In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Billboard has partnered with Ian Davis and Brandon Holman of The Mindful Creative on a series of conversations with music artists and executives about the self-care practices they use to keep themselves on track, both during the pandemic and beyond.
Today’s conversation is with Carla Morrison, a Grammy-nominated and Latin Grammy-winning Mexican singer-songwriter. Morrison has been outspoken about her struggles with mental health and, most recently, launched “Anxiety Tuesdays” on Instagram where she goes live to talk about her own well-being journey with her 1 million followers. In 2020, the artist also released her new song “Ansiedad,” where she documents her self-discovery journey. It was her first track in three years following a career pause due to a collapse in her mental and emotional state. Now based in Los Angeles (she relocated from Paris where she had been living for the past three years), Morrison finds solace and inner peace in gardening, listening to podcasts and going out for a run.
Mental health for me is something I’ve learned to prioritize in my life as time goes by. When I was growing up it wasn’t really a subject, but it was something that my mom definitely would help me to deal with. Like if I had anxiety, I’d tell my mom, “I’m thinking too many things, I don’t feel good.” She would tell me, “OK, mija, let’s get your mind busy,” and 30 minutes later she would ask me, “How’s your mind?” So she would always train me to kind of fight my mind back and help me understand my feelings.
Now, mental health has become a big priority in my life. When it comes to wellness, I feel that it’s a place you create to check in with yourself and have goals. Like, “OK, what’s going to make me happy? What’s going to really give me that space?” And to think every day what’s going to lead me to take care of myself — whether it be eating healthier, doing a hobby or going running. I have to have that wellness space every day in my life, but also in a healthy way, because I do feel like sometimes that’s even stressful, like to try and be healthy and wellness-oriented all the time. You can sometimes feel guilty for not making that time because life happens.
A couple of months ago, I moved from Paris to L.A. In the meantime, making that huge move, my dad passed away due to some illnesses he had and also COVID-19. All of that was a lot. When you’re moving from a country to another one, the whole scenery changes and you have to get adjusted. And I definitely didn’t give myself mental health days, not even an hour. Nothing. I was just like, boom, boom, boom. OK, we need to write this. Oh, we need to go buy a car. We need to take out the trash what day? I was trying to get used to the new life while also understanding that my dad had passed away. That’s still something that comes back every now and then. One day I just had a panic attack in the middle of the freeway and I couldn’t drive. That happens to me every time I push myself to the limit and play strong.
When I had that panic attack, I was like, “F— this, I’m not letting it happen again.” And so I started running every day, working on my garden every day and just, you know, checking on my flowers, my plants and have that space for myself to be creative and balance everything out. I had to not only focus on what I had to do to adjust to L.A., but really adjust to myself, my emotions and my feelings.
When I lived in Paris, I also learned to slow down and to say no. I was like, “Oh, so I can actually say no and nobody will get mad at me here?” Then I thought, “Man, I’ve been such a pleaser. I always say yes because I feel bad and I don’t respect my boundaries.” But after learning to say no, it made me feel better because I don’t have to pretend or waste my energy. Being there was like learning to get back to to hanging out with myself, liking myself and being my friend. That’s on the personal side.
On the creative side, whenever I’m songwriting with other songwriters, if I need to give myself space to go out and write the lyrics by myself, I allow myself to do that. I don’t know if this comes with age, but now I feel like I don’t have to meet anybody’s expectations but mine.
I’d say we’re talking more about mental health in the music industry. How we struggle, our difficulties, and how fame and fortune aren’t everything. Like, just because I’m on the stage and it’s a full concert, that means I’m good at what I do. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not struggling. So talking about this now makes me feel more “normal” because I know I’m not the only artist having a bad day. I know I’m not the only artist having panic attacks. I’m not the only artist that’s like super sensitive and might be triggered by something. Before I used to think I was just being sensitive or asking for too many things, but now that many artists are talking more about it, I feel like, “OK, we all get to be sensitive and that’s fine.”
It’s also something I try to talk to my fans about. A couple of months ago, an idea came into my head where I thought I should do some sort of live [broadcast] on Tuesdays, because I think that’s the day anxiety kicks in because you’re just getting the hang of what your week will look like. So I’ll talk to them about anxiety because we shouldn’t just be talking about all of our success. I want to open up more and say, “Hey, the other day I had a panic attack, and it sucks and it happens to me too.” People have written to me saying that these Anxiety Tuesdays have helped them. I get messages like, “You make me feel normal” or “I’m not alone in this battle.”
Releasing “Ansiedad” was also another way of talking about the subject with my fans. Initially, I was asked to write this song for someone else, but I thought, “Oh my God, please, I hope they don’t end up taking it because I wanted it for me.” When I wrote this song I was like, “I’ve always had anxiety, but I had never really wrote a song about it. So, how do I put this into words?” I talked to my [male] producers and we’re like, “OK, how do you feel anxiety” and “How do you feel it?” Men and women feel anxiety the same way, maybe different in certain parts, but pretty much the same. So we put out a song that talks about having a full-blown panic attack. Obviously, I felt vulnerable and like, “Oh sh–, I don’t want people to think that I’m sick. But then I thought, “No, I’m not sick. This is normal. This is how I feel.”
It was beautiful to see how so many people really liked it, and so from that point and on during all of my [virtual] meet and greets or other opportunities I’ve had to talk to people, this is the topic that comes up the most. They’re always like, “Thank you for talking about anxiety. Thank you for your song. Thank you for just bringing it to light.” It’s been a beautiful journey to just open up, be vulnerable and sing about anxiety. I’ve always talked about different emotions in my songs, but for this one I got a big thank-you from my fans. Even psychologists will write to me and thank me for writing it. They’ll tell me they’re playing “Ansiedad” for their patients so they can better understand what they’re going through. This song has been a beautiful gift.
As told to Griselda Flores and Ian Davis.