Finding Calm Through Chaos: An Interview with Andreah Anderson
In April, Cape Fear Community College held a celebration in honor of the 10th year of StoryForce, a journal of published works written by veterans and families of veterans employed or enrolled at CFCC. I had the pleasure of hearing Andreah Anderson speak about her dedication to the Army, but most importantly her unit. Her contribution to StoryForce was a song titled “Saint All in My Head”. Both the song and her description intimately detail her battles with PTSD and its side effects. She presented a music video at the event, which made the song and what she had to say even more compelling by bringing the emotions to life in visual form. In the author’s note on the StoryForce webpage, Andreah says, “My piece for StoryForce is a song I wrote for my battles that I lost during my tour in Afghanistan and my battles I lost to suicide after our return home. My song is also dedicated to any of my battles suffering from PTSD in ways a lot of people can’t imagine. I hope someone finds comfort in my words and knows they are not fighting battles alone.”
Though she was raised in Florida and Georgia, Andreah moved to Wilmington at age 14 and entered middle school, but she continued to move back and forth after the age of 15. Writing poetry helped her to navigate the upheaval, “It was the first time I was able to direct my emotions into words.” Poetry transformed into battle rapping and freestyling in 9th grade and Andreah says, “I began recording music when I was 16 or 17 at a studio here in Wilmington.”
When asked about her musical influences, Andreah says, “ I grew up listening to everything, soul, country, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, gospel or anything from church. Prince is a big inspiration. I love anyone who can play instruments and he played like 27!”
As a high school student, Andreah was involved with ROTC. Her grandfather was retired from the Navy and the military influence in her household made joining the army after graduation an easy choice. She completed her basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC in 2009, was stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY with the 101st airborne division and then in 2010 was sent to Afghanistan. While stationed there, Andreah says her biggest influence was the friendships she made.
“The bonds you make in the military are unlike anywhere else. When people sign up for the military, they say they are serving their country and they are, but after a while the country they are serving is the connection. The unit, and my friends became my reason to serve. We would do anything for each other and everything we did was to help keep each other alive.” Unfortunately during battle, not everyone can be saved. Andreah lost many friends, but two of those lost remain on the top of her mind. She wears her memory on her body with tattooed reminders of fallen friends. They are part of her identity, both physically and creatively.
One solider was lost in Afghanistan, the other to suicide after returning home. “The battle isn’t over once we return. So many of us are doing all we can to fight PTSD. That’s where music has helped me. After some intense therapy, it opened everything up and I began to channel it through writing and producing songs.”
Andreah said the best part of being in Afghanistan and what helped establish strong connections was that so many fellow soldiers were also involved in music. “We had great sessions where we would just be on base making music together. I loved it! Some people sang or rapped, some played guitar, it was amazing how many of us performed. That outlet really helped to take our minds off of things while we were there.”
When asked about her writing process, Andreah says she actually finds the beat first. “I have to listen to the beat first and really get into the music. I kind of play with it in my mind to get the feel and then I just throw down the chorus. I write all the time, so sometimes I can pull from what I have written, but most of the time I just let the words come to me. I definitely think writing so often and my beginnings in poetry make it easier to find the words.”
Andreah shares that she wrote “Saint All in my Head” for StoryForce as a way to honor her lost friends, but also to touch on her own battle with PTSD.
“I knew I came home with it, but it got worse after an incident with the WPD. I was pulled over for the light above my license plate being out, but when asked to step out of the car,I refused. I knew my rights and there was no way I was getting out in a construction zone with traffic flying by. I also knew there was no reason for me to get out of the car for a light.” The police officers physically removed her from the car and began beating her head into a curb.
“You can see in the mug shot what they did to me.”
Though eventually, the judge assigned to the case dropped all charges after determining Andreah did nothing wrong and it was the police who were at fault, the PTSD only got worse. “That happened in 2015 and I still don’t drive.” She began intense therapy following this incident. “The VA tries to throw pills at you to make you go away, but I refuse. I said, ‘I don’t want pills. I want to talk to someone.’” She believes the therapy is working and the outpouring into her music is good evidence. The video accompanying “Saint All in My Head” shows how difficult it still is for Andreah to touch on those lost. “I hate being on camera anyway, but it was tough. All of the emotion I portray in the video is real. It helps though. It helps me to remember them and to channel my emotions.”
It is hard to believe after hearing her song and watching her video that she really doesn’t want to make it big in music.“I don’t want to be in front of an audience. I like writing music for me and maybe a small audience, like other vets. I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable being on stage at a huge concert or on tv. I just like to do this for myself.”
Andreah says her inspiration for writing comes from two different places. “Obviously other vets, but I adopted my son and I am very inspired by being a mom. He is four and is just so much fun. Everything I do is for him now.”
As a student in the culinary program, Andreah is finding much success. She recently had the opportunity to travel to Chicago for a food show with her class and volunteered at GLOW academy to serve under famous chefs Emeril Lagasse and Rachel Ray. She explained why she loves cooking so much. “I aced my ASVAB and was told I would get $30,000 to sign on as a communications specialist. I didn’t want to though. I wanted to work in the kitchen. The recruiter thought I was crazy. But, I wanted to serve others. I learned everything I could about running a large kitchen in the Army. We served around 2,000 people in the mess hall. I struggle to cook for just two because I am so used to cooking for so many, but cooking for others makes them happy and I just want to see people be happy. When you are in a situation like Afghanistan and you are able to cook a hot meal for people experiencing the worst, it makes a difference. I enjoy being able to bring that to others.”
Though she may be spending most of her time these days in kitchens, Andreah will continue to write. “I think I just find calm through chaos. Running a kitchen is a lot like being on a battlefield. It is fast paced with situations popping up. You have to keep going. I thrive on it. It is like when there is so much noise in a kitchen, my mind goes quiet and I can just be in the moment. It is when I feel most in control.”
Writing and cooking are definitely only two of the ways Andreah Anderson works to connect with others. Helping and serving others is truly the mission of this young artist, and it is what makes her thrive. Because of her songs, she has received a lot of positive feedback about the impact her words have had. Mental illness is still a taboo subject, but bringing recognition to it and to the experience she and her fellow vets have had, Andreah is definitely fulfilling her life’s mission to help others. Her work can be found on both YouTube & Sound Cloud linked below.