Ten years ago, I fell out of love with something that had been my longest love and passion.
The effect of being so involved with it led me to some very dark places and nine years ago I was broken into so many pieces, fixing me seemed impossible. Yet, we carried on in a fairly ‘amicable’ yet distant relationship all this time, doing what we had to just to get through and put a public façade on the situation.
But, sat in a caravan on a Friday evening in June 2019, the passion was re-ignited.
No, this wasn’t a relationship with a person. This was my relationship with brass bands.
Over the years I’ve been a player, supporter, conductor, journalist, adjudicator and totally immersed in the movement. But for the last ten years, to me brass bands have been my greatest nemesis.
For as long as I can remember my whole life revolved around brass bands. Everything I had was thrown into it; emotionally, personally, publicly and financially and that’s why, when my mental health took a battering and I couldn’t carry on personally, the movement as a whole incurred my wrath.
I was wrong; It wasn’t the brass band movement I fell out of love with…and it’s taken ten years to realise that passion for brass music is still so much there, and the real key to that was judging 57 bands in Diggle playing marches on Whit Friday 2019!
Listening to those bands I remembered there is something so wonderful about the sound of a brass band and that music is magical. To be honest, I’d lost so much of my passion for music as a whole over the last decade, but slowly music, not the brass band movement, has helped fix me… along with an awful lot of learning, developing and change of everything in my life.
So, what really broke me, my mental health and my passions to the degree that it made me pack-up my banding career for such a long time? Well, honestly, it was the combination of my head and the environment and my perceptions of the actions of people within the brass band music plus feeling very alone despite being surrounded by so many. I was consumed by it all. It was never the music and the genre of brass bands itself.
When your mental wellbeing and health is at a low point you don’t always realise at first. You are so engrossed in life, trying to juggle all the plates and please everyone you stop doing what you need and know is right for you personally and carry on blindly. When your personal life is also massively entwined with what you do, this also allows scope for additional stress and putting yourself to the back of the queue time and time again in a bid to make sure everyone and everything else is taken care of. The only person that then ultimately suffers is you, but by the time you realise this it can be too late; the joy, happiness and your health have flown the nest.
This was what I was doing and it destroyed me. The stress became anxiety that manifested in mental and physical forms from sickness to absolute fear of seeing certain people, yet they hadn’t a clue that was how they made me feel. I would see people I associated with situations, shake, panic and immediately feel nauseous. However, you put the game face on and keep performing; quite literally.
I broke down and the worst of it was, the people around me (apart from one) didn’t see it, so, with the knowledge that no-one was noticing me drowning combined with the personal shame I felt because ten years ago, mental health was even more taboo than it is now, I just ploughed straight on carrying on doing everything for everyone else, sweeping my own health and needs under the carpet.
The upshot? Total breakdown, total resentment and having nothing and no-one. I knew I couldn’t carry on with everything I had known and in my broken brain, that everything was brass bands. So, our relationship had to end… well, not completely, because I still needed it to some degree over the last 10 years, but that was why I fell out of love with it and we assumed an ‘amicable friendship’ (and trust me, those aren’t always as amicable as you make out!).
To this day, only one person has truly understood the decision I had to make to leave things behind and since then I’ve progressively tried to re-build, this time stronger and with a different, more sustainable design. Still to this day people in brass bands don’t understand or believe I was that ‘weak’ person then because I’ve always come across as resilient, strong and confident. It was a façade… so every time someone would judge me as that person, it made another part of my cry and die inside. What’s more, now, today, when I am honestly and truly me, they think I’ve ‘lost the plot’ now because I’m not who I was then… the person you knew 10 years ago was in fact the one who had ‘lost the plot,’ – this person here today is not her. I’ve spent ten years learning, developing and strengthening away from you all and during that time I’ve got so much wrong and a hell of a lot more right to get where I am mentally.
What I thought ten years ago and for so much time afterwards was that I was alone in this, partially because I hid it and partially because no-one saw what was happening to me, which in a broken brain makes you hide and resent even more; and just when I thought I was beating it in 2017, the relapse hit and it hit me like a truck, but second time round you’re more aware of how to fix and manage it and this time I got to the bottom of understanding it all, learning, developing and finding strength I never thought I had. A strength that meant when the absolute worst thing that could have happened did, when my husband Simon died, I didn’t break, it made me stronger, because over the last decade he’d helped me learn and find every skill and confidence I needed to be me. This was the first time in my adult life I had this strength.
Now, I’m going to save you all the details here of my life, but if you’re really interested just ask me as I can happily and easily talk about it now that I understand myself, mental health and everything that happened.
But let’s cut to the wider issue of mental health in the brass band movement, because what I am totally aware of now is, I’m not the only person that has, is or will suffer from mental ‘ill’ health as a result of being in brass bands and we can do much better to support ourselves and each other within the brass band movement.
What I understand now is it’s not ‘brass bands’ that cause the issues, but the situations and environments we find ourselves in within the brass band movement as a whole, with little industry support or understanding for the effects these have on our mental health. Situations such as:
• Pushing ourselves to reach ever increasing standards
• Taking on workloads we cannot manage on top of our personal and professional lives
• Relationships with peers
• Relationships with management
• Anxiety and stress as a consequence of competition
• Performance anxiety and stress
• Commitments on time
• Travel commitments and distance
• Inter-band politics and ‘sackings’
• Pressure put on oneself
• Behaviour of conductors
• Judgement – from judges, press, critics, audiences, conductors and peers.
There is a strong likelihood that you too will have experienced one or more of these scenarios and for people already struggling with their health and wellbeing, just one of these scenarios is enough to knock their mental equilibrium.
If we implemented support networks in our own brass bands and the brass band movement as a whole, we could see real change in terms of less players bowing out of the brass band game due to pressures and anxiety.
In March 2019 I launched a survey to gather information on the topic of mental health in brass bands and I have so much gratitude to the 328 people who took the time to complete it and comment on their experiences.
In July 2019 I will publish the full report into my findings, but initial reading confirms my thoughts that I was not the only person who had such experiences and I know there are many more people not yet brave enough to talk about their own experiences too.
But I will talk about it and I will be open about my own experiences and be proud of what I was, went through, my vulnerabilities and success and how far I’ve come because it has been one hell of a journey over the last decade and I will champion the cause that we all take better care of ourselves and each other to promote better mental health in the brass band movement.
I will write regularly about it and invite anyone else to join me in speaking and writing about it, sharing stories and experiences on this blog in the hope that my and your honesty together can help just one person to have the confidence to put themselves first, look after their own mental wellbeing and continue the passion and love in, and for, this fabulous genre of brass music.
I can’t wait to hear from you and your experiences and just know my virtual ‘door’ is always open to you all.
Oh, and a huge thank you to all those bands on Whit Friday who locked in the final piece of my brass band mind puzzle to give me the passion back.