Rou Reynolds Of Enter Shikari Opens Up About His Mental Health
We’re chatting to some of our favourite people about their mental health experiences as part of the YoungMinds takeover of the Kerrang! site this month. Today, Rou Reynolds speaks frankly and candidly about his struggles over the last couple of years, and what they’ve taught him about himself.
He might have ended up with a Top 5 charting album out of it with The Spark, but a mix of exhaustion, a cocktail of anxieties and one particularly big night at the Kerrang! Awards saw Enter Shikari frontman Rou Reynolds hospitalised and forced to take a step back to assess his mental health in the past two years. In the process he’s learned all about where he’d been going wrong, what it’s like not to sleep for a week, and a little bit about what he’s made of and how to look after himself better.
His story is proof that even if you’re a successful star who can get up in front of thousands of people every night, what’s going on inside your head can still prove powerful enough to bring the whole thing crumbling down.
Recently you’ve been speaking about how in the run up to The Spark you had some mental health struggles. Was that a new experience or was it just the latest chapter in a bigger story for you?
Well, it was only recently that I realised what it was the whole of my life, because in 2015 it all accelerated. It was then that I was triggered to get some help. Before that, I just thought, ‘This is me, this is my mind and me being weird’, without realising there was any problem. It wasn’t debilitating or stopping me being who I wanted to be. I’m quite timid in terms of health stuff anyway, and I didn’t want to waste someone’s time.
What happened in 2015 that made you realise it was a bit more serious?
It was actually the morning after the Kerrang! awards when it all came to a head. I think I was already suffering from exhaustion, I was worn down, and that night was particularly anxiety-filled. I get like that at awards ceremonies. I’m fine with being onstage and being the frontman of a band, but offstage I find it a bit weird and difficult. The whole red carpet thing, the interviews, the egos and the intensity in one room; that pressure to be a sort of entertainer, or a character is tough…
Err…Sorry about that. But what made it more than just a really bad hangover that next day?
We were heading off to our Download warm-up show in Bristol and we basically didn’t even get out of London because I had a panic attack in the car. I didn’t really know what it was at the time. I had them before, but milder and without knowing what they were. The one other big panic attack I had was when I stopped smoking weed as a 20-year-old – it was making me so paranoid and it would increase my anxiety tenfold. But this one was extreme. I ended up going to hospital and staying there for hours. It was much more physical.
Enter Shikari - Rabble Rouser
Can you describe what it felt like?
It was quite a weird feeling in my chest. It was as if there was a balloon in there and someone was blowing it up and there was just, like, this thing, poking. Then I had pins and needles in my arms, my legs started shaking and I started going completely white. It was very weird. I stayed in hospital for eight hours. As soon as you say you were drinking they sort of put you to the back of the queue, so I didn’t really get any answers then. They kind of looked at me and dismissed it, but after that I didn’t sleep for a week.
What is it like not sleeping for a week?
It’s a very strange experience. I still don’t really know why it happened. The amount of adrenalin surging through my system during the panic attack must have just hung around and prevented me from sleeping. Which then turned into sleep anxiety, making me scared to sleep. You think something weird is going to happen, so I was getting sleep paralysis, feeling like I was choking. Normally when you’re sleep deprived it fucks with your head, your body and your metabolism. At that extreme though, any mental health problem becomes unmanageable.
My head was in constant rumination; over and over with these negative thoughts and anxieties. So then I got pills for that and started seeing a psychologist through my GP. I went private, because I would have had to wait months through the NHS. I’m lucky I had a bit of money to spend on it. By that point I was so worried. Like, I hadn’t slept for a week so I was thinking, ‘Do you die after a while from no sleep?’ I was just begging for help and valium. They said no because it’s deemed a drug of abuse and being in such a fragile state they were worried I’d become addicted to it. So they put me on a sleep-specific drug, on and off for months. About three months later I had a sort of normal sleep pattern again.
In that period did it feel like something inside had just broken?
Definitely, but it was a classic spiral and cycle thing: I was sleep deprived, so anxiety was heightened, I was exhausted, and I had chemicals in my body from that night, then there was adrenalin from the panic attack and everything was combining to devastating effect. Normally my anxiety is totally manageable. I still wuss out on certain things when it overpowers me, but normally I can deal with it. In that state, I stood no chance. I was just a ball of anxiety. There was no logic, and I wasn’t in control of anything. But in a way it was a good thing, because I then learned a lot about myself and my head.
What was the recovery process like?
I did about 12 sessions with a psychologist. To be honest, I don’t feel like it massively helped with the problem there and then, but it did give me a toolset to deal with it, like I learned CBT and various forms of mindfulness and meditation and exercises that one can do. In terms of expanding my knowledge in the area, that really helped. But it wasn’t until I had one session with a psychiatrist – which you have to do, to see a psychologist – that I found it really helpful. This guy was amazing. It was only an hour’s session and he worked out that I have social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, I’m a bit on the OCD spectrum… and this was only when everything was heightened. He sat me down and questioned me and I found it really helpful. As soon as you can put something in a box, it means you can do this, this and this to combat that. I think it was the reassurance of it, mostly. Him just saying, ‘You’re not going to die, you will start sleeping again and the pills will start working’ helped when I was in that full anxiety state. I was thinking stupid shit, where logic normally kicks in.
