Huntress's Jill Janus - get help, be well

Music saves my life. My mother says I was singing before I could speak and I knew my purpose as soon as I could talk. It was always music.

I relate to the mathematics behind music – it soothes my brain and helps me cope with my various mental health disorders. By the age of 10, I was performing in operas and musicals. My vocal range developed quickly; I was using four octaves by 13. The discipline and focus was beyond my years. And I’ve always been blatantly honest. It’s difficult to censor my thoughts before I speak. Harnessing self-control is a never-ending battle. I work at a pace much faster than most people, when fuelled by Bipolar Mania. I’m an animal when I write music, record or tour. But it’s helpful only if you can control the destruction it brings.

I recently shared my mental health issues publicly for the first time. Fans and musicians have been so supportive; many can relate. Acknowledging toxic internet trolls is not an option. I never read anything about me online. Others’ opinions don’t matter; I won’t allow them to affect my life. As a kid I was made to feel bad or bullied for being different. But I fought back viciously. I’m happy to be known as eccentric.

Those of us who are high-functioning and bipolar are often successful in the arts. That ability to create with a drive others don’t possess can be an asset; it’s a curse and a blessing. When Huntress first began touring in 2012, it was so exciting for myself and my bandmates. We took every tour opportunity, we were responsible and humble. My voice is strong – I am disciplined, classically trained and I vocal rest after every show, and I never missed a performance. But beneath a calm façade, I was losing my mind. No one in the band knew that I was struggling with mental illness… at first.

I was medicated heavily to prevent problems, but it backfired. I was on the wrong medication, making my rapid cycling so much worse and terrifying. We even considered giving up and coming home during the Dragonforce tour. It was all very private. We found ways to contain my outbursts so it wasn’t public, [guitarist] Blake Meahl learned fast how to control me, and I learned fast how to give up my female drama and surrender to the road. It wasn’t easy, but everyone was so committed to the vision of Huntress that we kept conquering. For three years we toured relentlessly and played a slew of festivals. In addition to touring, we were writing an album a year. We kept my mental illness a secret, the best we could at least. Our manager, Jackie Kajzer, was vital to our existence, teaching me to be rational and calm. I couldn’t have toured without her being a positive force behind Huntress.

There’s an omnipresent taboo surrounding mental illness. I’m not afraid to confront what’s really going on. We’ve all known a ‘crazy person’ but neglected to look at their behaviour on a deeper level. Growing up, my bipolar disorder was heartbreaking to my mother. I could tell she was embarrassed and she’d try to avoid public outbursts with me. I’ve hurt the people I love the most. If schools and the government put more effort into educating people about mental illness, detecting it and being compassionate about it, we could beat the stigma.

For those struggling with the loneliness mental illness brings, try to desire to live. Everything else will fall into place because then you want to feel better. It’s easier said than done and a lot of work. Nothing is easy; I struggle every day to keep going, but I am stable after years of experimenting. So many people are without treatment because they’re afraid to find help, fearing discrimination and ridicule. I wanted to find help, but didn’t know where to start. I ended up walking into a county hospital and saying I was suicidal. That was extreme, but I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t give up because I desire to live. Help is out there, more than ever before. Don’t be ashamed to seek treatment for mental illness. Your life isn’t run by others’ opinions – live for your purpose. The vultures can wait.

Huntress’s latest album, Static, is out now via Napalm

(Image credit: Mark Rudolph)