Canadian Musician - March-April 2022 - Page 27

By Alex Henry Foster

COLUMNS

Mentally Exhausted ?! But I ’ m Too Busy to Be Tired !

Iwas about to write about going back on the road when I read the humbling and moving page Catherine Harrison from Over the Bridge wrote in the last issue of Canadian Musician . That , along with the interview from The Strumbellas ’ lead singer Simon Ward in the same issue and news of Isaac Wood stepping back from Black Country , New Road inspired me to share about my own recent emotional fumble .

I thought this coronavirus stuff would be a two-week thing . I was starting my solo journey after what I later realized was an undiagnosed depression following my father ’ s passing , which led me to take a break from my 10-year tenure as Your Favorite Enemies ’ leader . My album Windows in the Sky was collecting positive reviews around the world , I had two years of tours aligned , and was set to play at the Tokyo Olympics . Then two weeks turned into months , months led to a first tour postponement , then a second , and so on … but I kept on going . I was locked down with my band and crew for weeks , which allowed me to keep the high-speed motion I was on . No matter what hit me , it was all about going forward . I had to be the first in line , all systems ready to go , when everything opened again .
While everything I have built seemed fragile , I kept on going . I didn ’ t care about the red lights . A close friend told me that I had all the symptoms of burnout , of mental exhaustion . I laughed ... until it freaked me out . I have a new record to finish . I ’ m halfway through writing a book . I have a movie score on the way . I have a label to look after , a studio to operate , a merchandising company , a vinyl plant I want to open next spring . That ’ s why I ’ m tired and stressed . Isn ’ t this the reality of every artist-entrepreneur ? Nobody else will come and save the day . I can ’ t miss potentially crucial opportunities . If I say “ no ” now , I might not have that call a second time around . If I ’ m not ready , someone else will take my place . I can ’ t slow down , let alone stop .
My health began to deteriorate . But I didn ’ t care . I already made it through sinus cancer and toured China right after surgery before , so it can ’ t be worse . Then came dizziness , imbalance , blurred vision , sleeplessness , lack of energy , anxiety … I carried on , released more projects , made more business acquisitions . I was one of the first Canadian artists to tour all over the U . K . and Europe last October . I was indeed the first in line when the world slightly re-opened for a second . Whatever the cost , tiredness is only temporary anyway . I had won that crazy rat race and outgrew the waiting game .
I didn ’ t see the Omicron variant coming up . Opportunities canceled , releases pushed back . I had to deal with the horror of having more friends take their lives . And just like that , I collapsed . Burnout , momentary depression , or mental exhaustion ... It wasn ’ t about me willingly deciding to take a break anymore . It was me being broken … Beyond repair .
It was difficult to accept that I had reached that point . I was in denial , frustrated , bitter . The future wasn ’ t a concern anymore , as every day became a battle against sorrows , sadness , and a profound sensation of failure . Days became weeks . And if I refused to see the reality of my condition at first , I made the best of it when I did . I slowly transitioned from “ doing ” to “ being .” I reconnected with the fundamental passion I had for music and arts . I joined online support groups and decided to write handwritten letters , to send postcards . I wrote a few blogs about mental exhaustion and about being damaged . My health became the most important project of all . It was slow but steady . The most challenging elements remained being at peace with declining offers that wouldn ’ t be beneficial for my inner reconstruction and emotional restoration . It wasn ’ t about the fear of missing out , it was about being happy to choose me over anything else . And that is still a work in progress …
I wanted to share my story , not because I think I ’ m the only one who had it tough over the last two years , but to offer a perspective to those who , just like me , are so deep into their own process that they might lose perspective about their health or what should matter the most in their lives . We are often seen as having the most fun of all jobs ( which is sometimes an accurate presumption ), but this ostracizes us and provides the perfect excuses to keep going no matter what . But there ’ s no weakness in putting a knee down . On the contrary , this is synonymous with taking care of what matters the most to your friends , fans , business partners , family members , or whoever ’ s precious to us : ourselves . So please , don ’ t hesitate to ask for help if you need to . Take a break if you need one . Listen to all the voices imploring you to slow down . It ’ s never too late to make the right call , even if , just like me , you don ’ t have time for any of that burnout and mental exhaustion stuff …
Alex Henry Foster is a Montreal-based singer , musician , writer , and activist who fronts the Junonominated alternative band Your Favorite Enemies . His solo debut LP , Windows in the Sky , is out on Hopeful Tragedy Records . His latest release is Standing Under Bright Lights , a triple LP and DVD from his sold-out concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival . www . alexhenryfoster . com .
CANADIAN MUSICIAN 27