When singer-songwriter Emily Lee was struggling to make ends meet, stress, anxiety and depression began to wear her down. With her financial pressures mounting she turned to Help Musicians UK (HMUK), a charity that helps musicians in crisis and at key stages in their career. Emily, a stand-out performer who gigs regularly around London, tells her story.
“I was conditioned from an early age to expect failure. My mother – who was a woman fighting her own demons with drugs and alcohol – told me frequently that I was terrible at singing. I was told that no one would ever love me and that I was talentless. Despite those words, music spoke to me. It held me, comforted me and I began to sing. I didn’t know if I was good, I just wanted to sing because I liked the way it made me feel. It made me feel free.
“Deep inside I trusted how singing made me feel – like I couldn’t be touched by anyone. I sing when I’m cleaning my house. I sing when I’m cycling. I imagine singing on stage every night before falling asleep. I think of lyrics when I wake up. It’s everything to me and music has never ever let me down.
“When I was at a real low point [when money worries were causing extreme anxiety and depression] I called the Musician’s Union and was advised to call Help Musicians UK, who convinced me they could help. I’m a very proud person. I’ve been independent since I was a child. I’ve cooked and cleaned for myself and my family, and worked since I was a teenager. Having an organisation tell me they were able to help frightened me. It made no sense. Kindness was a rare occurrence in my life; thankfully I’m in a position now where I’m more open to it. My mum said once, ‘Your past makes your future’, which I took as ‘You can’t escape your past’, but now I realise that you learn from your past to make your future greater.
“HMUK have paid for my therapy sessions, which is something I would’ve struggled with greatly on my own. The help was incredible. I felt lifted. I became more focused on my music. I felt if HMUK felt my therapy was worth paying for, then I was worth saving and my music was worth fighting for and, believe me, it’s a fight every day.
“Every time I’ve gone to a therapy session it’s been like jumping into open water. At my last session my therapist said, ‘You help yourself in therapy by being completely honest with yourself’, which is completely right, makes so much sense and yet, is so scary. However, my therapist has enabled me to let my walls down, see my flaws and my strengths and develop tools to practise them so that every day, I can make my life a little richer, a little kinder, and a little more at peace.
“I’ll always be eternally grateful to the charity who have been so compassionate in their aim to help others. It’s so strange to know that HMUK have been kinder, more accommodating and more encouraging than members of my own family. I am truly blessed that they wanted to help me.
“Their work is vital for musicians who struggle to maintain their art, their health and their integrity in a gritty, and at times callous, industry. The organisation has helped me understand why I do what I do. I know I’m a great songwriter. I know I’m a great performer and I know I make an impact wherever I perform, whether it’s good or bad. I still make a difference to people. But more importantly, I make a difference to myself. I feel like I own myself when I’m doing music. That’s a power that no one can take away from me. I’ve earned the right to be happy with Emily Lee, the artist, and I’ve earned the right to be happy with myself. With their help I’ve learned that I’m brave and I’m worth saving, which is something I’ve never ever felt about myself before.”
Emily will be launching her latest EP Dance My Demon Away at The Lexington, London, on Saturday 1 September. Click here for tickets.
About Help Musicians UK:
HMUK is Britain’s leading independent music charity and has provided help, support and opportunities to empower musicians at all stages of their lives for 97 years. The charity works to create a sustainable future for all musicians and the industry, supporting those who work in the music industry through grants, health and welfare services, campaigning, creative programmes and targeted investment initiatives. It exists to advocate, educate and provide information around issues which affect musicians and the industry that surrounds them.
HMUK’s 24/7 dedicated mental health service and support line Music Minds Matter combines advice, signposting, clinical pathways and professional therapeutic services, with links to the charity’s grant funding. The free and confidential 0808 802 8008 telephone number can be accessed 24/7 and the MMM@helpmusicians.org.uk email address will be checked regularly, with a response provided within 48 hours.