WORDS BY RACHEL BRUERVILLE
Do it all.
Never turn down an opportunity: be sure to say yes to everything that comes your way. Just keep going. Push through the burn out. You’ll ’emerge’ eventually.
Compromise. Day jobs. Night jobs. Balance? No, do it all. Keep going. You know what you have to do to be a ’21st-Century musician’ – everything! Create that ‘portfolio career’. Perform, arrange, teach, compose, conduct, record, produce. Put yourself ‘out there’. Get your music ‘out there’.
Spend unpaid hours upon unpaid hours applying for grants, residencies, fellowships, mentorships. Anything and everything. Get rejected. Get accepted! Even if you’re successful, how do you know if any career successes will come out of that one opportunity in the long term?
You will never know.
Many, many hours of emotional labour. Long term plans hang in the balance.
The worst episode of depression I’ve ever experienced happened within a string of career successes.
I had been accepted into an industry development program for emerging composers! I had also received my first real commission that paid real money! I was about to complete my honours year in composition, and as someone who had previously taken anti-depressants, I had been doing well off the medication for a good number of months.
Of course, it’s impossible to fully untangle the complex web of circumstances that may lead to mental ill health. And in my case, a medication imbalance was part of the issue, which after a while I sorted out with a lovely new GP who happened to be an amateur musician.
However, I believe constant rumination about how to build my creative career was a huge contributing factor to the exacerbation of my depression during this time.
‘You’re doing so well!’ they would say.
‘I’ve read articles about your pieces being premiered!’
‘Oh my gosh, I was driving to work and I heard your piece on the radio!’
‘I saw your professional headshot pop up on my newsfeed!’
And yes, of course, these are all amazing things! But at that stage, I had decided against postgraduate study (for the moment?), it was the end of July, and – apart from three to five hours a week of theory tutoring, without any guarantee my students would turn up – I didn’t have any work booked until the first week of December. I was on a mad day-job search among the applications for the grants, residencies, fellowships, mentorships…
If I hadn’t been in the privileged position of having a working husband who was paying the rent, I would have been forced below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet on Newstart, like so many Australians are.
Take every opportunity that comes your way! Even if it is paid in ‘exposure’.
You can’t pay the rent with ‘exposure’.
Although you know it’s not justified, you feel intense guilt for asking for a living wage for your highly skilled work.
You are shamed for asking for proper fees.
In the fog of my depression after completing my first commission, someone messaged me out of the blue, asking me to orchestrate a solo piano piece. We had a good chat, so I sent them a very reasonable quote as a starting point for negotiations.
They blanked me and never responded again.
Through capitalism, our personal value is so tied up in money. And unfortunately, it has to be if we want to pay our rent and buy our groceries. But for performing arts workers who are ’emerging’, it’s such a tough thing to negotiate.
We will all make mistakes. We will say ‘no’ to the wrong things. We will say ‘yes’ to too many things. We will work on crap projects for little or no money. We will work on amazing projects for little or no money.
Peer to peer rumination about all of these things can be helpful, but can also send us into a spiral of anxiety and uncertainty. I have also found that it is never helpful to compare yourself to others. Your career journey is yours, and yours alone.
When seeking professional help, to this day I have never found an appropriate counsellor or psychologist who completely understands the pressure of being self-employed in the arts.
The last psychologist I saw charged $180 a session, and that was after the Medicare rebate from a mental health care plan. He made me cry and feel worse every time I left an appointment. The next psychologist I was referred to, who had apparently worked with a lot of musicians, charged even more, and also had a four-month waiting list.
It just wasn’t going to work.
There aren’t many accessible initiatives created to fill this hole. For general advice, We’re often instructed to contact our GP, to see a counsellor, or a psychologist. Lifeline exists as a crisis service for people who need urgent help and support at any time of day or night. These are essential and valuable services, but the need also exists for one that specialises in the arts.
So the new 24/7 wellbeing helpline – specifically tailored to performing arts workers in Australia – is going to be so very important.
The initiative is delivered in partnership with Support Act, a music charity that provides crisis relief and wellbeing support services to artists, roadies and music workers.
I heard about the Arts Wellbeing Collective’s new initiative when it launched in July. As the team explains: ‘The Arts Wellbeing Collective team has worked closely with the clinicians to ensure they have an understanding of the unique challenges faced by performing arts workers, and many of the clinicians have direct experience working in the industry.’
Beyond this Support Act Wellbeing Helpline, the Arts Wellbeing Collective is a fairly new initiative in itself. It’s advocated for mental health in the arts where not many others have – including releasing a very helpful toolkit for touring musicians who have never received instruction on how to manage burnout on the road.
The new helpline is intended for anyone who works in the industry, but it isn’t just for work issues. Its clinicians are wide-ranging and specialise in matters ranging from domestic violence to financial and legal issues, as well as specific support for the LGBTQIA+ community, the Indigenous community, and people experiencing addiction.
All of this is important, because as artists, we are also people – our lives don’t just exist on the stage and on the clock.
The Arts Wellbeing Collective also acknowledges: ‘Sometimes it takes a while for you to find a connection with a clinician who ‘gets’ you and your experiences, preferences and style. That’s fine and totally normal – we strongly encourage you to keep reaching out until you find someone who feels like a good fit for you.’
A free, national, accessible resource for performing arts workers to find the support that we often desperately need?
All I can say after pouring out some of this mess in my head is: thank you.
Phone the helpline on 1800 959 500.
CutCommon is a proud member of the Arts Wellbeing Collective.
Article republished with permission.
This article appeared in Spotlight, the Arts Wellbeing Collective magazine: