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First person

‘I had to let go of music temporarily and show up for my mental health’

By March 19, 2021March 20th, 2021No Comments

Musician Siobhan McClean on the struggle to be creative in a pandemic, and learning how to look after herself…


During my college years, I worked in a clothes shop on weekends. After about six months with them, our uniform changed from wearing whatever we wanted, to all black. At first, I was distraught. I love fashion and am a huge fan of colour, and putting my (often excessively) colourful outfits together was one of my favourite parts of the morning.

Now that joy was being snatched away from me, only to be replaced by a dark and gloomy future of boring, black ensembles. Soon, though, I found myself enjoying my weekend breaks away from colour. I got more experimental, opened my eyes to a lot of styles and cuts that I had previously ruled out, and thought of different ways to wear the same item of clothing. The limitation that had been placed on us actually freed up a lot of space for me to see and think about things differently.


Since then, I’ve found that it’s often within a restriction or limitation, that creativity thrives. Being constrained to a smaller scope squeezes out original ideas and innovative ways of looking at things, shifting your mind-set and allowing you to be open to possibilities you may not have considered before.  

In my mind, that should have rung true of the first lockdown. I mean, we now had copious amounts of time due to having less of what we considered to be “a life” pre-2020 – no work (for some), no after-work pints, or any pints for that matter, no anything really, outside of the walls of our homes. 

This was the biggest restriction that had been put on our lives, so out of this should come the biggest wave of artistic output ever seen, right?

Weeelll, I guess it’s not that simple. There is also the constant, general sense of overwhelming dread and uncertainty that comes hand-in-hand with living through a global pandemic. Real creativity killer right there. While I did see a lot of people exploring new hobbies, and artists finding fresh ways to collaborate with each other, I also saw a lot of people struggling to find the motivation to follow through on projects and to dedicate time to their art, because it took a lot not to spiral into an endless loop of worry about the future and what would become of your friends, family and livelihood. Throw into the mix the limited sources of inspiration from being confined to your home, and you have a recipe for a fairly dull creative landscape for a lot of people.

I fell into the latter category, and was often left feeling pretty frustrated, particularly during the first few weeks of lockdown. I’m a singer-songwriter and producer, and had already been struggling with my creativity for the couple of months pre-lockdown. I weaved myself a romantic story of how these endless days and this abundance of time were finally going to allow me to really get into my craft, that I would learn everything there was to learn about production, and that I would write three songs a day. And obviously every song would be amazing.

Well, I was definitely in for a huge surprise. I struggled to open my laptop for anything except to binge-watch The Real Housewives, and even if I did muster up the motivation to write or produce, everything I made was just… kinda bad, to be honest.

Resigned and frustrated

After a couple of weeks of frustration, I had simply resigned myself to the fact that I would never write or produce anything good again. I wasn’t even sad about it, I just accepted it as a fact. I stopped beating myself up over my lack of motivation towards music, and tried to include good mental health practices as much as I could into my daily life – walking, meditating, yoga, eating well, journaling. 

Having that space away from music and realising that it was time to just step away from it was exactly what I needed. In that space, I could process a lot of what I was feeling, and deal with the insecurities that had caused my creative blocks in the first place.

Where before I placed a lot of value on what other people thought of my music, I learned how to have an internal locus of evaluation, and began to see music and art as a means of expression and liberation again, instead of what they had turned into in my mind, a rigid product made exclusively for the consumption of other people. I took my failures less seriously, and instead looked at them as a means to a more successful end, allowing my bad songs to provide ideas for some of the ones I genuinely enjoyed further down the line.

What I realised through all this was that it was really the act of “showing up”, at least trying, that would help things to develop with more ease. That doesn’t necessarily mean showing up creatively. In my case, I had to let go of music temporarily and show up for my mental health, which in turn helped me process some things that had been blocking me from my creative endeavours, and naturally allowed me to find my way back to my creativity.

Take the good with the bad

Being patient and gentle with yourself is vital, especially in this current climate, and accepting the inevitability of failure is strangely liberating. It takes the formality out of creativity, and allows whatever is inside you, the good and the bad, to come spilling out.

Although I didn’t write three songs a day and I’m still WAY off knowing even a tenth of what there is to know about production, lockdown did afford me the time and space to allow myself to take a break from trying so hard, and taught me the value of being nice to yourself. Eating well, having a good routine, or just doing one thing a day that you know is going to make you feel better- even if all you can manage is a shower that day – is what helps you have a healthy mind, and for me, a healthy mind is free to be creative, free from the judgemental voice in your head. 

The limitations and restrictions that had been put on our lives didn’t directly give way to a new era of creative expression, but it did provide time for self-reflection, and for me it’s highlighted the importance of being sure you take good care of yourself, and, in turn, other people, by inspiring them to do the same.

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Image from @hi_im_shiv on Twitter