Michelle Treacy Speaks Her Truth in Songwriting
Michelle Treacy spent her early years as a musician trying to fit into a mould that didn’t feel right for her. After taking a two year break from music to address her anxiety, her mental health journey has led her to recovery and a new sense of inspiration. After winning season two of CTV’s The Launch, Michelle is writing music for herself in hopes that her honesty will help others.
We sat down with Michelle to discuss overcoming her struggles with anxiety, and how The Launch helped her reset her love of music.
You took a two year break from music. Can you tell me a bit about why you decided to take that break?
I don’t know if I decided to take the break or if it decided for me. I think I hit rock bottom to reset and my world was like, “you need to stop for a minute.” I so often told other people “you need to get help. I’m going to be there for you” and in return, I wasn’t there for myself. So the world was like “Girl! Stop and take your own advice!”
When you took that time for yourself, you mentioned in your statement on Instagram that your brother helped you out. How did having that support system help you?
I feel like going into the hospital was an amazing decision. I remember laying in emergency and the doctor asked me, “do you want to stay or do you want to leave?” I looked at my brother and I said, “whatever he decides is what I’ll do because I don’t have the brain capacity to take care of myself right now.” He decided I stay. Having that support around me was kind of like having angels around me.
How did taking that time away help you to recover?
It made me deal with my trauma. I was so used to running away. Throwing a show together, going on tour, and doing this and that so that I would block out what was really going on. My mom used to call me “Road Runner” because I was literally running away from myself. Getting help taught me that I’m cool being alone. I love who I am now, and I think I used to hate who I was.
Having received help, how do you recognize the signs now when you’re having an anxiety attack?
It’s interesting because I also work at Home Sense. It’s my “normal life day job.” I can notice when it's coming on in there. I’ll have OCD triggers, where I’m like, “If I don’t put this candle back in the right spot, then something bad is going to happen.” I have these little ticks that start…But I’m able to figure it out now and tell myself, “Don't go that way. Don’t do it. You’re going to be fine.”
I never saw triggers before and now I do…It’s cool to be able to recognize it and be like, “I can get through it now.”
What are some of the things that you wish people understood a bit more about anxiety?
The biggest issue that people don’t understand is that it's an invisible illness. Anxiety is worrying about everything that doesn’t matter. It’s hard to say anxiety is one thing because it’s so many things, but all I can say is it’s life consuming. It can ruin your whole day, your whole year.
They say that artists are more prone to anxiety because we think in a different way. Artists have, the majority of them, a lot of trauma. The artist life is unrealistic. Tour is not even real life. You’re so exposed to people, and then you’re not, and then you are again. It's one extreme to the next. You eat garbage food, your sleep schedule is all over the place, you sleep on a bus. And your anxiety, you’ve got to keep it in check. You can’t go party every night, you gotta be like, “Tonight I’m going to sleep at 8 because I need to fill my own cup up.”
Do you have any coping strategies?
It’s actually music, which is crazy. I find music calms me down. One of my triggers is if I listen to the same song over and over again, I know I’m going to have a bad day. I get so focused on something and it’s because I’m trying to take my mind off my anxiety. Music is helpful. I feel like it says everything I can’t say in the moment. I fall on my best friends, I call my mom every day, I go to the gym if I’m in a really bad place. At the gym, I can run, I can get angry, I can let it out, I can fall into the music and not think about me. I can just be in the moment.
You said a lot of artists are prone to anxiety because their brains work differently.
I think we feel deeper. I think that’s what it is. We’re so aware of what’s going on around us.
I think artists are also maybe more aware of their surroundings because when you have to be creative, you have to see things a bit clearer or in more detail.
It’s a blessing and a curse. I see through people instantly. I’m an empath and when I look into people’s eyes, I know their story. I think that’s an artist thing. I think most artists are empaths. Not only do we have our own anxiety, but we can feel the anxiety of others and we take it for them. Like we put our hands out and say, “You’re messed up and I'll take it off of you.”
