How many of us struggle with mental illnesses? I bet it’s way more than we think. I think it’s so crazy how much of a stigma the topic of mental disorders carry along with them and how hard it can be to talk about them. May is mental health awareness month. At EDM Maniac, we’re shattering the stigma by talking about mental illnesses in hopes to start a bigger discussion. 

Mental illnesses have played a part in my life for as long as I can remember. Even though I wasn’t diagnosed until my 20s, symptoms of certain disorders have plagued my life since I was a little kid. I always had issues concentrating, I was restless and temperamental. Feelings of irrational impending doom and fears of my peers not liking me or not being “cool” enough took over my thoughts constantly. I was obsessive, erratic and constantly getting into trouble. Those symptoms just continued to get worse the older I got.

I found self-harm by the time I was 12, binge drinking by 13 and drugs by 15. I finally found the escape I had been looking for; I got all the craziness in my head to stop. I thought that I had finally found the solution to all of my problems but little did I know what I found was just another huge problem.

Fast forward about a decade, my entire life is plagued by my mental illnesses. I was a full-blown addict and alcoholic. I hated myself and my life. My mental and physical health were deteriorating by the day and I knew, deep down, something needed to change if I wanted to stay alive.

I got clean in 2014 and started to take care of myself for the first time in my life at 22 years old. I was diagnosed with severe alcohol and drug addiction, generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. I also had a pretty shitty self-image, which was enough of mental illness of its own. I was finally getting the solutions to my problems, but something seemed to be missing…

I missed raving, I missed shows, I missed the atmosphere. I stayed away from it all for about a year, in fear that I wasn’t strong enough to make it through an event without relapsing or having an epic panic attack. When I finally did make it back, I was amazed at how returning to something I was passionate about helped my mental state. Here’s how…

I’ve met some of the best people in the world at raves.

I have no idea where I would be if it weren’t for the dope people in my life. One thing that has been a huge help to me in dealing with my mental health is all of the amazing humans I have met at raves. To everyone who I met for just a split second to whoever my rail family is that show to my festie besties. Everyone I’ve met has helped me in some way to just be happy. They give me hope that with all of the grim things going on in the world, there are still good people out there. The people pictured throughout this post have someway been positive influences in my life. They’ve been there with me to help make memories that I will never forget.

I learned that I didn’t have to be messed up to have a good time.

When I first found the EDM world I was a freshman in college and in the midst of my alcoholism and addiction. I felt like I needed to be drunk or high to completely enjoy my experiences. I saw certain drugs as enhancers of my experience. What I wasn’t seeing is that they were really ruining my experience rather than making it better. When I got clean and decided to make my way back to the scene, I was terrified that it wouldn’t be the same. And it wasn’t, it was so much better. I was able to really be present; to ‘get high’ from the music and the atmosphere. Plus I could actually remember the night instead of blacking out. I had never experienced true happiness like that before.

Having love and respect for others taught me how to love and respect myself.

One of my favorite parts about the rave world is the idea of PLUR. I loved the good vibes that radiated from raves. I used to be pretty hostile and intolerant of others, which in turn made me pretty hard on myself too. The more I went to raves the more love and respect I was shown, the more I saw people of all walks of life come together for the love of the scene and see how peaceful everyone usually was (from the dozens of events I’ve been to I can probably count on one hand how many fights I’ve seen). PLUR is contagious. The more I was loved and respected, the more I wanted to show other people love and respect. The more I did that, the more I started to show myself some love and respect. I tend to be the harshest critic of myself but these actions helped me have some self-love that I never had before.

Rave fashion helped me learn to feel comfortable and confident in my own skin.

I have been self-conscious about how I look for as long as I can remember, especially about my weight. The only time I ever felt good about the number on the scale was the few years in college when I dropped 40 pounds when I was using. Starving myself was an added bonus to my chronic drug use at the time because not only did I get higher but I also lost weight. When I got clean I gained all it back and my shitty self-image came back with it. I knew turning back to an eating disorder wasn’t an option anymore so I tried to do it the right way. It wasn’t pretty; failed attempts at diet and exercise brought some brutal shame into my life. I didn’t like the way I looked one bit. But something has changed over the past couple years. I’ve found a way to express myself through rave fashion and just feel comfortable in the skin I’m in. Before I wouldn’t DARE let anyone see my thighs, now I run around in booty shorts and fishnets. And yo know what? There’s so much freedom that comes with that for me. I wear what makes me happy. It helps me give a middle finger to social norms that tell me that since I’m plus size I shouldn’t show as much. Fuck that noise.

I’ve finally found a place that I fit in.

I’ve always had a hard time fitting in. For years I tried to do what other people did or be what I felt others wanted me to be just so I could feel like I was a part of something. After getting clean and taking a serious look at my life and the things I ‘liked’ I found out that a lot of those things I didn’t really like after all. But raves were not one. I’ve never felt out of place at a rave, every time I walk through the doors or into the festival and I hear the music I just feel at home. I don’t feel like I have to put on a mask or be something I’m not. That’s one of the coolest parts about raves, anyone is welcome to join the family.

I learned how to rage, but more importantly, I learned how to be mindful.

After suffering from crippling anxiety for years, it’s been a habit of mine to obsess over the past and fear the future. I had a hard time learning how to just be in the present moment, but raves helped me learn how to do that. I’m just there; in that moment, in the music, and that’s all I’m worried about. Once I learned to apply that same mindfulness to other situations in my life, I was able to gain some traction in dealing with my anxiety and overall mental health.

I’ve made memories I can look back to when I’m feeling down.

My depression is a bitch. When it’s at its worst all I want to do is isolate and sleep all day in my depression hole while I welcome feelings of hopelessness and impending doom into my mind. Anyone else who suffers from this mental illness knows how hard it can be to pull yourself out of an episode. What really helps me in these times is all related to raves and EDM. I watch videos I took at previous events to find some gratitude for the experiences I’ve had, I listen to some of my favorite songs to try to get myself in a better mood, I make plans to hangout and make Kandi with my festie besties. And slowly, but surely, I’m able to pull myself out of that hole. It surely doesn’t solve any problems, but it absolutely helps my mental health.

Raving gives me purpose.

Another big symptom of my depression is this horrible feeling where I question my purpose in this world. Turning 25 last year brought this quarter-life existential crisis into my life. What am I doing with my life? Why am I here? What am I good for? What really means a lot to me? I don’t know what it was but I just felt lost and lacking purpose. I felt like I should have accomplished so much more at this point in my life.

Most of the year was pretty grim for me and it seemed like the whole world as I knew it was flipped upside down: I totalled my car, went through a really tough breakup, had to chalk up a bunch of people who I thought were my friends, lost my apartment and had to move back home. Shit sucked. But if there was one constant in my life, one thing I could count on, it was raves and a couple close friends. I went to my first major festival last year and I just remember thinking: this is it. This is what life is all about: fun, artistic expression, music, love and friendship. It was the purpose I was looking for in life.

Raving has helped me save my own life, how has it helped yours? Let’s talk about it…