Repost: Let’s Talk…about my anxiety issues

January 28 is Bell’s Let’s Talk day, where the company will donate 5¢ to mental health initiatives for every text, phone call, tweet containing #BellLetsTalk, or a share of the image on Facebook. I wrote entertainment, parenting, and opinion pieces for various Bell Media online sites for several years, and took the opportunity and position to write about my own struggles with anxiety several times. Each piece I wrote received an overwhelming response from Sloan fans and readers in general, so I am reposting one that originally appeared on February 11, 2013.

 

LET’S TALK…ABOUT MY ANXIETY ISSUES

 

Sloan Let's Talk 2013

I play guitar and sing in the band Sloan. We have been making music and touring for 22 years. That means that I have been getting on stages around the world for my entire adult life. You would think it would be old hat by now, but in the last few years I have had a recurrence of panic attacks, like stage fright, where I have had to deal with an uneasiness, or fear, before going on stage.

I can’t explain why it started happening. One show, several years ago, triggered this fear of being in front of people, and I haven’t been able to shake it since. It’s not every show, and often it dissipates after a few songs, but it’s there almost every day. Even when I’m not playing shows. At almost any event where I feel I actually have to be there, or leaving would let someone down, I get anxious, dizzy, slightly disoriented. It’s a fear of not being able to control what I’m doing, or where I am, that somehow has become this big, mental deal for me.

And it’s not like anyone is forcing me to do anything. I get all the support one could hope to have from my bandmates and loved ones. No one would begrudge me leaving the stage, or just not going on. It has been made clear to me many times that, should I need to walk off stage, the rest of Sloan have it covered. Of course, I don’t ever want to do that. Inside, it would feel like I had walked out of my own life, that leaving the stage would mean that the fear had won. But I’ve come close many times.

If you have seen Sloan during the last year or so, you may have noticed a chair in front of my amps. That is one of my “touch stones” that I have to have to feel better. I rarely use the chair, but it’s there in case I get dizzy or feel like I’m going to pass out. There is often a garbage can behind my amps, should my nausea and gagging get the best of me. So far I’ve never had to use it. I also have a fan beside my mic stand. If I don’t have the fan blowing at me from a certain angle, it feels like I might fall over. It’s like the fan, with it’s weak flow of air, is holding me up.

As a rational human being I know this sounds completely stupid, but as an anxiety sufferer, it makes all the sense in the world. Likewise, I need to be able to see an “Exit” sign at the back of the room, behind the crowd. For some reason those calm me. I’m not sure if it’s a symbolic representation of being able to leave an uncomfortable situation, or just that a glowing red thing is comforting, but I search for them as soon as we hit the first chord.

I enjoy what I do for a living, both playing music and writing about music. It sucks to have to deal with this problem; it taints what I love doing. I have suffered from this in the past, and it has suddenly just gone away. I don’t know why it comes or why it goes.

These days I have had to endeavour to take steps to fight it more forcefully. Eating properly and getting rest seem to be the key. But it’s hard to do either when you are on tour and out of your home environment.

February 12 is “Bell Let’s Talk” day, when Canadians are encouraged to discuss issues concerning mental health in this country. All too often people are afraid to talk about how they are feeling, what deeper issues are affecting their lives. There has been a stigma when it comes to mental health, where even the term itself has a weight some people find too heavy to bear publicly.

Thousands of Canadians live with some form of mental stress every day. Whether it’s something as debilitating as anxiety and panic attacks, or just the feeling that life is getting too complicated to deal with, it can be a slippery slope. Feelings of inadequacy, or fear of failing those around you, can fold over onto themselves, creating an even bigger problem.

All I can do is try to make sure that anxiety doesn’t rule my life. It is a struggle at times, but I have to make sure that, as much as I can help it, I continue to push through it, and do what it is I have always wanted to do. Hopefully some day the panic attacks will cease again. Until then, I’ll be the one on stage right, fan blowing, chair awaiting, scanning for the exit signs.

So I have another kid now.

Frida:Fred1

My daughter, Vera Frida M. Pentland, was born on December 27, 2014. She goes by Frida, as far as we can tell. She barely responds when we say her name, preferring instead to either sleep or eat, basically ignoring everything else. If you threw in an Xbox and a bag of chips, she’s pretty much just like her older siblings.

Her mother took her sweet old time having her too, clocking in at 56 hours of labour, including making me drive her all over town at all hours, from home, to birth centre, to a hospital. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to our birth plan, but everything worked out in the end, and one month later baby and mom are doing great.

So now I officially have three kids. It’s been almost 8 years since the last one was born, and while some things are coming back to me (the quick-change diaper maneuver, opening a bottle of wine with one hand while rocking a baby with the other), some things have definitely changed. For instance, it seems that strollers are actually made to be harder to open as time goes on. When I was a baby, they didn’t fold up at all. When my son was born 11 years ago, it was a flip and a slip and a bang and you were on your way. Now I seem to have missed the classes needed to operate the damn thing at all, and practice does not make perfect in this case. The brake seems to always be on, and the beer holder attachment barely fits a take-out coffee cup.

Not only is the stroller a puzzle to fold and unfold, but it comes with a bassinet that somehow attaches to it, and that my daughter hates, if her screeching is anything to go by. In fact, she doesn’t seem to like travelling at all, unless it’s in my arms and my back is about to give out. With my other two kids, the only time they would nap was if I was driving them around, usually on the highway, at great financial cost given the price of gas at those times. Now gas is crazy cheap, and this one hates being in the car.

My older kids have been great with the new addition, and are constantly eager to hold her. Neither of them are eager to change her, however, just as they both physically gag if I ask them to take the dog out in case she poops and they have to pick it up. I’ve even said they could use a plastic bag on their hands, but still it’s a no-go in both cases.

Nevertheless, the three of them are getting along – or at least the two older kids are getting along with the new one. They are definitely not getting along with each other, but that is a given, and something that we have been trying to figure out. With a new addition comes new rules, or new ways of handling things. Trying to get the older sibs to pitch in a little bit more, but not making it seem like their lives have become so much worse with a new sister, is the goal. It could be very easy for them to see the baby getting all the attention, and their stepmother and I have been trying to make sure that they are involved in things, despite the fact that “things” right now involve a lot of poop and spit-up – from the baby, let’s be clear. For the record, I take care of my own poop and spit-up.

We have allotted them some new chores, simple tasks like making their beds in the morning and picking out clothes the night before. This was met with the expected outrage and venom, as if asking an 11-year-old to feed a dog every morning is tantamount to making him rebuild a car engine blindfolded. Hopefully this new world order will stick. I’ll let you know how it goes.