mental health

#696: Confession

TRIGGER WARNING:  Emotional material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #696:  Confession

Music is the most wonderful of hobbies.  Scratch that — it’s not a hobby when you love music.  It is your lifestyle.  It’s healthy, it’s fun, and it can open up feelings you didn’t know you had.  I’m glad that music is my life.

As much as I cherish music, and try to spend some time with it every single day, there is one huge hole in my life:  The concert experience.

You could argue that music is best enjoyed at a good concert.  There is magic in a live performance; a kind of telepathy that occurs between the players on stage.  Then their collective sound and vision is pumped at 120 decibels to the hungry audience.  The crowd is like a single entity with one voice.  There is no substitute for the live concert experience.  No Blu-ray could ever hope to match it, not even at 1080p with 5.1 surround sound.

Yet, I’ve seen only a few dozen concerts over the years.  I can’t even remember my last one.

I would love to have new concert reviews for you every single week.  The most popular post on this site in its six years of operation is a concert review.

It’s true that I don’t get out as often as others might.  Some of this is because my beautiful wife has been battling with uncontrolled epilepsy for the last decade.  Her health struggles have turned me into a bit of a homebody.  I’m not complaining.  Being her support is a privilege.  I’ve always been a bit of a homebody, but it’s certainly gotten worse as her health got worse.  The good news is that not only has Mrs. LeBrain beaten cancer, but she has also managed to reduce her seizures to one or two a week.  A regular week, anyway.  A week with stress or lots of travel can cause more.

How has she managed to handle her epilepsy so well?  Lots of self care.  Plenty of pre-planning for every outing, a few taxi cab rides, lots of caution, and a little bit of Canada’s best prescription marijuana.  I’ve seen it work.

She can’t go to movies and she can’t go to concerts, and we’ve accepted that.  It hasn’t been easy.  When Jen worked at Research in Motion, their free company concert was U2 in Toronto.  She wanted to go so badly.  She was willing to go blindfolded if she had to.  Every U2 Blackberry ad on TV was a bitter reminder that Jen could not do what other people take for granted.

But that’s no excuse for me missing out on shows.  Maybe I lost my concert wing(wo)man, but I’m a grown up.  Right?

So we get to the crux of it:  my confession.

I’ve never really gotten into any of this in public before.  A few friends know.  I’ve lived with it long enough.  I used to care what friends, random strangers, or potential future employers would think of me.  I was ashamed of myself.

Over the years I’ve developed a severe fear of crowds.  It’s always been there, but it got a lot worse in my 20s.  If I was with people I knew and trusted, I could control it.  I first confessed my fear of crowds to T-Rev back when we were roommates in 1998.  He used to like to go clubbing at the Flying Dog up in Waterloo.  I went with him twice, and it was OK.  I had a good enough time.  But I needed my wingman.  T-Rev was wise.  “The best way to beat your fear of crowds is just to face it.  Try to have fun.”  He’s right to a certain degree.  The Flying Dog just wasn’t the best place to try and beat a fear of crowds.  Packed with douchebags and girls that I thought were way too hot for me, anxiety piled up on top of more anxiety.

I did better at small concerts.  There was a joint in town called The Banke.  A lot of our friends played there.  The more often I went, the more comfortable I was.  You start to recognise other faces, and familiar faces and places are soothing for anxiety.  It was good while it lasted.  T-Rev’s life path took him to a lovely wife and two kids, three hours away in Sarnia, Ontario.  He was a good wingman, because he understood me.

Having a wingman is really important.  A few weeks ago I went to TF Con in Toronto.  My buddy Jay asked me, “So how does this make you feel with your fear of crowds?”  I told him it didn’t bother me at all because he was my wingman.  (Also it’s not a very intimidating crowd.  I could bowl them over with a sneeze.)  I’ve had a panic attack at a farmer’s market, but not a TF Con.

There have been a couple incidents that happened at concerts.  Jen had a fall at Rush — that one was upsetting.  She had a seizure at Trailer Park Boys, which was the last time she went to any kind of show.  The association of these events with concerts just made me…more sour.

