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Anxiety mixtape: A lesson in empathy

Saturday 12th April 2014

I think that it’s impossible to describe anxiety with words alone. The feelings move so fast through your body that you can never grip onto them long enough to really feel them, let alone articulate them.

Just when you think you can pinpoint what you’re feeling, a new wave of feelings comes along. A new thought pops into your head along with a new wave of doubt about whether what you thought you were feeling was even a feeling at all - or simply an idea or a thought or a misplaced memory.

I am not even 100 per cent sure I’ve had an anxiety attack, it’s often only in retrospect I realise what’s happened. More often than not I convince myself I’m making the whole thing up.

There are ideas and feelings during attacks which you never feel so powerfully in other times. Some of my best and most creative times have been under intense anxiety. I don’t think it’s necessarily worth it, but it’s a thing that happens, and we should recognise that.

Anxiety is a problem that needs to be fixed; it’s an energy that we need to work out how to work with. It is part of being alive, and exposed to the world we live in. It’s a natural reaction to unnatural environments.

We don’t need to hide. We need to be understood. We don’t need to be ashamed.

As a writer and DJ, I'm interested in the power of music to invoke feelings, to tell stories and give experiences to those who haven’t lived them. I've arranged a mix of some of my favourite New Zealand tunes and written some instructions in an attempt to invoke the feeling of an anxiety attack.

Trigger Warning: This article is designed to create intense emotional feelings.

Here’s the mixtape to read along to:

Track 1. Batrider – Just Another Person

“Just another person with a shitty job. Just another person who talks too much. Just another person with nowhere to go. Just another person whose skin’s too thin. Just another person who will never say anything.”

Drink a lot of caffeine; this is to create the energy necessary for anxiety. Drink so much that you shake and sweat enough that people will point out that you are shaking and sweating. Get a triple shot short black. Don’t sit down. Try not to breathe too hard. Everyone will hear you.

Remind yourself of the state that you are in. You are around a whole lot of people who are in the same state, but they’re going on with their lives, they’re coping and you have just realised that you might not be. You are only just starting to get it. You are alive but you don’t do anything. You are around these people and you are walking, talking, shopping, working, thinking and learning just like them, but none of you are doing anything. How can they be OK with this? What is the difference between you and everyone else? Why do you feel like this?

Track 2. The Terminals – Amnesia

“Must be a trick of the memory, the end of the world in a day, the joker that waits in the shadows, to switch you and steal you away.”

This is where the energy starts building. If you listen to the keys and vocals it doesn’t feel too intense, but then switch your attention to the rhythm of the drums and guitar, they’re about twice the speed of everything else. They sit in the background gradually winding you up, they make things interesting but you can’t explain why. Ask those around you why, they don’t understand the question. Rhythm is very important for keeping focus. If it breaks you will break.

Go to a crowded space: Maybe a supermarket at 5:30pm on a Friday, or a café where you have to queue 15 minutes to place your order or Courtney Place on a Saturday night. Pay attention to the music, but don’t use it as an escape. Look at people. Think about what’s happening in their heads - hope it is not about you. Try your hardest not to get in anyone’s way.

When the song ends breathe. It might be your last chance

Track 3. Gate – Wilderness

This is where the rhythm really becomes important. You have to get hooked into this trance in order to get through this. Don’t lose yourself in it though. Be vigilant. Pay attention to your surroundings. Look behind you. Look around you. Look to your side. Is everything orderly? It isn’t.  Are you in anyone’s way? Turn the volume up. Drown out everything else. Don’t drown out everything else. Be vigilant. Walk with the rhythm. Be fast. Notice you are sweating. Can you discern the lyrics? Are they important?

Track 4. The Max Block - Sonic Blur

“A shattered brain, a sonic blur, you catapult across the world, you’re gone, I swear there was no other way.”

