Neal Page and Tom Gilhuley of Panic Problem

We spoke with Neil Page and Tom Gilhuley of Panic Problem, a new pop punk band from Baltimore, Maryland – about bringing awareness to mental health issues. Through music. With their debut release “Just Calm Down” – they do just that.

But there seems to be more to their mission than awareness. Panic Problem, as you’ll find out in the text below, is a vessel for self-care. A release. A way to build friendships and an escape from the harsh realities of modern life. It is a personal rescue as much as it is a way to help others – after all, as Neil Page and Tom Gilhuley explain; they aren’t doctors. Just three lads rockin’ out and having a good time.

Panic Problem exists to play music with the goal of helping people who struggle with mental health issues deal with their day to day lives. To find understanding and a way to continue on as best as can be. My understanding of mental health struggles, through my own battles and those of the people close to me, is that it is a dark world. A somber and rugged terrain. Therefore, I asked the lads why it was that the band were battling the darkness with happy and upbeat music. And I got chewed up some for it. That’s fine; I try provoke opinions from others. To gain insight. So that others may also, and that was the case here.

“I’d like to challenge your question, or at least part of it, and I’d like to do that by asking a question. Why in the hell can’t mental illness, it’s challenges, conversations and treatment be upbeat? Say’s who?,” starts Page. “Why is it always presented as this sad, negative, ugly, spoken in hushed tones thing?” Suddenly I thought I may have crossed a line here. The questions were now tuned on me; and I didn’t have an answer. Why indeed? I had never really considered it or thought of this type of thing being anything but a black cloud that rained down from great heights.

“Does anyone’s mom weep when they say that they’re taking their car in for an oil change? When you go to the gym does anyone grab your shoulder and ask what did they do this time? Nope. That’s because we don’t talk about Mental Health treatment with the same connotations as taking your car to get it’s oil changed or the gym or walking the dog”, asserts Page. “I mean think about it. You go and do that exact same kind of activity but it’s just called group, or counseling or mood logs. Mood logs are officially the make sure to eat your vegetables of my therapy,” laughs Page. “The purpose of that stuff is to maintain your headspace and emotional health. To make sure they are running as optimal as they can be.”

Again I have no retort. This all makes perfect sense. Are we just accustomed, as a species, to think this way? That things are either black or white – never grey. You’re happy or you’re not. I was told once, many days back, that we influence and are influenced by every single person we spend time with. I’ve always found that an interesting thought. Perhaps we influence each other too much. And in the wrong ways. People strife too much to fit in, and in doing so, do we create a bubble where we must all act a certain way? I think so. People are too afraid not to be seen as on the same page. Thus we develop heard mentality.

“Here is a sentence for all the folks playing at home: “I take my ___ to the ___ to change my ___”. So how about “I take my brain to the therapist to change my thought distortions”. If you change brain, therapist and thought distortions to the words laundry, laundromat and dirty underwear, you get a standing ovation. But that first sentence with the therapist, oh boy we’re really talking about something dower and sad and horrible. Wrong. That example, that very thing I just ranted about is the very reason why so many people don’t seek help. We need to change the way we think and the way we color mental health and it’s associated resources.”

“So, I’ll ask again. Says who? Who decides that because I have some crap going on I’m therefore “this” or “that” or more importantly exclusively “this” or only that “that”? My GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) is at least a Neapolitan of batshit flavors. I think for myself, and maybe other folks, there are so many different thoughts, feelings, and expressions in that journey. Often times they happen simultaneously or a mix of blend.”

“So to directly answer your question now, in Panic Problem we keep this conversation fun. We can keep this conversation upbeat. So that’s why we play the stuff we play, because we like it. And that’s why we talk about Mental Health in pop punk songs because we want to talk about it. Punk rules. Let’s move on.” Now that I have been firmly sat in my place. I believe I have a better understanding. Of Page’s struggles and of my own as well.

“Well, with a topic so heavy it makes sense to keep it light … at least to me,” interjects Gilhuley. “And, it’s not like we’re trying to be doctors or therapists, we’re just dudes in a band that have some issues and write those feelings into some of our songs. And to be clear, not all our songs. It’s important to talk about not feeling great, being depressed, anxious, or whatever you may be
going through because it’s real. It’s real to us and it’s real to a whole lot of people. So, if we can write some songs that let other people know they’re not alone and someone is listening, maybe
it’s a tiny bit of hope, or help, or whatever you want it to be. And honestly, we’re all goofballs, so it’s not all doom and gloom. We deal with our own things in our own ways.”

