Putting Panic in Remission with Tom Power
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Recovery, Treatment, Exposure Therapy, Facing Fears,
About the episode
Did you know that panic attacks can cause physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations—and even be mistaken for a medical emergency?
In this episode of #OurAnxietyStories, Tom Power shares his journey with anxiety—something he didn’t realize he struggled with until his adult years. Tom recalls a terrifying incident in his mid-twenties at a social gathering where he thought he had a heart attack. “All I could think about was, what is happening to me?” Tom shares, “Why am I feeling this way? Am I having a heart attack? Am I having a stroke? What is going on?”
Tom sought medical attention only to learn it was a panic attack. He was also diagnosed with panic disorder. In this episode, Tom reflects on several instances of anxiety in his life, including at the dentist and the grocery store, and while interviewing Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro.
With therapy, lifestyle changes, and self-reflection, Tom has done the work to put his panic “in remission.” He now recognizes that experiencing the unlikely catastrophe of losing his father to an illness after only 4-5 months, along with several other personal and professional life changes, fueled negative thinking patterns.
Through exposure therapy, Tom learned that panic attacks only last so long and he can get through them—an invaluable lesson that has helped him until this day. Anxiety is still present in Tom’s life, but he shares that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), limiting substances like cannabis and alcohol, and daily meditation has helped him manage it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a panic attack, it’s important to remember that you are not in danger. If experiencing chest pain during a panic attack, know that it is simply a result of muscle tension (part of our body’s natural “fight-flight-freeze” response). To learn more about panic, check out HeretoHelp BC’s resource on Panic Disorder.
About the guest
Tom Power is an award-winning Canadian musician and broadcaster. He is known for his work hosting the CBC Radio One program “Q,” where he interviews established guests and discusses arts, culture, and current events.
"In the middle of the interview, I texted [my co-worker] and I said, 'I’m having a panic attack. I can’t keep going, I can’t stop. I can’t keep going.'"
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.
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: You’re listening to Our Anxiety Stories, the Anxiety Canada podcast. I’m John Bateman. The podcast can be found at AnxietyCanada.com/OurAnxietyStories or any of your popular podcast platforms. Tom Powers, a Canadian musician and broadcaster, previously host of Deep Roots and Radio 2 Morning on CBC Radio 2, in August, 2016, he was named as permanent host of q on CBC Radio one. Welcome, Tom.
Tom Power: Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. It’s nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
John Bateman: It’s a pleasure to have you here. Tom, as I kick off all my podcasts, what’s your anxiety story?
Tom Power: Well, when I was 24, I think I was 24, a bunch of things happened to me at the same time. One is that my father passed away after a very brief illness, will say about four or five months. At the same time, I got a new job, as you mentioned, as the host of Radio 2 Morning. I was a touring musician before that and I was hosting Deep Roots, but I was mainly touring and playing music. And then after that, maybe a couple of months later, I had to move to Toronto, away from St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I’m from, so a tremendous amount of change, if you can really think about it, a tremendous amount of change at one time.
I mean, the biggest, obviously, is losing my dad, was my buddy and I loved him and a real attachment figure for me. A lifestyle change because not only I was going from touring and playing a lot of music to having more of a job and not just a job, but a job that started at 5:00 in the morning. I often say I went from going to bed at 5:00 in the morning to waking up at 5:00 in the morning.
And then, leaving my hometown, which I was a big part of the community there and I felt a really big part of the province. I had to move to Toronto, where I didn’t know. I moved away from my partner, my girlfriend, and there’s a lot of changes happened at once. And of course, I had no language about how to deal with any of that.
So then when I was 28, it’s funny. I don’t actually talk about it. I’m sure people say that to you all the time, “I don’t ever talk about this.” But when I was 27 or 28, I want to say, I was at my birthday party, which I decided to have back in St. John’s. I was home for a gig or something like that. This was before I hosted q and on my 28th birthday, I decided to have a birthday party at a bowling alley in St. John’s. And I remember, it’s funny, I was thinking about this this morning because I knew I was going to talk to you and I haven’t talked about it in so long. I don’t know if I’ve ever really talked about what actually happened.
