Production Stress Anxiety & How To Beat "The Phantom"

by Dennis Daniel

The voices started. "You're no good," they said. "Why are you so happy?"

"Because, I'm a success," I answered.

"Success? What do you do for a living, huh? You creatively lie! You sell products you don't believe in! You hypocrite!"

"It's a living!" I shouted.

"You must pay the penalty. You must suffer."

"Why must I suffer?"

"You're an artist! All artists suffer. Wait, I take that back. You're no artist! You just pretend to be an artist. It's all bullshit!" the voice insisted.

"Are you telling me my life is bullshit?"

"It's worse than bullshit. It's meaningless."

An anxiety attack. What you've just read is my feeble attempt at trying to put into words what it feels like. Believe me, I haven't even scratched the surface.

I'm in therapy. I'm sitting in a room facing a very calm, together looking old gentleman. He is worldly, intelligent, and speaks in a very low, soothing voice.

"I'm hearing voices. I'm cracking up."

He stares at me for about 10 seconds and says, "Dennis, you're not cracking up. What you're going through is very common. VERY common."

"That doesn't make me feel any better about it."

Are you with me, dear R.A.P. reader? Do you, as Peter Frampton used to sing, "feel like I do?" Let me tell you a quick little story. I was out having dinner on a Sunday with my wife and parents. We were celebrating their anniversary. I was enjoying my Cajun chicken, a dish the local diner always cooked up special, just for me. Right in the middle of the meal, I started to feel weird, not like myself. My heart began to race. I started to sweat. I felt trapped! What was worse, I didn't know why! Was I having a heart attack? Sweet Jesus, was this it?

"I don't feel right. I need to get up." (As I write this, the memory of this moment brings back awful, horrific images.) I got up from the table and practically ran outside. My wife followed, and I just paced back and forth in the parking lot. "What's wrong with me?" I asked. "I don't feel like myself." What could she do? She just held my hand. My parents came out of the diner and we drove home. When I got there, I just lay down on the living room couch and held my mother's hand. (What a pitiful figure! Geez!) Nothing but negative thoughts filled my head. I couldn't shake this feeling of doom and despair!

After about an hour, I said, "You better take me to the hospital." I was dead serious.

"Oh, you don't want to go to the hospital," my dad said. "What do you think they're going to do for you there?" He was right. I wasn't dying, I just felt like I was. So, I just breathed deeply -- in and out, in and out. Eventually, I fell asleep.

And so began my journey, a journey deep into myself. My first reaction was to go to the doctor. He looked at me and said, "You're 29 years old! You're at the peak of your game. Relax. There's nothing wrong with you." Even with all this reassurance, I refused to believe there was nothing wrong. My doctor arranged a stress test and an echocardiogram. The tests were negative. Okay. So nothing is wrong with my heart. My mind... different story. I began two different kinds of therapy. Massage therapy to relax my body and psychotherapy to relax my mind.

I learned a lot about the creative mind from my analysis. As creative people, we don't really function like the rest of our species. Our minds are constantly turned on! As Production Director of WBAB, as well as the head of my own small production company, I spend most of my time dealing with the creative process. About 80% of that time is spent writing, producing, and voicing commercials.

COMMERCIALS! God, how they can drive you crazy! Never mind all the usual insanity, like putting up with clients, deadlines, talent, etc., etc.! It's the fact that you spend all your creative time selling things you may or may not believe in! Now, I know some of you have no problem with this; I never used to either! But, after ten years of it, I guess my mind snapped slightly.

It was not just the commercials that led to my attacks, it was also the suppression of emotions. I guess I felt I was above any real feelings about the subject. Heck, they're just commercials, right? No use getting all excited about it. Another day, another dumb spot -- Wrong! It builds up, my friends. Day in, day out. Sell, sell, sell! Every time you open your mouth in front of a mike, you're selling something. Will it work? Will people respond? If you create some real kick-ass spots that you're very proud of, will anyone "get it?" Does anyone give a shit? That's the curse of it. I used to act like I didn't care. As long as I liked what I did, I wasn't interested in any outside opinions.