“We talk about it in some of the songs and sometimes when hanging out, but we also make fun of each other, think ridiculous thoughts, drink many beers and we’ll most definitely include more ridiculous songs moving forward. I don’t think any of us want this band to be turned into some very serious thing where it’s all about the downside of life. That’s kinda how we are. Neal and I have our deals, Jeff is Jeff, but when we get together to write, rock or hang, it’s usually focused on the lighter side of things. Mental health issues are a big enough downer on their own, no need to make our band represent that side of things. I mean, Neal isn’t Bono or anything. Or, is he?”

See also : Panic Problem “Just Calm Down” Review 

According to the World Health Organization, One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Everyone undergoes their own personal battle with mental illness. I imagine it differs from one person to another. We all deal with things in different ways – its what differentiates us from the impending robot onslaught of the future. It is coming, you’ll see. I asked Page and Gilhuley what their experiences have been.

It’s an everyday thing but I have some tools now that it’s not so insurmountable or constant, starts Page. “Hard isn’t the exact right word at least for my shit. Anxiety is too sneaky to be hard.
It’s like spilling sand in your car it goes everywhere. You’re always cleaning your car. Just when you think you did a killer job cleaning it up, you find a little more. You missed a spot, or you have to clean the same place again. You might get it all but for the most part you just try the best you can and live with some sand in your car.”

“How have I dealt with it?” Page laughs, “that one is like the good the bad and the ugly. At this point now I like to think that I deal with it in constructive ways. There have been times that it’s been
destructive and mostly self-destructive. This is my advice,” shares Page. “No one, no matter how well intentioned, is a correct person to work on your mental health with you except you and an accredited mental health professional.”

“That means, your family, your friends, that snazzy shabby chic This Day needs More Wine wooden sign, and most importantly me. Screw me. I’m not a mental health expert for my own mental health let alone someone reading this. If you are reading this and for one moment wonder if seeking counseling or treatment or therapy etc might help you, go and check it out for yourself and screw everyone else, myself included. I’m gonna keep singing songs because we all need to have cool conversations like this one, but I’m not the guy for advice. Go talk to a professional that’s
literally their purpose. Oh, actually I have another piece of advice. If anyone is trying to dissuade you from talking to a professional politely tell that person to get bent and go speak to a professional.”

There goes any thoughts I once had about obtaining one of those Live, Love, Laugh prints they sell down at Wal-Mart then. And has anybody else notice how Page likes to compare things to cars?

“Well, it hasn’t been easy and frankly, still isn’t, but that’s life, says Gilhuley. “Some doctors, some meds, and all of that has helped me manage things. It also helps to have people around that you can say some shit to every now and then. Getting outside, listening to music, playing music – those are the things that work best for me. I’ve had some real shit days, but when I get to practice and the dudes just crack jokes or say some stupid shit. That definitely helps. I mean, we all say some really dumb shit. I recommend finding some idiot friends that you can say stupid stuff to. And if that’s not available, put in some headphones with good music and take a walk. It doesn’t have to be out in the woods or some magical nature walk. I live in the city, but walking around, zoning out to some music and pretending no one around me even exists definitely does the trick. Oh, and if you can get near water; a pier, beach, river, pond, whatever. Water is the key to relaxation and
releasing tension.”

Neal Page is quoted as saying  “I have battled with anxiety disorder my whole life and was finally diagnosed 8 years ago. There is a shame culture around mental health and that puts people who need help in some precarious positions”; in the albums press release. Unfortunately, shame culture is a reality for many humans on this planet. For so many reasons. None of them valid. People live to judge others. To poke fun at anything that isn’t the norm. Mental health among those people the normal take aim at.

I despise the word normal. Its dictionary definition is as follows; the usual, average, or typical state or condition. But as Page said earlier, says who? Who decides what the average is, or what the typical state is? That is a question more people need to be pondering.

“Even in 2020 people make fun of those with issues,” says Gilhuley. “Whether it’s a physical or mental issue, there’s always a target on your back. Sure, it’s getting better, but don’t forget the fucking dickhead, shamer-in-chief that’s currently occupying the White House. It’s garbage people like that that make it more difficult to speak out, be yourself and not feel ashamed because you’re different.”