I remember having this overwhelming feeling that I thought I might be having a heart attack or I might be having a stroke, but I couldn’t figure out what it was like. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t be present in the party. All I could think about was, “What is happening to me? Why am I feeling this way? Am I having a heart attack? Am I having a stroke? What is going on?” To the point where I asked my partner to go outside with me and I said, “I can’t go back in there. I can’t go back in there.” And she said, “Well, why not?” And I said, “I don’t know.” I said, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on with me.” She said, “Maybe you’re going to get a cold. Maybe you’re getting a cold.” And I went, “Yeah, maybe I’m getting a …” because I’ll tell you.
John Bateman: If only. Yeah.
Tom Power: I had no language for what was happening to me. I didn’t know what anxiety really was. I didn’t know what any of the stuff was, and think about this. I wasn’t exactly working in an unprogressive place. I was working at CBC for a long time at this point and never had it. I had no idea what it was.
So anyway, so the next day I wake up and the maybe I have a cold thing puts it a bay for a little while and I was able to enjoy myself. And then when I woke up and I still didn’t have a cold, I said, “Well, I don’t know what’s going on,” but I was also hungover and I was trying to figure it out. I remember sitting at the dinner table with my mom and my family and again, I felt this feeling that I was going to have a stroke or I was having a heart attack. And as you know, the difference your brain feels between, “I think I’m having a heart attack,” and “I’m having a heart attack,” are the same thing. In my mind, the panic I was dealing was the same thing.
John Bateman: Yeah, for sure.
Tom Power: So I went to the hospital and mom was like, “We should go to the hospital.” We went in, my heart rate was just through the roof. I remember they attached the electrodes in and I was through the roof. The doctor came in and they were like, “We don’t know what’s going on.” And then finally, the doctor came in and I was preparing to have open heart surgery at 20 years.
John Bateman: Of course.
Tom Power: I was planning on being put on … I remember the doctor came in and actually to do … I hate to say this, but it was gruff because he had been dealing with a lot and the Newfoundland healthcare system was overworked and no shame to him. But he said, “You got anxiety. That’s all it is. Talk to somebody or take these,” and he gave me Ativan.
John Bateman: Of course. Yeah.
Tom Power: And I took Ativan for a little while and then I was like, “Okay, this seems to be working,” so then I went to see my GP while I was home and he couldn’t really help me out and he would just say, “Well, take the Ativan and try to relax.” And then when I got back to Toronto, I went to my doctor and my GP and I said, “I think I’d like to talk to somebody. I think that might be the thing to do. I’ve heard that that’s the thing to do with anxiety.”
But in my mind, I never wanted to talk to somebody because I thought that in my mind, it was very unlikely that someone who did not come from a journalism background, a media background, or even a professional arts background would’ve found himself in the situation that I was in. And I figured whatever I had, I had to preserve and I was worried that going to see a therapist would take away something that made me me, whether it’s my sense of humor, whether…
John Bateman: Right.
Tom Power: We hear that all the time. I hear that all the time, even now from people. So anyway, I was encouraged by some friends who I talk, I mean it took a long time, but I was encouraged by some friends who said, “No, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be good. You should try it. You should try it,” and I agreed to try it. I’ve stayed with the same therapist ever since.
John Bateman: Amazing.
Tom Power: And I was quickly diagnosed with panic disorder. I guess because my dad had died so quickly, the time from diagnosis to death so quickly at such a tender age, had given me the idea, the veil was lifted that the odds are… I think about that all the time when people say, “Well, Tom, the odd are that that’s not going to happen.”
That doesn’t mean anything to me because the odds are that I was going to get this show are infinitesimally small, the odds are that my dad was going to die in five months or at such a young age or infinitesimally small, so the odds don’t mean anything to me. I was diagnosed with panic disorder and then through treatment, I was able to get treatment, and I’m sure you’re curious about what that treatment looks like. What I was–
John Bateman: I will be, yeah.
Tom Power: And through various treatments, I was able to put that panic disorder into remission, I would say, in about 8 to 12 months after that. And then after that, it’s an ongoing thing, but I’ve been feeling really good. It still crops up every now and then, not panic, I don’t really have panic attacks anymore, but anxiety still crops up every now and then.
John Bateman: Yeah. So previous to this, like you say, you were performing, I’m always curious about people. I’ve interviewed broadcasters and people who are on TV and do a lot of public speaking, that kind of thing, but they still have this anxiety issue. But you didn’t feel anything previous to that, previous to, let’s say the age of 24?
