The Anxiety Diaries: Stage One Meta

Two different bodies. A million different minds. Never quite in tune with anything, let alone each other. This is what it feels like to have anxiety. Let me explain.

There are days, quite a few of them actually, in which I very rarely, if at all, leave the comfort of my own bed. I suppose for many, this does not seem like anything out of the ordinary. After all, aren’t all millennials lazy and entitled? The answer couldn’t be further from the truth. For a mind wracked with anxiety, not moving is simply done out of fear. My mind tells my body to stay where it is because any other action could possibly adverslely effect myself, or more importantly, someone else. Irrational as it might seem, anxiety minds live in this constant state of fear-based analysis (or would that be analysis-based fear?). Even the most mundane, innocuous non-actions are subject to the most intense scrutiny, second-guessing and philosophical debate. The answer is always simultaneously both yes and no. Every move is both right and wrong at the same time.

When living with an anxious mind, every decision is sorted into a list of pros and cons, a rapid-fire, critical-analysis form of woulda-coulda-shoulda-but-ultimately-dind’t mental conversation. For me, most of this comes in the form of silence. More accurately, an almost pathological, devout non-speaking. Whether it’s crushing on another human and trying to strike up a conversation, figuring out what to say in a job interview, or simply making a phone call, the act of non-verbal (non) communication becomes my body – and my mind’s – greatest defense mechanism.

To speak, or not to speak, that is most often always the question, and on some days it almost becomes like a vague form of self-torture and harm. A depressing dance around a vortex of emotional explosions. Yes I should, no I shouldn’t, a back-and-forth that only serves to drives my mind more crazy than it was five or ten seconds previous; an endless loop of thought processes and over-active cerebral corteces.

But it’s not only about the verbal aspects of one’s daily life. Night time is often hell. For me – someone who considers themselves an artistic night owl – that often be particularly egrerious. Lately, anxiety has gone hand-in-hand with insomnia and it’s easy to see why. A body physically exhausted, a mind so wide awake it’s exhausting. It’s a constant Cartesian battle where there is often no winner, merely one side catching up with the other, hyper-aware of the constant tug-o-war taking place beneath its walls. How bad can the insomnia get? As I write these words, it is four twenty in the morning and I probably won’t get to sleep for another two hours at least. Good thing I work nights.

Speaking of work, there are days where I don’t stop working, don’t stop moving, because if I do, it will be the wrong course of action, it will negatively affect me or someone else. In times like these, my body often finds itself wandering aimlessly, with no real direction or purpose, whether its a walk down the street or simply pacing back back-and-forth in the office space I currently call a bedroom. And yet, senseless hyperactivity is almost preffered to the overactive silence that comes with our self-imposed social exile due to the fact that it stops the mind from thinking about the bigger picture.

Occasionally, life as a whole will come in focus – future plans, finances, work situation (social and professional) – but often only when the mind is really forced to think about it or is triggered by some random memory or thought that occurs on the 5th of watching Youtube videos, many of which were watched the day or week before. It really is just an endless onslaught of the inane yet relatable. I often try not to reach this stage as it can become borderline schizophrenic, but when engaging in acts of mental self-mutilation, goals and end results very rarely match up.

But sometimes I have to go there. Why? Because not thinking about anything – having a blank mind and staring into yourself – might just be the worst thing of all. At least when thoughts are racing through your mind, there is a certain sense of accomplishment, however vague or morbid it might be. The mind celebrates with “yay, I had a thought today, better than being a slab of dry concrete too thicki for any particle to penetrate”. The battle is starting anew however, when the mind thinks about how it is thinking or not-thinking, then starts thinking about why it is thinking about thinking. You get the idea. And yet by not thinking about anything at all, my brain feels like it’s letting everything – and everyone else – down because it is of the opinion that it should at least be thinking about something, even if it’s what colour socks to wear in the morning.

Even as I write this, I am wondering if I should go back, erase everything, and start again while at the same time realizing that this my only way of organizing any sort of thoughts as my body would never dare to vocalize even one syllable because it would be the wrong thing to say. Of course it would.

