Jessica Agombar on The Dark Side of Creativity and Music. Madness or Genius?

by Jessica Agombar
jessica agombar

“The Creative Mind looks at the night sky and makes new constellations” Jeff & Julie Crabtree

I’m not sure I’m qualified enough to write this, I’m not even sure I have the ability to help anyone who struggles with self-doubt, battles constant pressure or lives with the stress of having a creative mind.…and that my friends is a perfect example of my self-doubt and the pressure I put on myself.

I tend to play down my emotions, I definitely suppress my worries, I pretend my concerns are trivial and aspirations are unachievable.  Even if I’m struggling, I daren’t ever vocalise how I feel until its too late. I did this for a year until the accumulation of self-doubt and my favourite self-inflicted go-to PRESSURE made me inadvertently hit a mental brick wall with a monumental crash!

I am a songwriter and artist. I eat, breathe and sleep music. I want to write songs and create for the rest of my days, so you can imagine my excitement when the same team behind Sam Smith and Emeli Sande offered me a publishing deal after hearing my music.

As a creative, there is no certainty that anyone will buy into your art or understand your ideas, yet there is still an undying need to create. This same uncertainty bears a heavy weight on the mind as you never know when the next paycheck is or the next eureka moment (big up Archimedes for that one!).

Creativity is said to be borderline genius or “madness”!  So imagine every day thinking you could have a genius idea but actually your just a bit mad (for want of a better word)? I’m getting a migraine just thinking about it as this is me! 

As I don’t work a 9-5 I usually go to 5/6 writing sessions a week and for anyone that isn’t in the music industry, songwriting sessions are ultimately therapy sessions. You talk about your feelings, create a story, add melody to the story and dig into the depths of your emotions until it evolves from a mere thought into a song. It’s mentally draining! 

My publishing contract from the time it was offered to signature took 6 months of negotiations. In these 6 months, I was riddled with self-doubt that would creep up on me weekly, I would think that at some point someone would figure out I had blagged the whole thing even though I write the blooming songs. I couldn’t help thinking someone was going to tell me it was all a joke. The self-doubt played into everything and I found myself dumbing down exciting prospects as I told myself they would never come to fruition. This then fed into my personal life until self-doubt and pressure took over with a vengeance! 

Fortunately nobody pulled the deal off the table, it was my own self doubt after all as I signed on the dotted line to champagne popping and an amazing team of people around me. In the midst of the congrats, cards and flowers from my amazing friends came something worse – PRESSURE. The problem with this was it was totally self-inflicted, to the point where even other creatives around me told me to slow down and look after my own physical and mental health for fear of burning out. I was having barely any sleep, arriving home from writing sessions at 5am and rolling into the next at 10am. I was exhausted but my creative mind persisted on auto-driving me before a colossal crash.

Jessica Agombar

The only way in which I can describe the feeling I encountered is – I had been running for so long towards the finish line/signing this deal; it was more of a marathon than a Usain style sprint. I could see the finish line in sight and it had been many miles ahead for a long time that when I hit the finish line and signed my deal, I had got so used to running that I continued to run not knowing how to stop myself. 

I was on my 6th writing session in four days. I was now pressurising myself to deliver hit sounding records as I was under duress, in my mind, to fulfil my publishing deal and write a hit, two weeks after signing. The bubbly hadn’t even gone flat for crying out loud!!

During this session I had a slight awareness that I had a pain in my chest, I was on edge and felt as if my adrenaline was running at 500mph. I explained this to my co-writer in a fluster of verbal diarrhoea saying it was probably because I had skipped breakfast but he calmly stated that because of the crippling pressure I had been putting myself under riddled with self-doubt that creeps its unforgiving head that I was causing myself anxiety!!! I laughed and said I have never suffered from anxiety in my life….How stupid of me!

The realisation that self-inflicted pressure had caused me this feeling of anxiety was quite an abrupt wakeup call for me. I knew I had to press pause, regather my thoughts and be in a calm environment to feel balanced again. Luckily I have the most amazing, loving family and friends that give me endless support but not everyone is lucky enough to have a solid go to support system. Recognising all of this was a saving grace for me as I was mindful of exactly what was needed to be done. Its been a journey since, restoring balance and practising self-kindness too. The pressure I put on myself isn’t gone but it’s manageable. My self-belief isn’t always on a hundred, and I definitely don’t run around east London with an ‘S’ on my chest but I urge people to believe they are superheroes that’s for sure! 

I have spoken to many of my creative friends since experiencing this and their stories are scarily similar to mine. Each one of them has gone through a rude awakening, with some much worse, be it a breakdown or depression, leading me to believe that we, as creatives are on a roller coaster journey that never really comes to a stop until we stop creating. The thought alone scares the life out of me, I feel the need to create like I feel the need to pee as soon as I roll out of bed, its involuntary. 

There’s also a reason why psychologists link creatives to mental health issues and that’s because of the monumental highs and lows that come with the non-existent job description of being a creative!

Pressure can cause immense stress and physical strain but I now know even though I love to create I also love just being. Happy, Balanced and pressure free.

I would love anyone reading this, creative or not; those of you putting pressure on yourselves, be it for any reason, anyone struggling with self-doubt to give yourselves the care, consideration and belief to be your own best friend. I ride for my best friend, I am her biggest fan, I am her cheerleader. I believe she can do whatever she puts her mind to. Why is it we don’t tell ourselves that? For anyone else living with the rollercoaster of a creative mind embrace it, ride the lows, enjoy the highs and remember we aren’t mad, we are simply searching for that little stroke of genius.

To find out more about Jessica or to connect with her music, you can listen to her EP Bullet For Your Love Chapter 1 here.

Twitter: @JessicaAgombar 

Instagram: @jessicaagombar

Soundcloud: Listen here

Editors Note: If you are a musician, you might want to connect with Help Musicians UK; a leading charity for professional musicians of all genres. Help Musicians UK is available to support you during times of crisis, but also at times of opportunity, giving people the extra support they need that could make or break a career. Whether you are just starting out or nearing retirement, you can find all the help and resources you need here


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