How do you deal with music spaces where you’re meeting so many people and you feel that way when you see people?
I think that’s what gives you anxiety. For me at least. It’s beautiful in a way because then I don’t feel so alone, but I also take others’ anxiety. It’s a lot of pressure.
I actually almost quit music again recently. I went to Hawaii and took a break. I haven’t had a vacation in seven years. I needed to figure out why I’m doing music, who I’m doing it for, and who I want to be. When I was there, we went to this island and I just remember I wasn't writing, I wasn’t thinking, and suddenly my hands went so fast. I wrote so much and it was like something came over me. It was really, like, “You’re going to get through it and you need to use your power to help people.” I feel like the music I’ve written this week has actually been letters to myself, which is very different for me.
How does it feel to write music for yourself?
I had read this Maren Morris article last week when she wrote the song “Girl,” which is an amazing song, and she said, “I didn’t write it for anyone. I wrote it for me.” It opened my mind up to the idea that I could talk about my truth and tell everyone how messed up I am, and help other people feel a little less messed up.
The more I talk about it, the more I realize everyone’s in survival mode and everyone has their own trauma and anxiety. People ask me all the time, “What’s your dream?” To be anxiety free, to live a life where I can be truly happy and I don’t feel unlovable.
It sounds dark, but it’s not dark. I encourage everyone to get the help they need. At my shows, I’ll stand on stage and say, “A year ago, I tried to kill myself unsuccessfully. A year later, I’m standing in rooms with hundreds of people talking about it.”
What do you think can be done in the music industry to take better care of the mental health of our community?
I think more artists need to own up to being on medication. I think we need to stop selling a dream. I think we need to start showing what the music industry really is because when I was growing up, I thought it was all glamorous. You’re famous, you made it. Like, no. You put a song out, you get shut down by your label. You’re only as good as your last hit. Everyone’s trying, it’s a competition. People aren’t making music because they love music. They’re making music to make a hit.
I think that there’s no honesty in anything anymore. I think that we need to make music that has feeling to it. It makes me so mad because it looks bad on the people who are honest. It looks like they’re rebelling. How is honesty the rebelling factor in it? If everyone was honest, we would have a lot less issues.
Do you find that as a pop artist, people were trying to change what your music was about?
Change your question to “as a female artist” and the answer is “yes.” That’s all it is. The dark side. But you get to choose what circle you put yourself into and I’m lucky everything happened to me at such a young age that I get to restart at 23. I just had an amazing experience with The Launch and it taught me so much.
They were so supportive of me. And now this week, I’m working with writers who I’m so comfortable with because they make me feel like I’m good enough. They make me feel like my ideas are valid. I think before I was sitting in rooms with people who just wanted to make a hit and in return, we were trying so hard to make a hit that you’re not going to get one. Once you start writing music that’s honest, I think that’s where it comes in. I don’t need to be anything. I could just make my music and hopefully it can relate to someone out there.
You released the song “Emotional” on The Launch. How did they help you through the process of releasing that song?
Well, they damn well push you to your limits on that show. It was five days of being up at 6am and going to bed at 3am. How does that make sense? But I called it my coming out party because it felt like I finally got to be who I want. I felt celebrated. Even the other day, I texted my mom and told her I wrote a song completely by myself, and she said, “I always knew you could do it.” But I didn’t. I didn’t know. Because I had people around me for so long that weren’t supportive. I had a manager that told me I was a horrible writer. So now it’s about learning how to accept that maybe I could be good. It’s like a war against yourself. That’s all it is, but I think everyone goes through it.
The Launch was a good restart. It got my name back out there, and gave me a taste of the lifestyle I want. Being surrounded by people who love you, celebrate you, and guide you. I think that’s so important.
The expressive nature of music can help others feel less alone, but Unison is here for our music community when song lyrics just aren’t enough. If you need someone to talk to, register with Unison to receive help from licensed counsellors through our Counselling & Health Solutions program. Call 1-855-9UNISON to receive free assistance today.