FLIIIS SINGER DANIEL JOHNSON OPENS UP ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
An Open Letter By Daniel Johnson || August 14th
A lot of people know of me – Know my face, know my name. A lot of people have listened to my music and seen my art. A lot of people have an opinion of me, but not a lot of people know the reasons for why I am the way that I am. The reasons why they have formed the opinions that they hold. Just like everyone else, I have had struggles in my life, but unlike most others, I suffer from a relentless condition called Bipolar Disorder. With this piece of writing, I hope to explain the reasons of why I am how I am, and also expose a growing problem that is consistently ignored within the throwaway culture of the music industry – Internationally, nationally and locally.
For those of you who don’t have a clue what Bipolar Disorder is, or immediately think ‘oh, isn’t that the disease where you’re a little bit crazy?’, well, in simple terms, it is a mental health condition that entails experiencing alternating periods of extreme highs and bottomless lows – manic depression. That’s right, not just depression, but the complete opposite too. Throw a touch of OCD into the mix alongside nauseating Panic Disorder and extreme sensitivity and you have my particular breed of Bipolar Disorder.
After years and years of misdiagnosis whilst an array of mental health conditions fermented within me, continuous misuse of substances to cope with my feelings and insistent destructive behaviour, a few months ago I finally hit the point of no return and indulged in a cocktail of 40 painkillers and a bottle of whiskey. Thankfully, I was given a second chance. Though this suicide attempt was genuine and certainly not a cry for help, I somehow snapped out of wanting to die, and ended up in the back of an ambulance just in time (given another 24 hours without treatment my liver would have shut down and I’d have been no more).
A lot of people have considered me to be quite arrogant and, to be brutally honest, just a bit of a dick head, due to my reclusion from those around me. When I’m playing a show or having an interview I seem stand-offish and uninterested. Well, guess what, I don’t think I’m better than everyone else; instead I am brutally petrified and too anxious to talk to people. I’ve been in a room full of people who love the music that I have written and I genuinely feel so scared that I can’t breathe purely because there are other people in the room.
And god help me when people comment on my work – If someone says they don’t like it, I am destroyed and feel completely worthless, but if someone says it’s great then I am equally upset because I don’t feel deserving of the praise. Interaction upsets me to the point where I have what I would call a complete nervous breakdown accompanied by a heart attack, or what doctors would call a ‘panic attack’. So, I don’t hate you, I just don’t want to start hyperventilating and pass out in front of you, so I keep my distance. I’m not being rude, I promise.
I am also a victim of extreme sensitivity. Quite simply, I am so sensitive to everything that if someone so much as says they don’t like what I’m wearing I get upset. If my mother ever says ‘Oh Daniel, you can be so stubborn sometimes’ I go into a whirlwind of negativity and believe that I am the worst human being on the planet. If a male looks at my sister, or my girlfriend for longer than 5 seconds then I get so angry that I want to smash a glass in their face and rip their eyes out. It’s completely irrational and more often than not, wrong, but I literally cannot control how anything and EVERYTHING gets to me and makes me angry, upset, sad, nervous - you name it. I mean, everything. And this is the reason that I sometimes voice opinions of my own that seem a little brash or uncalled for, because when something gets under my skin, I can’t help but go just a little bit crazy and let it out. And like Panic disorder, the sensitivity is a none-stop thing. It lives within the depression, the mania and the periods of semi-normality, but certain other things reside only within one of the first two.
The depressive periods are the easiest to explain. I am, well, depressed. But not your fashionable, Tumblr post depression (it ain’t glamorous or fun), but depression to the point of completely none-existent self worth. I fucking hate myself. I am ugly and fat, I can’t write, draw or sing anymore - everything that I create is complete and utter shit. I don’t understand why anyone wants to be around me because, well, I don’t want to be around myself. I am completely incapable of doing any tasks, including the dishes or the washing. Even showering’s difficult because I lack even the tiniest ounce of energy. What’s the point when the only attractive prospect is death? Instead, I find it near impossible to get out of bed. I spend days upon days of not even getting dressed. No eating. No sleeping (or conversely, I am unable to wake up). No laughter, smiles or joy. Just pain. Constant pain and a yearning, not always to die, but certainly to go to sleep and not wake up for a very, very long time.
These periods span for months, and this intense, unrelenting feeling of self-hatred and pure sadness was the driving force behind me going and sitting in my car, putting a few of my favourite albums on and swallowing 40 painkillers washed down with a bottle of straight whiskey whilst crying to the point where I couldn’t see. I genuinely couldn’t see a way forward, and I truly believed that the world would be a better place without me. Thankfully I managed to crawl back into my apartment and get help. I was too useless to even kill myself successfully because I was so scared. That, coupled with the hurt I had inflicted on those around me – my entire family knowing that the only solution I could see was death. My housemate and bandmate having to deal with me walking back in completely out of my face and just wanting to sleep – a sleep we both knew I wouldn’t wake up from – made the following days of hospitalisation without even being allowed to leave under pain of arrest and sectioning, and the following month or so, one of the most hopeless periods in my existence.
I have had maybe 4 periods of depression as severe as that one, but I constantly feel slightly lower than neutral. However, what is slightly less ‘believable’ is the high point. The mania. Whilst manic I am energetic, full of hope and wisdom. I genuinely believe that I have the answers to everything and can solve the worlds problems. I mean, seriously? Third World Poverty? I know how to stop that! World Politics? I could do a better job because I HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! Of course, I don’t, but just like everyone with Bipolar, I genuinely believe that I am greater than I am. It sounds like a cartoon, doesn’t it? Like a movie? Well, this is real life for my. It’s psychotic.
