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Renowned Artist Robert Bateman Talks Anxiety

Episode 55|23:12 min|

Podcast Categories: Adults, Culture, Healthy Habits,

#OurAnxietyStories – The Anxiety Canada Podcast
#OurAnxietyStories – The Anxiety Canada Podcast
Renowned Artist Robert Bateman Talks Anxiety
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Did you know that everyone experiences anxiety in some way or another?  

In this episode of #OurAnxietyStories, renowned artist Robert Bateman is interviewed by his son, #OurAnxietyStories host John Bateman. Despite having lived a fairly stressful lifestyle, as far as John recalls, his dad never experienced anxiety—or so it appeared. Robert shares that although he does not have an anxiety disorder, he has in fact experienced anxiety. Robert shares that learning how to cope and manage worries early on in life allowed him to reduce anxiety in his day-to-day. This episode of #OurAnxietyStories was originally filmed for Action Anxiety Day 2022, and a video is available here 

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About the Guest  

Robert Bateman is a renowned Canadian naturalist and painter. Robert’s realistic and evocative painting style reflects his deep understanding and appreciation for nature, featuring wildlife in its natural habitat and encouraging the viewer to closely observe the natural world. Besides being one of Canada’s foremost artists, he is also a naturalist recognized by the Audubon Society as one of the 20th century’s “heroes of conservation.” Robert has received numerous honours and awards, including the Order of Canada and fourteen honorary doctorates. He has been the subject of several films and books, including The Art of Robert Bateman (1981), The World of Robert Bateman (1985), An Artist in Nature (1990), Natural Worlds (1996), Thinking Like a Mountain (2000), Birds (2002), New Works (2010), Life Sketches (2015) and Bateman’s Canada (2017), as well as several children’s books. 

"This may be worth worrying about; it may not be worth worrying about it either... but I won’t worry about it just now. "

- Robert Bateman

This podcast is brought to you by Anxiety Canada™, a leader in developing free, online self-help and evidence-based anxiety resources. For more information and resources, please visit our website and download our app, MindShift™ CBT.

Transcript

Intro: This is #OurAnxietyStories, the Anxiety Canada Podcast with John Bateman. This is the place where people from all walks of life share their anxiety stories to remind you that you are not alone. If you have an anxiety story you’d like to share, contact us at anxietycanada.com/ouranxietystories. 

John Bateman: Hi, I’m John Bateman and you’re listening to Our Anxiety Stories, the Anxiety Canada podcast. Found at anxietycanada.com/ouranxietystories or any of your popular podcast platforms. In the spring of 2022, I had the opportunity to sit down with my dad, Robert Bateman, in his studio and talk about anxiety. The ensuing interview was very interesting because my dad, as far as I’ve known, has never had anxiety. So, I wanted to get into the way his brain works and the way his thoughts work to help him avoid anxiety in what is usually a fairly stressful lifestyle. Hope you enjoy the interview.  

John Bateman: Do I call you Robert or Dad?  

Robert Bateman: Dad.  

John Bateman: Okay. Dad. As you know, I’ve had a lot of anxiety throughout my life.  

Robert Bateman: Yep.  

John Bateman: And what I find very intriguing or interesting about you and frustrating too to a degree, is I’ve never really known you to outwardly experience anxiety or show it. My first question just to get into it is what’s your first memory of anxiety in you? What might have caused it and, what did it feel like for you?  

Robert Bateman: I think growing up I had anxiety a lot. I was an oddball because I was an artist and naturalist. Not only not a jock, I was anti-jock and the jocks or the athletes got all kind of rewards of being “top dog” and that type of thing. At the same time, I was always the best artist in the school. I always got accolades and praise from fellow students and from teachers because of my art. And so that was a big cushion to fall back on, which gave me much more confidence. And being an oddball was fine because artists, I mean look at van Gogh, he cut off his ear.  

John Bateman: Yeah. So how did you feel? So, if that gave you anxiety, how do you feel like it affected you? Do you feel like it drove you towards what you were good at?  

Robert Bateman: No. No. I don’t think so. I would have anxiety over specific things. Number one, it would be asking a girl for a date.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah. Which is a super common kind of anxiety, everybody gets that kind of anxiety. 

Robert Bateman: I guess it is, especially in your teenage years. And then I would also have anxiety, I remember, going to the dentist.  

John Bateman: Yep.  

Robert Bateman: And it was it was a lot worse going to the dentist back in those days than it is now… and a certain amount [of anxiety] about going to the doctor too. Am I going to get terrible bad news? So, it was those things, asking for a date, dentist, and doctor.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Which are classic anxiety triggers. And so, with those things, you have anxiety about the situation?  

Robert Bateman: I did. Yeah.  