So how do I cope? Chai latte and beer mostly, though usally never at the same time. Does it help? Who knows? The latte often gets me into work mode, while the alcohol generally calms me down afterward and helps me take my mind off my mind, so to speak. It’s not ideal, given that I’m spend $5-10 dollars a day extra that I don’t have, but it’s often the easiest, and is, at the very least, a trusted coping mechanism that has served me well (mostly) over the years.

I’ll sum it up this way: anxiety is gettiing both distracted by your own distractions and distracted by nothing at all. It is a jumbalaya of depression, ADHD, and whatever else you decide. I even get anxiety about anxiety. My mental health has reached Stage I Meta, so that’s cool I guess. Also nerve-wracking. Which in of itself is both cool and nerve-wracking. Oh no, not starting down this rabbit hole again.

Kthxbye

The Anxiety Diaries: Expanding The Comfort Zone

I recently left a new job because of how it was triggering my anxiety. That’s one thing we learn; anxiety – or whatever mental health issue ails us – can strike at any time and is often indiscriminate in its building affectations. There were so many little areas that heightened my already anxious and somewhat personality: the high cost of travel in-between gigs, personally purchasing items, and being trotted out for solo shows having no idea how to do them or what they entail. As I told a few people who helped me through this ordeal, I am more than willing to explore areas outside of my comfort zone – as an artist this is especially true – but also recgonizing that I need to do it on my own terms.

Enter Editorial Magazine. The Montreal-based work describes itself as “an independently run publication of art and fashion” that prints a new issue every quarter. Both the editor-in-chief and managing editor are ladies I went to high school. What does this have to do with my social anxiety you ask? I recently recieved on social media to attend the Toronto launch of their 18th issue. I was invited by another high school acquaintance who has a made a career as a photographer in Toronto. I had not seen any of these folks in over a decade.

I decided to go for a number of reasons. I could say hi to people from my past and try to “catch up”, I could new contacts and connections which could prove useful in my writing and theatrical work and have a better sense of community, and because I’m used to going to shows alone – predominantly music – it was not something completely out of the ordinary. As you can probably guess, I was a nervous wreck.

I had arrived about two hours after the event started due to work. I had not anticipated the event to have such a club-like atmosphere. By the time I set foot into Luanda house, most of the presentations seemed to be over and the party had transformed into a dance fest. Being at an event by yourself where you don’t know anybody can already be a nerve-wracking experience. Having social anxiety on top of that only amplifies what your mind is thinking. It is more than simply nerves, it is about magnified thoughts. Your brain is self-critical before your body has even done the thing it is self-criticizing. Interestingly enough, once my body experiences something new once, or finds itself in a new environment, every subsequent event in the space is generally okay.

My anxiety often renders itself as social awkwardness, which can garner a few bizarre looks from people. If it is in a bar or club setting, this often means turning to alcohol for help. This does not mean us anxiety-freaks are crazy alcoholics, rather having a beer or two is a calming mechanism that helps us relax our otherwise hyperactive synapses. This is par for the course.

I was two beers in before I was able to walk up and say hello to someone who had become a stranger since I graduated high school in 2006. Like 99% of all social meetings, it went perfectly fine, because of course it did. Given that she was the host of said, she quickly introduced me to whomever she was standing with before disappearing into the crowd, leaving me to return to being my awkward self coupled with even worse white boy dance moves. At least anxiety doesn’t change that.

That was my only social interaction of that event as I left a short while later, stopping at Tim Horton’s before catching an Uber home, not an uncomfortable experience. I guess I would look at it as an accomplishment. As my friend once told me “no matter how much you accomplish today, it is enough”. Yes. Yes it is.

Hedley: Let’s Talk About Fan Culture (And How Problematic It Is)

The #MeToo movement has been rocked as well as the Canadian music scene as Vancouver pop-punk band Hedley has been hit with numerous allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour with underage fans. The allegations started on twitter and range from the band being vulgar and handsy with girls after the show, to one that outlines them bringing back a 16 year old fan back to their hotel room for sexual acts. Police are even investigating a potential rape that occurred in London, Ontario in 2005. The alleged victim was 14. (It should be noted here that at that time, the legal age of consent in Canada was still 14, not being changed to 16 until 2008. So the girl may have been of legal age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the band’s actions were consensual).