When Jen got sicker and sicker, so did I.  I became a tense, nervous mess, and it was almost all the time.  Something had to give, so when I couldn’t take it anymore I sought help.  Family and friends made sure that I did.  It took some pushing, because I am stubborn by nature.  Help is available, but you have to work at it.  Medication doesn’t fix everything, and it has its own costs on both your body and your wallet.  You have to unlearn what you have learned.  Then, you have to practice better ways of dealing with situations.  It’s hard work.  It’s also life long work.  You will stumble and there will be pain.

In spring 2016 I was in Ottawa visiting family.  By coincidence, both the Killer Dwarfs and rock journalist Mitch Lafon happened to be in town that weekend.  The Dwarfs were playing the Brass Monkey, and Mitch was going to check them out.  Knowing I was in town, Mitch asked me if I wanted to come and meet him at the show.

It’s painful remembering this.

Of course I wanted to go see the Dwarfs.  Of course I wanted to meet Mitch!  I have been a fan of both for a long, long time!  Mitch is the premiere go-to guy in hard rock today.  Not only would it be a personal thrill, but meeting Mitch and taking a selfie with him would have been a fantastic bonus to top off a Killer Dwarfs concert review.

I turned him down.

Out of respect for the man, I told him the truth.  I wasn’t prepared to handle a crowd that night.

Mitch promised to keep my secret, and he’s been really supportive to me.

It might be frustrating for some, but it helps me a lot to deal with anxious situations if I know in advance, and I can prepare myself mentally for it.  I admit I can be very frustrating sometimes.  I’m lucky that Jen gets me.  She’s one of the only people in the world who truly gets me.  Jen and my grandmother really know how my brain works.

It barely works, but it works!

I have my ups and my downs, and it’s largely dictated by how I respond to daily challenges.  I confess that I have not tried to challenge myself in a long time.  When was my last concert?  I used to love going out to see stand up comedy, too.

I’ve been itching to see live music again.  I think I can handle it.  I’ll go slow.  I won’t start by going to see Bryan Adams at the Arena.

Something smaller and more local would be good.

Hey!  Would you look at that?

It looks like I have to be ready by February.  Sasquatch is coming to town!  Sasquatch: The Opera that is, composed by Roddy Bottum of the band Faith No More.  Four shows, February 14th through to the 17th, 2019 at the Registry Theatre in Waterloo.  And I happen to know the promoter.  I’ve been promised an interview with Roddy about the musical, and ideally I would like to see all four shows.  I’m not worried about the interview, but I do need to beat my anxiety to go to the shows.

This is called having a “S.M.A.R.T.” goal.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Is my goal specific?  Yes.  I want to see the Roddy Bottum show.  Measurable?  Yes.  It’s as simple as go/don’t go. Achievable?  I believe a realistic goal would be to make it to, at minimum, one of the four shows.  Bonus points for anything more.  Is my goal relevant to my situation?  Absolutely.  It is a big part of it.  And is it time-based?  You bet.  Can’t procrastinate on this one, February is gonna come one way or the other!

I’m hoping to have Dr. Dave or Uncle Meat as wingmen for a show.  Dr. Dave is, in fact, a believer in the real Sasquatch!

I believe in baby steps so I think a good plan would be to try and see a small show in advance of the Bottum musical.  It’s exactly like building up a tolerance.  My tolerance has slipped a lot over the years so I have to build it back up again.  I’m trying to be proactive.

That’s my confession, and I have to admit, it really does feel good to get it out!  Did I have to do it publicly?  No, but I’m sick and tired of lying to people every time the subject of concerts comes up.  Here’s the truth.  Think whatever you want to.  All I really want to come out of this is somebody out there to read it and say, “Hey, I get it too.”  There are bullies in the world who would pick on me if they read this.  I don’t care.  They can pick on me for a lot of things already.

I accept that crowds and I might never be good friends.  I just want us to get along.

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#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.