“It is my opinion, that the topic of dealing with mental health head on is something that people are typically uncomfortable with,” says Page. “This is for a variety of reasons, and while I do believe
that those reasons are valid for the most part, however, they mustn’t get in the way of amplifying this serious issue. There is a litany of examples in pop culture. Movies, books, the news where the idea of seeking help for mental well-being is seen as something embarrassing. People often don’t share that they are seeking help to their work or their families. I mean I don’t really hear people casually asking at a barbecue about how their group is going. Like Hey Bill how’s the P90X thing going? There are extenuating circumstances and nuance to anything, so I understand there are a spectrum of experiences where it may not be prudent to speak that casually about it. There are, however, plenty, and I mean plenty, where that is perfectly fine. A person’s commitment to their own mental health should be celebrated and I think it’s about damn time to kick that party off.”

In the eight years since that diagnosis, things have surely changed. Although Tom Gilhuley was reluctant to discuss his reasons and path. Sighting that it was too personal to become common knowledge, Neil page was willing. At least a little. It was uncomfortable for him, too. Which goes to show how deep rooted mental health issue’s can really be. How much of a grasp they hold over us. And why it is so important to work on them.

“I’m not really comfortable discussing all of the details but I think what I can share is the bad days were so outnumbering to the good days,” explains Page. “I just got to a place where I had just had enough. I didn’t really recognize myself anymore. I didn’t like who I was. I wasn’t happy at all. I mean 100%. A friend of mine took me aside and told me about her “weird therapist”. I was super against it. She tried a few more times and after maybe three more times I finally accepted his phone number. I probably didn’t call him for another week or so. But again, enough bad days and what not and I just called him.”

“When I first went, I lost my shit. I crumbled. I made it through the first session and we agreed I had to go three days a week. I found out that some people went every day. Some people went like once a year etc. But that guy was and still is amazing. I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I still have bad days. I still get panic attacks. I still have mood swings. But those are now the exception not the rule. I also have some tools that I can choose to use when I have some “Stink’n Think’n” as my doctor always says.”

“I hope I can do for other people what my friend did for me. She sent me to a professional. I got the help I needed. I went from three days a week to once a month over the course of 8 years. I’m actually about to go back. Not for any particular reason but I just want to be my best for me. My path, my journey isn’t for everyone. It’s not a cookie cutter scenario. My way isn’t the only way and it won’t be for everyone. I just hope that if someone is seeking help they can find the voice to ask for it. I was lucky enough to find mine and it really saved me.”

Related : Jonathan Miller of Fire In The Radio

Punk rock has always been a forum where anything at all could be discussed. A limitless medium. Considering Panic Problem are a Pop Punk band, I felt there may have been a connection with another band that sang about mental health. On one track anyway. That being Green Day and their hit track, “Basket Case”. Green Day’s guitarist and vocalist,  Billie Joe Armstrong, said Basket Case is about his struggle with anxiety. Before he was diagnosed with a panic disorder years afterward, he thought he was going crazy. Armstrong commented that at the time, “The only way I could know what the hell was going on was to write a song about it.”

“That band is not everyone’s cup of tea. Which is fine that’s how opinions work,” exclaims Page. “For me Dookie and Basket Case specifically, was the album and the song that initially got me interested in Punk. I would not be doing what I am doing without them. That record and that song. I would be a liar if I told you anything other than that. And yeah, I think it did spark some conversation about Mental Health and a ton of other amazing subjects. I think that’s what we need more of so that was a good thing. I think there are lots of amazing songs out there about this but one of my all time favorite albums that I think does do a very good job about the struggle is “The Weight is a Gift” by Nada Surf. That album has some amazing references like really specific references. If I ever get the chance, I’d love to buy those dudes dinner just to talk to them about that record and what was going on to write those songs. So Nada Surf Fellas if you read this hit me up. Dinner is on me!” (I will be emailing this interview to the guys in Nada Surf for you then – Editor)

“Great song, states Gilhuley. “For me, I didn’t really pay attention to that song as a big mental health shout out, but I guess I can see that. Although, I’d be a bit surprised if they said they wrote that
song to be some sort of mental health anthem. I think it was just the angst of being in your 20s and feeling like life is shit and you’re losing your mind. I bet you’d be surprised at how many people have been through that without necessarily being someone who struggled with mental health on a larger scale. Punk rock song. Punk rock kinda topic.”

“And as far as other songs go, I think you mean, “Metal Health”, says Gilhuey, and from what I’ve heard, it’ll drive you mad. Was that a Quiet Riot antidote? It was! This interview now officially has covered all bases.