Tom Power: Yeah. No, not before my dad died, except for once. I realized, I don’t know if you had this experience, but I realized that I had a panic attack when I was about 24, 25, but I had no idea what it was. I didn’t know what I had. I remember being in my house in St. John’s and my roommate had left a glass of water out on the table and I was so thirsty when I got home, I just drank it and my brain started telling me, “That’s cleaning solution. That’s Vim. That’s Genevex or something like that.” I remember sitting down and starting to come to peace with it, being like, “Well, I’m going to die. I’m just going to …”
John Bateman: Yeah. Yep.
Tom Power: And I realized that this was the same time my dad was dying, but I didn’t know what it was. When I told my therapist the story, she was like, “Yeah, that’s a goddamn panic attack. You had a panic attack. You started to …” But yeah, so I think I did start, but nothing before 24, no history of anxiety attacks whatsoever.
John Bateman: It just goes to show that… I bump into a lot of people who, like you, it’s out of the blue at this age. I talk to a majority of people who had panic at a younger age. It started at a younger age. Me, it started at age five, been a long time, but it wasn’t panic. It was anxiety in a different guise. My first panic attack might’ve been 11 years old or something like that. And I remember, we could probably describe it and we would describe the exact same experience. Mine was the same thing. Where I was, I had to get out of and excuse myself from that situation.
Tom Power: Isn’t it powerful when you realize you can just stay there?
John Bateman: Yeah, exactly. Oh my gosh, there’s so much. There’s so much power in … I want to get into your coping or what … I think counseling is a great idea. I have a quick question about the Ativan because I talk about medication a lot. I’ve been on and off different medications my whole life. Is Ativan, it’s a benzodiazepine, pretty addictive. It was never really a big issue for you, taking that as you needed to?
Tom Power: I only took it for I’d say about three or four weeks and I was anxious about that.
John Bateman: That’s probably healthy. That’s a healthy anxiety right there.
Tom Power: Yeah.
John Bateman: You were talking about …
Tom Power: Yeah, that was adaptive anxiety.
John Bateman: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Tom Power: And you know what? I want to point out what I’m about to say was the wrong mentality, but at the time I was very resistant to the idea of taking any antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
John Bateman: Yeah. That’s completely common. Yeah.
Tom Power: But I just want to make sure I say out loud that I was wrong about that. People in my life have benefited greatly from it, and miraculously, some people very close to me, miraculously … But no, I never had any issues. I think in my late 20s I started smoking a lot of weed, I think, in the nighttime, because I was doing these morning shows, so I was 4:00 or 5:00 AM start of day and then you’re off work at noon and you’re in your 20s and everyone’s going out and you can’t go out. You know what I mean? It was a way to just turn the brain off a little bit. I was smoking a little bit, maybe too much weed. And as we all know, that can also, as they say, they don’t prescribe cannabis for anxiety so that doesn’t help me too much either.
John Bateman: Although a lot of people do self prescribe cannabis for anxiety. I’ve found, in my experience, talking with people, I had a bad trip on weed maybe 12 years ago and I didn’t touch it since. And I’m not preaching to people that you shouldn’t do weed. All I would preach to people is just be aware of how it’s affecting you. There’s some people who take it and it helps their anxiety great deal and there’s some people who take it and it exacerbates their anxiety a great deal. It just seems so unique to the chemistry that’s going on.
Tom Power: You’re absolutely right. I think that it has been helpful for some people in my life. I think there exists a narrative that it’s a wonder drug when it comes to this kind of stuff so that people who are having a bad time with it, they think that there might be something wrong with them or they think that they might have a problem, or not that they have a problem, but that they may not be having the positive effect that everyone else is talking about, so what’s wrong with me?
I think I did that for a really long time and it was only when I stopped smoking as much weed that did I realize what I was actually doing, which was … make my brain in the nighttime so I wouldn’t have to think about anything.
John Bateman: Yeah. I’d like to dig in a little bit to your process of learning to cope with the anxiety, because that’s one thing I don’t hasten to tell people, but I’m always cautious to tell people because I think this is true. You shouldn’t look for a cure for anxiety. It’s like looking for a cure for happiness or a cure for jealousy or cure for any of these basic emotions we have, but I’m curious about what your process was in gaining some control over it.