In a way, then, long term you’ve benefitted from the experience?
Yeah, weirdly. I’m a lot more aware now of what my body can take. I know the signs to watch out for if it looks like I’m going into a period of heightened anxiety. A lot of the time in the past I made the mistake of thinking I could keep up with everyone. And bearing in mind I’m expending more energy than anyone else on stage and I don’t sleep very well in general on tour, I can’t be going out every night on the town. I’ve now realised I can only take so much before my metabolism goes nope.
What do you do now to keep yourself in check?
Well, what I try to do and what I do do is different. By spring 2016 I was pretty much fine again, or at least down to normal levels of anxiety. So now, a year and a half later, I’m sort of having to kick myself to get back to doing the right things. I need to get back on it. CBT was incredibly helpful. It was basically making a bit of time everyday to log progress, like, what thoughts I had that day or what I had overcome. It’s a diary basically, like a mental log exercise. You get to know yourself more. You set yourself small goals to combat the normal things that stop you from doing something, like in a social situation.
What kind of goals?
It can be really simple things like introducing yourself to people. For me, it’s quite specific, like I become a very different person when there’s a group of more than say four people around. If it’s a conversation with one person or a few, I can be fairly anxiety free, but as soon as it gets more than that I find it very difficult to input into the conversation, and I become quite quiet. So it’s overcoming little goals like that. Or the classic thing about anxiety is that it’s inward focussed. So instead of focussing on a conversation you’re worried about what your hands are doing or whether you’re sitting correctly, or if someone thinks you look silly, or what someone thinks of the last thing you said. That really interests me because that’s linked to ego. You’re constantly within yourself, thinking about yourself, and I find that quite difficult because I always thought I was a bit of an ego-slayer! I assumed I wasn’t susceptible to such a thing.
Enter Shikari - Live Outside
Was it tricky to negotiate all of this at a time when you had some issues in your personal life to deal with and there was pressure to create a new album maintaining the upwards trajectory of the band?
Definitely. The whole album process pretty much started at the same time as the shit that happened to me in 2015. So the album is in effect the story of that period in my life. I found it very difficult at first. Weirdly, the stuff I was writing was upbeat and positive, and coupled with what was going on in my life and everything going to shit in global politics, I felt a pressure to write about all of it. I didn’t want to fake positivity just to fit this music. I’m still not entirely sure what that was. Subsconsciously, in my mind, I must have been willing myself to be happy!
Did that mean you scrapped that stuff?
No, not really. A lot of The Spark transpired to be influenced by alternative pop, or post-punk, and ‘80s synth pop where you had all these people who had grown up in alternative scenes coming into the pop world. So they were writing these incredibly upbeat pop tracks with dark lyrics, and that’s what differentiated it from the manufactured pop. So, I followed in that lineage. Also, I felt bored by a lot of alternative styles of music like metal and metalcore and whatever else. It wasn’t exciting me in the same way. So, I feel like I was having my post-punk moment.
When you were in the midst of dealing with everything, did you have a support network behind you helping you through it?
My parents were amazing. It’s funny because my dad is a typical, ‘Pull yourself together’ type and his dad is an even more extreme version of that. So it was interesting seeing him learn about all of this, but he was surprisingly supportive. It was incredible to have them. At the extreme low points, I would get up and burst into tears for hours. I had no endorphins in my body whatsoever and it was just utter despair. And what are you going to do, then? You’re going to call your mum!
Enter Shikari - Supercharge ft. Big Narstie (Lyric Video)
Looking back on your own personal experiences, what lessons do you feel you’ve learned about mental health?
It doesn’t get portrayed enough that mental health is a spectrum and we’re all on it. Like, everyone has certain predispositions, to have certain strengths and weaknesses, both physically and mentally. All it is is just trying to work out yourself, and we don’t place enough importance on that. The world is all distractions, and we’re all just so busy, be it at school, or working. If I was speaking to myself years ago, now, I would say, try to work out yourself more, work out where your weaknesses are and don’t be afraid to speak about them, because that’s the only way you’re going to grow as a person and learn to combat them. The other frustrating thing in today’s world is how social media usually only portrays the ultra-positives in people’s lives. In the extremes of Facebook it’s all weddings, new babies, a fancy dress, big smiles, or going on holiday and you end up comparing yourself to that and of course you’re going to feel shit about yourself. The other thing I discovered is that even people who don’t look like they’re struggling, often are.
Though awareness is increasing as the conversation grows louder and reaches further, there is still a long way yet to go. What would you like to see happen to improve understanding and treatment of mental health issues?
I think until we get to the point in society where a mental health check up is considered as important and vital to our lives as an eye test or a regular visit to the GP, then there’s always room for improvement. There’s no stigma about going to an optician, and that needs to be the same for mental health. That would be the utopia, and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be employed if it was considered a priority. That’s one of the main things with The Spark, it’s showing that the main human form is vulnerability. When we’re born we need to be held, fed and protected. It is our natural state to be vulnerable and that applies to our mental health as well. The more that that’s drummed into people and becomes normal to think like that, the better. We’ll get there!
If you’re struggling with your own mental health, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone you can trust – it could be a friend, a family member, a teacher, a doctor, a counsellor or a helpline – or visit YoungMinds for more information about how to find support. If you’re passionate about improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing then take a look at all the ways you can get involved with YoungMinds’ good work here.