If Everything’s Right, Nothing’s Left
A Story of Depression and Mental Health, told through Music
Last update: 25 June 2020
Approx. 1 minute read time
My name is Joshua K, also known on the internet as the artist Power of Interest. But perhaps you know me better by my real name.
If I can borrow just a few minutes of your time, I’d greatly appreciate it if you read my story on living with depression and anxiety below. I can understand if this story comes as a surprise to many, but I hope I can at least have your understanding and sympathy.
This story is quite lengthy - basically just a stream from my brain straight to my computer. I tend to use mildly difficult language and run-on sentences, but I have done my best to keep it at least possible to follow.
If you don’t have the time or energy to read it all right now, All I ask is that you at least read the chapter “My question for you”. And if you can (and want), come back at a later time to read the rest of the story. It will give you the most honest insight of me that I would never be able to tell you directly.
This album will signify my journey through mental health disorders and deficiencies - mainly social anxiety and depression - and how I perceive myself and my state of mind; through one of the few artistic creative expressions I possess and (have learned to re-)enjoy -- making music.
If you're not interested at all in the story, skip to the album.
The Story - Living with Depression and Social Anxiety
Approx. 10 minute read time
Living with depression / social anxiety is something I would never wish upon anybody - I have been living with it for as long as I can remember, mostly unbeknownst to me. I’ve before labeled myself as either shy, boring or introverted. But, lately I have been looking at myself and my patterns of thought from a more critical standpoint, because I have been feeling worse and worse emotionally. As it turns out, I have indeed been mentally ill (diagnosed with dysthymia and social anxiety) for years, with its roots leading back as far as late 00s / early 10s.
Where do I stand?
This combination of depression and anxiety is not uncommon.
In the Netherlands alone, this report from GGZ Nederland shows that over 1% of the population in 2012 was diagnosed with depression, and over 0,5% was diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder.
It’s good to know I’m not the only one struggling with this. Also, there’s good treatment available, and our healthcare system allows for me to get this needed treatment.
Social anxiety makes it virtually impossible to share my feelings about social anxiety. It’s basically self-sustaining. On top of that, it makes you feel very lonely. Loneliness enforced by the fact that I have been living on my own for over a year now, and even more strongly enforced by COVID-19 in the last few months - cutting face-to-face communication to almost nil. Of course I am not the only one suffering from the loneliness ensued by lockdowns and quarantines, but it does add onto the already existing.
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, really. Keeping myself at home away from others means I don’t have to face the fear that comes with face-to-face communication; but it also allows for way more thinking and reflection - something that can bring on really negative and depressive thoughts in me.
I often tell people I am totally fine with living and working by myself; but how much of that is really true? I’d say there’s about a 60% truth to it. I work best in solitary, even though my job doesn’t always allow for that. Many jobs don’t. I don’t think there’s a way around that. But what I wouldn’t give to be able to at least share some time with someone else, instead of spending 100% of my time at home, alone... I know it might sound a bit pretentious, but it’s the most honest thing I can tell you at this moment.
A path for recovery?
These symptoms have gone untreated for pretty much as long as I have lived, until the beginning of 2020. There was one person who was “neutral” enough (i.e. no emotional connection like with parents, family or close friends) to talk to, yet willing to help me to get therapeutic treatment. Via them, I came in contact with a psychologist, and I have been in therapy since March 2020. Treatment will continue until August 2020. With any luck, my symptoms and therefore mental illnesses will have diminished to a point where they no longer impact my day-to-day life, and where I am in full control of my being.
My question for you
In short, I have been diagnosed with depression (dysthymia) and social anxiety.
See here an abridged version (in Dutch) of the intake form results I received from the psychologist before starting therapy.
The symptoms include a feeling of loneliness, negative thoughts, overall low (depressive, empty) mood, barred emotions, intense difficulty communicating, and being dishonest about feelings to myself and others.
To make the recovery have any chance of being effective, though, there is just one hurdle to overcome - the biggest hurdle in all of this story. And that is sharing my problems to others.
If you, as a friend or family member are reading this, then it means I have been able to --almost-- overcome this hurdle. It means I have been able to conquer a fear that has been keeping me from sharing my worries for the past... well, decade really. Now, there is just one more step to be executed. And I’m going to need your help with that.
I have just one simple request to you, reader. As I said in the intro, I can understand that this story comes as a shocking surprise to many. You might have a lot of questions or concerns. If you can afford to spend even a little bit of time checking in with me, or asking me a question about this, and you have a way of reaching me personally - whether by phone, text, social media - whatever, please reach out to me (after reading the rest of this story, maybe it can answer some of your questions already). Let me know you have read this story, and feel free to ask any questions to me that are on your mind - I will try to be as honest as I can. (I'd rather you ask a question, because I am pretty much unable to add anything to this story of my own accord.)