Tom Power: I was able to put the panic disorder in remission. You’re right. I was able to put the panic disorder in remission. The most profound way I was able to do that was through CBT, was through cognitive behavioral therapy through my therapist, who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. I was learning about the idea that there were factors that were, and I’m going to butcher this, but there are factors that are causing my emotions to be anxious or causing the emotion of anxiety, which then lead to the thoughts of anxiety.
And what I was able to do was through some lifestyle changes, but also through acceptance, we did a lot of, I don’t know if you did this, we did a lot of exposure therapies. I would sit in a room and I remember I had a panic attack in the dentist chair one time. I had a panic attack when I was given, I guess people would call it Novocain, but whatever it is, the stuff that deadens your mouth. Because I had health anxiety, what we did was we sat in the room and I put the Novocain in the room with her and we just induced a panic attack.
John Bateman: And did you successfully induce one?
Tom Power: Yeah, a couple of them.
John Bateman: Wow. That’s amazing because one of the things that I’ve learned, and I’m a CBT person as well. One of the things that I learned to do with my anxiety was I would schedule it and I’m like you. I’m health anxiety. I was definitely more health anxiety issue than I am now, but learning to cope, learning to have these thoughts, these negative thoughts, and then process them in a healthy way is certainly a big part of it. But I found that scheduling, I would schedule to have anxiety and it never worked. It never worked. It was like trying to enforce yourself to go to sleep.
I would sit here and go, “All right, I scheduled between 12:00 and 12:30 in the afternoon,” and I would sit there and I’d be like, “Oh, I can’t get anxious.” No matter what I was worried about, I just couldn’t, but you managed. Do you think yours was induced by physical sensation?
Tom Power: Yeah.
John Bateman: That’s what it was. It was the actual physical sensation of the Novocain.
Tom Power: Yeah. We did exposures like that. Those were certainly the easiest to induce. We used the Novocain in the mouth and that would … I remember sitting in the room and looking at my therapist and I would have to use numbers. I would say, “Okay. I’m at a three now and then I’m at a four and then a five and then a six.” And I remember we did it a couple of times. We did it one time with a tight scarf. We did that at one point. We did another one, something involving pretzel. Yeah, I ate pretzels so my mouth was really dry and I couldn’t get any … That was the most fun one because I got to eat all the pretzels because really just an excuse to … I didn’t have anxiety. I just wanted to eat pretzels in front of a medical professional, a dream of mine since I was a child. I made the whole thing up just so I could have someone watch me eat pretzels.
John Bateman: Yeah, yeah. That’s your thing.
Tom Power: That’s my thing. So anyway, I remember the moment. I can picture the moment that I had the panic attack in her office and I remember her just going, “Right. It’s happening right now.” And I was like, “Yeah,” and I was like, “8, 9, 10, 10, 10. These are numbers. And then she was like, “Cool, cool. Sit, hang out, hang out. It’s okay. Try not to drink any water. Just hang out. Just keep on saying the number.” I was like, “10, 10.” And then eventually it was, “8, 6,” and then it went to 4. She’s incredible. After it was over, after I was down to a 2 or a 1, she had timed it. She said, “Just to let you know from the time you started to exhibit the panic symptoms to the time that you told me they had abated was about six and a half minutes.” She said, “Can you do six and a half minutes of a panic attack?” And I went, “Yeah.”
She said, “It’s only six minutes so if you start having a panic attack, just go like, ‘Hey, in six minutes this is going to be over so I just got to sit through it.’
John Bateman: I think that’s such a powerful piece of advice.
Tom Power: Yeah. It was incredible. Just, can you do six minutes? It’s just six minutes. You’re not going to die. I remember being in the grocery store a couple of days later and back then, anything could trigger. You know what it’s like, right?
John Bateman: Oh, yeah. Sometimes nothing.
Tom Power: Yeah. I was in the grocery store and I remember I went from the bread aisle to the frozen food aisle. My guess is the temperature change triggered something in me. It’s not logical and I don’t blame myself. I started to have a panic attack in the grocery store and then I just, “Oh, six minutes. I just got to wait six minutes.” And it was hard, but I didn’t leave.
