DJ Annie D Promotes Mental Health Awareness Through Music

In the summer of 2015, Annie Dulhanty went out for a night in downtown Indianapolis with her friends. She was throwing back drinks, and a guy she knew was encouraging her to drink more, pouring liquor straight from the bottle down her throat.

Toward the end of the night Dulhanty was feeling the alcohol. The guy who had been feeding her drinks offered to take her home, and in her drunken state, Dulhanty agreed. He took her home and laid the girl swimming in and out of consciousness onto her bed. Then between Dulhanty saying “no” and “stop,” he forced himself inside her.

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), and that night, Dulhanty became one of them.

After that night, Dulhanty lost herself. She began having extreme panic attacks and everyday life became a struggle. She blamed herself for the assault and didn’t see herself as worthy of love. In November, she couldn’t take it anymore—she felt like she had no other options. She took a handful of sleeping pills with a mixer of Klonopins and tried to end her life.

DJ Annie D with pink vinyls

Dulhanty’s roommate found her and called 911. She was taken to the hospital and drilled with questions about why she wanted to end her life. She was then transferred to Options Behavioral Health Hospital where she began the slow process of healing after her assault.

About a year after her attack, Dulhanty’s best friend introduced her to DJ GNO. After running into the two girls at a restaurant, he asked them to be guests on his radio show. He would DJ between segments and his talent sparked Dulhanty’s interest, so she asked him if he could teach her. From there he became her mentor.

A month later, Dulhanty took the stage under guise of DJ Annie D. Her mentor was out of town and she wasn’t ready to perform alone, but she went steadfast into her first opening gig.

The DJ that Dulhanty opened for used an electronic system and a controller, but she used vinyls.

The unfamiliar equipment evoked panic in Dulhanty. She couldn’t master any of her transitions. After about 20 minutes, the other DJ took over. Dulhanty thought, I have to get out of here. She left in tears and wanted to quit her short-lived career as a DJ.

But she didn’t give up. DJ GNO told Dulhanty that the only way she could learn was by doing. His philosophy was to throw her in the fire and let her figure it out. About a month after her opening performance, Dulhanty had her first solo gig at Tin Roof. She was nervous, but everything went smoothly. She felt like she was on the right track again.

DJing became more than a hobby for Dulhanty. She saw that the music could help her cope. She decided to use it as a platform to promote mental health awareness by first inculcating and creating a country lifestyle and music around her.

“Survivors of sexual assault shouldn’t have to feel scared to be in a club environment,” Dulhanty says. She has met other girls who have gone through something similar and are terrified to be in the scene again.

“I don’t want that,” Dulhanty says. “I want music to be a healing power, not something that people are afraid to go and enjoy.”

As long as we support and build each other up, we are set up for success.

Coping with her assault is still a daily battle for Dulhanty. She constantly has to tell herself the attack was never her fault. But rather than being closed up, she owns the assault and makes it part of her DJ persona so people are aware of her mission. She wrote about the night that changed her life, and she talks about it if it’s brought up. Dulhanty is passionate about the topic.

“My end goal is to raise awareness and money [for mental health organizations], and make it easier for survivors to talk about it,” she says.

While Dulhanty has found healing in DJing, it also has some setbacks. She says female DJs are heavily sexualized and stigmatized.

“It can get really emotional for me at times,” Dulhanty says.

Just because Dulhanty wears a tight romper and tall boots doesn’t mean she’s there to be sexualized and objectified while she performs.

“We always talk about how every male and female should be treated the same way in the workplace,” Dulhanty says. “And that’s what it is for me. It’s a working environment, and I feel like I should be treated as equally as men.”

Indianapolis only has a handful of female DJs. Dulhanty says they stick together and watch one another’s backs.

Though the industry does feel a bit imbalanced at times, Dulhanty says Indy has a good DJ community. They all support and hype up one another. Dulhanty attends shows to support fellow DJs because she knows it’s not an easy job.

“You don’t necessarily make the most money,” Dulhanty says. “But as long as we support and build each other up, we are set up for success.”

Even with all the struggles she faces and the small paychecks she works tirelessly for, Dulhanty loves DJing. She’s not going to give up on it. She’s only been at it for about a year and she already has a steady two gigs a week.

“Man I have big dreams,” Dulhanty says. “I just enjoy it so much.”

She’s hoping her career takes her on an amazing journey. The end goal is to be a big enough DJ that she doesn’t need a second form of income. Dulhanty works full time as the assistant visual manager at Free People. If DJing doesn’t work out, she still wants to work in the industry, whether that be teaching kids to DJ or doing public relations for music festivals.

Dulhanty is working toward becoming a mentor for newer DJs. She likes being someone who others can look up to and come to for help. Dulhanty got to be a role model when she DJ’d at an end-of-the-year party for her mom’s 5th grade class. The kids treated her like a superstar and a few even wrote her thank you notes telling her how inspiring she is. These are the kinds of interactions that keep Dulhanty so passionate.

Dulhanty graduated from college with a degree in public relations and event management. Her studies helped her learn how to promote her brand. She posts a photo to Instagram before each performance.

For Dulhanty, DJing became an outlet to promote mental health awareness. Her own mental health has been both helped and hindered throughout her journey. She has overcome situations that she wouldn’t have if she hadn’t put herself back in the club environment. However, she is also experiencing sexualization on a regular basis. Being in these situations has made her more assertive in controlling unfavorable situations. She has learned to say “no” more.

There’s no timetable for healing and Dulhanty will continue going at her own pace. In the meantime, she’ll be spinning her trap music and making a career out of her passions.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with sexual abuse or thoughts of suicide, please consider these resources:
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline
Only With Consent Support
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Help Guide

Photography by Sam Noble.

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