Whilst manic I am extremely creative, and I have written a lot of my music whilst in this phase, so you could say that it’s a good thing, however, whilst manic I have also spree-spent; £7,000 within 3 months to be precise. What on? Not a clue. Partying mostly; drink and drugs. Yes, here’s another cliché - a musician with a substance abuse problem. For years now I have struggled to control my misuse of substances. I predominantly use alcohol and cocaine within my manic periods, partly because I just want to party all the time, but mainly because I know that pretty soon I’m going to have a huge comedown, and the drugs help to push it off.
Honestly, thinking back now on my past periods of mania, they’re quite a blur, which makes it even harder to explain. All I can say is, I just have to go. I have to do things that no normal human being would ever dream of doing. I don’t make sense to anyone and nothing around me in the real world makes sense to me. I talk so fast and jump from topic to topic that it’s impossible for anyone to keep up, and all the while I just don’t understand why nobody else can grasp these life-changing epiphanies that I’m having.
These periods are truly crazy, but I can assure you that whilst it sounds great- Partying 24/7, spending loads, being really creative, drinking and shoving obscene amount of powder up your nose, there is also the aggression and anger that comes with it. Whilst manic I hate everyone because no one can keep up. I am ready to go all the time. Who needs sleep? Not me. Why do you? You’re weak and I don’t need you. So I look down on everyone and go off by myself. This has cost me many friendships, destroyed relationships that I’ve had with friends for years and put my family through absolute hell. I’ve also not mentioned the voices. Oh, they’re fun, trust me- ‘Go on, you can definitely down that bottle of Whiskey/do those pills/take that huge guy on in a fight’. And of course, by the end of it, I’m left even more of a shell than I was before.
The hardest part to explain is the delusions. The thoughts of grandeur. The complete belief that I can quit my job because I don’t need money to survive. Seriously, there was no plan in place. No fall back. I actually believed that I could somehow live on fresh air whilst spending obscene amounts of money on random things. Mania is extremely impulsive and delusional, and a few, shall we say, old friends, having known the issues I’ve coped with for years and years have used my illness against me and used it to hurt me, but they won’t be named.
They know who they are. You image trying to cope with delusional, impulsive, psychotic thoughts, whilst trying to refrain from going on a, what I like to call, ‘mad one’, resisting the urge to go and get completely fucked up whilst all along having a certain few people use it all against you. Well, it’s hard and quite simply, it didn’t work, and this is what caused my last manic phase, which then lead to a huge depressive period in which I tried to kill myself. A period that I am only just coming out of right now. This little trip spanned the last 9 months of my life.
Thankfully I’ve had my family, my friends, and met the most incredible partner that has seemed to make it all just about bearable. But possibly the worst part of a manic phase is the fact that whilst in it, I don’t know it’s a phase. I truly believe the delusions, the voices, the thoughts of grandeur. People sometimes say ‘slow down, you’re mental!’, or ‘Dan, you don’t seem yourself, are you ok?’ and I’m always like ‘Yes! Of course! I feel amazing! There’s nothing wrong with me!’. But of course, when I come out of the phase, I realise that it was all me living in a different world, slowing but surely sinking further and further away from reality.
As I sit here writing this now, I am truly petrified that one day I will slip so far that I won’t be able to come back. Be that a manic or depressive episode. They are fucking scary. Terrifying. I am petrified of the next episode because I don’t know when it’s coming, and any number of things could set one off (or, to be honest, they can just happen at any time. Kind of a losing battle, isn’t it?), so I try to relish the short periods of semi-normality in between each one. And no one understands that other than someone who suffers from the same affliction.
I’ve not explained everything to it’s full extent, only about 10% because if I did then I’d have to write a 100,000 page novel, and to be honest, the rest is far too graphic to be made public and I am not ready to share everything just yet – it’s taken me nearly 10 years to share this much. But hopefully this short piece explains, for those who know me, why I am the way that I am, and hopefully helps everyone to understand that unfortunately, my condition is completely uncontrollable, and whilst in a depressive or manic period, there is no stopping me. It just has to run it’s course, and yes, I have hurt and upset many people in the process, and I’m sure I will hurt more people in the future, but I have a fantastic network of support; amazing friends, girlfriend, bandmate and family that I would have surely died without, and to them, I am truly sorry for how I am, I just hope they stick with me whilst I struggle to stay on top of this disease.
I hate my condition, and I would change it if I could, but the simple fact is that any mental health condition is either hard to cure or a life sentence – mine, unfortunately, is the latter. But unlike heart disease or asthma, mental health conditions are invisible, hard to diagnose and near impossible to cure without the correct network of support around you, and this is why we, as the music industry, and we as a human race really need to understand these issues more, and be less judgemental. Yes, things are better than they were 50 years ago, but in terms of stigma, we have a LONG way to go because these conditions are rife within the arts and amongst creatives, yet there seems to be a very sparse support network within the industry. This needs to change. The industry needs to be about people and music again. About love and about helping each other, not shaming other artists for their past, or their behaviour because guess what, that is what happened to me. People used myself against me to damage me, knowing full well that I have underlying issues. Why? To get ahead? To muddy my name?
It’s disgusting and it needs to stop. AND IT HAPPENS ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Not just to me, but to thousands and thousands of people across the world. An industry that is struggling to keep its head above water in terms of identity and what it should be about (not money and pointing fun at celebs, obviously) needs to start changing its ways. Because I for one no longer wish to exist within a culture that is constantly destroying people. We need to understand mental health and stop being, well, simply, mean. Stop being knob heads, because we don’t know how someone is suffering, or what they have to battle day in, day out.
We as a collective may not understand it, but we should empathise with it and try to help any way in which we can. So all I have left to say now is be kind, be understanding, and never ever give up on someone, because if people had given up on me, I wouldn’t be here right now to write this.
One love, Daniel Johnson x