First among equals
There’s a great year of festivals ahead in 2013, but First Fortnight holds a special place, and not just because it kicks off next week. VerseChorusVerse, Heathers, Aaron Smyth from Vann and Róisín O tell LAUREN MURPHYwhy they’re getting involved
‘THIS WILL BE my third year of involvement with First Fortnight,” says Tony Wright aka VerseChorusVerse. “I remember when Alan, our old manager in And So I Watch You From Afar, told me about it; I’d only been diagnosed with bipolar disorder a couple of months previously. He said: ‘There’s no pressure, but if you do want to talk about things, you can’. I thought, well, it’s one of those things that helps to talk about it, so I agreed.
“My first admission was actually on Today FM with Ray D’Arcy. Only family and bandmates knew about it before that. But once I started talking about it, it felt like it wasn’t an issue anymore. It’s when you keep it quiet and hold back, then you’ve got this completely wrongful feeling of shame, or something. There’s the whole feeling that you should just maintain the stiff upper lip and just carry on. But as soon as you address something, no matter what it is, you feel that burden lifted.
Why is there such a stigma attached to mental illness?
“Well, some people tend not to believe these things because it’s not a physical ailment. You feel that people are being a lot more judgmental, because it’s not something you can actually show. When I told the guys in the band, I felt that it winded them a little bit, too. They didn’t deal with it the best, but that’s no bad reflection on them – a lot of people don’t know how to deal with it when you lay out your stall and say ‘Look, I have these problems’.
“But the more that you talk about it – and an organisation like First Fortnight is completely designed for that sort of thing – it makes it so much easier to address it and come to terms with saying: ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. This is just who I am, and it’s something I will deal with.’
My bipolar disorder has been a long, long-term thing, long before I was diagnosed. I remember talking to a counsellor in college and they wanted me to talk to a doctor, but I resisted because I thought that would make it too real. I guess I just knew I was having thoughts that I shouldn’t have. I was in a very dark place for a lot of the time, and it was very hard to break free of those thoughts, even though I knew that I didn’t want to think them. I did find that when I addressed it and spoke about it, it helped hugely. You’re acknowledging that you don’t want to be that way. I can’t emphasise that enough: people need to know that it’s okay to talk about it and get help.
“Music was, and still is a huge source of comfort – I can get a lot done in those dark times, too. It’s a struggle to get started, but once you can start, it can help to sort things out in your head. Yeah, it’s dangerous if you feel like that’s where all your inspiration comes from, because it’s not – but I’m just like any musician or artist who’ll take inspiration from different spots, and the best will write about what they know. And that’s something that I do know about, so I will draw from that. It is a very big part of who I am, and it’s not something I’m ashamed of.