced, late-night, competitive music industry, self care is too often neglected. Many of us in the industry work hard—sometimes on multiple jobs—and spend the rest of our time trying to make and maintain connections as well as push our musical projects forward. It is so easy to lose sleep and lose the inner balance which is so important to keep, inevitably leading to burnout. For those who struggle with anxiety or another mental disorder amidst all of this, there is always the risk of your body and mind slipping beneath your many other priorities.
I decide daily that my mental and physical health are the #1 priority. For me, this means a regular yoga and meditation practice that keeps me in tune with what I need inside and out. It also means unapologetically RSVPing “no” when I need time to rejuvenate or handle an anxiety flare-up. Dealing with anxiety is by no means easy, and the music industry’s demanding culture can make it all the more difficult. By being open about my struggle with others and myself, and by making self care a serious but enjoyable habit, I have learned about the courage it takes to conquer obstacles and the patience it takes to reach goals. Both despite and thanks to my anxiety, I am confident in my ability to cope and hopeful in my success in this industry.
Written by: Katie Zaccardi
Edited by: Michelle Costanza
Katie Zaccardi is singer/songwriter based in New York City and has been playing music and writing songs since the age of 8. After recently graduating from NYU’s Music Business program, she now works in Music Publishing and is Head of Marketing and Development // NY Chapter Leader at #WomenCrush Music. Aside from writing, performing, and working in the industry, Katie also practices and teaches yoga in her free time, and enjoys travelling, eating, and binge-watching the latest TV shows. You can follow her on Insta/Twitter at @ktzaccardi.