The following is the latest in the current series of guest essays, this time written by Jonny Domino, latterly of Uniforms and long-time member of the MTAT collective. Jonny is one of my best friends and am grateful to have had him by my side during some of the most difficult periods of my life, even when he’s been on the receiving end he remains (mostly) a paragon of zen-like calm. One of the true believers, I’m very pleased to share Jonny’s essay concerning punk rock and mental health through WYAZ.
As ever, all comments/shares/discussion welcome.
LUCK AND COURAGE
For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the piece that mental health plays in the creative process. As much as it’s more prevalent in punk rock, and in my time in the punk scene I’ve noticed that issues of mental health can be as much an inspiration for musicians as punk rock can be a tool for confronting a variety of mental health issues, there is a long-standing relationship between the arts and mental health. I should preface this by saying that I count myself lucky to have had a very plain sailing life mental health-wise, but I have watched some of my closest friends and family try to cope with various problems in their own ways and I’d like to think that my position, outside looking in, has provided me a chance to look at things in a more unique way.
At this point it’s hard to avoid being derailed because I could vent all day about how I feel that frontline healthcare professionals are almost universally not doing their part. At the time of writing, the NHS remains one of the finest healthcare systems in the world but it definitely has its failings, and one of the main problems I have with it is this – in the winter of 2010 I broke my collarbone in a snowboarding accident (the “accident” in question being that I said ‘yes’ when the guy in the hire shop asked me if I knew what I was doing when what I actually meant was ‘I’ve never done this before and I hardly even know which way up this goes’, if you’re curious). I got treated by some very nice people in Accident and Emergency very quickly, I grudgingly went along to Fracture Clinic appointments fortnightly for the first 6 weeks and I grumbled my way through follow-ups at my GP for 3 months after that. The point of this story is not to sound ungrateful for the help I got but this – up until very recently there was no maximum waiting time limit for mental health referrals within the NHS. I have seen friends wait months, bordering into years, to see a psychologist. I knew what I was doing was dangerous and I did it anyway. I got all the help I asked for and more straight away while people who were desperate to see someone for something that they have no control over were left hanging on for months. To this day, if an NHS administrator had stopped me in the A&E department and asked if I could never darken their doorstep again so they could use the time and resources they devoted to me to try and clear some of the backlog, my answer would’ve been an unequivocal yes. It still would.
The lack of time to devote to dealing with referrals is something there’s no control over, I get that, but I also think that in the first instance people who raise concerns about their mental health are poorly treated by the healthcare system. The prevailing method seems to be for a GP to write a script for the hottest anti-depressant and get people out with the quickest turnaround, which I have always thought does more harm than good. It’s a short-term fix which, like all drugs, all too often becomes a long term problem. Increasingly people who have never wanted to rely on anti-depressants long term find themselves doing exactly that, purely because they know they can go back to it and it’ll work, plus it’s much easier than getting any other help. Even once you’ve been through the wait for a referral, getting any kind of treatment or therapy from the NHS can be an uphill struggle, and quite often the people who need it most are not equipped for the fight. Again, if I need medical assistance and I think the person delivering it isn’t up to the task, I would have no problem saying “take this doctor away and get me a real one”, but someone who has mustered all their courage to overcome the anxiety they feel about just going to their appointment in the first place is much more likely to just accept whatever calibre of help that they’re offered, and more often than not they’re drastically undersold.
The difficulty in obtaining professional help for these issues, I guess brings us to the idea of how the creative process is so appealing. From Van Gogh to Cobain, there’s nothing more exciting than the idea of the tortured artist, and for some reason the punk scene has always seemed to have that in spades. Maybe it’s the idea that you’re encouraged to speak your mind and share your feelings, the fact that no-one has any hangups about just being themselves, or the raw energy associated with the scene, but punk has always grabbed the attention of people struggling to get comfortable in their own minds, their own bodies or society at large. It’s one of the things I love about the punk scene, but I’ve come to realise that it can sometimes be dangerous. There’s a feeling building recently that it’s almost like a great last hope, that there’s some kind of all-or-nothing approach to punk rock and that it had better work. This has never sat well with me and I’m glad that anyone who I hold dear has so far managed to avoid this kind of attitude, but it’s punctuated with sadness as more and more frequently we see people who subscribe to that idea and come back to earth with the hardest of bangs when they don’t find the salvation they expected.
This isn’t to say that music, art, film or any other outlet that anyone has isn’t an overwhelmingly healthy idea – sometimes screaming down the walls and a punk rock show can be exactly what you need. Sometimes a quite night of doodling can have the same effect. A much wiser man than me (my dad actually, so maybe not that much wiser…) likes to say “extremism in any form is not a good way to live” and it’s something that I have always thought is a very reasonable worldview. When you let something take over your life, you are often setting yourself up for a fall, and that’s something that’s always dangerous. Ever since my early teens I’ve always been a part of the punk scene, but I’ve always been able to remove myself and I never expected it to be able to solve every single problem I encounter. Maybe some day I’ll find something that can, but I doubt it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no “magic bullet” that can solve all your problems, be they anxiety, depression or something else entirely, but that doesn’t mean stop trying. You might (you probably will) have to fight tooth and nail to get the help you deserve from the professionals. When you get it, it might not even help. Don’t be disheartened by that, don’t stop trying. Shouting until your hoarse at a punk rock show or in a punk rock band might help you for a night, or a year, or longer. It might not though, and that’s okay. Filling in a whole adult colouring book (or a children’s colouring book, I bet you love the Turtles) might relax you for long enough that you can think clearly about something that you couldn’t focus on all day and that’s great, if it doesn’t though then something else will. Find what works for you and do it, if everything works then do them all. I hope that punk rock helps for everyone though, we’ll see you all down the front.