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The Black Madonna
The Black MadonnaAldo Paredes

The Black Madonna’s guide to protecting your mental health when touring

The legendary DJ explains how she prioritises her wellbeing on the road – with advice you may need to hear whether you’re a musician or not

Mental Health: Beyond Awareness is a five-day campaign asking what we can do for mental health issues beyond "raising awareness". Young people are more aware of mental health issues than ever, but our services are broken, the internet is stressing us out, and self-medication is on the rise. Who is campaigning for change? And how can we help ourselves? This week, Dazed is aiming to find out. 

Recently, I’ve done something I almost never do: cancelled two shows due to illness and exhaustion. Normally such a decision would be fraught with additional anxiety and guilt; I'd be driven to self-care only after my husband, parents, tour manager, and friends begged me repeatedly to go to the doctor and stay the fuck in bed. But for once, I just did the right thing without being prompted. I put my own mental and physical health first, and if you’re an artist on a seemingly never-ending world tour, I hope you will take a moment and think about your own wellness plan too.

It was a long road to this wonderful job. I started DJing 20 years ago, but along with that passion came an unwelcome development. In 1999, I was hospitalized for serious depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorder. Without insurance, I spent the next 15 years paying for meds when I could, then running out of money, locking doors over and over, worrying the plane would crash, paranoid that I was ill, or that my partners didn’t love me. I internalised all this. Virtually no one knew. Through it all, I managed to hang my hopes and dreams on house music. I worked my ass off, and kept a public chin up that should have earned me an Oscar.

And then suddenly, after two decades, something clicked. I broke through. Things progressed at a blinding speed. I began to tour globally. I played all the clubs I dreamed of. I was happy, proud, creatively thriving, and at the same time terrified, worried that I wasn’t happy enough, lonely, depressed. It was all a mess of feelings compounded by exhaustion and regular physical illnesses left untreated.

Looking back, I now realise that if you wanted to design a job to make me even more anxious, depressed, and obsessive than I already was, touring would do it. Planes? Check. Crowds? Check. Loneliness and sleep deprivation? Check. It took three months of full-time touring to realise that “gritting out” my mental health needs was no longer an option. In layman’s terms, I was batshit crazy. By the grace of God, I am married to a very gifted therapist who did not judge me, but gently steered me towards some colleagues who were able to create a mental health plan that works under the extreme commitments that are a part of the work I do. In spite of touring, I am now mentally healthier than I have been in my entire adult life, and able to almost always enjoy this insane, blessed ride I am on. By no means is my system perfect, but here’s how I’m making self-care work on the road for now.


I have a weekly check-in with Annie, my therapist. We speak whether I’m in Malta, China, or Chicago. Sometimes I miss appointments because I am exhausted or the plane is late. That’s okay. She isn’t wowed by what I do. She takes me like I am. Her grace, humour, and patience with me are touchstones that anchor me to a world which can otherwise spin too fast.


Cognitive behavioral therapy was for me a tool that, once grasped, I learned to deploy almost subconsciously. I know my fears aren’t facts, and I can stop a negative spiral sometimes just by using a CBT app on my phone which deploys techniques to help me examine my moods objectively come to a place of peace. Mindfulness training is a complementary and also highly recommended investment.


There’s no easy way around this. Drinking starts as a relief, and quickly becomes another hurdle to jump over, compounding existing mental and physical health problems. I drink 90% less than I used to and I am far better for it. I don’t take drugs at all.


This is, of course, not a real rule but a half-joking guideline. At a certain point, I felt really isolated from my old life, like a burden on my most trusted friends. In fact, I needed to let them them in more than ever. When I started to prioritise those solid, permanent connections, my life improved. I take my lifelong friends on the road. I babysit their kids. I call. I send flowers. I show up, even if it’s by FaceTime. I take pride in being depended on no matter where I am. It roots me to the the best people on earth, and not an industry.

“Go to the doctor when you need to. Cancel shows if you need medical attention. People will deal with it” – The Black Madonna


Go to the doctor when you need to. Cancel shows if you need medical attention. People will deal with it. I ignored my physical health for years on the road. I’m undoing serious damage now as a result, finally making time for wellness. I wish I hadn’t waited. I have a nutrition app on my phone. I swim most days that I travel. Something is better than nothing. I blow it sometimes (okay, all the time), but I come back to centre. Being physically and mentally sick are so connected. I have terrible asthma from planes, and an autoimmune disease. I now constantly monitor those. I call the doctor wherever I am when I need to. When I don’t put health first, everything else collapses – especially my mind.


One piece of addressing my mental health involves actual medicine. My anti-depressant and anxiety meds are an essential tool in the fight for my wellbeing. I urge anyone considering medication to speak with the best specialist you can. There’s nothing healthy about drinking a bunch of Jack Daniels for your anxiety. Yeah, one of my meds made me gain a little weight (thanks for pointing that out, internet!) but, get this, haters: I can take off the weight with exercise, and as a bonus can also live my life without crushing fear and sadness. Boom!


I have the best team on earth. I trust them with my life. They pack my parachute everyday, and make sure I have what I need to live and thrive. But that means being honest with them when I need a break, when I am sick, when I am struggling to get it all done. They would never push me an inch further than I was prepared to go. They insulate me from harm and stand with me always. Make sure your team has your wellness in mind. If they don’t, they’re the wrong people to have in your life.