“Thank You, I’m Sorry”: Impostor Syndrome In Music

“Great set, man!” The internal cacophony of anxiety and self-doubt is all too familiar to Lucias from Call Me Malcolm, as he describes in this amusing piece about impostor syndrome.

Written by Lucias Malcolm, of Call Me Malcolm fame. This is part of our #MentallySound series, exploring mental health in music. 

The following is a work of fiction that happened last week. Any similarity to person or persons is entirely likely.

The gig is over. Nothing broke, up to and including equipment and/or bones. The crowd seemed happy, or at least, no one threw anything. But who can really tell? The band rush to pack leads, instruments and sweaty t-shirts into whichever bag is closest. I crouch at the front of the stage fighting a particularly impudent stretch of gaffer tape as a figure approaches.

“Great set man!” he smiles.

Shit. I think to myself. Not now. But it’s too late. I can hear the gavel banging already…

~

Anxiety: “ORDER! ORDER! I call to order the Council of the Inner Monologue.

[Indecipherable murmurs from the countless other voices in Luke’s head]

Anxiety: “I have called this urgent meeting to discuss the most recent and egregious compliment from a stranger, to wit, ‘Great set man’…”

Depression: “Point of order! We are yet to discuss the matter of Something Stupid the Host Body Said When He Was 13.”

[More murmurs and disagreement]

Anxiety: “On the contrary, we went over this in great detail every week for the past 23 years.”

OCD: “Point of order! We can’t start the meeting until we’ve established absentees. Confidence isn’t here.”

Self Hate: “He never is.”  

[More murmurs]

Anxiety: “ORDER! ORDER! Absentee noted. Now, all in favour of replying to the stranger with an inaudible mumble, say ‘Aye’.”

~

I mumble something inaudible in response, offering a smile so lacking in conviction it’s hard to tell if I’m even conscious.

“Yeah man, I really love how much fun you guys have on stage.” He offers with a warm smile.

~

Self Hate: “Point of order! Raising the issue of the errant ‘really’ in the strangers follow up compliment.”  

Anxiety: “Noted and seconded. Too much stress on the word to seem genuine. All in favour of raising the threat level to ‘Suspicious’, say ‘Aye’”

[Cries of ‘Aye’]

Anxiety: “Motion carried. Trigger the Self-Deprecation Clause and instruct the host body to pour scorn on the compliment in principle.”

~

“We’re normally a bit tighter than that.” I stutter. Crisis averted. For a second there, he might’ve gotten away with thinking we were good.

“No seriously, you were so tight. The breakdown in that last song was insane!”

~

Anxiety: “Emergency point of order! Suspicion duly confirmed. Host body was erratic in execution of musical instrument during last song.”

Depression: “Motion to abort Council of the Inner Monologue, quit the band and move to Dieppe to make shoes.”

Anxiety: “I see no other sensible option.”

Self Hate: “Initiate the Cobbler Protocol!”

Anxiety: “Noted and seconded. All in favour say–”

OCD: “Emergency! Emergency! Host body placed the wires ABOVE the foot pedal in the bag. Unacceptable. Motion to–“

~

“I also wanted to say,” the man continues, unaware of the eight-way conversation the voices are currently conducting in my head, “Thank you for talking about mental health. I suffer myself and it means a lot that you bring it up.”

~

Anxiety: “I… well… this is most unexpected.”  

[Door opens]

Empathy: “Sorry I’m late. What did I miss?”

Depression: “We’re moving to France.”

Anxiety: “The host body was presented with an unexpected compliment. We’re trying to establish the root cause of such a breakdown in social protocol.”

Empathy: “Maybe it was genuine? It probably took everything the guy had to come out to the show tonight. Maybe, it took even more for them to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation.”

Self Hate: “He’s right. Motion to discuss this awkward moment in detail at 3am every morning for the next week.”

OCD: “I’ve already made a note.”

Anxiety: “Agreed. Now, I suggest we enshrine in law the Imposter Syndrome Initiative. To wit, from now on, all compliments are met with a genuine ‘thank you’. All in favour?”   

~

Before I can respond, he leaves. I mull over whether I’ll ever feel comfortable in conversations with strangers, moreover ones offering compliments. Either way, I know it’s already on the agenda for a lengthy 3am brooding.

