Guest Blog – Alex

Drawing by Alex BottenWhen I first told Shaun I’d try to write something for his blog I intended to describe my experiences with depression, and outline how my music and art had helped me overcome some of the worst aspects of the illness. But the more I thought about it the more I realised I couldn’t do that.


Well, it’s not like that for me. I wish I could tell you all an uplifting tale of triumph over adversity, about how my darkest moments have been bathed in light by the act of creation, or of the times I’ve turned the all consuming void of despair into some of the greatest art ever seen. But I can’t, because it wouldn’t be an accurate description of my situation.

My situation… situation is one where depression and anxiety has stripped me of confidence and robbed me of opportunity, where my relentlessly messed up brain chemistry has convinced me that everyone thinks that every single thing I do is shit.

I’m cursed with an exceptional memory for perceived slights, able to recall with vivid clarity the way I felt when, 23 years ago, on the afternoon before my first band’s first ever gig, my best friend at college suggested that he should sing for us that evening instead of me because ‘you can’t really sing, can you?’. I recall every single demo rejection from the days when that kind of thing seemed important, and I’m incapable of dismissing all the times I’ve been told that I’m not good enough, or that the music I made was ‘unsuitable’ for this or that venue, or event. Yes, I also remember the successes, the labels that wanted to put my music on vinyl, the Peel plays, the two appearances at T in the Park, the positive reviews (including having my guitar playing described as ‘inspired’ by Melody Maker, and Thee Moths’ second album being dubbed ‘lo-fi magic’ by NME), but those mean nothing to me. They seem too few and far between, and increasingly vanishing into the past.

No, my memory seems to disproportionately expand the negative events, and downplays the positives as if they were no big deal – hell, even writing the above caused a voice in the back of my head to start grumbling ‘stop being a boastful bastard’!

So I interpret someone having not noticed that I’ve got something available to listen to as a direct ‘fuck you!’ from them, I read ‘it’s not really the kind of thing we’d use’ as ‘you’re a worthless piece of crap, and your work is shit’, and I imagine that all my artist and musician friends see me as the talent less wannabe at the edge of their scene – the deluded hanger on who hasn’t the wit or self awareness to just pack it all in. Fuck, I even felt aggrieved that hardly anyone had noticed my birthday on Facebook! How messed up is that??

And I keep on making things, churning out more and more work, in many cases more in a single year than many artists make in a lifetime, as if quantity will make up for a self-assumed lack or quality, or the sheer weight of created things will cause people to pay attention…and then I get bitter and upset when I’m not hailed as the genius part of my ego thinks I should be praised as, even though a much larger part of my super-ego is simultaneously telling me that I’m rubbish and will always be cursed to obscurity.

Maybe moving to another city will help, as Birmingham is an absolute drag to do anything in. Maybe someone helping me out as a booking manager would be good, as I loathe having to deal with venues and promoters, whilst always being desperate to play as many shows as possible. Or maybe telling people what’s going on in my head will allow them to better understand me, and so lead to more opportunities from those who may have mistaken me for someone confident, someone in total control of his ‘career’. Maybe, or maybe not.

At the heart of it all is a mental illness, a depressive disorder with an anxiety component, which has whispered ‘you’re shit’ in my ear for 25 years, which would like nothing more than to see me give up creating altogether. Whether I do or not might ultimately depend of the levels of support I get from my peers and friends…help I feel unable to ask for. So, screwed if I do, screwed if I don’t. Yay,

So what’s the message from all this? Depression is a horrible thing to live with, and makes the standard struggles of artists into a bitterness inducing series of mis-interpreted reactions and imagined slights….and that’s not great for creativity.

Anyone want to be my manager?

music/visual –

blogging –

writing and


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3 thoughts on “Guest Blog – Alex

  1. Really pithy article. You could quite easily have vented at great length. Can I ask, what was your editing process? That is, did you spend a lot of time writing/re-writing?

    The point about it not being a depression-specific problem: it’s not binary, though, is it? Depression can be a factor interacting with all those other elements, many of which people who’ll never suffer from depression will recognise.

    I suspect you’d perhaps hate it, alex, but the book “the Artist’s Way” has a massive amount of great stuff in there, just for realising how understandable your feelings are. It’s an odd book: clearly tinged with new age self-helpiness, but the writer is an artist who used to have to use alcohol to create: a brief window made by the booze where the negative voices were too sozzled to speak but the mind and body were still just about functioning. (Maybe like that odd beer window where suddenly one can play pool really well!)

    She writes really genuinely about many of the horrible issues people trying to create need to deal with. You don’t suffer from one of the main ones she’s trying to address: the simple ability to allow yourself to create. This is one of those dreadful things: I can completely understand why you’re not in a position to see what a gift that is, as it does nothing to ameliorate the awfulness. And there are few things more unhelpful than telling someone: count yer feckin’ blessings, there are poor people in Africa who’ll never get an ipad drawing app to play with! Or, er, somesuch.

    But that book writes well about the particular wounds suffered by risking exposure. You risk that all the time by posting your stuff on facebook. Another friend has done the same with his stuff (and equally I’ve watched some but been an utterly rubbish friend by not saying so and feeding back; sorry Simon!)

    I’m not sure what the answers are. There’s obviously the notion that, hey, creativity should be solely about creating and fuck what anyone thinks! After all, plenty of people die without ever knowing the impact their work had on future generations. Herman Melville never got to know the impact of Moby Dick: it was his blood and flesh, and his contemporaries were merely perplexed by it. Now, wikipedia says: “It is considered to be one of the Great American Novels and a treasure of world literature.”

    That has kind of the same flavour as saying “appreciate what you have!” But it’s not that easy. Melville WAS personally destroyed by the reaction. He never recovered.

    Perhaps it doesn’t feel like bravery but what you do IS brave. Others, myself included, have opted to not take those risks. (Though I’ve just signed up for singing lessons and a poetry/songwriting course, so maybe that will change!) I’ve had the same thing: one little idea for a song I had when 19, someone made the slightest dismissive comment about, and that was it: clammed up completely! I think you can’t expect the hurtful things to stop hurting, but the fact that you carry on regardless is something I don’t think you can fully see the awesomenesss of. Er, bad sentence. Hopefully makes sense.

    Hmm, didn’t know that was gonna be a fecking essay.

    • I’ve heard lots of positive reactions to The Artists Way, might have to give it a read myself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Alex’s blog, he is a very talented individual, and a lovely fella to boot 🙂

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