Although I was heavily entrenched in the Vancouver music scene for years – either through interviewing bands or reviewing shows – I was not among Hedley’s fanbase, although I have seen them perform three times. My only experience with Jacob was a five-second hello and handshake backstage at the Saddle Dome in 2005. Up until two days ago, I had no prior knowledge of any of the allegations against Jacob Hoggard, Tommy Mac and the members of Hedley. I am not here to add anything substantive to those reports. Rather, what I’ve noticed is a strange divide.

Obviously, this kind of behaviour is nothing new. The 60s and 70s were legendary for their rock and roll behaviour and the general hedonistic lifestyles that often came with being a touring musician of that era. That’s not to say that every single artist engaged in these types of questionable morals, but it certainly was more common than not. But this is not your grandparents and these aren’t your parents concerts. If the recent events in Florida are anything to go by, it’s the young people – men and women – have had enough of being ignored. This being the digital age though, those accused are often able to share their shade of events easier and more quickly. In their statement on facebook that Hedley posted after the accusations surfaced, the band alluded to engaging “n a lifestyle that incorporated certain rock and roll clichés”, while remaining adamant there was a line they would never cross. The band can say one things, but fans can tell a different tale.

It all started on twitter, where many of the accusers first spoke up, there were recurring stories of Jacob having an unpleasant and in some cases creepy nature. Yet others are vociferously defending their chosen Gods and engaging in various levels of disbelief, name-calling and victim blaming. While a good number of commenters are polite in their defence, others are hurling curse words and various attacks at anyone who tries to say anything bad about the band and calls out those who haven’t given “true facts”. One facebook user felt that accusing men of heinous acts is now the cool thing to do, although I’m sure survivors and victims of assault would strongly disagree.

Many of Hedley’s defenders are supporters of the #MeToo movement and at least one is a survivor of assault. So what, if anything, makes these specific allegations different? Every case is different – whether it’s the multitude of bizarre sex antics levelled against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, or a single allegation as is the case with actor George Takei and journalist Steve Paikin. Certainly, any sort of emotional connection will play a role, but at what point does fandom become irrelevant? Musicians and rock stars are, to certain a degree, often held in higher stature than actors or sports figures, and often have a seeming greater amount of infallibility than there famous counterparts. But is there something in the Vancouver music scene and pop punk culture in particular that make it a breeding ground for inappropriate behaviour? I spoke with a few avid concert goers and pop punk aficionados to try gain some insight.

Lydia Bader says although she was never assaulted by any members of the band, she had a rude encounter with them years ago, which included lead-singer Jacob Hoggard cursing at her when she asked for a photo. She was about 14 at the time. While her experience wasn’t as bad as some of the allegations, Bader points out the type of behaviour that is pervasive in the Vancouver music scene; on her Tumblr page she goes into great detail about how she was assaulted by Sheldon Stenning, lead singer of another Vancouver-based pop-punk band – Sharks! On! Fire! (Although these allegations have also yet to be proven, as of Sunday night, it is now an active and ongoing police investigation). She stresses however, that it’s not limited to just this one type of music. Fans of all genres are vulnerable to the exposure of certain “rock and roll cliches” – the type alluded to in Hedley’s facebook statement.

For fan Lizzie, although she found Jacob to be “quite attractive”, she says pop punk appeals to her because of the “sense of community” it brings. When pressed if similar stories of behaviour were ever to be alleged against her all-time favourite band, Lizzie flatly states that she would be “extremely heartbroken” and may have “to let them go”, as much as she would try to see all points-of-view. She is also quick to note that the whole Hedley situation has been a “lesson” for her as they were one of her favourite bands.

Many fans are still fervent supporters however. On twitter, many users lament that it’s no longer innocent until proven guilty, or point to the lack of real, tangible evidence, as reasons for why they are sticking by their favourite musicians. Many of them try to place the burden of proof with the alleged victims, which can be a difficult thing to ask, as something that happened years in the past and often leaves no physical evidence can be a tough sell. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. To point to a real-world example where this happened, one can look at the trial of U.S Gymnastics coach Larry Nassar, sentenced to over 60 years in prison after upwards of 30 victims testified. Now it may never come to that with Hedley, but in many cases, the court of public opinion ends up in the right corner.