The tempo has increased and you’re losing control. Everything can fall apart at any time. MAKE SURE YOU DON’T FALL APART. Nothing is quite in time and whenever things change the instruments all fall out a little bit more. The keys sound like sirens, the bass drives the song in a frantic new direction, the drums try to keep up but can’t quite and the guitar does whatever it wants.

Despite all of this, you need to keep it together. Don’t embarrass yourself. Everyone around you will know if you fall apart. Your family and friends are worried about you. Don’t let them know. You don’t want them to worry do you? You’re meant to be a sensible person, the reliable one. Don’t do this to everyone.

Track 5. The 3Ds – Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

“It’s the long walk home, when you’re walking all alone, things are sad and lonely, it’s your room, it’s your tomb.”

Look what you’ve done. You’ve fallen apart. You lost. It’s hard but it has happened. The music is loud and heavy. You have lost the little focus you had. You don’t have the same rhythm to grip onto anymore. You can no longer focus on what’s around you but you also can’t focus on anything else.  Look at all these people around you. You are in their way. You are making them all late. You should be ashamed! Stop thinking so much about yourself. You could be saving the world right now but instead you are inside your own head. How selfish.

Track 6. The Dead C – Polio

“Take away the precious looks, and the films and those stupid books and basically you walk away and you can’t even control your fucking brain.”

You tried and you have failed. You can give up now. You’re sick. Everyone you know knows. Everyone around you knows. No point hiding anymore. Everyone will ask you ‘are you OK?’, but what they really mean is ‘you’re not OK’. You can breathe now. Kind of.

The tempo builds up again, but now it’s somewhat soothing. Instead of gripping onto it let it remind you of something. You’re allowed to feel sad. You’re allowed to be scared. You’re even allowed to be frustrated and angry. You can’t hide anymore. Don’t even try. Everyone feels sorry for you. Think about that.

Track 7. The Dance Asthmatics – Hospital

“Hey man, you don’t look so good. I can’t hear what you’re saying. I can’t hear what you’re saying. Speak up.”

Try to listen to the people around you now. What are they saying? What is the guitar in this song saying? You should let the people around you look after you. They want to help. You need help. It’s hard and it’s embarrassing but let them do it.

“I think we should get out of here. “

Get home, go to bed. Pay attention to your thoughts, they might be important. If you don’t look after yourself now it will all happen again. Remember that song ‘Just Another Person’ from earlier? Remember how everyone is the same as you? How come they can handle it and you can’t?

“I’m glad we got away”

Track 8. Music Sucks – Lonely Little Mind

“I barely exist. I barely exist. Confusion. How can I resist. What a strange time it is to decide what it is we are inside. What a strange time it is to decide who it is we are. Hello lonely little mind. Be non-twisted or unkind. Be at rest from time-to-time. Thoughtlessness a lucky find. Pulling all sorts of faces and the feelings are tasteless. The change is just on the face of it. Nothing stirs nothing sits. Hello bright holy machine, sent forth boldly across the sea. Pick me up. rinse me clean. Show me what to dream. How hollow do I need to be? So hollow that you’ll never see, beneath the mask of anything. Pulling all sorts of faces and the feelings are tasteless. As the learned few talk paradise, their high ideals would’ve made you smile. At the water’s edge you close your eyes. The clear blue exist. What a strange time it is to decide what it is we are inside. What a strange time it is to decide who it is we are. What a strange time it is when we find, the ones we love have died. The changes just on the face of it. Nothing stirs nothing sits. The changes just on the face of it. It is nothing but racist. I barely exist but I really exist. What a wonderful gift it is to barely exist.”

The lyrics explain everything.

Track 9. Athuzela Brown – TCOM

"Take care of me. Take care of me."


...You are reborn.

If you are struggling with anxiety or if you would like to talk to somebody the following services are available:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

The Low Down: You can free text 5626 (emails and text messages will be responded to between 12 noon and 12 midnight).

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email

This content is brought to you with funding support from New Zealand On Air.

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