Six years ago, the world was shocked at the suicide of the great Robin Williams. One of the greatest comedians of his time. Williams had also been suffering from depression and anxiety. Few people other than those close to him would have known about his battles. His inner demons. Fewer still that he would end up taking his own life. They say that those that make others laugh most are the one’s who are suffering most. Silently. The sad clown paradox; the contradictory association between comedy and mental disorders. This echos back to Page’s opening debate. His statement that depression can be dealt with with upbeat  things. Comedy, laughter, Punk rock.

“Again, I’m not an expert,” says Page. “I don’t think my opinion is any more valid than anyone else’s. Additionally, I don’t think I have enough data to support some broad and sweeping statement. In other words, I don’t have an answer but man I wish I had one. I don’t know if there is a way to foresee and stop things like suicide. I hope, however, that if we work on dialogue and communication about these things, perhaps we can work towards a place where people don’t have to choose to suffer in silence or think that they can’t ask for help.”

“The depressed comedian is certainly a thing,” agrees Gilhuley, “but not sure I’d say they have the hardest of times. That’s not for me to judge. I think everyone has shit to deal with and unfortunately, a good portion of people have it tougher than others because of some strange things happening in their brains. As far as the other thing, if I think someone I know is going through some shit and needs an ear, I’ll simply ask them. I’m not going to nag them about it, but just let them know that they can reach out whenever and I’m cool with that. No need to make it feel heavy and weird. Again, we’re a punk rock band, not doctors. I could maybe play Dr. Trowbridge or Greenbaum, but that’s about it.”

We are currently living in very peculiar times. Where more people than ever are having hardships dealing with mental health issues due to isolation and social distancing. Nothing like this has ever happened in our lifetimes prior to now. This COVID-19 pandemic will have affected a large portion of the populous by the time it ends and we are finally clear to go about our lives again. The need for psychiatric help may spike when this ends. I would imagine that people who never considered their own mental health before may find themselves in a position where they are faced with it.

“I mean, to your point this is nothing like any of us, myself included, have ever experienced”, says Page. “I think if we can try to hold on the truth that while we may be isolating and distancing, we are not alone. It’s trite but it’s true there are many many people who want to hear from you and want to know how you’re doing. If you can find something that can give you a sense of togetherness or community use that and help foster it. Personally, I’ve been calling friends just trying to see how they are doing. I’ve reconnected with some old friends and it’s lovely.”

“I have moments of depression too don’t get me wrong. Like always, for me anyways it’s a seesaw. I think one thing I’ve tried to use, and again I’m not an expert but this personally works for me, is I try to remember that I once heard that anxiety is fostered from inaction and is diminished with action. So I try to get outside when I can or work on a hobby or project I’ve put down. Different things to keep myself occupied and moving as much as I can. I still get anxious but with the tools I’ve learned I can manage. I mean I think that’s what we’re all trying to do. Manage. Most importantly if you’re feeling blue, reach out. Just try your best and remember to give yourself a break. You’re not perfect and no one that really cares about you expects you to be.”

“Well, first off be stoked!” exclaims Gilhuley. “Like you said, we’re the only people who have had to deal with something like this. Hell yeah! No one like us! Woooo! Suck it baby boomers! Really though, this isolation shit sucks, but it’s necessary. I listen to scientists, not politicians, so therefore I believe it’s important for everyone to follow the mask rules and staying away from other people until we get over this. And, in the meantime focus on comedy. You have so much other time to watch those dramas and whatever, watch comedy, every damn day. Did you know
the entire Police Academy catalog is on Netflix?!”

“Also, think ridiculous thoughts and turn them into a song, or maybe dream up a new sitcom or sketch comedy show. You know all that stupid shit that happens and you’re like, “Oh, this is just
the same day as yesterday,” nope. It’s not. It may feel the same, but the new day brings more ridiculousness. If you do find yourself down (and, boy have I), try some of those other ideas I mentioned. Listen to music, go for a walk, go to the water. Take one step in the right direction and that’s something. You don’t have to solve all your problems at once or in the same day.”

“Finally, if you need to and don’t have anyone else around, you can call a help line. If anyone can lend a empathetic ear, it’s the good folks that work those lines. Oh, and listen to Panic Problem! It’s like a cure, but one you probably didn’t want in the first place.” See! Maybe you are doctors. Rock doctors. Puck rock surgeons. Who knew?

The brand new record, “Just Calm Down” is now available from Panic Problem. And it comes highly recommended. You can read about our thoughts on it here. Or you can go and listen to it yourself, perhaps obtain a copy on hot pick vinyl from Panic Problem’s bandcamp page.