Artist Angle: Finding Passion And Ease Amidst Depression

Dominique Hallberg, Columnist
Illustration by Juliana Vieira

Here’s a crappy stereotype that’s unfortunately usually true: I’m a musician and I live with depression. My name is Dominique Hallberg, and I’m currently the lead guitarist for local, all-girl band, Club Sofa. I started playing guitar when I was 15 and had no friends. At the time, I was just really craving something to associate myself with since I didn’t consider myself smart enough to be a “nerd”, not athletic enough to play sports, etc. My parents were and still are very supportive, having bought me my first guitar (a black Epiphone Les Paul), they would drive me to guitar lessons, and once I was over the learning curve, I was enamoured with playing. It was the classic “locking yourself in your room for hours and playing” type of love.  

I began to curate my own music taste and I found myself feeling less and less lonely. I went through different genres of very guitar-centric music, from the “hair-bands” that my dad loved like Van Halen, to blues like Bonnie Raitt, to neoclassical like Jason Becker and then to jazz artists like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. I was in love with the idea of being “that guitar player”, and after a couple of years of practicing, I began to get the recognition from my peers that I craved.  

That led to performances, which led to joining the jazz band, to joining a jazz combo, and pursuing jazz as my focus for post-secondary. I graduated from high school in 2016, worked every day the summer after, and moved to North Vancouver from Vancouver Island to attend CapU in September.  

I was nervous yet excited to leave home for the first time. I felt like things would be okay, I felt prepared and confident in my choices. But unfortunately my first year of university, and the semester afterwards, was the worst year and a half of my life.  

Depression, I’ve learned, is something that sneaks up on you. One moment you can go to school and get up on time, finish your homework and be present in your life, and the next you find yourself skipping classes, binge eating, crying what seems like all the time, pushing away friends and having suicidal thoughts and ideations.  

Those symptoms started for me around November, when some of my classes gave me so much anxiety that I would throw up and cry beforehand – resulting in me skipping the class altogether. My grades took a dive and I felt suddenly and completely useless. The worse I did in school the more I beat myself up, and the more I would stay home, the less I would practice and the less I loved playing.  

I didn’t see a point in music anymore and was ready to quit, before I got a Facebook message from a friend, Payton Hansen – an amazing singer who also happened to be in my jazz program. She wanted to start a band with a girl named Jess, a drummer in my program, and a bassist named Jasmine, and she wanted to invite me to be their lead guitarist. My boyfriend encouraged me to join, and with the stress that school was putting on me I thought it might have been a good idea to make some friends and overcome my loneliness.  

We met at a friend’s house for our first practice, all of us a little nervous. We played through some basics like “Cherry Bomb” (obviously) and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. We learned everything together and soon found ourselves bonded, and really enjoying each other’s company. We played our first gig to a solid crowd of maybe 30 people (including boyfriends and family) in a Port Coquitlam community hall, but it was the start of something much bigger.  

Playing with Club Sofa eased my anxiety and depression in ways I can’t explain. Maybe it was the positive reinforcement – the fact that I had three other girls constantly cheering me on, telling me that I was wonderful and loved – or maybe it was the fact that for the first time in months I was leaving my house to play music and it truly excited me.  

When I’m getting ready for a show with my band it’s when I’m usually my happiest. I love simple things like sharing makeup, I like it when we meet up to practice, I like stopping at the gas station and getting an energy drink or meeting up at “Timmy’s”. It’s these little actions of friendship that I find impacting me so much, because I know what it’s like to do all of those same things alone.  

Through Club Sofa I found my nerves prior to shows dissipating more and more. Because of my band I’ve had amazing opportunities. I met Isaiah Dobbs who currently leads Vancouver band Schwey, at a Winona Forever show. Fast-forward a few weeks and I was offered the chance to sub-in with Schwey, which led to opening for Marianas Trench at the Calgary Stampede in front of thousands of people.  

But even with opportunities like that I still have lows. I still leave shows early because of anxiety, I still experience episodes of depression, I still find myself unmotivated and sleeping most of the day for weeks at a time. But the difference for me now is defined by my support system, namely my band, my family and boyfriend. They make me feel loved and appreciated when I feel like I’ve been nothing but a huge burden. As someone who suffers from depression it means the world to me.  

For those who too feel lonely and crave a connection with somebody, anybody, I’m here to tell you now that you need to take that step and do something social with your passion. I know it’s hard to let go of the fear of embarrassing yourself, the fear of just outright failure, but it’s necessary. When I first started to feel these lows I felt like I was drowning with no one to pull me out of the water. Now, I never have to doubt that I will have a safety net. Art really does have the potential to heal, and my medium isn’t an exception – Club Sofa has made me a better and more confident person in more ways than one. And for that, I’m forever grateful. 

1 Comment
  1. 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures. Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities. (As reported on CMHA.ca website)
    As a women in her late 40’s it’s wonderful to see a young person come forward that is affected by depression be so candid about their illness in a penned letter for all to read. Thank you for your courage to come forward and share your story. I stand with you, from one women with mental illness to another we stand strong and lean on our support system when needed.

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