Moments later, I’m packed up and standing by the merch table, offering my best ‘come hither and part with your money’ eyes to people glancing at t-shirts. It works, because a figure approaches.

“I thought you guys were great today,” she offers.

~

Anxiety: “This is it folks, this is everything we’ve trained for. Triggering the Imposter Syndrome Initiative…”

~

“Thank you!” I insist.

~

Anxiety: ““ORDER! ORDER! I call to order the Council of the Inner Monologue. Host body accepted compliment with entirely too much enthusiasm. May be taken as sarcastic. Abort! Abort!”

~

“I’m sorry.” Shit. Baby steps, Luke. Baby steps.

Written by Lucias Malcolm of Call Me Malcolm.  They’re excellent, they’re great live, they talk a lot about mental health, and you should definitely go compliment them after their set. 

If you enjoyed this, read Lucias’ other articles about music and anxiety: There Is A Bear On Stage and Everything Is Probably Fine.

 

 

 

Perfect Women Are Imperfect

…and every woman you perceive to be perfect hates themselves anyway. Millie Manders explores the impossible beauty standards we face, and how that affects her as an artist.

Guest article written by the marvellous Millie Manders, of Millie Manders & The Shut Up Fame. This is part of our #MentallySound series, exploring mental health in music. Trigger warning: eating disorders, body dysmorphia.

Perfect women are imperfect and every woman you perceive to be perfect hates themselves anyway

It’s true.

I hate myself. I’m not perfect. I am very, very imperfect and I hate myself. And seeing as I have been given the honour of this platform to share about mental health, I want to get right to the bones of something people are petrified of truly admitting is a problem.

I believe, as a musician who gets to do some of the coolest things ever, I should be helping people to see through the lies we are sold and to love themselves better. And I really do try to do that.

I teach young impressionable students at a music college, a huge proportion of whom have body image issues and other anxieties that I talk to them about. I share good practise and self-love resources with them and signpost them to other sites/forums/centres wherever I can, to help them be more positive and kind towards themselves.

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The problem is that I feel guilty for it. I feel like a fraud. I have bought into those same lies for as long as I can remember and I punish myself every day. Continue reading “Perfect Women Are Imperfect”

Everything Is Probably Fine

Pre-Gig Anxiety: made worse by day jobs, traffic, hunger, other people or flaming Volkswagens. Lucias Malcolm gives us an amusing account of a problem every band will be all too familiar with.

Article by Lucias Malcolm, vocalist/guitarist in Call Me Malcolm. This is part of our #MentallySound series, exploring mental health in music. 

It’s 12:17 and a car is on fire.

Chris, our drummer, and I are on route to pick up our bassist Travs from the deepest, darkest wilds of west London. We are currently at a standstill on the A-something-or-other and the (thankfully) empty car next to us is on fire. Firefighters look on with the helplessly professional nonchalance of people that are sure, “Yes, that is definitely a fire.”

We’re due on stage in Stafford at 7:30, with a requested arrival time of an hour before. When a promoter asks you to arrive at 6:30, you can extrapolate from that the options available to you:

  1. You need to arrive at 6:30
  2. 6:00 if you want to be in any danger of being invited back.
  3. 7:29 if you think you should actually be higher up the bill.

I am haunted by a teeny, tiny, soul crushing anxiety every waking minute, so I’ve plotted our arrival for 5pm. And even then, my anxiety thinks we’re cutting it fine. An atypical 3-way argument ensues whereby Chris insists everything will be fine, my anxiety scoffs, and I sit in the middle trying not to annoy either of them.

But it’s 12:17 and a car is on fire. Continue reading “Everything Is Probably Fine”

Unsent Text Messages & Neglected Friendships

Notes from a downward spiral: Alan shares a relatable tale of the numb listlessness and anhedonia that comes with a bout of depression.

This article written by Alan Corcoran is part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music. Trigger warning: depression.

Mostly I just feel paralysed. If my head was in a better place I’d probably think that sounded melodramatic, but for now the only feeling is a lack of feeling. Options stack up in front of me. Impossible options. I cannot make any decisions today.

