I've been open about my panic/anxiety disorder in the late 1980's and wanted to share an interview I did with a blog devoted to recovery from anxiety.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this interview should be construed as a medical diagnosis or recommendation. If you are suffering from panic or anxiety attacks, I encourage you to seek out healthcare professionals to assist you in your journey to serenity and good health.
Tips to manage anxiety from the ADAA: Click here
Question: We know that you dealt with a bout of anxiety and panic in the '80s. What insights have you made about that period in your life?
Near the top of my list of insights would be these:
(1) Healing from anxiety opened the door to a better life for me: Though it might not have seemed like it at the time, having anxiety and panic was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It convinced me to make many changes in my life that lead to a healthier, saner way of living and thinking. It forced me to stop and take a good look at my life.
(2) I learned that there is a high price to pay for overworking: My life was completely out of perspective while I was scoring the ABC network television show "Max Headroom". The deadlines were short, computer systems were new and frequently crashed back then. The seven day a week, 18-20 hour days without a break for three months led me to a nasty case of sleep deprivation, anxiety, and panic attacks. Until the show was canceled in November of 1987, I was also drinking an enormous amount of coffee and other caffeinated beverages. BTW, I haven't had any caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.) in over 20 years since January of 1988.
(3) I learned to get support, and get it as frequently as needed: A parallel story to my crazy working hours was the emotional strain of having more than fifty friends, associates, acquaintances and family die of HIV/Aids or cancer during the period 1984-1994, and not really getting much support to help me process what was going on. I don't think I shed a tear at any of those funerals, I just couldn't allow my grief in. My support was both professional (counseling), non-professional (support groups), spiritual (meditation), and literary (books). I'll share details a little later.
(4) I learned the holistic approach to living: My physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health are all intertwined, and if I don't pay attention to one area, it is likely to affect another area of my life. I learned that my health, wealth, work and the relationships and love in my life were similarly intertwined. I set out to put together a toolbox of life tools to help me balance my life and heal from the anxiety. The album titles of the Liquid Mind series related to things I was going through at the time.
(5) I learned to set boundaries in work hours, in relationships, in expectations for myself: Looking back, I didn't set enough boundaries to maintain a healthy life, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I didn't know how to "keep it simple". My life was a complex maze of work and chaos. Also, Max Headroom was the first show I ever scored, and I had little experience in that area. I've learned to stay closer within my circle of competence until I have proper training.
Do you have any advice to give someone still suffering from panic and anxiety? What did you find to be the most help?
Well, I can share my experience as to what helped me the most. None of this is original, I'm just recycling what I learned from other sources:
(1) Clearing meditation was invaluable in giving me some "golden" moments of complete relaxation in the midst of the panic. Every morning I used a simple meditation: I would sit quietly, no music, close my eyes, and breathing in, I counted to 1. Breathing out I counted to 2. Breathing in, I counted to 3, etc., until I reach 10. Then I would start over. Just counting worked best for me. I started out doing it for 1-2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then as I experienced some relaxation, I actually worked up to one hour sessions of quiet clearing meditation. Lots of thoughts would come to mind, but I'd just let them come and go, that's the nature of contemplation. Eventually, my mind became calm for longer periods and it gave me some hope.
(2) Stopping all caffeine: In January of 1988, I had my last cup of coffee. I don't even drink decaf, as it has some residual caffeine. No tea or chocolate either. When I'm tired during the day, I take a power nap for 15 minutes... takes the same amount of time, and for me is much healthier.
(3) Listening to slow music: I composed my own music, because nothing I could find really was slow enough for me. I listened to my own music 24 hours a day, which helped me to avoid taking any medication through my recovery. I just didn't want to turn my power over to a substance, and I was determined to find a way to heal on my own. The details of how I used the music are here at my heuristic.
(4) Counseling (professional): Having a therapist experienced in treating anxiety walk me through the darker days and nights was important to me.
(5) Establishing a healthy routine: I learned to schedule my days and nights realistically (and not over schedule). Especially important to me was that every morning I devoted (and still do) the first hour of the day to Chuck... I use it for meditation, reading, prayer, any spiritual pursuits, and in this way set a healthy tone for the day.
(6) Acknowledging that I had no control over anything except myself was a big step. Letting go of trying to change others was important. I used to be "Mr. Fix it" for both family and friends, and I realized that the best thing I could do was to take care of myself, and let others have the dignity of their own experience.
(7) Thought police: Exaggerated thinking caused my anxiety, and after about a year, I could more easily recognize those thoughts, and I'd just say "STOP!" out loud when I started going into that anxious, worried, panicky state.
(8) Letting go of my perfectionist tendencies really helped! The old saying about the 3 P's really is true: Perfectionism leads to procrastination leads to paralysis. And for me panic and anxiety attacks were an extreme form of paralysis.
(9) Letting go of the past, and erasing the thought in my head that the past will inevitably repeat itself. As I changed my own negative thought patterns and attitudes, I realized I was a different person, and that I would no longer react in the same way I did. That was a big one for me: My fear of having a panic attack actually faded to almost nothing over time.
