MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: ON MUSIC, THE LIGHT, AND THE DARKNESS

By Darlene Cuevas | May 26, 2017 | Guest Blog for Infectious Magazine

 

Maintaining the public semi-fictions we present to the world can be exhausting.  There is pressure to become the most digestible and uncomplicated versions of who we think we should be for others to see and acknowledge.  But this picture we present usually lacks what I would call ‘personal substance’ – that private world where our depth of feeling, tangible rawness and vulnerability resides.  This under-the-skin honesty is too heavy to be shared out loud in person, and something we are expected to tuck away deep within ourselves and not burden any others with.  As a singer-songwriter, I seek to recover these private truths of the heart that we keep hidden under lock and key.  Doing this can be deeply personal, dark, and unnerving – but also oddly therapeutic, for the artist and an audience able to identify with the music. I find so much beauty in recognizing, identifying with, and then emerging from these places of darkness, as pained and wearying as it sometimes can be.  From my perspective, it is the best way to appreciate the sweet radiance of light, when it does finally come along.  I have heightened empathy for this wider range of human emotional experience because I have been touched by mental illness – just like you or someone that you probably know.

I am very fortunate to have come to a point in my life where  by and large I have my sh*t together, but this wasn’t always the case. I used to get so depressed and lost in intense turmoil that I could not move forward in life. Time stood so painfully still, my moods were out of control and frenzied, and at my best it took all of the energy I could muster to maintain the semblance of “normal”.  I wasn’t myself, or the person that I wanted to be, and it drove me to madness, clinically so.  What anchored me back towards wellness back then (apart from having a wonderful support system) was the drive and desire for musical expression.  It remains my sanctuary, release, and helps me find meaning from psychological suffering that sometimes doesn’t make any sense.

But while music can stabilize and heal, finding your way in the music industry can have quite the opposite effect. Speaking from my own experience, trying to stand out among others with more experience, talent, resources, connections – you name it – can wreak serious havoc on your self-esteem.  It is also very easy to get down on yourself by equating any number of perceived career mishaps or rejections with something personally wrong with who you are as a person.  And the lifestyle that the business dictates – late hours, endless traveling, a sleepless work ethic, and constantly wondering if or when the next gig/paycheck will come through – is not exactly something one aspire towards.  All of this can add up into very negative self-talk that exacerbates any medical condition you may already have.

That being said, I still absolutely love pursuing and fighting for my place in the music world.  I am still relatively new to the business, but learning the ropes and proper way of handling things has taught me so much about being patient, gritty, and – above all – resilient. I have never felt more authentic as a person being so vulnerable and exposed at the same time.  Extracting the light out of these darker moments in the industry has actually helped me find humility, growth, and a strength I never knew I had.

Darlene Cuevas – a.k.a. Darling Cora – is a Toronto-born folk-rock singer-songwriter, mental health advocate, and occasional trickster.  She loves to bare her soul out via the music, and has a glaringly obvious soft spot for dogs.

On Why I Do This

By Darlene Cuevas | May 5, 2017

Not too long ago, I was asked why I chose to be a singer-songwriter, in spite of how difficult it can be to be brand-spanking new, female, and a visible minority.  Here is my response:

At some point, I decided to fight the fear, and really put my music out there for others to take notice. I have always been somewhat afraid to expose my music and voice to wider public scrutiny. You see, in the back of my mind part of me felt like I never truly belonged in the Canadian music scene – I was born too different and “ethnic” looking, and from a modest immigrant family very far removed from any connections to the industry. I put off pursuing my dream of a music career initially because, to be honest, I felt that nobody believed it could ever be a dream come true. It was just some pipe dream that I would eventually wake up from, even though at my deepest core I knew that I was actually denying my true calling.  These doubts haunted and convinced me that I could never be good enough. About two years ago, however, I awoke from this negativity and followed my heart with equal parts humility, grit – and, yes, blissful naivety. I have learned (and am learning) so much about working hard and fighting for what you believe in – even in the face of rejection from those who do not understand my music, or why I stubbornly choose to do what I do.

On Being a Woman... 

I grew up with the ingrained prejudices that women need not be as technically skilled or as musical as our male counterparts, and that we should focus instead on being pretty and having the most waifish and/or diva-like voices.  Oh how I wish I hadn't!  My one regret as a musician is not recognizing earlier on the urgency to be as technically proficient as possible.  I did not need someone else (and most likely a man) to write the musical accompaniment for me.  Part of my artistic motivation comes from wishing to right this wrong, and I think that is why I insist on playing and getting better at the guitar.

... and a Visible Minority.  

This is the biggest self-imposed hurdle of the three.  I grew up without any role models in music who looked like I did, and so it was natural for me and everyone around me to assume that it just did not happen.  I was born the wrong character in the story of how it all should or could be done.  If there is one lasting thing I hope to achieve, much greater than me and my music, it would be to help change the story for those growing up who are ethnically “different looking”, and traditionally under-represented in Canadian music and popular culture. We too have a voice and can create art that resonates with others just as effectively as anyone else's, given the opportunity. We are so much more than just cultural tokens and “niche marketing”.  We are a vital part of today's cultural fabric, and are much better at representing our common thread than most would give us credit for.

Photo Cred: Naomi Peters

Inaugural Blog: Greetings, and How Do We Do

Hello there, pleased to be writing my very first blog for Darling Cora!  We just finished shooting my very first music video for "Yearn" the other day at a stage in Toronto's Distillery District, smack dab in the middle of this year's Christmas Market. It all took place in one super long-ass-freezing-but-wonderful day, awfully close to the shortest day of the year, right when we needed to make the most of as much natural light as possible. Cannot wait to see how it all turns out and share with you all -- it is a dance film of a woman's yearning for "the man that got away", based on the song's lyrics.  Big shout out to everyone involved in the production: Lena Dawood (the director-maestro), Akira Uchida (choreographer and handsome "man that got away" dancer), Mia DiLena (female dance lead who shares my birthday, woot), Anastassia Levina (awesome MUA bestie), and Lena's scrappy and generous video crew:  Blake, Rob, and Gary.  More deets coming soon!