Fear and Loathing in Stoke Newington; From Music Industry to Meditation

by Mental Movement Magazine
Music and Meditation

My biggest strengths in life have been both a blessing and a curse. I’m an incredibly ambitious person with a keen eye for perfection. As you can imagine, this means I don’t like doing things by halves.

Whether that means working all the hours in the day to create something truly special or staying up for the entire weekend to experience everything on offer, I’ve spent most of my life thinking ‘What’s next’?

I got really lucky at school, I was part of a year group in which is was considered ‘cool’ to achieve rather than screw around and bunk off. I somehow managed to blag my way into the position of head boy at high school despite the fact I spend most of the final year of high school smoking joints with my classmates. I’m sure that the teachers knew we were all smoking but they simply didn’t care, we were still smashing it in our exams…

We used to put on gigs regularly at high school. I was in various bands and the evenings would always be led by me. I’d already developed a healthy obsession with music by this point in my life and I knew what a good show meant, how it should be promoted and how it should look as well as sound.

I took this attitude to sixth form college and pretty soon I was lying about my age to hire venues in Norwich. I knew that playing in pub back rooms was going to lead nowhere so my ambition led me to booking the same venues that the touring bands were playing. Instead of having the task of getting twenty mates down to a grotty pub, I was getting 300-400 students along to my nights. I just didn’t see the point in playing a shitty venue when I had the opportunity to play where the big artists did. I knew that by aligning myself with these bands, it would make my bands look just as big. We might not have had any songs but we certainly had the image, stage show, venue and production! All of this came with great reward but also an insane level of stress for a sixteen year old that I never stopped to consider at the time.

Gravitating to Liverpool for university, I quickly immersed myself in the music scene. I swear on my life – I had one night in during my first year of Uni. I had such a fear of missing out on anything at all. At that moment in time, Liverpool was the epicentre of the music scene in the UK and there was no way I was going to miss out on the opportunity to see the next big artist on a night out at a show.

Within a couple of weeks I was working in the Liverpool University music promo team and behind the bar at The Zanzibar, the hottest venue in the city at the time. My appetite for musical experience was insatiable.

Quickly realising that I was learning far, far more about the music industry by going out 24/7, I quit my ‘Popular Music’ course and joined a band. That’s when the real ambition kicked in. I wanted my band to be the best in the country. I wanted to tour the world. I wanted to be on magazine covers, I wanted expensive vintage guitars, I wanted girls, I wanted drugs, I wanted the perfect leather jacket, I wanted to headline Glastonbury – there was no limit to my ambition. Some of that stuff happened.

I put my heart, soul and nervous system into that band. Then we split up.

It was time to get a real job and there was no way I was looking anywhere other than the music industry. I blagged my way into an assistant promotions role at a London venue with my eyes set on the promo manager role.

After a few months I found myself running a venue of my own. That wasn’t enough for me so we opened another venue. That still wasn’t enough so we expanded to working with festivals and brand partnerships. That still wasn’t enough so we opened another venue and started working with bigger artists, bigger agencies, bigger DJs etc etc.

The problem was, I was working all day, normal office hours on something that happened at night AND if I wasn’t at a show of my own, I’d be at another gig, award ceremony, festival or party.

I’d achieved most of what I’d set out to do when I was a teenager but that still wasn’t enough. So I started loading on other things I wanted to achieve like running half marathons, buying a house, multiple American road trips, getting engaged, cycling to Paris in 24 hours with no planning whatsoever etc etc…. I achieved in one year what most people might take 5/10 years to do.

Then I burnt out.

One morning I was walking to work with the hangover from hell. I hit a wall of sorts and had the anxiety attack to end all anxiety attacks. My mind, body and nervous system had finally had it. I couldn’t move for pure, primal fear. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, I felt sick, I was sweating buckets and my head was pounding. Somehow, in amongst all of this I developed a complete and utter fear of being alone.

I can dress this up however I want but essentially I had some kind of breakdown and I was diagnosed with acute anxiety and clinical depression. This came as a major kick in the teeth and formed one hell of a dent in my ego.

As you can judge from my story so far, I threw myself into as many ‘wellness’ treatments as possible. Signed off work indefinitely, I attended therapy, mindfulness classes, acupuncture, yoga, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation apps, guided meditation on YouTube, PTSD therapy – you name it, I tried it. None of it worked. None of it even touched the sides. I was an anxious quivering wreck, embarrassed by the fact I was in this state and ashamed I’d left my team to work without me in the venues.

After a couple of months of living hell, one morning I was waiting to go into a therapy session. Feeling totally and utterly helpless, I read an article about Vedic meditation claiming this practise was amazing for anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia. I didn’t really believe it to be honest but I had no other options so I thought I might as well give it a go.

A week later I was on my way to meet Will Williams, a Vedic meditation teacher in London. To my surprise, he wasn’t a stinking hippy. He was a guy not too dissimilar to me that had also worked in the music industry and happened to be a massive Beatles fan. He gave me a mantra and told me how to meditate self sufficiently without the aid of apps, a teacher or YouTube clips. After the three day course I began to feel a little calmer. Nothing else had changed in my life but within 7/8 days my depression had lifted. 6/7 weeks later my anxiety was greatly reduced, although not totally cured.

It was at this moment I had the light bulb moment I was looking for. I’d spent the last six months trying to get better just so I could go back to my life, constantly running at a million miles an hour both in and out of work. What I really needed was a new approach! I realised that it had taken me over a decade to get into this state and it might take a few more months to get back on track but I was heading in the right direction with light at the end of the tunnel. From the day I first met Will, I have meditated twice a day and life started to take a turn in the right direction.

After 4/5 months my anxiety lifted and I quit my job. A few weeks later Will asked me if I ‘had time for a chat?’ I was invited to work at Will Williams Meditation full time. My confidence came flowing back and I got back into the routine of going to work each day rather than being curled up in the corner of my couch at home in streams of tears.

With this new role came more confidence and a slight change of pace. My ambition and perfectionism remain but the meditation helps me to stay in tune with when I am putting myself under unreasonable amounts of pressure.

Soon my family started to notice changes in me, all of them saying I was calmer, nicer to be around, less snappy and argumentative. From my point of view I found my creativity coming back by the bucket load, getting a band together again for some regular London residency gigs. I also noticed that all of my senses were improving, my hearing in particular. I was putting on records that I’d been listening to for the last 15/20 years and hearing subtleties that I’d never had the space to hear before. My experience of life as a whole improved, to the point where I felt better than I had done previous to my mental health issues.

Ironically, I probably spend more time in the big music industry companies now than ever. Over the last few weeks alone we’ve been in Warner Music and Spotify introducing their staff to the benefits of meditation.

It’s not how I imagined visiting those companies when I was a teenager but I can tell you now that it is 100 times more fulfilling…

Liam Hart is Marketing and Communications Director at Will Williams Meditation.

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