John Bateman: You didn’t, yeah.
Tom Power: I looked at my partner and I said, “Hey, I’m just having a panic attack right now.” And she knew not to check on me or hug me. She knew that her response had to be like, “Oh, cool,” whereas I’m sure on the inside she was like, “What?”
John Bateman: I guess that helps, for lack of a better term, trivializing it to a degree because ultimately, panic attacks really are, when you break down to the fundamental, pretty trivial and they often come from very trivial triggers, like you say, a temperature change. Mine would just seemingly arise out of nothing and I started taking to, and unfortunately, way too recently, that I started really, but it was because of cognitive behavioral therapy, thinking my way around it and thinking my way past the incident.
So, I’m having a panic attack now and in a short period of time, it’s going to be gone and then I’ll fall back asleep or whatever and then I’ll get on with my day. And it’s amazing how powerful that is in terms of just rationalizing with yourself.
Tom Power: And paying attention to your body. I remember during when I would have a panic attack, I would go like, “Oh, my lungs are starting to feel this way and my shoulders are starting to feel a little bit …” That’s maybe the most profound thing that happened. My shoulders are starting to feel a little bit tingly and my legs are starting to feel tingly.
John Bateman: Isn’t that great if you are prone to thinking you’re having a heart attack, too? Panic attacks and heart attacks, they can feel so similar.
Tom Power: But by being mindful of my body, I was able to put that stuff away a little bit. That happened for a while. I was doing pretty good for a while. Then I got Q and when I got Q, it sent me down a pretty bad spiral again.
John Bateman: Interesting.
Tom Power: Yeah. Well, I had gone from relative obscurity on Radio 2. I mean, I always loved it because anyone who heard of me liked the show, but most people hadn’t.
John Bateman: Right.
Tom Power: I didn’t have to worry about anyone not liking the show because you either didn’t listen to it or you liked the show.
John Bateman: Yeah. Exactly.
Tom Power: Small, mighty crew of nerds.
John Bateman: But now you’re open to everybody and you’re open to historically some big shoes.
Tom Power: You’re right about that. And open to public admonishment and public criticism and becoming a symbol and becoming … I felt this incredible burden. I felt this incredible pressure. And more than anything, I was checking the internet a lot. I was checking Twitter a lot. I was checking Twitter a lot to see… and people were very unkind or people were really, really kind and that was its own kind of pressure.
And I remember going into bed for two days, honest to God, not really getting out of bed and going to see my therapist and we worked through that. And I’ll tell you something now, here’s something. I ended up having a panic attack on air twice.
John Bateman: I was going to ask you that. Were you prepared for it? Because I don’t know how you function when you’re working. I’m sure there’s notes and stuff that you do have, but how did you navigate a panic attack on air?
Tom Power: First one was with the film director, Guillermo del Toro. That seems like such a long time ago now, but the film director of Guillermo del Toro. It’s funny. You can’t really tell.
Again, I learned that panic attacks weren’t going to be the end of the world and I was going to be able to get through it. We used to do this role-playing with my therapist where I would say, “What if I have a panic attack during the interview?”
And she’d say, “Well, then you say I’m having a panic attack during the interview. What’s the worst that can happen?”
And I was like, “Well, the worst that can happen is, uh, uh …” And she would say, “Go ahead.” And I would go, “I don’t know. Someone gets mad at me.”
She’s like, “Who’s going to get mad at you for having a panic attack?”
I would go, “You’re right.”
She’s like, “Just tell the guest you’re having a panic attack. They’re going to get it. And if they don’t get it, they can shag off.” I remember that just took to some of the stakes away.
Then, I had a panic attack during the interview and you can’t really tell. All I did was ask a question that didn’t mean anything. All I did was ask a stupid question. I just went, “What was that like?”
John Bateman: Yeah.
Tom Power: I think what I said was, we were talking about Frankenstein and I said, “You like Frankenstein?” And then I just gave myself a couple of minutes and paid attention to my body and paid attention–
John Bateman: And he cooperatively riffed on that for you?
Tom Power: He had no idea and he was fine.
John Bateman: Good. Yeah.
Tom Power: So that was fine. And then the second panic attack I had was far worse, which led to a second treatment plan in addition to CBT, which has been incredibly beneficial for me as well with these two together. See, I’m good at building suspense, eh?
