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.

Help! My kids hate punk rock!!

Convulsions circa 1987

(That’s me on the far left)

Help! My kids hate punk rock…

To be fair, this statement could apply to anything from my youth that my kids blatantly refuse to appreciate.

A little background: When I was in late high school, say 16-years-old (1985-6), I discovered punk rock.

I had been an avid music listener since I was young. My father had played in rock and R&B bands (think James Brown, not Whitney Houston) in the 60s and early 70s, so music had always been in my life.

When I was in my mid-teens, I started playing guitar, abandoned it, and then went back to it again. I fell in love with hard rock music, fashionable at the time, because it was generally guitar-based, and that was what I was all about.

After a brief stint in a metal cover band with some friends, I started to branch out, playing with other people from my high school who turned me on to bands I had heard of, but never heard. While punk rock wasn’t new to the world, it was a brave new sound to me, and I embraced its aggression, speed, and volume. Plus it was really easy to play and write, and you could have messed up hair and clothes.

So it became a part of my aesthetic, and would stay with me in one form or other my whole life. Sure, as I got older I eschewed the hair or the clothes a bit, depending on my mood at the time, but the idea of doing what you really wanted to do, even if that wasn’t necessarily the safe route, and you had to create it all yourself to be who you wanted to be, stayed with me. Maybe that’s born of Western middle-class entitlement, but I wouldn’t have joined Sloan, gone on tour, and be who I am today without punk rock.

Now, given that a form of music would have such a positive impact on my life, you would think that I might want to show my kids that. They might be curious as to why or how I came to be who I am. Maybe there is something that would attract them, a message or an energy in the music that would exhilarate them. Maybe they would want to pick up a guitar and start their own punk rock band. So I decided to sit them down and play them some songs that were important to me, and catalogue their reactions.

I thought I’d start with Washington D.C.’s seminal hardcore band Minor Threat. Touting a straight-edge aesthetic (no booze, no drugs, no casual sex), I figured they were the most kid-appropriate band to play.

“Out of Step”

The fact that singer Ian MacKaye uses the word fuck twice in the first 10 seconds (admittedly I forgot about that) didn’t go unnoticed.

Marshall (10): “Weird. Really loud, and heavy metal music with people yelling.”

Me: “But it’s punk rock music.”

Marshall: “Ok, but it sounds like those heavy metal bands.” Which heavy metal bands he was referring to I don’t know, but…

Ivy (7): “Yeah, it sounds like heavy metal.”

Me: “But it’s not heavy metal, it’s punk rock.”

Ivy: “Yeah, but heavy metal.”

Ok. Moving on, I decided to go with more “classic” punk, The Ramones. I had a bit of an issue with The Ramones when I was a teenager. Since they were from mid-’70s New York, and lumped in with other “punks” like Blondie and Talking Heads (neither being remotely punk), I often ignored them. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I fully grasped their importance.

“Blitzkrieg Bop”

Marshall: “Sounds really cheerful, until they start singing.”

Ivy: “I think that it was better than the other one. But it’s still really loud.”

Me: “And you don’t like the loud?”

Ivy (ignoring me): “But it’s good music, but it’s really like…BOOM!!” She then erupts into laughter claiming that the Taylor Swift video on the muted TV goes perfectly with “Blitzkrieg Bop.” I don’t agree, but keep it to myself.

The Clash were next, but only because there was a Clash tape, London Calling, in my son’s room when he was a baby, and I used to play it when trying to get him to nap. Such is my opinion of The Clash: music so boring, kids might nap to it. Not a fan, but they might like it…

“London Calling”

Marshall: “It doesn’t sound like punk rock, it sounds like the radio music you and Laurel (step-mom) always try to listen to.”

Me: “You mean before you guys whine so much we eventually put on the station you want?”

Marshall: “Yeah. Like that.”

I was going to play a Sex Pistols song, but the name of the band itself elicited such a chorus of snickers and elbowing back and forth that I gave up before I even cued a song up. Keep in mind, these are two kids who can’t keep a straight face when I tell them I’m going to Regina. This also meant that Circle Jerks, Millions of Dead Cops, Dead Kennedys, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Dayglo Abortions, Suicidal Tendencies, and our neighbours Fucked Up were off the (turn) table as well.

Eventually I played them a bunch of hardcore punk songs that Sloan has released, some original, some covers, which they were more into, although mainly because they could have a good laugh at their dear old dad screaming his head off at someone other than themselves.

Ivy (laughing hysterically): “It sounds like Daddy’s angry!” Not sure why me being angry is something to laugh so hard at, although it would explain why I have very little control over anything that goes on in my own home.

Finally, because of the name of my blog, I played them a tune by the Rastafarian punk legends Bad Brains. Did not go over well.

“I Against I”

Ivy: “It sounds like heavy metal.”

Head firmly in my hands, I almost start weeping in frustration. Of course, she’s kind of right; there is a fine line at times between metal and punk, as there can be between many types of music. Genres blend, and that’s how music moves forward, for better or worse. I’m not sure if this means she has a better grasp on different styles of music than I thought, or a better grasp on how to drive me crazy.

What am I to glean from this experiment? Am I doomed to be the uncool dad, despite the fact that I’m pretty much the coolest dad there could be? Is it natural for kids to even think their parents are cool? Perhaps it’s dangerous. How do we move forward as a species unless we rebel against what came before us? Actually, that sounds like a lyric I would have written in one of my punk bands in 1987.

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