With supporter Charlie however, the relationship with Hedley goes beyond simple fandom. She worked for them as a merch girl in their early days. On why she is still supporting them even after they have been dropped by the Junos, their management, radio stations and their openers, she believes that it’s important to acknowledge that there are two sides to every story, especially since some of the allegations took place over a decade ago. But she doesn’t necessarily think that the accusers are all lying. “ These are their stories and this is how they felt at the time and still do” she laments. “To them, this is how the meetings took place.” It’s not my place to say they’re untrue” but she is to point out that if the band is proven innocent, “I definitely think an apology” would be in order.

Given that all the accusers are female, and that Hedley and to a larger extent pop-punk’s fanbase is mainly comprised of teenage girls and young adult women, does that aspect of fan culture play into certain “rock and roll cliches”?

For Bader, this is absolutely true, especially in Vancouver. “Fan culture in Vancouver is a mess. There’s no boundaries or respect from either side”. For her, there can be a lack of maturity on the part of the fans. “The problem is that the mainly female fan base is so young that they put themselves in horrible situations not truly knowing the [potential] outcome.” For Lizzie, she says that while the fanbase can be problematic in terms of drama, she hasn’t experienced anything too negative, but knows that a lot of other fans have. For her, “concerts should be definitely treated as a safe zone. Everyone goes to concerts to run away from their own issues and to be happy.” Bader however, is skeptical that “safe spaces” will make much of a difference stating “If people want to lie about their age, they will. If musicians want to believe these girls are old enough despite clearly being 16, they will.”

As a survivor of assault, Charlie sees things a little differently. “I personally wouldn’t explain my story as a hashtag on the internet. What happened to me is private and if I want my story spoken I tell those I trust. If that’s someone’s choice to tell their story then that’s their prerogative.” A key objective of the #MeToo movement is giving victims a voice and a supportive community. The challenge for anyone accused is that they now have to contend with the court of public opinion more than ever before. Charlie feels the fan base will ultimately make their own decision although “parents with younger children will have something to say about it.” She then harkens back to a situation with British band Lostprophets when their lead singer, Ian Watkins, was charged – and ultimately convicted – of numerous sexual offences against children and possession of child pornography. “You don’t hear from them anymore” says Charlie. (In June 2014, a year and a half after the allegations first came to light, and roughly months after Watkins pleaded guilty, the remaining members created No Devotion with new lead singer Geoff Rickly.)

Fans on the both sides of the debate though do seem to be in agreement about one thing: Hedley’s apology could have been better. Bader called it “disappointing” and claimed it did nothing to save their image, while Charlie was a bit more nuanced in her criticism “It’s as sincere as their PR wanted it to be. I think they’re stepping around the issue and could have been more personal about it. It got turned around onto them instead of about the victims. But that’s just a “ rock and roll clichè” right?”

While all three agreed to be interviewed for this piece, only Lydia Bader consented to have her name published in full.

Update: Since this story was first published, the police investigation against Sheldon Stenning has been closed without charges being filed. Vancouver police are not pursuing the matter any further.

The Strange Ones: A Nuanced Reality

I’m still not entirely sure I understand the ending of The Strange Ones, the new psychological drama from directors Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff. There are so many layers and points-of-view of what-is-real and what isn’t, that it can take some time for your mind to unpack what it just saw. One thing is for sure though; you will remember the performance of James Freedson-Jackson, the film’s lead.

Freedson-Jackson gives a hauntingly nuanced performance as Sam, the younger brother to Alex Pettyfer’s Nick. The Strange Ones sees Nick taking Sam on a camping and hunting trip after the death of their father. However, as one might surmise, not all is as it seems. We don’t really know anything about either character, which only further elevates the film’s overall theme and structure: what is reality really?

While at times, Radcliff and Wolkstein try and do too much, the opposite can be said of Freedson-Jackson. In one of those less-is-more type performances, he brings a level a nuance to a 14 year old character, that many – if not most – adult actors still find difficult to access. In the days of blockbusters and big acting styles, it is refreshing to come across an actor who can portray such layered subtlety. (Side note: would love to see Freedson-Jackson star opposite Canadian indie darling and noted silence queen Julia Sarah Stone) We are sure to see more of James Freedson-Jackson in the future.

The Strange Ones co-stars Gene Jones and Orange Is The New Black’s Emily Althaus and hits theatres January 5th.

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