On Feb. 8, audience members began to file into the Lory Student Center Ballroom in anticipation for guest speaker Kai Roberts’ “Active Mic: Mental Health Through Music” seminar.
RamEvents and Active Minds partnered to bring students on campus the opportunity to discuss the neglected topic of anxiety in a unique way. After a brief introduction, Roberts burst onto stage with his first song. His energy was infectious as he pranced around the room, pushing the microphone towards audience members in order to get them to join in song.
The goal of the seminar was to promote a safe space where everyone was able to learn able common struggles in life in a new way.
Roberts is a musician who has used his work as a form of therapy throughout his life struggles. During his time in college, Roberts began to experience a tightness in his chest along with other pains.
“During the spring of my sophomore year I started feeling this tightness in my chest,” Roberts said. “At first I thought it was ambition. I learned later that this was the physical sensation of anxiety.”
Roberts eventually went to his health network on his campus where he was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder. After learning from a receptionist that he could potentially become suicidal, Roberts became afraid of seeing therapists.
His anxiety had become so severe, Roberts shut himself off from his social and love lives. He eventually missed class on a regular basis and even made trips to the emergency room for fear of having cancer.
“When I was dealing with my mental health disorder, one of the things I did not do was talk about it,” Roberts said. “I did not talk about my feelings or emotions at the time. I wanted to be independent. This was very foolish of me because even the strongest of people have support systems.”
After his diagnosis, Roberts struggled to open up to others when it came to his mental health. He even went to extreme measures of trying to self diagnose his self by looking up information in books and on the web. After discussing some of his thoughts with his mother, Roberts decided to take a leave of absence from college.
After some time had passed, Roberts gained the confidence to seek professional help. By seeing a therapist, Roberts was able to discover the tools that would ultimately help him get his anxiety disorder under control.
“I would treat myself during my leave of absence,” Roberts said. “I would wake up in the morning and exercise. I learned how to meditate when I got the courage to go back to a therapist. I would also write my thoughts in journals. I also made music. I did this to relieve my stress and eventually I started writing songs that reflected how I was feeling during this time.”
Several of Roberts’ songs were based off of life experiences he has struggled with. Topics from stress and poor relationships to why things happen the way they do in life were covered.
“There was a friend of mine throughout the sports, he had gotten a football scholarship to go to Hampden University,” Roberts said. “He went to this homecoming party; someone outside the party was mad that they didn’t get in and shot through the front door and hit my friend. Of all people this very, kind very amazing person was shot down by jealousy. This situation affected me profoundly. I was confused about that.”
Between each major topic, Roberts would stop and encourage audience members to share their own personal experiences with the same issue.
“It’s good to hear somebody who’s been through it,” said CSU student Ru Mabry. “You know in your journey it’s kind of hard to know where your own end is, but it’s really encouraging to hear him say that he’s not totally finished but it’s a journey.”
Many members walked away inspired and refreshed after hearing about Roberts’ struggles and successes.
“The event wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be…. I was expecting to get advice on how to maybe apply music to manage mental health issues and make us feel better, but instead I got something even greater,” said Adam Rusch, a local CSU student. “I got how people can resolve their own issues through music and meditation and therapy. I thought that was very unique.”
Before closing the seminar, Roberts left his audience with a very important note:
“I stand up here an imperfect person,” Roberts said. “I have the tools now to combat it. But I feel good right now. You can use your passion as therapy.”