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Aku Orraca-Tetteh

If you’ve ever seen Aku Orraca-Tetteh perform live—with his band Dragons of Zynth, Santigold, or any number of musicians he collaborates with—you’d probably never know he suffers from anxiety. Anxiety which is so powerful that sometimes he just sits and stares at his piano, unable to play. The singer/producer gets honest about how he gets through it, what it was like to bomb at Central Park Summerstage, and the biggest lesson he’s learned: it’s all going to work out in the end.
by Sollis Health

How did you first realize you were suffering from anxiety?

I started realizing I had anxiety once I started reading about other people’s experience, sometime in my mid-20s. I used to characterize this feeling as something that was normal; something everyone felt at some point. But reading about it in others, I was able to see the similarities to my own experience. Once I started my first band and we got popular, my anxiety returned (after years of seemingly feeling fine), and I was able to define it much more clearly within myself.

What’s been the hardest part? Have there ever been times you’ve tried to get help and haven’t felt heard?

The hardest part is the mental and physical toll it takes on your senses. Retreating. The lack of motivation, or more of a freezing of motivation. Like you’re stuck in a psychological spiral that may never see the sun. Most of the time though, when it gets severe, I usually can think of the right person to call to help me change my mind’s direction. There are many times where I don’t feel heard. I wonder if my demographic as a tall, black male makes people think that I am immune to experiencing the same human condition that millions of others face.

“There are many times I don’t feel heard. I wonder if my demographic as a tall, black male makes people think I am immune to experiencing the same human condition that millions of others face.”

How has living with anxiety affected your work (negatively or positively!)?

I love this question. At a certain point, I’d had enough of feeling the hold in my gut and chest. I started to realize that whenever I created a song, or a piece of music, my anxiety would disappear. If I leaned into how I was feeling and processed my pain through music, not only would I feel better, but I would also get the most honest work. Sometimes I feel like anxiety is a sign to create, or that music is always an antidote. Other times, I stew in the anxious feeling and just freeze and look at my piano for hours before I even touch it. Even though I know that playing will relieve my nerves, I freeze and can’t bring myself to give myself what I need to feel better.

Can you describe any moments of humor or embarrassment that have happened because of it?

Sure! Playing Central Park Summerstage with my band, Dragons of Zynth. Nerves were flying high as the park was a launching pad for indie bands of the aughts era. I could sense that some of the band members were not mentally sharp that day, and lo and behold we messed up big in front of our biggest audience. Having to frontman that situation amongst people I couldn’t count on taught me a lot. But that whole situation was an anxiety ridden, embarrassing mess! Til this day I think about it.

What sort of treatments have you tried—from the most basic to the most experimental—and what’s been the most helpful?

I basically have found two methods that work for me brilliantly. The first is microdosing mushrooms. It seems to take away all sense of anxiety and I really am a happier, more upbeat human being when I microdose. The second is Transcendental Meditation. I swear by it… I’m actually just getting out of a 20 minute session right now as I write this. I find it the most reliable form of axing away my anxiety without a doubt. I do it before shows, important meetings, and anytime I need an invisible shield to protect my mind and my energy.

Has music helped you deal with your anxiety?

Music is my savior, period. Creating music fills up any emptiness I may be feeling at any given time. But sitting back and listening to Soul (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye) from the 70s, European Classical piano, and Tibetan bowls on YouTube help keep my mind in a positive and beautiful space.

“The biggest misconception is that anxiety is something that’s easy to ‘get over’ aka ‘get over it.’ People will not understand how you suffer internally, because the mask we wear to get through the day looks and seems fine. People don’t know how crippling it can be.”

What have you learned about yourself as you cope with your mental health day in and day out?

I learned that I am human just like everyone else. I don’t have to be perfect. I’ve learned that I can combat my anxiety and it’s a proactive venture… I can anticipate certain situations that could cause an episode to occur, so I try to meditate before them. I’ve learned that I’m emotional, sensitive, sometimes reactive… and that I’m always rapidly thinking… I’ve learned that I am not my thoughts, and I’ve learned how to fight the creeping doubt the forces of the world seep into my brain. I’ve learned the importance of balance.

How can you see Sollis helping you on the health journey?

Men tend to sweep their health care needs under the carpet, and ignore persistent issues, so it’s important to have an easy, accessible healthcare option, especially one that can put you in touch with leading mental health care professionals on demand.

If there’s been a silver lining, what would you say it is?

The silver lining is that everything seems to work out in the end. At some point, some higher power took over the journey and helped me achieve my dreams. I’m learning there is no point to my struggle—whether I have anxiety or not, the outcome will be what it is going to be. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but allow yourself to let go and just be.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about anxiety, and what do you wish you could help people understand better?

I think the biggest misconception is that anxiety is something that is easy to “get over” aka “get over it.” People will not understand how you suffer internally, because the mask we wear to get through the day looks and seems fine. People don’t know how crippling it can be, but it is easily hidden.

Any good words to live by?

Somewhere in there, there is a spec of light that is strong enough to drown out all the cloudiness, all the darkness, and all the fear…
The views and opinions expressed in this campaign are those of the participants, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sollis Health.
Sollis Health is a 24/7 doctor, private ER and concierge service rolled into one. Whether it’s an emergency or simply to diagnose the symptoms that you typically Google in the middle of the night, our emergency-trained doctors are ready for anything. Interested in becoming a Sollis member?

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