Wednesday 7 February 2024

Wellbeing Wednesday #2 - If the booze and ciggies don't get you the stress will!

What did you do this morning? I did something amazing. It wouldn't be amazing for you, it would be like having teeth pulled out, but for me it was cathartic and most relaxing. What did I do? Well on Saturday, as regular readers will know, my band did a gig celebrating 45 years of the band. The drummer from our first gig turned up and gave me a tape of the gig. I'd not heard it ever. I listened to it on Sunday. It was fascinating. And the other side of the tape? He said "That is just the band jamming in rehearsals, it's pretty ropey".  About 20 minutes of the tape, made some time in 1980, was the band jamming on a new idea for a song I'd written called "Wasting my life". Again, I'd never heard this. I'd almost forgotten the song. 

You may ask "what has this got to do with Wellbeing? Well quite a lot, stick with me here. The first attempt was awful, truly awful. Just me strumming and the rest of the band trying to join in. The second go was nearly as bad. The third version was sort of OK until it fell apart. Then there was a bit where we worked on a few little bits. Then we did the last version. And guess what, it sounded amazing. The bands then lead guitarist Craig Withecombe did a brilliant blues guitar solo, that went on for far too long at the end. It would have all been lost in the ether, had Dav Davies not taped it. I doubt anyone else on the planet would enjoy listening to it, but for me it was the most refreshing thing possible and I now have a spring in my step.

I had woken up feeling rather stressed. My son has a big interview today. He's going for his first job interview post Uni. There is nothing I want more than for him to do well. It was a big thing for him. He's a great lad. We went to watch Manchester City play Brentford on Monday, had a few drinks and he chilled for a bit. Yesterday he was locked in his room preparing. This morning, he got up early and got ready. I was having a cuppa when he came in, wearing his freshly dry cleaned suit. "How do I look Dad?". I told him he looked great. He is a very hamdsome Lad, I couldn't be more proud of him. But job hunting is horrible. I feel for him. Statistically, you have a small chance of success. Lots of people go, only one gets the job. The rest are told that someone else is better. Usually agencies and firms don't even bother telling you. It is only when you hear nothing you realise that someone else doesn't really rate you. I've done it lots of times and loathe the experience. How could I not feel stressed as he walked out?

So he went out and I sat there worrying. Then I thought "I've not listened to that dodgy rehearsal tape". I put it on and quite unexpectedly, the awful noise and out of tune guitars took me to a happy place. I was engrossed. The dire first attempts sucked me in and when we got it together, it was like having a lovely, soothing mental massage. I forgot the stresses for a few minutes. 

As you know, I had an operation to remove my prostate last year, as my cancer situation developed. One of the major trigger factors for cancer is stress. Your body gets distracted from looking after itself and it gets out of kilter. That's when cancer kicks in. What do we do to destress? Most of the people I know drink to excess, some smoke. How many people do you know who, when the going gets tough, they light up or pour a glass of wine? I certainly drink more when I am stressed. As the cancer clouds have lifted, I've not really felt like drinking in the same way. 

When the tape finished this morning, I thought to myself "If I ever gave up drinking completely, how would I deal with those moments of stress, when I've self medicated with alcohol?" The thought was too horrible to contemplate. Then I thought about that tape. Why did it have such a great effect on me? This was quite interesting. My friends and people who see the band, see us in an intense burst, playing songs we've spent months/years/decades developing. We are full of adrenalin when we play. But each of those songs went through the process on that tape. The fumbled, dodgy first attempt. The refinement. Then the moment it clicks, without prying eyes, where we just relax and play for pure joy of it. I worked out that I've spent around two whole years of my life in the rehearsal studios playing music with the band, if you were to add all of the hours up. It is a space I feel safe and happy. Rehearsal sessions are like a therapy session. 

I doubt if I listened to the tape again, it would have quite the same impact. I'd start analysing it, rather than being taken on the journey, but the fact is, the effect was amazing. I got to thinking "Is there something here I am missing?". Is there a way to destress completely, without alcohol or anything else? I've done relaxation classes, Yoga etc. They are great, but often I used to just fall asleep. You'd just start to chill and then they were over and you'd have to rush off. A few weeks ago, I participated in a cancer retreat. There were massages as part of it. Even then, I had a degree of anxiety about the massage, in that I was enjoying it and started to hope it wouldn't finish too quickly, which it surely did. Of course, all of thes ethings lower stress levels to a degree, which was good, but none transported me in the way that the tape just did.

You may wonder about other ways of relaxing. At one stage, a friend gave me relaxation tapes. You'd lie down and put them on. They didn't work. The ones I listened to had new age hippy sounding Americans, the sort of people I find infuriating, talking about visualising beaches and mountains. I'm not a beach person and whilst I don't mind looking at mountains, they don't really relax me. Listening to an album I like in the dark works better, but it invariably finishes too soon and you lose the mood. An added problem for me is that I don't really like calm relaxing music. Chilling out to Night Boat to Cairo isn't really that relaxing! Maybe this is why I've always felt I needed a drink in those moments when life gets too full on.

But, this morning I had a revealation. I can put a tape on and relax, I just need a tape that works for me, that doesn't have annying new age claptrap, but does have something that I can relax into. Being an engineer by nature, I gave this some thought. The song we were playing, Wasting my life was the slowest song in the bands set at the time, it had a swinging, hypnotic tone and Craigs rather easy,  guitar solo that went on far too long was pleasant and interesting. I have always thought that to relax and destress, you needed to shut down your brain. I realised that this isn't the case. What you need is pleasant distraction. When you do guided meditations, focussing on mountains and beaches, you are taking yourself to somewhere nice. There was much hilarity a couple of years ago when a contestant on 'I'm a celebrity" said Burnley FC's Turf Moor homeground was their happy place. Whilst there was much mirth on social media, I got that. That is where you are around friends and have great moments.

So where am I going with this. What I am saying is that finding a way to destress without drinking, etc is a challenge for me. The realisation I have had is that rehearsing with the band is, for me, perhaps the closest I normally get to destressing. Playing the guitar and singing in a stress free environment, in the company of people I like is a wonderful thing. We are cut off from the world and focussing on things we like doing. It has not escaped my attention that the flare up in my prostate cancer coincided with me having to stop playing five a side football. This was another way that I lowered my stress levels. When you play football, you can't think about paying the gas bills etc. 

What are the wider lessons that I can share. Playing in a band works for me, but what about non musicians? The first thing to assess is whether there is a problem? Do you feel stressed. Can you relax (something I really struggle with). If you can, great, but if you can't then what you really need to think about is whether there are things that lower your stress levels without chemical intervention. What you need is something you can immerse yourself in completely, where the stress creating noises in your mind are silenced and pleasant things, positive things are able to take precedence. Find something that works for you. 

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