The last couple of years touring with my band at the time, Nat Col & the Kings, were tough. Anxiety started to appear in unpredictable places - before a gig, after a day in the studio, in bed or even at a BBQ with friends or family. One minute life was awesome, and in a split second it felt like someone had spiked my drink. The world around me became skewed and surreal, and my mind started second guessing every little thing. I remember one morning waking up so anxious that I couldn’t decide whether to brush my teeth before or after having a fucking shower! ha! It’s funny now, but I honestly thought I was housing bats in the belfry. I soldiered on.
This anxiety particularly showed itself during a run of Nat Col & the Kings gigs in Victoria. By this time, every day was a wrestle with emotion. I’d been struggling with insomnia for almost a year by now. I’d be awake for a good three to four hours most nights. My body felt faint on the tour bus and anxiety was intermittently washing over me. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. Just before stepping on stage, I felt a wave of fatigue and my blood sugar felt low. The world around me twisted itself into a horror movie. We had no tour manager to call on for help and a festival crowd waiting. I sucked it up, launched myself on stage and busted out a high energy blues rock set that made Nat Col & the Kings so much fun.
I had never, ever had to worry about my mental health on stage. It had always been a place where I felt untouchable. The first few years of my career had me performing whilst going through chemo, so I was used to leaving my problems off stage. But on this particular occasion, they followed me. I felt pins and needles take over my body, and gravity brought me to my knees. The band continued but sounded like they were in another room. I didn’t know what I was playing, or what to sing. I looked up at the thousand odd blurred faces, and freaked. “I can’t finish the set. I want out!”. I took a moment side of stage while the band continued and found some courage to get the job done.
I passed out afterwards just for long enough to remember that I had to cart all our gear over to main stage and bust out another 90 minute set in 2 hours time. No food. No drinks. No peace away from festival madness. That’s the first time I ever had a full blown anxiety attack!
Before I experienced it myself, I could never understand people who complained about anxiety. Even in times of self-doubt, my emotions had always been manageable, mainly because I could always see a way. But the extremities of these physical and mental sensations were a shock. All I saw was black with no way out, hence the panic.
A week later, we played a gig with Rose Tattoo. The Insomnia I experienced in the lead up to the gig was crazy. When it came to the day of the gig, I could not stop sleeping. I felt drugged. When I was awake, I was in a state of panic because I didn’t know what was going on. Courage and the fear of shame that comes with cancelling a gig were the only reasons I pushed through. Funnily enough, it was a great gig but I knew then that my freedom on stage had vanished. I was cautiously trying to keep my mind steady. The music was secondary.
I was flying blind. Every single commitment in my daily life became an emotional gauntlet. I did two big tours in that state before I decided to pull the plug and work out what the fuck was going on.
Now, three and a half years later, I look back on that period with gratitude. Major lessons have been learned. There’s no mystery as to why my mind and body caved. The most challenging part was taking the first steps, mainly because of the lack of “success stories”. It would have been so helpful to hear how my favourite artists overcame similar challenges, but I couldn’t find anything. It was easy to find people who solved their problems with medication but that’s a path I didn’t want to take straight away. My question was always, “I haven’t always been like this. Why am I like this now?” I’m glad I stuck to my guns.
This website is the first step out of my healing cave. It’ll be an open workspace where I’ll be sharing anything from the tools I learned during my recovery of chronic fatigue/anxiety/depression (whatever you want to call it) to my experiences growing up on the road. I’ll share my favourite writing and production techniques, my philosophies on the music industry as well as my journey back to the stage. Oh, and maybe a few guitar licks!
I’m not sure what the future holds and just like the rest of us, I’m a work in progress. Us musicians tend to wait until we’re feeling perfect before we launch ourselves out into the world. I suppose this is my way of flipping that on its head!