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James Blake On How To Cope With Feelings Of Isolation During Touring
Most musicians dream of life on the road – each day a new town, each night a new audience. But the reality of touring is psychologically demanding. Few artists voice these challenges, though recently singer/songwriter James Blake had the courage to share his struggles with isolation on tour.
Blake participated in a panel titled "You Got This: Managing Suicide Crisis in the Arts Population" at the Performing Arts Medicine Association's annual symposium last month. During the discussion, he opened up about his struggles with mental heath, the detriments of unhealthy eating habits and being overcome by a feeling of isolation despite being surrounded by others.
"Your connection to other people becomes surface level," Blake said of life on tour. These feelings led to depression and "eventual suicidal thoughts." "If you were only in town for one day and someone asked you how you are, you go into the good stuff … which generally doesn't involve how anxious you feel [or] how depressed you feel."
A GRAMMY-nominated artist with devoted fans around the globe, Blake's story is proof that success cannot assuage depression, anxiety or suicidality. If anything, the pressures and demands of success — and the touring that follows — can stunt progress and fuel mental health issues. "I was taken away from my normal life essentially at an age where I was half-formed," Blake said.
But for Blake, the fight against mental health challenges has been a successful one. He has stood up to say "no" to constant touring, and he's become an advocate for battling depression and suicide by speaking up. In a post on Twitter, he declares, "It is only ever a good thing to talk about what is on your mind."
Blake's simple strategy of communication can work wonders for touring artists, especially males who find themselves feeling isolated and alone on the road. "There is no great victory in machismo and bravado in the end," he wrote. "The road to mental health and happiness, which I feel so passionately about, is paved with honesty."
Blake also dispelled the myth that true creativity requires some form of suffering, sharing his first-hand experience to the contrary.
"There is this myth that you have to be anxious to be creative, that you have to be depressed to be a genius," Blake said. "I can truly say that anxiety has never helped me create. And I've watched it destroy my friends' creative process, too."
Since recent data shows more and more people are battling mental health issues and at risk of suicide, the need for artists such as Blake to tell their stories becomes more and more acute. Music can inspire us and change us when it comes from the heart of another human being. Similarly, stories such as Blake's can remind us we are not alone, no matter how far from home a tour may take us.
"We are the generation that's watched several other generations of musicians turn to drugs and turn to excess and coping mechanisms that have destroyed them," Blake said. "There are so many high-profile people recently who have taken their own lives. So we have a responsibility to talk about it and remove the stigma."