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.

Hey Internet, thanks for telling me how to raise my kids, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it covered

FirePlay1

I get the irony of having a parenting blog, and then complaining about other blogs telling me how to be a parent. To be clear, I don’t intend this blog to be a how-to guide for doing anything, but more my take on things, based on my own experiences and opinions. Hopefully you will see some of your own life in here, and maybe things I’ve dealt with might help you in the future. For instance, both my kids are left-handed. I am not. So, there are situations where that difference has come up (buying a left-handed vs. right-handed guitar, or should lefties be treated as “normal”), and I will write about that.

I hate Facebook. I am on Facebook, but I do not like it. It’s not that I don’t value social media, and the interaction between people that it encourages. I hate how it sometimes turns some of my friends into blithering idiots. This is strong wording, I know, and I don’t even really mean it, but it got your attention, so… If you’re on the ‘Book, you know that, unlike Twitter (which I like better, and am more active on), people seem to use it as a platform to pontificate about some subject or other in a way that they would never do if they were engaging with you face to face.

Twitter has a limit to how much you can say in one post (tweet). Sure, you can link to longer pieces, and you can use services like TwitLonger that get around the 140 character restrictions, but for the most part, brevity is encouraged, and makes for a more to-the-point experience. Facebook, on the other hand, is endless. And for every pic of someone’s unimpressive dog or random leaf they just had to share, there’s a diatribe about what’s wrong with whatever, and here’s why, and “it wasn’t that way when we were kids,” and blah blah blah.

When it’s someone I know commenting on a popular or timely article, that’s one thing, but when it’s a friend asking, “What the f**k is a – insert new, hugely popular phenomenon that is meant to appeal to people much younger than said friend, and they know this, and also know full well what it is, but pose the question to seem just slightly out of the loop because they have more important things to think about, and want to make sure you know it -?” For instance: “What the f**k is a Skrillex?” I cringe, and quickly move on and try not to read any of the comments, most of which are from yet other friends who quickly pounce on modern culture, denigrating anything that they weren’t in on the ground floor for, and inevitably moan on about the Star Wars prequels and the inferior quality of mp3s.

So, what does this have to do with parenting? Since a good chunk of my friends are parents, I see lots of links to click-bait articles, quizzes, and lists about parenting that they all too often fall for, click on, and comment. And then I’m sucked in too. Such-and-such commented on a comment? Well, I have to see that original comment, and what they commented about it. After all, I may or may not agree with them or the comment they are commenting on. But wait, while I may or may not agree with my friend, all these other commenters are idiots! And I certainly don’t agree with this article, nor the random stranger who wrote it. Who are they to write about how they think things should be? They’re just some faceless blogger who I am now taking so seriously that I too may comment, and will most certainly address on my own blog!

Of course, it’s only made all the more attractive/infuriating if it’s being suggested that there is an appropriate way to raise my kids, and I am not adhering to it. Which is almost always. I’m not talking about common sense things like: “Don’t let your kids lick aloe vera off of their burned fingers.” Or: “Don’t let your kids put matches out with their fingers.” I mean more broader topics, like a very popular meme from earlier this year stating:

respect

Of course this is complete bulls**t. I know, because my parents spanked me, and while it’s true that I don’t actively go around disrespecting others, I don’t think being spanked taught me anything more than it hurts. But I had many people in my feed, people who I grew up with, some who have kids, and even some who don’t, give this meme the old “like” thumbs up. Really?! You hit your kids? In 2014? And you’re proudly, even smugly, advertising this to your friends, friends of friends, and I’m assuming in-laws and business associates?

My point is that these opinions are far reaching, can reflect back on you, and are generally not your idea in the first place. Sure, you may agree with the notion that kids shouldn’t get an award for simply showing up to a track meet or some other contest, but you didn’t write about it, you just “liked” it. And how much thought did you put into it? Teenagers don’t necessarily deserve trophies for showing up to a tournament, but maybe a 7-year-old would like a little ribbon for participating in their school’s track meet. Is that ribbon going to have a lasting impact on their lives? Will they expect to be pre-approved for a mortgage because one time years before they got a ribbon for something, and now everything should be handed to them for the rest of their lives? No. Don’t be such a friggin’ Grinch, she’s 7.

Think about the power that a successful meme or blog post can have. The ripples that expand across the Internet, reaching past your feed, your world, and out into the zeitgeist can drive traffic back to that blog. The more views a blog has the more attention it gets, and (theoretically) the more successful it is. The more successful, the more money it can generate. What posts get the most attention? The ones that convey the most outrageous ideas. Ergo: Hit your kids!

