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Mental Health Matters: Escaping Past Traumas

(Photo credit: Emma-Letki)

I’m going to do my best not to universalize my understanding of anxiety and depression. It’s a challenge for me to access particular memories about my experiences. The most prominent that moment can think is only tangentially related to music, performance, or its creation. I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 8 years old.

It’s quite difficult for me to figure out the timeline, but I remember it as an incredibly short period of time that somehow had no end in sight. Every now and then I remember running into the bedroom to see her. I remember giving her one of my stuffed animals, a Winnie the Pooh doll, to keep her company. I remember going into the bedroom once, and seeing her writhing violently, crying and trying to pull cords out of her nose and arm. “Get this rubbish off of me!” she screamed.

I ran into the room, grabbed the Winnie the Pooh doll, ran to my bedroom closet, threw the bear on the highest shelf, and slammed the door as hard as I could. I must have thought the bear was causing her pain, or was the source of her troubles, or something like that.

I think I imposed a great deal of blame upon myself for that moment. I don’t particularly like talking about it – I was once told that I act as though I’m the only person who has had something fucked up happen in their life. In this person’s defense, I was incredibly self-centred in that relationship – I credit that person for pointing it out to me. In my own cowardice though, I’ve felt discouraged from sharing my experience with my mother, but I’ve learned that it informs part of who I am.

I used to think this moment, and its culmination in my mother’s death, were the source of my terror of human connection and unfocused sadness. For almost 22 years, I had done very little work to actually engage my inner toxicity. I now see this event, and my mother’s passing, as elements in a broad spectrum that is Daniel’s psyche.

For a period in 2016, I was working three jobs with limited sleep between shifts. 4-6 months in, my right eye began twitching. An on and off pulse that kept going for weeks. I convinced myself that I was just tired and pressed on. I needed the work. During that time, I might have spent an evening a week with my partner. The overwhelming stress led my emotional state to erratic extremes. I was convinced coworkers and friends were actually malicious bastards, and were to blame for my weak self-image, inability to connect with others, and were attacking for their own failures.

In a moment of clarity, I spoke with my close friend Michelle. She helped me by providing the language to describe what I was experiencing. She helped me understand that small twitch and the paranoid thoughts were deeply connected.

After I spoke with her, I shared my new understanding with my partner and my father. I sought help at the Artist Wellness Centre, a wing of a central hospital in Toronto that deals with artists of varying disciplines. From there I was offered a chance to take eight weeks of psychotherapy.

I’m really fortunate that I live in Canada, and through my healthcare system had access to an artist-oriented mental health centre. I would advocate everyone go see a psychotherapist, but that would presume everyone has the same access and privilege that I do. I was lucky to begin a process that would teach me about the deeply internalized system of toxicity that informed my behaviors, attitudes, and relationships.

It was no get-out-of-jail-free card, but a first step in being a better person – one I’d feel comfortable sharing. I do want to emphasize that I do not believe I’ve been cured of anxiety or depression. I’m not convinced that there is a cure.

If there was a magical patch that obliterated all fear, self-loathing, and sadness from the brain, I don’t think I’d take it. I think those feelings are parts of us that need to be heard. We can still work to manage them, but the complete removal of all that is bad, uncomfortable, and tragic would rob us of an understanding that is hard-won. If I didn’t try to understand what I felt was wrong with me, I would likely have continued burying it as another pathetic weakness.

I don’t want to sound like I think I’m a grand authority on the matter, I hope I’m not that arrogant. I would like to share one tactic I found helpful in managing stress. My therapist told me to treat my stress as a messy office, like a desk covered in stacks of paper, and every stack contained something to do. He then said to take a roll of paper towel and just land on a particular stack. For 5 minutes focus on that stack – get done whatever I can. When I finished, I would know that I’ve accomplished something. I can move on.

It’s not as simple as “clean your room” – life is too chaotic to have a clean room on top of everything else you need to do. But giving yourself a clear goal and a time frame to do it (like 20 minutes to redo a bass line or 5 minutes to scrub the toilet) has surprisingly done me a world of good when I used to just allow the stack to grow so large because something more important just came up.

Based in Toronto, musical project Output 1:1:1 creates a sonic representation of what truly makes us human: our complex emotions.

Although his influences include lyricists Kendrick Lamar and Laura Marling as well as hometown heroes Broken Social Scene and legendary English rock band Radiohead, Output 1:1:1’s creator Daniel Janvier employs instinct and out of the box experimentation to take listeners beyond pre-existing genre lines, pushing boundaries and journeying into the exciting new aural territory.

Output 1:1:1 released his new EP Retroactive Rock Record, on November 1, 2019. Recorded and engineered by Sean Sutherland, the album is an expressive and personal exploration of uncertainty, growth, and self-discovery.

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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