Regular readers of this blog of blues will immediately recognize the name of Anita Schlank. Aside from being a huge fan of blues music, her photographs have enhanced many of the reviews you’ve read here; but you may not realize that she is an actual-certified-no-doubt-about-it doctor. She won’t prescribe meds, she’s a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, but she helps people with mental issues every day.
If you’re anticipating a joke here from your smartass humble narrator, sorry to disappoint you, but recently I’ve been writing about my own mental issues, and I have nothing but respect for those who are suffering through battles with depression, bipolar issues, OCD, ADHD, addiction, and any other speedbumps that might derail their daily lives.
All of that is my way to introduce you to her book, BLUES THERAPY, that she wrote with contributions from blues musician Tab Benoit and a forward from Mike Zito. Schlank has done interviews with some great performers including Mike Welch, Annika Chambers, Eric Gales, Amanda Fish, Janiva Magness, Anders Osborne, Nick Moss, and Beth Hart among many others. All the participants have been forthcoming and honest about the struggles each faces on a daily basis, and how the music helps them cope.
While many of the issues appear to be consistent, with depression, bipolar, and addiction leading the way, each person has their own system of support in order to keep the demons at bay. For the person in recovery, whether alcohol or drugs, how does that person stay clean when their very job often means entertaining people in a bar every night. Well-meaning fans, eager to connect with a favorite performer, will often offer a drink or a joint to thank them.
This can be the start of a relapse. Anders Osborne faced that dilemma and created a program called, “Send Me A Friend.” Once you are part of the organization, you might find yourself called on to sit with a band member, a crew member, or the performer themselves and help them not succumb to that offered drink or smoke. Just having a friend with them can mean the difference of staying straight, or spiraling back into older self-destructive habits.
Schlank opens the book with definitions of terms used to describe various mental illnesses. It is by no means exhaustive, nor is it too clinical. It gives the casual reader an opportunity to become familiar with many of the issues she discusses throughout the rest of the book.
The interviews themselves are illuminating. I found it not only a comfort to read about a number of people who have similar problems as myself (major depressive disorder if you’re interested), but also enlightening as to how many artists work with these issues in order to create their art. I’ve always been fascinated by the layers of creativity that artists go through in order to create their art – any kind of art. Music, painting, dance, sculpture, theatre – are all expressions of the emotions we all face. I want to see how someone goes from that spark of an idea to the wildfire of the finished product.
Kudos to Schlank, Benoit, and all the participants for shining a light on a problem many of us have kept in a dark corner of our soul. Only by lifting the shame from these issues will make it so that people can get the help they need without being further stigmatized by the situation. I hope that this is just the beginning of an ongoing series dealing with mental conditions and creativity.
In the meantime, this book will occupy a place of honor on my bookshelf and I will also purchase a copy for my psychiatrist’s library. If you would like to get your own copy (and I suggest you do, post haste), you can order a copy from their website.
If you feel that you yourself need help, and I say this with all the love in my heart, REACH OUT AND GET HELP. I struggled with issues for years before ever admitting something was wrong, and it has made all the difference in the world to ask for and receive that help. The blues world is a small community, and when we lose one person to the demons, we become less. The music helps us – maybe more so than any other form of music, but there are other things that can be done.
Reach out. Please. If you feel that there is no one who has your back and would be willing to help, please know that we’re here for you. I’m not a doctor, but I’m a pretty good listener. You have friends here.
BLUES THERAPY is a great place to start your own journey towards healing. I’m not sure there’s any higher praise I can offer.
Thank you, Dr. Anita Schlank for your efforts, your work, your perseverance, and those damn fine photographs you graciously let me use.