That the blogger actually believes what they are writing is almost inconsequential. The fact that they chucked it out there, and you caught and ran with it, with all your friends and followers running right behind you, is the goal, for the most part. It’s common sense. Sure, you’ll have people who are trying to be helpful, I suppose, but more often than not, they are “advising” because, let’s face it, they want you to know they “get it” a little bit more than you do. Even if “getting it” means knowing how to pull your strings. Plus, they know how to use WordPress.

A recent perusal of Facebook over the last few days yielded these gems:

Wearethatfamily.com claims that goodie bags given out at the end of Birthday parties are a no-no: “We take our kids to parties so they can give a gift, but they take a small one home so they won’t feel bad? It’s not their birthday. This concept of spoiling kids is temporary fun. It’s okay for them not to be the center of attention.”

While I agree that kids don’t always need to be the centre of attention, I would say that a goodie bag isn’t so much given so guests don’t feel bad, I think it’s more of a gesture of thanks for coming, and bringing a present. There’s nothing wrong with showing a little gratitude, which is something we can teach our kids by having them give out little gift bags at the end of their Birthday party.

Wearethatfamily.com also say that families “simply can’t center our lives around our children when we are centering our lives around Christ.”

So, no goodie bags, and their children shouldn’t be as important as a carpenter turned magician who lived over 2000 years ago? I’m sure their kids feel the same way about the importance of their parents vs. Santa.

Huffingtonpost.com managed to cobble together a list of 11 Things Only Parents of Boys Will Understand.

For the examples in the list, think “girls don’t” in place of “boys do”: Girls don’t give the best hugs. Girls don’t think farts are funny. Girls aren’t physical. Girls don’t love unconditionally. What a load of sexist bulls**t. I understand that this is A. written by a person who doesn’t have a daughter, and B. on huffingtonpost.com, so it’s not to be taken seriously. Still, almost everything on this list can be applied to either sex. I don’t want to get too far into double standards, and I know this is a bit of fun, but as a parent of a girl, with another one on the way, the generalizing and attempt at being both cute and provocative negate the whole thing, rendering it an exercise in simply filling in space.

Yet I did click…

Dad Brains: From the Brains of a Dad

BrainsofaDad1

“I’m pregnant!”

I am not an early riser. So, hearing this bit of info a few months ago at 6 am was met with equal parts surprise and confusion.

“Oh. Are you indeed?” Gulp.

To be fair, it wasn’t actually a complete surprise. We had been “trying,” except, to my recollection, we had only tried once. But there it was, a line on a stick, and a whole new chapter in my life.

A little back story here: I am a professional musician, having played guitar, sung, written, and produced music for Canadian power-pop icons (not my words) Sloan since 1991. I have also written music blogs, entertainment news, opinion pieces, and parenting advice. I have two children, a 10-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter, from a previous marriage, and have just found out recently that I am having a third child, a girl. Oh yeah, I’m 45.

My wife is 15 years younger than me, and very good with kids. In fact, when I first met her 6 or 7 years ago (whose counting…well aside from her, of course), she was very keen to talk about her young nieces. After we moved in together, and my kids started spending more and more time with her, she quickly eased into their lives, and now we have a great blended family, where they refer to her as their step-mother, and she has become an active part in every aspect of their lives.

We get along great with their mother, and with 50/50 custody, the kids spend ½ the week (Monday, Tuesday, Friday nights, and Saturday afternoons) with us, and the rest (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday nights, and all day Sunday) with her. It can be complicated at times, but everyone has worked hard to make things happy and healthy for the children.

Now the balance is going to change a bit, as the new baby won’t be moving back and forth between the two homes. It will be something new for all of us, and a transition that we will have to navigate carefully so that everyone feels included and happy.

This is all well and good, but, as I said, I just turned 45. Having a baby at this point in my life, with two kids already milling about, wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but there is a certain degree of the unknown that can keep you up at night, staring into the darkness, calculating a decade or so more of daycare costs, high-chairs, strollers, car seats, clothes, food, water, and…air – because by the time this one hits 10, I’m sure we’ll be paying for that too. Thanks a lot Obama.

Nevertheless, life keeps moving forward, one day at a time. I had the same fears before my son was born, and before my daughter, and so far I haven’t had to sell even one of them. Plus, pretty soon I can send my son out to sell encyclopedias, or newspapers, or oranges, or whatever. I was 15 when I got my first job, and since they grow up so much faster these days, my math seems on point.

So, I have decided to chronicle my life as a new/old dad. Since I have written extensively about most other aspects of the entertainment world, and make rock music for a living, I’ll throw a bunch of stuff about all of that in there as well. Please enjoy, and comment when you feel like it.

PP