 

 

 

 

 

#580: Music for Your Mental Health 2 – R.I.P. Chester Bennington

GETTING MORE TALE #580: Music for Your Mental Health 2 – R.I.P. Chester Bennington
A followup to Record Store Tales Part 239: Music for Your Mental Health

 

No preaching, no lectures.  Just personal feelings, regarding another sad rock and roll suicide.

I wasn’t a Linkin Park fan, though I do own the Stone Temple Pilots EP.  That’s all irrelevant.  I’m a human being, and as a human being, I grieve the loss of one of our own.  I don’t know the personal battles that Chester Bennington fought.  Nor do I have to.  It’s none of my business.

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical body.  You need both your mind and your body to survive.  Injuries and damage to your mental health can be hard to see, even for the one experiencing it.  There are resources out there, and there are people to talk to who can help.  It’s not necessarily easy to access all the help available and you may need help and guidance to navigate the system.  There are other human beings out there who love you.  Who need you.  There are even strangers willing to help.  People who have been through it and understand the pain you may be feeling.

We don’t live in an easy world, or even a friendly one.  It is easy to believe you are alone.  You are not.  You are never alone.  Chester Bennington was not alone, but whatever was killing him inside probably made him feel isolated and helpless.

As we mourn yet another great who went long before his time, please try to focus on your own well being.  There are other ways to deal with the hurt.  Chester Bennington was younger than I am, but he had enough.  Many people out there have had enough and don’t think they can take any more.  We are all human.  We have a tremendous ability to absorb pain but eventually it must be dealt with.  There is no shame in it.  You are not weak.  You are stronger than anyone who hasn’t dealt with what you deal with.  The stigma must end.  People who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses are not different or abnormal.  They are regular human beings just like you.  Maybe even more normal than you know.

Rest in peace Chester.

Editorial: Gene Simmons of KISS makes some incredibly stupid comments

Today on 107.5 Dave FM, near the start of the Craig Fee Show, I heard those opening chords to “Detroit Rock City”.  Then, I heard Craig say, “No, no, no.  I will not play this band today.”  He then cut directly into “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” by David Lee Roth.

There are Kiss boycotts happening right now on radio stations all over the world.

Gene Simmons is not a stupid man.  Nor, do I believe, is he a bad man.  The work he has done for veterans and other causes has been admirable.  He’s also known for opening his big yap and spouting his personal politics to anyone who will listen.  When Gene said this, I simply could not believe it:

“Drug addicts and alcoholics are always, ‘The world is a harsh place.’ My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear f**k all about ‘the world as a harsh place.’ She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life. And for a putz, 20-year-old kid to say, ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle.’ F**k you, then kill yourself.

“I never understand, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says ‘Jump!’ when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, ‘That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump.’ Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the f**k up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.”

Hot on the heels of the suicide of the much-beloved Robin Williams, Simmons’ carelessness was shocking to me. Nikki Sixx called him out on it, and said, “What if somebody heard those words and did kill themselves, Gene?”

Today Gene offered up an apology of sorts.

“To the extent my comments reported by the media speak of depression, I was wrong and in the spur of the moment made remarks that in hindsight were made without regard for those who truly suffer the struggles of depression…I sincerely apologize to those who were offended by my comments. I recognize that depression is very serious and very sad when it happens to anyone, especially loved ones. I deeply support and am empathetic to anyone suffering from any disease, especially depression.”

I have been a member of the Kiss Army since 1985.  I have always loved their music, and always will.  I realized a long time ago, probably since the mid-90’s, that Gene Simmons is an asshole.  He even named his solo album Asshole.  We all know that Gene spouts crap about anything and everything, as is his right.  Just like it’s my right to call him out on it.

Gene, to this day depression comes with a huge stigma.  Some don’t recognize it as an illness.  Some think “just cheer up,” is the solution.  Sadly, some in the medical field don’t even understand depression, the pain it can cause (both emotional and physical) and how it can devastate a life.   I hope that you learned a valuable lesson from this Gene.  I hope you choose to learn more about depression and mental illness.  After all, next it could be your son Nick, or your daughter Sophie, who fall ill with an awful mental illness that people don’t fully understand.  It can happen to anyone regardless of who they are, or how hard they work, or how much success they have.  I hope, Gene, that you will treat everyone who suffers from these terrible illnesses with the same compassion that I expect you would treat Nick and Sophie with.