John Bateman: How did that feel physically for you?  

Robert Bateman: … it held me back. I remember I had to “go to the bathroom” a lot leading up to making the phone call to ask for a date, or something like that. 

John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: I guess that goes with the turf too. I don’t know. 

John Bateman: I guess the point with the anxiety that you’re talking about is you would have anxiety about an event, event would happen, and the anxiety would be gone. You’d go to the dentist, and the anxiety would be gone.  

Robert Bateman: Or ask for the date. 

John Bateman: Yeah, ask for the date, they’d say yes. Presumably they’d say yes. I wouldn’t imagine them saying no. Or you get your test results and you’re 92 now, so far everything’s come back pretty good. You’re in amazing shape.  

Robert Bateman: My health’s not bad.  

John Bateman: Yeah, exactly. For 92, I’d say not. Because the kind of anxiety that I experienced, it’s interesting to talk to you about it because you experienced my anxiety from a different perspective.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah. Yeah.  

John Bateman: Yeah. And when I think about my anxiety, when I was younger, it was a lot of hesitation to do things. I could think about a couple of canoe trips I wouldn’t want to go on, or a couple of trips. I wouldn’t want to go on. 

Robert Bateman: Backpack, horse pack trip. 

John Bateman: Yeah. Or going to church on Christmas Eve. I don’t know if you remember, I didn’t want to do that.  

Robert Bateman: Oh, yeah.  

John Bateman: And I’d have fear about it. 

Robert Bateman: Why would that be? Can you tell me?  

John Bateman: Because back when I was young, religion was to me equal to fear. It was, to me, it was scary. Fire and brimstone and all that stuff. And in my era, we, a lot of people that I’ve met, their big existential fear is nuclear war. It’s not like it’s any safer now, but religion to me was tied into that whole thing. And so, I didn’t want to go near a church, but I never really told you that. I would just resist, and I’d cry, and I seem to remember, I think that my anxiety came out as stomach aches and temper tantrums and resistance. Do you remember that kind of thing from me? 

Robert Bateman: Yeah, to certain extent. And sometimes you’d win and sometimes I’d win.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. You would want me to do things… you always had the best of intention.  

Robert Bateman: Especially the pack horse trip.  

John Bateman: Oh yeah, for sure. But yeah, for me, I couldn’t explain it. And I don’t think, even back then I really knew what anxiety was so… 

Robert Bateman: It’s a great unknown.  

John Bateman: Yeah. So many people also, they are experiencing anxiety and they don’t have a clue what it is. They don’t have a name for it. And those people that are like that, that frustrated me, just frustrate me. And so, what I wonder about you as we go further into me growing up, you growing up, getting older, I presume you still have anxiety about the same things. Like, being older now, I definitely get anxiety if I’m going and getting medical tests done. Imaging done or whatever. Did you?  

Robert Bateman: Less so with me.  

John Bateman: Okay. So that’s what I’m curious about. Why would that be? How do you approach that? Let’s say you go and get a full… or whatever it is, a CT scan, and they don’t know what it is and looking for something and there’s something wrong. Where does your mind go before you get it? And then where does your mind go while you’re waiting for that period of time when you get the results?  

Robert Bateman: I try to change the topic is one thing. 

John Bateman: Right? Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And not linger on it. And somewhere or other, I read a little book like the one Uncle Frank gave, I can’t remember the title or the author, but you deal with now. It’s the power of now, I guess there’s a whole book on that. Name slipped my mind. Yesterday is over. It’s too late. 

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, and it may not. It likely will happen just fine.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And so, the only thing of real interest is how are you handling it right now? And to me that’s a sensible approach, just deal with now.  

John Bateman: Very sensible. And it sounds like you probably adopted that pretty early in life. Because…  

Robert Bateman: If you count… if you mean thirties… 

John Bateman: Sure. Totally. Yeah, because what you’re talking about, there’s a couple of the cognitive behavioral therapy thought traps involved there, and I’m not here to teach you about what they are … I’m not because I just have a title. I just have a name for it. And you just have the way that you lived. Because you talk about tomorrow not being… it’s probably not going to be terrible. Me, okay, not so much now because I practice it, I do what’s called catastrophizing. I just assume the worst and I get myself in this… 

Robert Bateman: You still do? 

John Bateman: Well, no. I’ve been working on it, and it takes… Working on these thought processes is a lot because anxiety comes from nothing else but the way we think, generally. There’s physical things that can cause it, but in general it’s the way we perceive moments in our life. And so, you talking about being in the now… There’s fortune telling, which is trying to predict the future. That’s another thought trap, which you don’t do. You’re not sitting there, you’re sitting in the now, you’re not living in the future trying to predict the future, which I do. And when I, or which I did, and I try not to do, what I also do when I’m predicting the future is I predict the worst, which is catastrophizing.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah. Just keep holding that thought because these things may slip out my mind. So, I try not to wallow in the “what if the worst happens.” 

