Embracing Volatility With Dez Fafara of DevilDriver

Musician challenges stigma and stereotypes of mental health issues.

Posted Oct 06, 2020

“Twelfth hour dealing with demons 

Looking for my way to appease them 

Lest beside, lost case 

Around here we call you two-faced” 

From “Dealing With Demons” by DevilDriver 

We have an unfortunate societal tendency of talking about mental health in all-or-none terms. People are either “sane” or “crazy,” “normal or “abnormal,” “grounded” or “unhinged,” “accurate” or distorted.” Our predilection for this type of strict categorization is perhaps understandable on one level. Struggling with mental health issues still feels like a relatively unknown world as compared to other physical health conditions. We can’t see mental health conditions on a clear medical test like a CT Scan or MRI. Further, mental health issues are common and can have a sudden and unpredictable onset, often with devastating consequences to our functioning and well-being.

 Stephanie Cabral, used with permission
Source: Stephanie Cabral, used with permission

And so, it would be understandable if we were terrified of developing mental health issues and did anything we could to reassure ourselves that we fall into the “sane” and “normal” category. The obvious problem with this approach is that this type of all-or-none thinking creates a stigma around mental illness. Rather than people having characteristics that are organically connected to who we are and how we live and can have pros and cons, we have qualities that are simply either “healthy” or “unhealthy.” This rigid conceptualization and associated stigma make struggling with mental health much worse, as it increases stress and interferes with people being willing to seek care for fear of being labeled.

There are many ways that we can open our minds to novel approaches to our experience and challenge the stigma of mental health issues. The first is by having people who struggle with mental health share their stories. The other is by offering an alternative to the “all-or-none” thinking to our experience inherent in mental health stigma. This week on The Hardcore Humanism Podcast we spoke with Dez Fafara, founding member and vocalist of the heavy metal band DevilDriver, who is doing both.

During our conversation, Fafara shares his struggles with both agoraphobia and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Sharing his story of struggling with agoraphobia is particularly helpful in challenging mental health stigma. Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder whereby people become afraid of activities such as being out of their home or being in large crowds. As Fafara himself points out, most people do not assume that a rock star would suffer from agoraphobia because the very nature of his work requires being in front of thousands of people at a time playing live shows and spending significant time with fans and press. And yet, Fafara has overcome his agoraphobia to build an impressive career as a musician. As Blabbermouth puts it, “Dez Fafara’s crew have weathered two decades with credibility intact and a sturdy catalogue backing up their ferocious reputation as a live band.”

Fafara also challenges stigma by talking more generally about not only the struggles he’s facing but also the positive outcomes of his “volatility.” On the one hand, Fafara struggles with volatility as a destabilizing force when it manifests as anxiety or ADHD. And yet his volatility can also be an animating and dynamic force driving his business ventures, including managing several bands in addition to his work with DevilDriver. As an example, DevilDriver’s new album Dealing with Demons I takes on Fafara’s struggle with mental health issues. The album is resonating in part because of its raw look at mental health with Kerrang! reporting, “…this is an exorcism that’s truly compelling.” By discussing volatility as something that can be embraced as useful if harnessed properly, Fafara is also challenging our all-or-none thinking about mental health.

So, check out my conversation with Dez Fafara!

You can hear Dr. Mike's conversation with Dez Fafara on the Hardcore Humanism Podcast at HardcoreHumanism.com, Apple Podcasts, or your podcast app.