John Bateman: Yeah, you are. Yeah.
Tom Power: Yeah, it’s been a good radio move there.
John Bateman: Yeah. Yeah. Excellent.
Tom Power: Just trying to get people to the next 15 minutes. I did this thing where … Do you know Matt Murphy from Halifax?
John Bateman: Yes, I do. Yeah. Matt Murphy was a band called Super Friends, perhaps?
Tom Power: Yeah. Matt was directing the show at the time. I remember being on the air and it was during the pandemic and I was back in Newfoundland and I was just stressed and I was dealing with a bunch of stuff and I was probably smoking weed again in the nighttime and probably not taking care of myself.
I remember going in and on the air and I was in the middle of an interview with Catherine Reitman, and she still doesn’t know this happened, that in the middle of the interview, I texted Matt and I said, “I’m having a panic attack. I can’t keep going, I can’t stop. I can’t keep going.”
John Bateman: So while you’re talking to her, you’re live and you’re simultaneously texting to your producer.
Tom Power: Yeah, I have to go. I’m having a panic attack. And he said, “Finish the interview, I’ll figure it out.” We had 20 minutes scheduled for the interview and I did about 8. And Matt just played music and I just got through it and after the show was over, I just left.
And then I talked to him and then I realized that CBT alone, while not also having a healthier lifestyle, was not to help me with my, now, mind you, was not going to help me and that’s when I made some pretty profound changes.
One is that I stopped smoking weed. I stopped smoking weed in the nighttime. I stopped drinking as much as I used to. I started making sure I was waking up at a reasonable hour every single day.
I would tend to wake up early for the show on Monday to Friday. I don’t have any kids so I would obvious sleep in a little bit on the weekends. I regulated my sleep. But the main thing I did, the biggest thing, next to CBT … CBT, I can’t recommend this enough just because I know people are probably listening to this wondering what I did. CBT, for me, was the greatest thing I ever did.
John Bateman: Yeah, me too. Me too.
Tom Power: After that was mindfulness and meditation. When my meditation entered my life, I’ve done it every day for two years now.
John Bateman: What does it look like for you?
Tom Power: I do traditional.
John Bateman: You’ll sit down?
Tom Power: I sit down every morning before the show for 20 to 30 minutes with a timer. I’ve done courses. I’ve done the whole thing. I use the 10% Happier app and I sit on this couch, actually, with my eyes closed with the timer. I do a couple of different versions of mindfulness meditation.
One is the traditional concentration insight meditation, which is where I pay attention to my breath. And if I have a thought, I go back to my breath and that’s been really, really useful in that that was the first thing I did.
I’ve also been really into what they call choiceless awareness, which is natural awareness, which I find really good for people with anxiety because it’s hard to explain. I mean, this is all hard to explain, but I can give you an example of it.
You’re paying attention to your breath and then you spend some time paying attention to the sounds around you, say the fan in the room or the noise outside, then you pay attention to any tingles in your body, how your body feels in that moment, any emotion you might feel.
You pay attention to your thoughts, you pay attention to your feet on the ground. You pay attention to each of these things individually. And then at one point you put them together and you just put your mind to anything that’s drawing your attention, whether that be your shoulder, whether that be a sound, whether that be … And all of a sudden, you realize that life is unfolding on its own and you are able to observe it as opposed to being caught up in it. That’s from a great professor at UCLA named Diana Winston. Her book, The Little Book of Being, was really useful to me and her meditations around that.
And then I also do loving kindness meditation, Metta, M-E-T-T-A meditation, which is the harder one to talk about, I find, but it’s in some ways it’s the more profound one. That is the wishing health and happiness and safety and peace to yourself, to people you love, to an individual person that you love, to an individual person that you hardly know, to an individual person who drives you crazy, and then to all–
John Bateman: Yeah. My sister started using that on me because we were still in the habit. We were adults of me going and poking her and trying to get a rise out of her and she would give me, “May you be filled with love and kindness.” And of course, that threw me into more of a rage.
Tom Power: I never said to the person … finally to myself. That sounds passive aggressive to me.
