Mind Games: Madi Chwasta

Mind Games: Madi Chwasta

Percussionist Madi Chwasta kicks off our brand new series on mental health in the music industry.

Madi Chwasta
Melbourne, Australia

Mind Games: Madi Chwasta

Percussionist Madi Chwasta kicks off our brand new series on mental health in the music industry.

There are two Madi’s.

One of those is the “strong” Madi: the one who can easily laugh when things don’t go her way, can handle a bit of pressure, who seems to have everything in control.

The other Madi doesn’t show herself in public as much, and she’s the “weak” one. The one who sleeps a lot to escape her mind when she is overwhelmed with anxiety, who ignores you down the street because she can’t handle conversation, the one who cancels when things get too much.

Even though I don’t show many people this side of me, she exists as much as the “strong” Madi. It got to the point where I was the “weak” Madi more often than not, and on the recommendation of my friends and family, I decided to start on anti-anxiety medication and therapy.

Although many people don’t talk about it, I know I’m definitely not the only one feeling this stuff. It is proven that musicians are more likely to suffer depression and anxiety than the average person. The pressure to perform, the non-existent job security, and the long hours are a perfect cocktail for mental health problems. Add other life stressors, and life can be plain tough.

I remember people telling me how lucky I was to study what I was passionate about, but I didn’t feel lucky at all. I felt as though I was trapped in my mind, that I was a constant failure. I developed pain in my arms from holding so much stress in my muscles, my hands would always shake when I would perform, and I couldn’t stop the cycle of negative thoughts that would begin every time I picked up my sticks.

I thought music was the problem, so I completely changed direction and started journalism last year. While I enjoyed the course, I began to feel the same anxiety and depression whenever I wrote. I quickly realised that my poor mental health wasn’t completely caused by music, but was something that existed whenever engaged in a form of expression.

I started seeing a psychiatrist. He told me I needed to start loving the “weak” Madi, the one I was ashamed of for 23 years, because she is as much as a part of me as the “strong” Madi. And after I started to accept the part of me that I tried to hide for so long, I found my love for performing again.

The “weak” Madi was the reason I wanted to perform in the first place. Performing was a space where I could delve into that dark place if I needed to, and not have to articulate how I felt. I felt free to express whatever I was feeling through pieces which resonated with me.

I lost my desire to perform when I studied music at university. I felt as though music was less about expression and more about getting a good mark. I started thinking that the “weak” and emotional Madi was a liability and was preventing me from being successful, so I ignored her, but I kept performing worse. My teachers told me my performances were disconnected, and I felt I was constantly falling short of my potential. I felt as though everyone had it together and that I didn’t have it in me to be a professional musician, and that just made me feel more anxious and more depressed.

Many of us have that dark part of ourselves that we’re ashamed to show. I think it’s common for artists to feel these dark emotions more often, which is why we’re often dedicated to a career which is all about sharing feelings. Maybe we deal with it by pretending we’re ok, or maybe by engaging in harmful habits or behaviours.

Sometimes we do seek help, but we might think we have to completely “cure” it. I realised that’s not realistic either. Some days my brain won’t be capable of being “strong”, no matter how much therapy and medication I take, and I’m learning to be ok with that.

Through accepting the darker parts of ourselves, whether that is through therapy, talking about it more freely with our peers, or privately journaling about it, we can get ourselves to a point where we can feel the full range of emotions, but also be able to get the job done.

As much as I resented the “weak” aspects of my personality, the weak part has made me who I am. Without it, I wouldn’t have pursued music. And without music, I wouldn’t have had those moments which made me feel like I was invincible. The “weak” Madi is inextricably a part of me, and I’m no longer ashamed of it. The “weak” part of me isn’t a weakness after all.

By being kind to ourselves and to others, we can collectively be less ashamed by the crazy that can go on in our minds. Asking someone whether they’re ok, especially in a conservatorium environment, creates a much more open and positive culture where we’re not ashamed of our mental health.

And finally, and most importantly, never be ashamed to ask for help, whether it’s from a trusted friend, a family member, a teacher, or a therapist. With proper help, you can work to make your feelings serve your art instead of hinder it.