(10) Journalling was an effective way to organize my thoughts when I was anxiety ridden. I found a "problem/solution" format of journalling helpful. This process helped me to focus on the positive, or to accept those things I couldn't change, and move on.
(11) Support groups (professional and non-professional): There are an abundance of groups in almost every community: spiritual, twelve-step, group therapy, the list is long. I suggest to others that they take advantage of anything that feels good to them after attending a few meetings.
Here are some resources I found invaluable as I was healing:
(1) Claire Weekes' HOPE AND HELP FOR YOUR NERVES was a book that was never out of my sight the first six months of healing. It truly gave me hope before I found a good therapist to work with.
(2) David Burn's FEELING GOOD, a cognitive self-therapy classic, is a brilliant book that taught me a lot about thinking healthfully, especially as some depression almost always accompanies anxiety. I referred to it daily for several months in my darkest times.
(3) Dr. Albert Ellis wrote a short essay about the five unrealistic desires or beliefs that cause anxiety. You can find it in various places on the web, including here.
(4) The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu (Witter Bynner translation) was another constant companion, a spiritual guide of sorts for me.
HANDY TECHNIQUES I LEARNED FROM VARIOUS OTHER SOURCES:
(1) Table of Life simile: (credit to the late Brian Miller, Ph. D.) Your life is like a table. If your table has lots of support, many legs, if one of those legs falls off, you are still supported; however, if you only have a few legs on your "table", and one of those falls off, the table will fall over, and your life will be unsupported. For example, when I had anxiety in the late 1980's, I had only a couple of friends, no support group, no spiritual practice, no meditation, no tools to deal with life, and was not communicating regularly with my family... no hobbies, no recreation, just work. So when the TV show I worked on was canceled, and two of my friends died of HIV/Aids, I had no support, and started having nearly constant panic attacks. To this day, I occasionally draw the picture of a table and fill in the legs. I have 20 or more legs on my table now, and that feels good.
(2) You're only as sick as your secrets: I learned that a life of rigorous honesty can be difficult, but also very freeing. An example of this is my being out of the closet as a gay man, and being very public about my past struggle with anxiety and panic disorder.
(3) The Values List ("What's important to me today?"): To this day, I've found one of the most useful techniques for keeping me out of anxiety is knowing very clearly what is important to me, and making decisions about how to spend my time and life in ways that are in consonance with those values. I prioritize my values as well, putting them in order of importance. I start with the big four: Health, Love, Work, Wealth, and add to that list with things that are important to me. Every month I review this list, just to see if something has changed. If I'm feeling uncomfortable about a decision I've made, I will look at my values list and compare the decision to the list, trying to match my inner feelings with my outer actions.
As you know, I love your music. The story about how you started making "Liquid Mind" music is fascinating and fits perfectly with the theme of this blog (the spiritual solutions to anxiety). It is wonderful that you were able to marry your gift with your healing and then share that with the world. Can you share with us the process of creating a CD? As someone who knows nothing about that business, it would be interesting to hear. Do you start with a concept (like Bach) or do you just wing it?
The process of creating Liquid Mind is a very slow one for me, partially because I don't do caffeine, and the music makes me sleepy (LOL!). I don't start with a concept, except that the tempo of the music is the tempo of my breathing. I usually write very early in the morning (5 or 6 a.m.), and sometimes sketch it out on staff paper. Other times, I play it from my head, other times it is based on an improvisation. I often have a melody in my head, and just need to go to a synth and play it.
Once the sketches are complete (which takes about a month for an hour of Liquid Mind music), then I begin the more difficult task of orchestrating and arranging. While Liquid Mind music sounds simple, there are often 20 or more tracks, fading one to the other, to create the "sound" I like. After arranging (which takes 3 months), then I being the mixing process, which is the most difficult aspect. I mix through six different sets of speakers (large, small, studio, consumer, car, blaster, etc.) at three different volumes (loud, medium, small), just to ensure the music will sound good in different settings. Finally comes the mastering, where I set the EQ & relative volume levels, using the master "ears" of one of the finest mastering engineers in the world, Bernie Grundman. Mastering is much more important in Liquid Mind than other types of music, because the sound of the music is critical to the relaxation effect.
You mentioned on your website that you had some major influences like Bach and Rachmaninoff as well as Brian Eno. What are your favorite 5 CD's and why?
My favorites seem to change over the years. I don't listen to any music except my own when I'm recording, so I haven't listened to much over the past year. A few pieces I will admit to listening to repeatedly over the years are:
What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished recording my 10th album, Liquid Mind IX: Lullaby, which will be coming out March 3, 2009. I'm also recording some "gait training" music for donation to the American Music Therapy Association. This music is used by certified therapists to help patients with stroke or paralysis learn to walk again.
By the way, I'd like to acknowledge the wonderful label I'm signed to, Real Music, a label with great integrity whose mission is to spread relaxing and healing music throughout the world. Real Music is the home to many other artists who share the values of its owners, Terence Yallop and Karen Kael.
Rain & Ocean