John Bateman: Yes, exactly. She said it to me to get me more wound up and it works. I do something similar that I learned. It’s the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, so it’s five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. You cycle through the senses and I use it quite a bit when I’m driving because I find that when I’m doing things where I’m going into what is more of a potentially stressful situation, hopefully you’re at the point with interviews where you’re not running into that with certain people coming in. I know I certainly would be, probably a little bit with this interviewing you because you are the benchmark interviewer in my books and I’m like, “Okay.”
Tom Power: It’s a low burn.
John Bateman: So I would do it if I was driving, traffic, getting keyed up, whatever, I cycle through that same kind of thing. I tried meditation, it didn’t work for me, but I think it’s really important that people try all these different things. And I think it’s a very important point that you, yes, CBT works, but it has to be supplemented and it’s circling back to the medication. I think medication is a must for so many people and it’s been a must many times for me in my life, but if you want long term success, it has to work in conjunction with other things.
Tom Power: I often say they’re not, whether it’s CBT or medication, they’re not vaccines against anxiety. They’re not vaccines against depression. It doesn’t mean then that you can do whatever you want. With CBT, it just gets me back to the level that everybody else is at and then I have to do the lifestyle things like everybody else has to do to ward off anxiety.
John Bateman: Right.
Tom Power: Yeah. And the meditation, I mean, I’m happy to tell you that since the meditation, and I also want to say that what meditation is different to everybody. To some people… it’s me sitting on a cushion counting my breaths and I get a lot out of that because it also helps me access the spiritual side of myself.
There’s a lot of different ways to do meditation and I highly recommend exploring some of these apps because they could teach you different ways to get into it that are not too snotty.
John Bateman: Yeah, and I feel that mindfulness is even a wider scope of things because the big example that my counselor would give to me would be to engage in mindfulness. The big one that they would say was washing the dishes, so how it feels on your hands, the texture of the water, the heat, all that kind of stuff, and you can really incorporate mindfulness in just about everything in your life.
Tom Power: Yeah, you really can. I’m happy to say that I haven’t had an incident since that day on air. I haven’t really had any panic since then and it’s made for a richer, not to say there haven’t been dark moments and not to say there haven’t been anxious moments and there still haven’t been nights of anxiety, but mindfulness has also allowed me to be aware of them.
Even just the other night I was here by myself and I started to feel a little bit of anxiety, but what I was able to do was realize that I was feeling anxiety. I didn’t think that I was going to die or I didn’t think that something bad was going to happen to me. I realized through mindfulness that what I was experiencing was anxiety.
John Bateman: Yeah, and sometimes it is just a physical experience and I find that a lot of people get trapped in chasing down what that feeling is caused by.
Tom Power: Oh, yeah. That’s big.
John Bateman: And when I’ve historically chased down what’s its cause, I’ve often grabbed the wrong thing and then I get into a ruminative state and there I am, having anxiety about something that just was triggered by the burrito I ate.
Tom Power: Plus, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.
John Bateman: It doesn’t.
Tom Power: It doesn’t matter. If a car is about to hit you, it doesn’t matter why you went into the middle of the street or why a car is about to hit you, what the drivers thinking… All that matters is that you’re getting about to get hit by a car and you got to get out of the way.
I find that with anxiety, I spent so much time trying to figure out why, whether it was about my dad dying or whether it was about anything. There’s a lot of factors. There’s a lot that goes into a life. There’s a lot of factors that probably have led to me having maybe a higher than other people case of anxiety.
I don’t even know if that’s true. I just think that I have had access to the privilege of working at the CBC to a really good healthcare package and that if everybody else in this country was able to get the same healthcare that I’m afforded, then a lot of people would realize what they’re experiencing, what they might be drinking through, what they might be getting through is actually anxiety or is actually depression.
The fact of the matter is it didn’t matter why I was having it. All that mattered is it was treated for me. All that mattered is that I was able to cope with it and treat it as opposed to trying to figure out why I had it.
John Bateman: I think it’s such an important point. It’s important to realize, to understand that why you’re having it at that moment for whatever trigger might have happened recently is important, but it’s also important to remember we get caught up in this culture of therapy and I believe 100% in therapy and I believe in going back in regression therapy, but I don’t believe that there’s necessarily always something. I had traumatic stuff in my childhood, too, and I talked about it to probably 10 different counselors and ultimately, it didn’t make a difference.
