From the top of North America’s rock music scene to the depths of depression, former Barenaked Ladies front-man, Steven Page, spoke to a group of 300 teachers, about his struggle with mental illness at the Upper Canada District School Board Small School Summit on Thursday, at NavCentre.
For Page, it all began around the time of the band’s second album in the early 90’s. The fear of failure or not being able to replicate the success of the first album was paralyzing to him, to the point of not being able to get out of bed.
“It became a pattern for me,” said Page. “It would be years of my brain telling me falsehoods about my own talent, my own personality, my own value as a person, feeling responsible for everything that went wrong within the band and then turning around and blaming it on everything else.”
Page said that for years, he did anything that he could to avoid dealing with what was going on inside his brain, rather than fighting it.
He was eventually diagnosed by his family physician with manic depression, what they now call bi-polar disorder, said Page.
He would be put on a regimen of anti-depressant and mood stabilizer, which he said, “made me fat and made me feel numb.” Although he was still able to play concerts and to continue with business, friendships, and so on, he “felt like a zombie.”
Although he doesn’t blame the doctors, at the time he didn’t realize that he could modify and change medications to suit his needs. Not enough was known at the time. He would even question the testing and diagnosis, he said.
“They can’t swab your cheek and arrive at a conclusion from there, of course, there’s lots of science but it’s an imprecise science, nobody knows the insides of your brains and your body better than you.”
Page says that he had been in and out of therapy for years, when in 2008 he was arrested for possession of drugs.
“And there’s my face on the cover of the National Post.”
Page says that the drug bust was just a “blip” in the grand scheme of his life. It was not who he was. It was just a way to medicate what was really going on.
“But it became who I was in the eyes of Canada. (It was) a huge source of shame for me, my children and family and band mates.”
Fearing that he wouldn’t be able to work again, Page would enter a rehab program and sought out a psychotherapist. “I took this very seriously and said ‘I need to work on myself because I know that there’s value there’,”
Page explained that he is speaking from place of depression, but he also deals with severe anxiety sometimes. “Maybe there is bi-polar,” he explains, “depressed (then) life of the party, spend thrift, reckless, temper tantrums, violence, irrationality… Enough until the people close to me didn’t feel comfortable around me.”
Newly married – to the woman he was arrested with – Page continues to receive help. “We see it as a triumph; we both took what was happening and took control to live the life that we deserve.”
Still today, Page struggles with mental illness. “I know what it feels like when it starts to come on.”
“I hate being sick, (but) what I do love and what I have learned in the last year and a half is that by sharing my story, I can help.”
Page also performed.
Seminars at the two-day event, entitled “Living Well: The Engaged Student,” included ABCs of the Body; Using a Circle to Build a Classroom; Fitness Found Early; Baby Steps for Teenagers – a Healthier Happier Life in 30 Days; and An Apple World of Possibilities – iPad Use in the Classroom.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist, Jennifer Botterill, a member of Canadian Women’s Hockey Team since 1997, also spoke at the event.