Social anxiety and Depression: Why? Why me?
I have been trying to find an answer to “Why”.
Why is it that I struggle so intensely with being open about myself to others?
Why am I so afraid of talking about my mental problems?
Why is my self-esteem so low?
Why do I feel like I’m blocked by something every time I think about steering the direction of the conversation to myself?
Even though it is of utmost importance to share this information and talk about it with the people I spend the most time with and who I need to feel validated by?
I can't really give a good answer to these questions. All my brain can come up with is stuff like:
“What privilege do I have to talk about my problems to others? Don’t we all have enough problems of our own? Nobody wants to hear about your depression, man. Better to just stay inside and socially isolate yourself. Being lonely and depressed is better than possibly being hated for your annoyance to others.”
-My inner monologue
The above is just one of many examples that my own brain likes to throw at me. Thoughts like this prevail over pretty much every (social) situation for me. Whether it concerns something as simple as asking a basic question, or even being by myself and having no reason to think this way. And for the longest time, I have been trying to find an answer to “Why”. All I can say for certain, is that it’s a feedback loop.
Bad or depressive thoughts → feeling depressed → not being able to do anything, isolating myself → Hating myself for isolating and not being productive → Bad or depressive thoughts → etc.
It’s a feedback loop that keeps me from being “normal”, from living my life the way I want it to be.
However, as an exercise in rationality to myself, let’s put it this way - if one of my best friends, or a family member, or whoever it may be (including you, the reader) came to me to tell me that they have been depressed, anxious or otherwise, would I do everything in my power to make them feel safe and trusted with me, allow them to share their feelings, and help them with whatever I can to make them feel better? You bet I would! Moreover: I can share about my problems with people not of close connections to myself - I experience very little “blocking of thoughts” when talking to the psychologist about my problems. So why do I feel like others wouldn’t do the same for me if I went out to talk?
As said earlier, I have terrific difficulty with certain types of communication; and initiating a conversation is one of the biggest problems I face. I just straight-up am unable to do so in pretty much every imaginable case, and it’s the thing that’s keeping me back the most in my daily life. Even going as far as being unable to ask someone a simple informative question - like asking where a certain product is in a supermarket. There is no harm to be had in a question like that, no possibility for invalidation - something that may be a little more relevant when talking about deeply buried emotions.
Considering this, trying to start a conversation on the topic of my mental health is unimaginably difficult, one can say impossible. If I can’t even ask a simple question, how can I talk about the one thing that embarasses and terrifies me to no end?
I can see it’s stupid and wrong to think this way, but like a phobia, it doesn’t just disappear, even if you know there is no real reason to worry.
After some critical thinking done during therapy, I can think of a few incidents in the past that may have lead me to who and how I am today. These memories are quite fuzzy though, buried under years of being repressed and eligibility to being forgotten. Though it is now in my best interest to re-enter those memories as clearly as I can. It’s scary -- terrifying even, to think about, but it’s the only way to pull myself out of the social anxiety spiral that keeps pulling me back in.
I’ve been held back from sharing this because of my own lack of understanding. I have so far been unable to find a clear answer to why I have been experiencing problems with my mental health; and I cannot share an incomplete story with other people because of the fear of them misunderstanding or misinterpreting the story, or asking questions I do not have an answer to. Yet, here we are. I can only give you this incomplete story.
All I can tell is How I am feeling, not Why. This story has made this abundantly clear. And I do not know who has the answer. I don’t know where to go or what to do to get this answer.
It’s kind of scary to put out my own thoughts in this form. Whether through words, or through music, I can never convey the true meaning of this whole sensation to you. I can not share with you the feelings, the memories, the thoughts... I can only tell it through words. And while I try my best to lay it out as clearly and accurately as possible... whoever reads this, will shape the meaning of it to their own experiences and feelings. And those will be different for everyone. Whether you have gone through similar experiences, or know somebody who has, or have no experiences at all... sharing the experience is impossible, because language, and any other form of communication, cannot convey true feeling; only describe it.
So where to go from here? All I can hope for, from you, reader, is to prove me wrong. Prove to me that I do have the privilege to share my feelings and worries. Prove to me, that I can still be validated and accepted by you, even if I'm not the best I can be.
Through the last months of therapy, I’ve been trying my hardest to understand and deal with these mental deficiencies, and to get back to a healthy and “normal” state. Though, it's difficult to say as of yet how effective the treatment has been so far. While I do feel a lot more confident, and actively working on putting myself out there and speaking up instead of waiting on the sideline, I am not yet convinced I can make it all work by the end of the summer.
