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
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.