John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: That’s a mug’s game. 

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: No good, whatever. So, I try not to wallow in what could happen that could be bad. And just primarily, as I said, deal with the now, but I think about the future and make the proper plans for it. And I know what paintings I’m going to work on. I know what I’m going to be doing this summer and I’ve got a calendar that has all kinds of detail…  

John Bateman: So, you find that planning your life out that way… I’ve always known you to have what we would call the five-year calendar.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah. 

John Bateman: Probably not so much now. Maybe it’s down to a four-year calendar… but yeah, I would call you up and, I would want to know what you’re doing next week, and you would know what you’re doing in three years. 

Robert Bateman: In general terms. But don’t forget, I’m the patriarch.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Okay.  

Robert Bateman: I got two younger brothers.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: I’m the oldest one and I’ve always been the patriarch or the leader in a sense. So, where are we going to go for the hike or… 

John Bateman: Yeah. And that gives you a definite sense of control within yourself too. 

Robert Bateman: And confidence.  

John Bateman: It’s interesting riding that line between living in the now, but then giving yourself a sense of peace or security by also doing this planning for the future. Deciding where you’re going to be, in five days. Because I’m the same way. It’s comforting for me to know what I’m going to be doing tomorrow. I thrive on routine.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah.  

John Bateman: That’s why I like to plan my days out. I hadn’t always done that, and it certainly didn’t work for me.  

Robert Bateman: You say you had not always done that.  

John Bateman: No. No.  

Robert Bateman: Okay.  

John Bateman: Because my anxiety compared to the kind of anxiety you’ve experienced, which I consider to be a healthy, normal… you know, human being chased by the tiger, the tiger stops chasing you, your anxiety’s over, kind of thing. And mine is more, it just turns into ruminating, cyclical thinking, and it becomes what I consider to be life changing. It affects my daily life, and that’s really hard. And the trick is to get out of that, and that’s where cognitive behavioral therapies help me. You told me about this technique that you use to almost like schedule a time to worry or, put off worry until the next day.  

Robert Bateman: Oh, yeah. Yeah.  

John Bateman: Yeah. What was that?  

Robert Bateman: It might have been in some of the reading that somebody gave me that, okay, this may be worth worrying about. And it might be a doctor’s appointment or a dentist appointment, something like that. But I don’t need to worry about it right this minute.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: I’ll postpone it.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And all of us are good at postponing stuff.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Procrastinating. Yeah. 

Robert Bateman: Procrastinating. Except worry.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And if you could get the secret, whoever is out there, get the secret of that, of actually doing it.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: Okay, this may be worth worrying about, it may not be worth worrying about it either… but I won’t worry about it just now. 

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: I’ll worry about it maybe next week at this time. I’ll give myself permission to worry about it.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And then next week rolls around, of course…  

John Bateman: It’s amazing to me because you taught me all these things when I was younger and going through worry, and I think I was probably too deep into it to really make it work. 

Robert Bateman: Sure.  

John Bateman: One of the curses of anxiety is it’s really hard to work on it when you’re right in the middle of it.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah.  

John Bateman: People say that meditating is good for anxiety, it’s good for anxiety when you don’t have anxiety. It gives you the opportunity to reset your system to not get as anxious. But what you’re talking about again is what is taught to people about scheduling a time to worry. And I started doing that and it’s [a] really interesting phenomenon because if I’m worried about something, I’ll tell myself, okay. At 7:00 PM I’m going to sit down and I’m going to really concentrate on worrying about this. 

Robert Bateman: You say that? 

John Bateman: Oh yeah.  

Robert Bateman: That sounds good.  

John Bateman: Oh, yeah. And when you do, it’s almost impossible to worry. As a matter of fact, it becomes folly. It almost becomes a comedy. One of the things that… this is one part I really wanted to touch on because I think it’s a really important thing. And as you know when I was young, you and I had some conflict brought on by me being often, 5, 6, 7, 8, teenager and I was like that. But when I would be in some level of conflict in my life and whatever it would happen to be, whether I was going to get into an argument with somebody… Usually, if it’s interpersonal, a lot of people get into interpersonal anxiety. You know “uh oh I have to go and talk to this person about that” or “uh oh, this person doesn’t agree with me about that.” And then that leads to anxiety. One of the things you told me, and I think it’s a really important thing, and I use it all day, every day almost, is when you find yourself at a point of conflict like that, and it can be, it could be applied to almost anything about anxiety… Like if you find yourself worried about flying, what you would tell me is quickly think, is this a hill I want to die on? And that’s been key in turning my viewpoint around and in avoiding those conflicts that provoke anxiety. The reason that works so much for me is because it makes me instantly do a quick sweep of what my base principles are. What’s really important to me. So, if you’re using that analogy of a hill to die on, you don’t… 

Robert Bateman: Can I elaborate on that?  