I know there’s work to be done. Life admin. Basic stuff. Exercise would be good. Shaving and a shower are definitely on both a mental and physical list. Relationships of every kind are going untended. Texts. Gigs. Invites to celebrations. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

A gnawing in my stomach reminds me that I’m at least still capable of some feeling. Anxiety, like a snake in a particularly on-the-nose fable, sidles up to wrap itself around in an embrace. Breathing exercises can get fucked, I can’t breathe. A headache fog fills my brain. Continue reading “Unsent Text Messages & Neglected Friendships”

Punk Rock, Anxiety, Phobias and Friendship

Ben (ex-Paper Champ/The 4130s) shares a personal story of how fear and anxiety have hindered his enjoyment of punk rock.

Guest post written by Ben Wiles, previously of Paper Champ & The 4130s. This is part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music. 

Hi. I’m Ben and I’m an emetophobe! There, I said it.

Emetophobia is a fear of vomiting. I’ve been emetophobic for as far back as I can remember.  I have no idea of the origins of this phobia and, if you are reading this thinking, “Woah, that’s a strange one,” you’d be right.  I think the exact same thing; everyone throws up right?

Fuck – some people actively go out of their way to drink enough booze to puke every Friday.  Fair play to them.  I don’t drink.  It’s not my bag. Over the years not drinking has had a big impact on being in a band and, by extension, being in a gig setting.  I never wanted to be ‘that guy’ who was down on a party and stop my band mates enjoying themselves and getting wasted.  But it was getting harder and harder to be around drunk people. Continue reading “Punk Rock, Anxiety, Phobias and Friendship”

Why I’m Not Coming To Your Gig Tonight

Social anxiety in live music can be a challenge. Support your scene, but not at the expense of your own mental health.

This article written by Sarah Williams is part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music. Trigger warning: anxiety.

Today, my anxiety has anxiety. I am experiencing my own personal apocalypse.

I am entirely aware that the visions of catastrophe in my head are irrational, imagined and impossible (or at least implausible), but they’re there nonetheless. A cacophony of intrusive thoughts, false assumptions and self-criticism rattle round my hollow skull, a jarring, overwhelming rush.

Counting to ten isn’t helping. Telling myself I’m being illogical isn’t helping. Distracting myself isn’t helping. Self-care sounds like a waste of time, when I’ve got so much work to do. I need to just sit, ride this wave out and hope it doesn’t ruin my evening.

I’m going to a gig. I love gigs. I love live music more than anything else.

I desperately do not want to go.

I’m lying facedown on my bed, trying to muster the courage to put a jacket on and locate my house keys. Everything is impossible.

Continue reading “Why I’m Not Coming To Your Gig Tonight”

How To Beat Post-Festival Depression

Written by Sarah Williams, cover image by Josh Sumner. Part of our #MentallySound series, discussing mental health in music.

The struggle is real. We have all been there after a great weekend: suddenly alone, wanting to grin and cry in equal measure. Post-festival depression is the worst part of loving live music.

You’re mentally exhausted from the sheer amount of fun you’ve had. At best you’re a hungover, sunburned mosquito-feast, at worst you’ve sustained an actual injury. You’re bruised and broken from the physical exertion of a ‘holiday’: mosh pits, human pyramids, sleeping on floors.

You’ve showered but you can’t cleanse your insides; sitting in the office on Monday morning feeling like a ragdoll stuffed with shit spaghetti, desperately hoping none of your colleagues notice your mental state.

In the weekend punk-bubble it’s completely appropriate to curl up in a ball on the floor if you need to, to joke about your hands shaking or your jaw aching. You can show off your pit bruises and laugh about all the stupid things you did when you were peak drunk.

Suddenly, Monday comes and you’re crash landing into the reality of your day job, forced to keep schtum about this ‘other life’ you’re living. When your colleagues have innocently spent the weekend ferrying their kids to swimming lessons, doing a spot of gardening and redecorating their kitchens, you can’t exactly counter it with tales of gincidents, Class A’s and a complete disregard for your own physical well-being. When you’re enduring this inevitable dip, the worst part is that you have to keep quiet and pretend you’re totally fine.

Having experienced the crushing loneliness of post-festival depression umpteenth times now, I wanted to share my advice on overcoming it.

Reach out to your friends

There’s a good chance that they’re feeling just as shit as you are, so reach out to your mates and make sure they’re okay. Share the pain. The post-fest depression hits us all at different times; for me it’s usually about half an hour after I say goodbye to the last person I see, when it’s had a little time to sink in. It might vary a bit depending on the strength of your bangover, how long your journey home is or who you’re going home to. Continue reading “How To Beat Post-Festival Depression”