Ryan Dusick on Self Care in Forbes Magazine

Ryan Dusick on Self Care in Forbes Magazine

Mind Reading: Maroon 5’s Founding Drummer Had A Mental Break On The Road. Now He’s A Therapist With Insights On How Self-Care Benefits Both Artists And Industry

As the founding drummer of Maroon 5 during the band’s meteoric rise, Ryan Dusick had achieved what most musicians only dream of. He was playing sold-out arenas and touring the world as a member of one of the hottest music acts of the time. He was also headed for a serious mental break that would alter his life’s trajectory.

“It was very confusing at the time,” Dusick says of the whirlwind tour supporting the band’s debut album Songs About Jane. “We were having huge hits on the radio, our video was in heavy rotation on MTV and VH1, and we were playing arenas. All of these wonderful things we had dreamt about for a decade were coming true. But I was really starting to struggle and break down.”

“Being someone who always puts a lot of pressure on myself and feeling like I had to perform at such a high level every day, it was a ticking time bomb that would lead to this physical problem I was having—pain in my right shoulder—becoming a full nervous breakdown where my nervous system decided I had pushed myself too far and it wasn’t going to allow me to play the drums anymore.”

At the time, Dusick had trouble expressing what he was experiencing. “I would tell everybody I was getting exhausted and worn down, and people knew I was having physical pain and were aware it was starting to affect my playing. But this was 20 years ago, there wasn’t a public discourse about mental health there’s starting to be now. For a lot of reasons, it was easier for me and others to ignore it,” he says.

He now relates to the experience that eventually ended his time with the band in 2006 as “a slow-moving trauma, which I had a hard time doing at the time because I felt like, ‘Who am I, a rock star with troubles on the road, calling my life a trauma?’ But trauma is relative to context and relative to the individual and the things that shape us and affect the way we relate to ourselves and our experience living.”

After leaving Maroon 5, Dusick largely isolated and fell into addiction and substance abuse. “Over next decade I went through all the stages of alcoholism—the illusion of control, trying to show up and seem OK, but it creeps up on you,” he says of the years before he spent time at an in-patient facility—and found his new purpose.

“I discovered a passion for service and that became a driving force in my recovery. I had been feeling sorry for myself, and what was driving my addiction and anxiety at that point was not having any real connection or purpose in my life. All of a sudden I felt this intense connection with people around me who were going through something similar. Feeling inspired by the people who were a little ahead of me who could offer me some guidance and recognizing that I could do the same thing for the people who were just a little bit behind me was a really powerful awakening for me. It started to give me my confidence back. Feeling that connection and feeling my spirit lifted by it, I just wanted to hold onto that feeling and follow it wherever it took me.”

The journey has taken Dusick to a powerful new stage. He volunteered at a recovery center for two years, went back to school to get a master’s degree in clinical psychology, studied to become a therapist and began writing down his story in what became his new memoir, Harder To BreatheToday, a large part of his practice is focused on helping musicians, and a large part of his life is focused on self-care.

“Addiction kicked me in the ass so much it’s not even something that is tempting. I don’t feel like on a daily basis I have to prioritize my sobriety because it’s not even on the menu for me,” he says.

“However, self-care is my No. 1. I know that when I’m not taking care of myself, everything suffers. It’s a more holistic approach. It’s not perfection, because perfectionism got me nowhere. It’s about balance. It’s about diet, it’s about exercise, it’s about sleep, it’s about making sure I’m not overworked I know where my limits are. It’s about maintaining connections with people I care about, it’s about connecting to my inner child.”

While it’s early days, Dusick is encouraged by conversations that are beginning to take place in the music industry in terms of walking the walk of mental health care.

“We’re just getting started, really. You go on social media and you see prominent people posting things about mental health and wellness. You see people that are specializing in talking to creative people and their mental health, you hear people canceling tours and talking very frankly about doing so for their own physical and mental wellbeing,” he says.

“I’m under no illusions. The entertainment industry is just that, an industry. And just like with any industry, there’s a bottom line. I don’t think that makes it evil or something that’s inherently bad for people. The mindset shift I would like to see is the realization that the most success can be achieved when you build sustainable careers, and sustainability means wellness.”

“When people are burning out they aren’t doing their best work. This isn’t about, ‘Let’s make less money and pamper people.’ This is, ‘Let’s create a sustainable product that everyone is going to benefit from more in the long run,’ ” he says, noting unlike other more traditional professions where there’s a natural rise and fall of daily schedule, life on the road is rife with potential potholes.

“The sense I got during the time I was at the eye of the storm was that whoever was making our schedule probably forgot somewhere along the line that these are human beings who are doing these things. And every human being, no matter how wonderful and how dynamic, has a threshold of what they can endure and how much is too much,” he says.

“It was, ‘Here’s the amount of hours you have in a day. We can fill all those up with things that are going to be helpful to selling more albums or selling more tickets.’ And, ‘Here’s more days we have where we have a break. We can fit more stuff in there to make more money,’ and now I need to drive for 12 hours and have to be my most dynamic self when I get there and have to do a meet and greet and a photo shoot before I go on stage.”

“It’s a very different, very unbalanced lifestyle that requires some perspective about what is actually sustainable.”

Mind Reading (formerly Hollywood & Mind) is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellbeing, and features interviews with musicians, actors and other culture influencers who are elevating the conversation around mental health.