It’s a struggle for sure. It puts me well outside of my comfort zone, and can well up very difficult and conflicting thoughts.
You see, I am the type of person that tries to rationalize everything. I do not believe in something happening without a cause. But the problem is, that this method of thought denies the ability to properly understand and fix my mental problems. It’s been made clear to me that if my symptoms are not caused by anything, they may be the cause themselves. Rather than finding a cause for depressive thoughts, the depressive thoughts themselves are the problem that keep the depression going (as kind of said earlier in the feedback loop explanation). It’s been ingrained in my pattern of thought, and there may not even be anything that causes it.
But how do you fix that?
It just so happened that I've written this story during Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 by sheer coincidence (in Britain at least; in America there is the Mental Health Awareness Month. Other countries, no idea).
Not that it really has anything to do with the story; it just felt oddly appropriate.
It's great that mental health nowadays is taken more seriously, and that there are so many more resources and organizations dedicated to it.
I have been wearing the “Everything is fine, don’t worry about me“-mask for too long now.
It is time to tell the truth.
It is time for me to emerge from my shell, to be vulnerable.
It is time for me to understand that it is no harm to be honest about yourself to others.
Nobody is perfect, nobody is without fault and worry. It’s just a part of being human.
We are all here to support each other, and to live life the best we can.
And if we can’t, we need to seek ways to fix it.
Now is my time to ask for your help.
I want you to know I would greatly appreciate your support, but I know I am not entitled to it.
I know many of us are also caught up in our own feelings and problems.
In a sense, maybe the thoughs above do have some validity.
It is not my intention to overwhelm anyone.
I don't want to saddle you up with more responsibility than you can handle.
This is of the reasons I have been so against sharing it.
If you have read this, and have something to share of your own - whether in the same field, like depression or anxiety, or something else otherwise completely irrelevant - know that I am open to support you as well. I may not have all the answers, but I can try, and at least be someone to talk to if needed.
Now, for a more (positive? At least different) setting, let’s talk about the new album: If Everything’s Right, Nothing’s Left
The Album: If Everything’s Right, Nothing’s Left
Approx. 3 minute read time
Power of Interest’s newest album, If Everything’s Right, Nothing’s Left, is a two-chapter album covering many (traditional and experimental) genres in 15 songs, including electronic synthesizers and real-world instruments. Through its music, it conveys a message of the importance of mental health, and how depression and anxiety can impact the mind and being of a person.
The Title: But What does it Mean?
The album’s title is a somber, yet thoughtful re-interpretation of “When nothing goes right, go left”. This is a common quote, and plays into the double entendre of the words “right” and “left”, which both have a lot of definitions. However, this quote is quite restricted in its interpretation, as it already has a call-to-action built in (“go left”), and leaves little imagination for the meaning of the word “left” (mostly referring to the cardinal direction “Left”, as the call-to-action already signifies).
Re-hashing this quote to “If everything’s right, nothing’s left” leaves way more room for interesting interpretations, as not only the word “left” is no longer bound by a strong definition, the ambiguity of the sentence is upped dramatically by including the words “everything” and “nothing”. A few interpretations of this sentence could be as follows:
- A literal interpretation: If everything is to your right side, there is nothing to the left. This can be a single statement or observation in itself, or a setup for a following consequence (e.g. go to your right, as that is where everything is).
- If all your problems have been solved ( “Nothing’s left” ), then there are no more worries to be had ( “Everything’s right” ). This is the most closely related to the overall tone of the album, trying to find the ultimate peace by fighting your way to a place devoid of problems.
- As long as there is still any entropy in a system, there is a possibility for conflict. Humans, for example, could only reach a point of no conflict if there aren’t any left, or if all have an equal share of materials, and do not feel the need to overthrow others to get access to more. (In other words, there is no need for greed if everyone is equally sustained).
As you can see, this title can take on a vast number of meanings, and as everyone will have a different interpretation of it, it sets the tone for the album as a whole, leaving interpretation of its contents up to the listener. For me, it is a journey through my own mind, trying to describe how I really felt all this time, through the strongest creative outlet I have access to. For others, it might take on another (similar or totally different) personal meaning, or maybe no deeper meaning at all.
Album ArtPower of Interest: If Everything’s Right, Nothing’s Left Album Cover
Whereas the title is very ambiguous and open to interpretation on purpose, the album art signifies more of my personal meaning of this album. A sunset is one of the most common and beautiful (in my opinion) natural phenomena we get to experience on a daily basis. However, living your day-to-day life with mental illnesses keeps you from being as happy as you could’ve been, and you tend to miss a lot of the positive and nice things this planet and its inhabitants have to offer. It “distorts and desaturates your worldview”, as literally indicated by the distorted sun / water reflections, the desaturated image, and the dark halo around the sun.