John Bateman: For sure. I would love you to.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah. It comes from the Civil War, and I believe it was Ulysses S. Grant, and he was the side that happened to win, the North. And he was fighting the South. And the southern army had this hill that they had established their base on. And Grant looked around and he looked at the hill and he saw there’d be a lot of losses of his troops and probably the southern troops also, if he tried to take the hill. 

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: Why take the hill? He said that is not a hill to die on.  

John Bateman: Exactly.  

Robert Bateman: Forget about it! 

John Bateman: Yeah. And when I would all of a sudden scan and establish what my baseline is for what my hill to die on is, basically, fundamentally my hill to die on is anybody harming my family or friends. That’s kind of it.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah.  

John Bateman: Anything aside from that really doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t like the color of my shirt or you don’t like my opinion on a specific subject, is that a hill to die on? Not at all.  

Robert Bateman: No.  

John Bateman: A second really important piece to that thought process that you taught me was if I decide that’s a hill, I’m going to die on, quickly think about how I imagine it turning out or what I imagine the result being. What was that… you had something, a saying, for that.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah. Yeah. I used to say this to my mom all the time. And my mom… forgive me, my mom was a nag and she had opinions on things like hair length… 

John Bateman: Oh yeah. Of course.  

Robert Bateman: Yours was a little bit longer according to my mom.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And mine is from time to time. And my brother, my youngest brother Ross would… she felt he always needed a haircut. And she would nag him about it, I call it nagging because she’d just keep at him.  

John Bateman: Yeah. 

Robert Bateman: About his hair being over his collar, et cetera, et cetera. And I would say, mom, you know how this is going to turn out. You’re going to say something, he’s going to say something back, you’re going to say something to get back at him. And the tension is going… 

John Bateman: Yeah, they’re both getting elevated.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah, and they’re both getting madder and madder at each other, and then he’s going to walk out of the room and slam the door.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And the same with my middle brother Jack.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: He also, this is how he dealt with things, was to walk out and often slammed the door. So, my question would be, how do you want this to turn out? 

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: Do you want to have a fight? And walking out and slamming the door. Because experiences told you that is how this argument about the haircut. It’s not going to have anything to do with a haircut. It’s going to end with him walking out and slamming the door. Is that how you want it to turn out? 

John Bateman: Exactly. And then of course all the fallout from that… it’s interesting, especially with families, you end up going through these same cycles over and over again, whether you want to or not. 

Robert Bateman: From experience, let’s be realistic.  

John Bateman: And I certainly did that too, and I’ve stopped doing that because just like you say, it wasn’t the hill that I wanted to die on it. And I know what the results would be. It’s not worth it.  

Robert Bateman: And you got a couple kids, One in particular…  

John Bateman: Yeah. Oh, for sure, of course. But yeah, once I started learning cognitive behavioral therapy, it just has really floored me that all the advice that my dad gave me throughout the years was really bang on. And I think that that’s really why you didn’t go down… the way you think, when events happen, that didn’t send you down, spiraling down a rabbit hole. So, it’s pretty amazing.  

Robert Bateman: Yeah. It took working on, and again, me being, I guess me being the… not the alpha male, but the older guy… 

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And I had a fabulous relationship with my mom, your granny.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And we would have long talks and I would give her advice until the cows came home, which I think was always good advice. And she would often take it.  

John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: And so, I’ve been… demographically I’m in a privileged position just because I was the older son and brother, et cetera, cetera.  

John Bateman: Yeah.  

Robert Bateman: I’ve had to take a position of responsibility.  

John Bateman: Yeah. I’m really happy that you agreed to take the time to talk about this with me, because it’s a really important thing for me, in what I do. So yeah, thanks Dad, for talking to me and taking the time. I really appreciate it. 

Robert Bateman: Anytime.  

John Bateman: Don’t say that.  

Robert Bateman: Oh yeah, absolutely. Of course, I like talking with you all the time anyway, but I like talking about issues that have some kind of meaning too. 

John Bateman: For sure. And you talking about it, it’ll help a lot of people. 

Robert Bateman: Wow.  

John Bateman: Yeah,  

Robert Bateman: That would be a bonus.  

John Bateman: Okay.  

Robert Bateman: Gratifying.  

John Bateman: Thanks dad.  

Robert Bateman: Thank you. 

Outro: Thank you for listening to #OurAnxietyStories. If you’d like to support this podcast or Anxiety Canada, go to AnxietyCanada.com.