The truth is you do care. Radio -- secondary, omnipresent media tool that it is -- is not designed for you to see truly the kind of response you're getting from listeners. Creative people crave response. We want to know if people like us and like what we're doing. Sure, it's gratifying when your colleagues congratulate you on a job well done (I get this satisfaction often), but what about the people it was designed for?

Many of these unanswered (and unanswerable) questions can just pile up inside of you. DON'T LET THEM! They can never really be answered. If the client is getting response, THAT should bring the ultimate satisfaction. Advertising is not an exact science. You go by your guts.

Another problem that plagued me and caused anxiety was just the idea of the attack itself! "Am I going to get one? Will I get it at the airport? In the diner? At work?" I would worry about it so much, I'd give myself an attack!

Stupid.

It's really amazing how your mind works. You can think anything you want. Every time I'd try to avoid the thought of anxiety, a little voice (I call him "The Phantom") would pop in and say, "You're getting one! Get ready asshole! You've had it too good for too long! Time to suffer! Time to pay! God gave you the gift of creativity, but nothing is a free ride, friend! With that creativity comes the other side of the coin... ME!" God, how I hated that voice!

"Why do you feel you have to fight it?," my analyst asked. "Why not just go with it?"

"Because, I know this is not me. It's stupid."

"Dennis, the more you recognize that it's not you, the more you'll realize it's nothing to worry about. Just keep it simple."

Keep it simple -- words to live by, dear R.A.P. reader. We live in a very competitive world. It's very easy to lose sight of the things that really matter. Things like our families, our health, and our mental well-being. As of this writing, I'm still dealing with my little phantom, but I'm getting better with each passing day. I'm producing some of the best work of my life (check out this month's Cassette).

If you've been experiencing the kinds of emotions and anxieties I've spoken about, here are a few tips for you:

1. Try therapy. It helps to talk things out with a professional who understands.

2. Talk to other friends in the business. See if they go through the same thing. Practically everyone I know has had some form of anxiety. It is very reassuring to share stories and experiences. You realize you're not alone or going insane.

3. If possible, try not to take your job home with you.

4. If you're religious, pray. Talking to God can be a very soothing experience. If you're not religious, meditate in some way. Simple deep breathing exercises are great. Inhale slowly through the nose, hold it to the count of five, then exhale through the mouth until you empty your lungs. It's astounding how relaxed you feel after doing this a few times!

5. Realize that you are strong! Recognize yourself for being greater than any disabling thought or feeling of inadequacy or fear. Anxiety is "fear of fear." Remember that! You're really all right!

6. Enjoy your success! Never feel guilty about it! You earned it! (This was one of my major problems!)

7. Try to avoid caffeine.

I hope I haven't come out too preachy with all this stuff. I just wanted to share my experiences with you in the hope that maybe I can help a fellow producing creative comrade. If you have any comments about the article or the commercials on The Cassette, feel free to write me at WBAB, 555 Sunrise Highway, Babylon, NY 11704. Keep the faith!

Editor's Note: Dennis wanted us to pass on some reading material he has found invaluable. The book is called The Feeling Good Handbook, "Using the New Mood Therapy in Everyday Life." by David D. Burns, M.D.. The book was recommended to Dennis by his therapist and deals with developing self-esteem, enjoying greater intimacy, and overcoming anxiety fears and phobias. Check it out.

We've featured five spots from Dennis on this month's Cassette. About the spots, Dennis says, "These are some of the most bazaar, esoteric spots I've done in an attempt to remain original." They were co-written with his partner, Steve Morrison. Despite what Dennis said in his interview (June '89), he has decided to enter these and five other spots into the Clio Awards competition. Good luck, Dennis!

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