I still love Kiss.  But Gene, you named that solo album correctly, because you’ve acted like a total asshole.

MINDS IN MOTION has been rocked!

KA-PLA! (Qapla’ – Klingon for “success”!)  The Mother’s Day MINDS IN MOTION KW Walking Classic is complete! Jen and I did 5km and it felt great

I raised $375 to buy shoes for mental health patients in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Physical activity is so important to your mention health, but some don’t even have a good enough pair of shoes to walk in. Hopefully today we made a difference.

A big thank-you to:
Zach, Sarca, Joe, Geoff, and Scott the Scot! You didn’t have to but you did!

More big thanks to:
Erin, Michelle, Scott the not-Scot, Peter, Kathryn, my mom, Aunt Lynda, Nicole, Chris, Willy, and Alex.

I hope I didn’t forget anyone! Lastly thanks to Jen’s mom for taking part with us.

We were supposed to have shirts, but all they had left in men’s was 2XL. I’m a large. The 2XL looks like a tent, so I wore my Thunder Buddies shirt since it’s the same colour.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Help me ROCK a walk: MINDS IN MOTION

On Sunday May 11, I will be participating in MINDS IN MOTION – the Kitchener-Waterloo walking classic.  To quote the cause:

Physical activity helps mental health patients in many ways, both physical and mental. Walking is a great way to clear the mind and cleanse the body. It’s hard to walk a mile when you don’t have shoes to walk in. Minds in Motion provides new, high-quality running shoes to low-income mental health patients in Waterloo region. Help them walk a mile in THEIR shoes.

MAIDEN

 

This is a cause I am quite passionate about as we have discussed before.  If you’d like to throw a little support my way, any amount is appreciated!  Click here to donate.

And if not, that’s cool too!  I’ll be back tomorrow with my next White Lion review.  Cheers!

Mike

Part 256: A Case of the Mondays

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 256:  A Case of the Mondays

Towards the end of my record store years, 2005 to the start of 2006, the mere thought of waking up in the morning of a Monday was enough to make me feel physically ill. The feelings of dread usually began settling in on Sunday evening. By Monday morning I was not feeling well at all.  I was used to being beaten down by unpleasant customers, unpredictable superiors,  and long hours with not enough time off. I was sick and tired of being used, but I was also sick.  I began to hate the mere sight of a CD, and certain songs played in store became so annoying that they haunted me at night.  I stopped enjoying music.

I remember waking up one Monday morning and thinking to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I quit my job today.” I had a home and a mortgage, but finding a new job had proved difficult. My skill set was expansive, and my time at the record store had demonstrated my loyalty.  Most jobs I was applying for were not interested in somebody with only retail experience. It didn’t matter that I was a manager, so I went from interview to interview without luck. The steady rejection impacted my emotional state in a negative way.

I called my dad, who I could always count on for good advice.

“Hey dad,” I began. “I have kind of a weird question for you. What would you say if I told you I wanted to go to work and quit my job today?”

“I would say that is not a very good idea,” he responded with seriousness. “You have a mortgage, and I’m sure you know it’s easier to find a new job when you’re already employed. Finding a good job while out of work is easier said than done. I would strongly advise that you don’t quit anything until you have something else to fall back on.”

Not the answer I wanted to hear, but I knew he was right. What I didn’t tell my dad (and what he didn’t know until he started reading these Record Store Tales) is just how miserable I was. I had become a complete basket case.  He tells me now that he regrets the advice that he gave me that Monday morning. If he had known what I was going through he would have given me very different advice.

I thanked him for his words of wisdom and hung up the phone. I got dressed and ready for work. Breakfast was out of the question. My stomach was too wound up to handle eating. At the end of the record store days, I was generally only eating one or two meals a day. I didn’t really put together how that was affecting my mental and physical energy levels.

