Monday, July 13, 2020 — It’s one week away from my first music release in over 14 months, “Do Myself Better.” In about an hour, I’m about to interview a guest on my new podcast series of the same name. The track is a personal mantra about acknowledging anxiety and the need for self-care. I had an inkling other artists may be going through the same things, and we’re all being “safer at home,” so we should talk about it. As of writing, I’m unsigned, so I have no label. I have no PR team, so I usually do everything on my own. But this time I have a publicist. Not so fast because we haven’t secured a track “premiere,” so my morning is in free-fall, and at this point, I am 23 seconds away from hitting up my distributor to pull the release entirely.
I remember the first time I ever got butterflies in my stomach: age seven when I was picked to give a solo at my church service growing up. I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and church was a big part of my family and our culture at the time. I remember the song, “Zacchaeus Was A Wee Little Man,” which is like the Bible school version of “Old McDonald Had A Farm.”
As I walked up to the pulpit to sing, the church aisle grew longer and longer. It was the first time I recall feeling anxious, not just nervous, but being genuinely worried, afraid, even. I got up there, and I froze, couldn’t do it, sat back down, and hid by my mom. Almost 20 years later, I’ve never frozen again as a performer, but as a grown-up artist, those “butterflies” have swarmed into daily anxiety. It’s not performance anxiety; in my case, it’s General Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Tuesday, July 14, 2020 — It’s 9:34 a.m., and I’ve prematurely woken up after pulling an all-nighter, my first since college. The fate of my day isn’t looking great, but I got a lot of shit done last night and this morning. I created new graphics for all my socials. Fuck, it takes so long because the formatting is different on each social. It’s important because I’m about to announce the single and return to social media after a one-year mental health break. I’m known for good roll-outs, so I can’t slip up.
I was diagnosed with GAD when I was 19, after an anxiety attack led to a panic attack live on stage during my freshman year of college. I had been stressed and anxious for weeks, not really sleeping well, limiting my communication with folks, worrying about doing well in school. Walking out on stage for a musical concert, I suddenly began having chest pain and trouble breathing, accompanied by a slew of other symptoms. An hour later, I was at the ER wondering what the fuck was going on.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020 — Tomorrow, I’m posting a photo online for the first time in a year, and I’m not too worried about it because the photos from the shoot are stunning—at least I think so, but who knows? Either way, I’ve procrastinated for three weeks, holding the photos hostage on my desktop. But now there’s no time because my marketing brain says, “Davy, it’s now or never, bro.” This posting-related anxiety comes while I’m not even sure the release will be in stores on the scheduled release day because Spotify hasn’t pinged me an email saying my musical baby has arrived. So, I’m panicked, but, yes, we must post online to remind people to care about us next week when the release drops.
The fear of performing doesn’t always relate to a specific performance. Since the onset of my anxiety disorder I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs, spins and drops, twists and turns, and the awkward still photograph at the end from year to year, wondering how long I would be stuck on the ride and if I could go home soon. One year I had a tension headache for eight months. There was a period I had “butterflies” in my stomach for 16 months or more. I can function and have a ”normal” life, but it affects every aspect of my life and how I create my music and more so how I release it into the world.
One unopened email pitch to an editor or unanswered text with a Dropbox link to an unreleased track without instant reply can lead me down a spiral of “Oh, no, my career is over. I’ve disappointed my family. I won’t be able to feed my future kids.”
As odd as that sounds, with anxiety disorder, all those worries feel real. Living with GAD, you have to find ways to take care of yourself, to turn down the volume of your stress, and try to be present.
Anxiety is often worrying about something that could happen in the future, so to function and “do myself better” as an artist, I have to convince myself to focus on today’s project and negotiate with myself to worry about tomorrow another time. I check-in with myself to see what’s up. I acknowledge what’s up if anything is up. I do things like jump-rope for half an hour to manage what’s up, and when people say, “What’s up?” I tell them, so I don’t internalize my suffering.
Sunday, July 19, 2020 — Wow, people really remember me. I’d assumed after not posting a photo on my Instagram in over a year that folks would forget who I was. Based on my direct messages, they’re excited for my new music, which oddly I find hard to believe. At this point, it’s 1:43 a.m. (Monday), and I’m just wondering what press, if any, my PR will have secured by 12:30 p.m. their time, 9:30 a.m. my time. The editor at one notable music media outlet who supported me in the past has read my email but has yet to respond (I have email tracking, duh), and I just feel like a lovable flop. I fear maybe THIS release is too different from my previous releases, maybe folks won’t get it. This will be it; my career dies, a self-care anthem titled “Do Myself Better” got the better of me, the end.
Today, Right Now, 2020 — The track came out Thursday, July 23, 2020. My career doesn’t seem to have ended, and I’m sitting at home drinking a mezcal soda with a little too much lime, which is one form of self-care. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, the podcast idea has gone over well. Other artists and fans are reaching out to share their own anxiety stories with me, and apparently, my voice is so soothing I should do audiobooks. I suppose the last 14 months without releasing new music was like that dreaded, anxiety-ridden, never-ending church aisle from when I was a kid on my way up to sing that solo. I didn’t know then I’d grow up to have an anxiety disorder, but I had my mom to soothe me. Now my tools are taking my time with things, talking about it with friends, or writing about it, and checking in with my feelings. There is a way to be a productive and prolific artist and manage anxiety. My “new era” is all about slowing down to let things fall into place.