The Mental Health of Being Yourself: My Musical Journey to Authenticity

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When I was 13 dreamed of being a famous singer like Hannah Montana. I liked writing songs. I was in the midst of puberty, and confused and ashamed about why I felt sad and angry all the time. None of my other friends seemed sad or angry. I went to a school where everyone dressed the same-- Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Juicy sweatsuits. I spent my childhood wearing my brother’s hand me downs and clothes from the boys section of Mervyn’s. I hated the way I felt. I hated the way I dressed. No one else felt like me, no one else dressed like me.

When I was 16 I started recording my songs for the first time. I was making an album with my guitar teacher in his studio and playing shows at local open mics and talent shows. It had been a few years since I discovered my favorite clothing store, Zumiez. I didn’t care that other girls at my school didn’t wear clothes from Zumiez; it felt right for me. But I still felt depressed, and I was convinced I was the only one who did. No one else ever talked about being lonely or hopeless or hating themselves.

I went off to music school at 18. I was surrounded by unique, talented individuals and musicians. I started doubting myself. I was the best (only) young artist in Los Gatos, California! But I felt like the worst, undeserving, over-my-head wannabe singer in Los Angeles, California.

I numbed my frustration and shame, and tried finding joy in other aspects of the music industry. I could be a manager, I could work at a record label, I could become wildly passionate about music publishing (all equally attainable to my previous goal of ‘rockstar’)! My mental health was a little better, partially because I had started therapy, partially because I was finally in a city that didn’t care what I dressed like or the gender of the person I was dating. But I wasn’t happy-- I wasn’t singing.

A year or two later I figured; maybe I won’t be famous, but I felt lost not making music. So I got a very cheap bedroom recording studio together and started recording myself. Hundreds of songs later, I made one I really liked. When I was 21, I released my first single “Know Ourselves”.

A song about not knowing who you are. A song about wondering who that might be. A song about questioning-- without answering.

I learned to keep questioning-- my music, my decisions, my hobbies, my relationships. I fell in love with it. Feeling something, thinking something, and asking why I experienced that. Rather than judge myself based on what other people did and how they felt, I observed myself on the inside. I dug so deep I found things I wanted to do and a person I wanted to be. And that person wanted to make an album.

“Nightmares & Daydreams” came out shortly after my 22nd birthday. I had a producer and a band take the songs I wrote on my acoustic guitar and work with me to reimagine them as greater, more musically complex productions. It turned out beautifully. I was, and still am, very proud of it. 

But what would I do next?

I spent years after that not knowing the answer to that question. I collaborated with a bunch of awesome different producers. I wrote songs I liked and had a lot of fun doing it. I no longer needed to go to therapy every week. I was decently mentally stable and welcomed some new emotions into my life: hope, optimism, acceptance. However, I would still experience the occasional bout of overwhelming sadness and anxiety. I felt aimless - I was making decisions unintentionally and crossing my fingers it’d work out. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know what I needed until I let myself find it

I would still experience the occasional bout of overwhelming sadness and anxiety. I felt aimless - I was making decisions unintentionally and crossing my fingers it’d work out. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know what I needed until I let myself find it.

When I was 24 I decided to try something different. I was always co-writing and collaborating with other producers and I thought: what would happen if I produced my own music? I had enough experience to not be fully paralyzed by the thought-- rather I was excited for a new experiment that I didn’t put any pressure on myself for. This isn’t music I think someone else is going to like. This isn’t writing a song to “stay relevant.” This isn’t recording and releasing whatever songs I had because I’m an artist and I have to. There was no end goal and there was no one to please. I chose to produce myself simply because that’s what I wanted to do. Because it felt right (as my Zumiez wardrobe did for me 10 years prior!).

I made that choice a year ago. And now here I am with a fully conceptualized album set to drop at the beginning of next year; and a mind full of questions, answers and the strength to bear with them. I carved and cultivated my world into something that worked for me-- I discovered what it meant to be authentic.

Through every sound, word, and creative decision that’s gone into making this album, and every moment I’ve spent with myself observing and choosing; I built a mental, physical, and musical landscape that is purely my own.

It’s been a lifelong journey of exploring my identity, my mind, and my emotions through my musical expression. And it’s STILL not over-- it never will be. But I know that every day I open my eyes, my life is mine. I’ve learned that it’s okay if no one else dresses like me, sounds like me, thinks like me. Because I couldn’t find freedom or joy making my decisions for anyone else. I still get sad, I still get angry-- I’m human. I am Hannah Bowers, and I have never felt happier.

It’s been a lifelong journey of exploring my identity, my mind, and my emotions through my musical expression. And it’s STILL not over-- it never will be.
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