In the past 18 months, Mitch James has released a hit debut single, opened for Ed Sheeran on his sell-out stadium tour, and been nominated for best pop artist at the New Zealand Music Awards.
As he prepares to release his debut album next week, he’s a young man with everything to live for.
But he nearly didn’t make it here. Today, for the first time, Mitch James shares his harrowing story in his own words.
The world is hard, we all know that. But for some, it is unbearable and, unfortunately, we have bred a toxic culture of silence and shame in this beautiful country of ours.
We find it hard to give even the people closest to us the support they need to look after their mental health.
It breaks my heart to see people battling mental health issues alone, as I have been there myself.
I want to share my story and to say it is okay to not be okay, it’s okay to talk about it and share our stories to help others. In fact, we must.
By sharing my own battle with the depths of depression and anxiety, I hope that it will help even just one other person feel less alone and know that there is a way out, even when it feels like all hope is gone.
My struggle with anxiety and depression started at high school, where I was exiled from social circles at around age 15.
I had friends I could count on fingers, rather than hands.
I was completely isolated and the toll of being so alone was intense.
I had never struggled with making friends before, but all of a sudden I was alone with no one to talk to and no direction or idea of where I was heading. It was a jarring experience at a vulnerable age.
Months passed and I would walk around the school grounds or hide in the music centre at break times by myself, with nothing but my thoughts – I was truly miserable.
I started to think ‘what if I don’t want to deal with this shit anymore?’.
I can remember how being in that state felt so permanent and forever during that time. That life would be shit forever.
I started to lose interest in sports, school, and life in general and all I could think about was how horrible I felt, how unfair life was and how I could make it end. I hated the pain I was going through, so I was looking for the easiest, most painless way out.
I began to abuse alcohol and weed by myself in an attempt to drown out the pain, to stop the endless self-hate, this feeling that I would always be a failure.
This isolated me from the people I loved even more because my parents struggled to understand what was going on with me, they thought I was ruining my life before I even started.
They tried to do what they could for me, thinking a change of scenery might snap me out of it.
So they took me to an orientation day at a different school. Unfortunately, the next day, I was robbed at knifepoint in a carpark building in Newmarket.
My undiagnosed and growing depression was now partnered with PTSD and it alienated me further from everyone I loved.
I remember vividly being at rock bottom crying in my closet in my bedroom. I’m looking at it as I write this.
I barricaded myself in my room and tried to end my pain forever.
My mother was home and knocked on my door, she tried to open the door and realised something was holding it shut. She miraculously used her tiny frame to burst into my room.
This was rock bottom and, unfortunately, it didn’t get better quickly from there.
I left school at 17 and began sleeping in my car because my relationship with my family had broken down completely.
I got enough money together to afford a one-way ticket to the UK with a dream and hope of making it as a musician.
The reality wasn’t the rags-to-riches story you may hear from other artists. By day I would busk on the streets and, at night, if I was lucky, I would play a gig in a bar – not always with the promise of a bed to sleep in at night. It was gruelling.
While I was in the UK and Europe, I slept on the streets for a total of seven weeks, played more than 230 gigs, busked more than 100 times, was robbed, beaten up and witnessed a brutal stabbing.
Looking back at this time, it’s a miracle I made it through in one piece.
When I returned from the UK (and I was still in pretty bad shape), I moved to Dunedin where I finally found a bunch of mates that really took me under their wing. We were able to share our stories with each other, and in turn, supported each other in ways that helped us all.
Having a group of good mates saved my life and finally gave me the support I needed to get better and to turn my life around.
With them, I was finally able to be honest and to share everything that I had been going through.
Their belief in me as an artist gave me the confidence to turn my life around and pave my way forward.
I wasn’t an overnight success story in terms of recovering from anxiety and depression and I will always be prone to suffering at any point. But what I have learned is that being open and honest with the people we love can, and literally does, save lives.
I would not be alive if it weren’t for my friends. When I was at rock bottom, they opened their hearts and I opened mine. Because of that, I got better and I have gone on to fulfil my dreams and to live a life full of happiness.
Those times have shaped me as a man and as an artist because they have made me who I am.
I now see the richness that walking a non-traditional path can add to life and my debut album reflects all of the experiences I have ever been through, because of the pain I suffered I have learned to channel that into my craft to write songs that will hopefully connect, inspire and uplift people all over the world and for that I am forever grateful.
The point of this story is that when you hit rock bottom and traditional help isn’t that helpful, I want to remind people that there is always a way out.
Please know that even when it feels like it isn’t true, there are always people around you that want to help.
Youthline is a bloody awesome and important organisation, which you can reach out to when you’re struggling as well. To support them in their work, I am so proud to be donating a portion of the proceeds from my upcoming tour to them.
These people are crisis workers specifically for youth, letting them know that they are loved and there is a way out.
That’s what I want young people (and old!) to know – that they aren’t alone. And as my Mum always said, and it stands true, ‘this too will pass’ and those bad days won’t last forever.
If that doesn’t work, you will always have a mate in me.
He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Who: Mitch James
What: His self-titled debut album
When: Releases next Friday
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
Source: NZ Herald