I Have Chronic Depression, and I Belong In Concert Music

I have suffered from chronic depression since I was 15 years old.  I’m now 41.

I was just told on facebook by a Bigshot composer that I have a “grim” attitude toward concert music, and that he’s “frankly glad” he doesn’t share my “grim” attitude because if he did, he wouldn’t want to have any part of it.

This conversation was started by a question that he asked.  He wondered, why don’t composers go to new music concerts more?

I answered this question honestly.  Concerts depress me.  They make my condition worse.

I have a certain amount of social anxiety because of my depression.  The expected green-room gladhanding ritual alienates me to no end.

Bigshots are often in attendance.  Concert music culture, and the subculture of music composition, divides itself into Bigshots and Nobodies.  I’m not a Bigshot.  I’m a Nobody.  And going to a concert and having this reality underscored depresses me.  It makes my condition worse.

Concert music etiquette is very unforgiving for people with certain physical conditions, like I have, due to diabetes.  My blog, my rules on TMI: I have to pee every five minutes.  I can’t sit through Mahler without getting up in the middle, crawling over everyone, and irritating them.  Bigshot who asked the question “why don’t people go to concerts” seems obliviously unaware that people have disabilities— mental, emotional and physical.  You can’t always sit on the aisle.  Everyone wants to sit on the aisle, for the same reason.

I told this complaining Bigshot composer that I go to concerts anyway.  Despite the fact that the concert music experience makes my depression worse, that participating in concert music culture causes me profound social anxiety and exacerbates my disability, I go anyway.  And instead of being applauded for the effort, he came down on me and my “grim” attitude like a proverbial ton of bricks.  WTF?  Way to go, champ.  You just made me less inclined to buy a ticket to the next outing.  Not more.

But I will probably suck it up, buy the ticket anyway, and go.  Because I believe in new concert music.  Despite the fact that I would rather be just about anywhere else besides a concert, I go, because I understand that one has to support concert music-making itself in order to expect new concert music to be produced.

The upshot of Bigshot’s comment was that if my attitude is this grim, then I don’t belong.  Go away.  My critique of the concert music world— that it’s a subculture predicated on Bigshots and Nobodies and that composers don’t go to composer concerts because composers essentially do not help other composers with their careers, and so composers are actually making reasoned, rational choices when they perform the calculus and decide that some other composer’s career advancements do nothing for him or her— this critique is bringing down Bigshot’s good time.  He’s had his success, he’s had his fun, concert-going is fun, and if you don’t share precisely his same experience, then get the f*** out.

I’m not going anywhere.

It would be a convenient world if the disabled weren’t here.  We wouldn’t have to build those ramps.  We wouldn’t have to braille out books.  We wouldn’t have to develop sign language.

I’m going to tell you exactly who I am, and what qualifies me to say what I have to say here.

I’m the guy who drove from Texas to Ohio to rescue a blind man from an abusive spouse, because he had no way to get out of his terrible domestic situation.  I drove him back down from Ohio to Texas and gave him a home for a year, because that’s how long it took for him to get Section 8 housing in Texas.

That’s what I did for one of my fellow travelers in the disabled world.  Mr. Bigshot, until you can say that you’ve done anything like this, you are not fit to lick the soles of my shoes when it comes to evaluating who belongs and who doesn’t in your happy world.  You do not understand the profound barriers that people with disabilities experience.  Instead, you condemn us.  You want to erase us because it’s inconvenient to you.  People with depression are failing to do their duty and go to concerts to be your cheering section, and that’s what really bothers you about it.

I’ve got news.  It’s not all about you, Mr. Bigshot.  My reasons for not attending concerts to your satisfaction are my own.  If I could, I would never be forced into the miserable, awkward, depression-exacerbating social situations that concerts represent.  You call it “fun.”  I call it “hell.”  But I go because it’s something I believe in.

I make personal sacrifices to support concert music.  And you tell me I should get the f*** out?  Because I’m bringing you down?  Because I’m ruining your good time with my “grim” outlook?  How dare you!

I belong in concert music.  Just as deaf people belong in choirs that happen to use sign language, just as people with mental impairments belong in schools, just as blind people belong in housing situations without abusive spouses.  I have something to contribute.  It’s deeply ironic that some of our most lionized figures in concert music have had very famous disabilities, and yet people who have disabilities in today’s concert music world receive so little sympathy and so little tolerance.

In my exchange on facebook that prompted the dismissive, deeply hurtful response that prompted this blog post, I said that concert-going is something I liken to going to a protest— I do it because it’s something I believe in, not because it’s fun.

I stand by the statement.  Until you have had social anxiety disorder and have felt the hot gaze of a thousand unwelcome eyes upon you in every crowd, you cannot possibly understand.  Until you have had depression and experienced nearly suicidal ideation from constant exposure to the stark— I daresay, yes, “grim”— reality of our two-tier Bigshots-and-Nobodies concert music subculture— then you too cannot possibly understand.

I dare say that precisely because concerts are not fun for me, precisely because concerts are kind of like torture for me, that my support of concert music nevertheless by going to concerts anyway is all the more meaningful.  Likewise for the thousands and thousands of people who are made uncomfortable by the concert-music-going experience, which is in myraid ways unforgiving, but who go nevertheless because they support the music.

I don’t want props for going to concerts when it’s usually a terrible experience.

I just want a little understanding, and a little empathy.

Is that too much to ask?

-Robert Gross

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