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How Florence and the Machine's singer tamed her mental health issues

Illustration: Julie K.

Update, November 26th, 2019: A link to a French-only documentary on anorexia nervosa was added in Going further

End of update


Florence Welch, whom you might have heard of as the singer of the indie rock band Florence and the Machine, also happens to be a pretty wise person. And by wise, I don't mean "has all the answers to the world's big questions" but rather "has experienced a lot of trouble, running into most of it very willingly, has gone through pretty difficult times though nothing out of the ordinary, has fought mental health battles for a long time, and has come out the other side much more aware of how to build a good life for herself". How do I know this? Well, I read her interview with Vogue, read it a second and a third time and then saved it in my Favorites folder on Pocket. Because she had wise (yes!) words to share and being a worldwide celebrity, those words are bound to have a pretty great impact on young and less-young people who like her music (or who just like to read stuff about famous people, no judgment).

I think her description of self-loathing is one that will resonate with a lot of people, especially teenage girls but -- and this angers me to no end -- a growing number of young men as well. And yes, society's bullying based on looks definitely is responsible for that.

Somewhere along the line I had learned that I was wrong, that I was not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough. I was so angry with myself all the time.

Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine band

Florence is not one to blame others for her fate, though in this case her harmful coping ways were in part answering the stress caused by an instable home situation. Knowing that mental illness runs in her family and being sober since age 27, today she is able to see her drinking for what it actually was: an addiction meant to soothe her anxiety (fueled by shyness and being an introvert) and shush her feeling of being different -- not in a good way.

In this interview with Vogue, the singer also issued a pretty smart and down-to-earth statement, meant to stop drug-(ab)using in its tracks.

If you think you are good at taking lots of drugs, it usually means you are not good at it and will have to stop eventually, or worse.

Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine band

She was also very honest about what her eating disorder looked like... and how good it feels to be free of it. She first mentioned it in a song in 2018 -- titled Hunger.

[If you're experiencing the same, please talk about it to someone and seek therapy: this is not normal and hurting yourself isn't going to help].

Five years ago, I could have told you how much [I weighed] in the morning, at night, clothes on, clothes off. With and without jewellery. To let go of that sometimes feels like a bigger achievement than headlining Glastonbury.

Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine band

Florence Welch isn't just a rockstar: she is a woman with dyslexia (some also say dyspraxia), possibly PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) given her grandmother's suicide, who experienced bullying at school and brewed constant self-hatred for years... Yet here she is at 32, having tamed an eating disorder, an alcohol addiction, managing her anxiety and living her best life. It didn't come to her by magic or because she was destined to be a star: she had to talk about it. And you know as well as I do that that's incredibly difficult... But even bohemian-styled, reckless teenage soul, shy and introverted Welch says it: it's also the only way forward.

It took me a long time, but the obsession [with food] has lifted. And I had to do the worst thing I could think of – start talking about it. [...] But your body is more than a thing to be looked at, it works with you, not against you. You do not beat your own heart.

Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine band

A last-but-not-least wise word about the romanticization of mental illness: it's dangerous bullshit.

I managed to be successful despite my demons, not because of them.

Florence Welch, lead singer of Florence and the Machine band

Thank you, Florence. I'll personally keep your brutally honest words in mind for the times my resolve weakens.


Going further

  • Florence Welch released her first book, Useless Magic : Lyrics and Poetry, in July 2018. You can get it on Amazon or in your local library
  • Here's a two-part documentary on anorexia nervosa (in French only): watch part 1 and part 2 
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