I used to listen to the same CD in the car on the way to work in the mornings: Dance of Death by Iron Maiden. I’d get in, put on the album, and then try to take as long as possible to get to work. Red lights meant more Maiden. Then as I’d pull into the store, I’d check out the parking lot and see if any of the bosses had arrived yet. You could never guess their temperament any day, so all I could do was pray they all had nice weekends. If they were in a good mood, they’d leave me more or less alone. If not, you could cut the tension with a knife.

I hated the tense Monday mornings.

Once I entered and hung up my coat, I’d do a walk around. I’d check to see how sales were on the weekend, what messes were left for me to clean up, and what problems had come up. I’d also rush to do a quick cleaning. Any glass surfaces with fingerprints had to be wiped clean before any bosses spotted them. They had a habit of bitching about anything they saw before I did. Other store managers didn’t have to deal with the stress of having “head office” in the back of their stores, but I did.

These taut Mondays were often long and enervating. I’d open the store at 10am and wait for the first customer. Usually they were people selling scratched up CDs for cigarette money. The day would drag on, and Mondays meant getting home later than usual, since Monday was also Stock Transfer Day! Even though I was “off” duty, none of us were ever really off duty. The phone, after all, could ring any time.

I suffered in silence. I didn’t want to stress out my parents, so that one phone call to my dad was all they knew. It was a dark time, but it is always darkest before the dawn.  I survived.  I am here with Record Store Tales to prove it.

Part 239: Music for Your Mental Health

MENTAL

RECORD STORE TALES Part 239:
Music for Your Mental Health

Music can be absolutely vital to the human psyche.  I don’t know why it is, but the auditory sensation of vibrating air molecules that we call sound has an undeniable effect once modulated into music.  Some people find themselves drawn to the music, some the singing, others just the words.  Nobody experiences music exactly the same way, but for many of us, it has the ability to lift our spirits high.

I had a customer, who had been coming in for many years, who was diagnosed with a fairly common mental disorder.  He didn’t find it a  pleasant disorder to deal with.  The young man who I’ll call Billy had made a suicide attempt.  I didn’t see him for a while.  When I did see him come back, he had changed his appearance.  Gone was the long hair and beard.  What did not disappear was his love of music, which seemed to manifest itself even stronger after his attempt.

Billy had suddenly rediscovered 80’s new wave music, and with it modern electronica, techno, and trance.  He became extremely passionate.  He was especially fond of any and all New Order.  These artists in turn introduced him to the relaxing sounds of New Age music.  I couldn’t say it for certain, but if I had to make an observation, I would conjecture that the music gave him more focus and something to feel good about.

Soon, listening to music wasn’t enough anymore.  Billy wanted to make music.

His family were supportive.  Over the few years that I knew him, his family purchased for him the best computers, the best synthesizers, and encouraged him every step.  He dad acted as his manager.  They would come in periodically, looking for electronic music, and eager to update me on his musical progress.

“The CD is coming along well,” Billy would say.  “It’s going to be very relaxing, very dreamlike, and calming.  It’s great music.  I’m very excited.  My dad is helping me, we’re going to put a CD out.”

And put a CD out he did.   I’m far from the most knowledgeable person about electronic music, but it sounded good to me.  I could tell he put a lot of work into the tracks.  He did it all himself.  His extraordinary story got him some newspaper coverage too.  The best part was, the CD was really good.  I wouldn’t let him just give me a copy, I made a point of buying one.  I had to support my customer!

Music can be such a positive force.  It’s one of the few things I know of that can bring 100,000 people together.  It can change brain chemistry, and it can help us feel all kinds of emotions.  It can make you want to get up and dance, or make love, or play air guitar.  It can make you feel better and draw you in deeper.

Sometimes, I think about what music means to me personally.  I know it helped me survive.  Would Billy would have survived without music?  Would any of us?  There’s no way to know.  I do know that I am glad I got to know Billy.  He taught me that music really can change the world in powerful ways.