I think certainly mainstream media has played a part in the Goodwill Hunting. It’s not your fault, you’re all better, because that’s not true. That might happen once in a while, but I really think it’s what you’re talking about. It’s important to get into the structure of it and how it works and how to navigate around it and work with it rather than going in circles with what might have happened to you in the past.
Tom Power: I think that if you have experienced core shame or core guilt, I’ve been told that you can, by looking into your past and looking into some early attachment or some early childhood stuff, it can be very useful for you and it can help, but what it can do is help you be aware of the fact that you are experiencing something. You know what I mean? But at a certain point, especially when it comes to anxiety and depression, at a certain point you have to treat it.
John Bateman: Yeah.
Tom Power: And that’s what therapy has been really good for me, too. Yeah. I was under the impression also that therapy was, I was going to lie on a couch and someone was going to go, “So tell me a little bit about …” and they didn’t.
John Bateman: Yeah. That’s Hollywood, yeah.
Tom Power: Yeah. They said, let’s figure this out and here’s how the brain works and here’s what we’re going to be able to do and medication is an option and there’s nothing wrong with it if you want to do that, too. But again, I can’t stress enough and I’m going to be a broken record and I’m a broken record about this every single year. How did you know I had anxiety, by the way? Because of the show?
John Bateman: Yeah. It had been mentioned and I don’t know if you mentioned it on the show or it was … I’m always reading about anxiety and people with anxiety and once in a while people pop up that have a higher platform and that’s where–
Tom Power: That was intentional. I think back to that story I told you when I was going into the bowling alley and I didn’t know what it was. I just didn’t know what it was and I was 28.
I was grown up. I had worked at an incredibly progressive organization and I had worked in the arts my entire life. I was not surrounded by toughness. I was only ever surrounded by gentleness and understanding. I was raised by parents who were kind and generous and wonderful and understanding and I still didn’t have the language and I thought that going to therapy was going to mess me up.
So, I have tried in any way to just, in an interview whenever I can, just go, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah. I have a bit of that myself or I remember when I did this with myself,” and it’s been really useful and I’ve had people reach out to me and say that, “Yeah, I’m glad you’re talking about it because I’ve been feeling a bit that way myself.”
But I always say in the tweets or when people talk to me about it, I always want to make sure I’m clear about this. The reason, and I’m going to be a broken record and it has nothing to do with your show. The reason I was able to access treatment is because I have an insurance plan through the CBC, which allowed me to pay for cognitive behavioral therapy. And if we are serious about addressing the mental health crisis in the country, we have to ensure that all Canadians have access to the same mental health help that I did.
John Bateman: 100%. I’m with you on that 100%b because I feel like mental health is also, anxiety, depression is also a linchpin for a lot of other things that end up burdening the health system in general. I feel like education, and I feel like what’s really … It’s interesting. To me, one of the great things about when I started becoming transparent about my mental health issues is it really helped me, first of all. It took all the weight off my shoulders, but it also helped a lot of people. And what you do, of course, doing this show with me and mentioning on your show, goes a huge distance in really helping people because you said earlier you don’t know how many people are like you and I can vouch, by all the people I’ve spoken to, that there’s a lot like us, you and I.
And Tom, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about your experience and I’m really super happy for you that you’ve found a way to navigate through this and live with it and have a fulfilling life.
Tom Power: Oh, I appreciate that. I think this is really great work you’re doing here. I think it’s also great to be able to have an honest and have a laugh and joke around about it because that’s another thing. I find that sometimes even my own discussions around mental illness on the show can be mired in sort of this deep…
John Bateman: And it doesn’t need to be.
Tom Power: To be honest, very CBC sounding thing, to be honest. It’s apparently our fault.
John Bateman: Did you just put your deep, your CBC voice on?
Tom Power: So you’ve been experiencing anxiety? I was like, “This is a part of my life.” I have told that panic attack story on the air before in a jokey way. I’ve gotten laughs at bars with that story.
John Bateman: Yeah. You have to be able to do that and it’s an important element. Tom, thanks so much for taking the time to do this and all the best to you in the future.
Tom Power: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
John Bateman: Okay, take care.
Outro: Thank you for listening to #OurAnxietyStories. If you’d like to support this podcast or Anxiety Canada, go to AnxietyCanada.com.