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Nina Smith on Music and Mental Health

13 August 20 words: Nina Smith
photos: Samuel Kirby

I’d like to talk about the quiet divorce I had with music. I’m ready to share my unhealthy relationship with my career and the effect it had on my mental health. I’m not sure why I feel the need to share this, but I do. Maybe it’s to help other artists? Maybe it’s cathartic? Whatever the reason, I’d like to share how my drive to become a successful music artist eventually made me ill.

The night I launched my album at the Rescue Rooms in November 2018 I cried on stage, I cried in the bar after, I cried all the way home and I cried for days and days after it. I didn’t know why at the time, but I couldn’t stop crying. What should have been a proud moment, made me feel utterly sad.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I think that I subconsciously knew that a personal journey with music had come to an end. Not because I thought the industry wouldn’t allow me to go any further, but because my heart wouldn’t allow me to. I’d had enough. I had to stop. I was broken from it, I was utterly burnt out and I didn’t feel an inch of self-worth left in my body.

I felt like I had failed. I stopped liking myself because of this. I made a decision at 13 years old that this was the only thing I would ever do, music. I remember sitting on Colwick Woods most weekends, daydreaming about my future as a singer as a way to escape a troubled home life. As soon as I turned 16 I put 10-15 years of work into something that eventually never quite fulfilled that 13 year old voice. It never really happened the way I wanted and made me feel like I had wasted my entire adult life.

Although My success on paper is special, and I’m grateful and fortunate to have achieved what I have done, it didn’t match up to the loss of time that I felt In my heart. I felt worthless. I felt lonely, numb and that I had no use in being here anymore. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I simply could not see a reason for me to be here anymore... I just wanted to disappear. This intrusive thought lasted for 8 months. During 2018 and 2019 I had committed to lots of projects and although I wasn’t in any fit state to work on them, I still did it.

I would sit at my laptop crying with emptiness when receiving emails. The rejection was heavy. My resilience would normally laugh at the 100’s of ‘no’s in emails. I would normally focus on the one ‘yes’ in an email. But it slowly hammered me into the ground, and I eventually gave up. I didn’t see any joy or hope in anything. I was a nightmare to be around, and I was unwelcoming. And although my friends (in particular Greg and Nick Stez) would steer me towards the idea that I could still achieve something in another industry, the truth is I didn’t know who I was without music. Music was my entire identity.

The pressure ultimately came from within myself. However it was constantly echoed all around me, everywhere I went. People genuinely believed in me and want the best for me, which is a beautiful gift to receive, but it was also a curse. The constant and relentless questions of “why are you not on the radio yet”, “why doesn’t the world know about you” and “you should be number 1” were never-ending reminders of my failure that stabbed me In my chest whenever someone said it. It would only solidify the self-loathing I already felt.

Fortunately I had some good people around me who gently pushed me to get some help 12 months ago. It was the best decision I think I’ve ever made. Alongside receiving therapy, I started to fall In love even further with the process of developing younger artists. Giving them shortcuts from what I learnt in my career was a buzz, handing over my tools from doing it for so long and seeing my advice starting to work gave me an oddly similar feeling from when I first started. It gave me a new focus, a purpose and a reason to be here. I have so much information to share and it’s another factor that has literally saved my mind.

I’m grateful to still be a part of the industry, but it’s left me cynical and guarded. However so far that’s proven to be useful when trying to sniff out the bullshitters for my young artists. So yeah, I guess I don’t have any answers for anyone or myself as to why I’m telling you this, nor do I have a quote of ‘hope’ for you, as I still don’t think I’m fully over it. But maybe the sharing of my story will highlight that mental health problems within the arts is a real thing. We need to be realistic with our young people with how hard these industries are, how to protect themselves from their own and external unrealistic expectations, and how to know when it’s time to stop or slow down before it starts to hurt.

Nina Smith now runs First Light music and is also part of the Circle of Light project. 

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