Deren Ney

“No Plan B.”

That was the mantra for my band. Every time we weren’t sure if we should play it safe or double down, the conclusion was the same: Let’s go for it. Because whatever happened, we’d never break up. There was no Plan B.

That mantra got us through the years of sleeping on cold floors, torpedoing everything else in our lives to put everything into the band. When it finally took off, everything was worth it. The venues filled up, the tours got longer, the dream was really coming true. We beat the odds. The songs we worked so hard on were being heard and enjoyed by people. We played so well together after hundreds of shows in ways we always dreamed of playing in bands before this. So when some in the band wanted to take a break to deal with some personal stuff, everyone was more than understanding about it. We didn’t have to worry because in the long we’d return to this. Because there was no Plan B.

We each moved on to other projects. We stopped booking shows. We sold the bus trailer. We shuttered our storage unit. We put the merch in someone’s garage. We sold off the big road cases, the backup gear was put in the attic. Our group text thread went dead. But there was no farewell tour. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our fans. We didn’t say anything to our fans, because we never had that talk. We never even had the talk around the talk. Because we weren’t breaking up.

So I stayed in one place for a change. I started studying studio production with new fervor. I worked with other artists to learn new things. Moved into a house I turned into a studio and began making music left and right. Even singing my own songs for the first time. It was all La Croix and farmer’s markets and good living! This little hiatus was a good thing!

But my calm surface betrayed a turgid undertow beneath. I got anxiety in thick, pulsing waves. I would seize up in the middle of a crowded room, anxiety literally gripping my body, like a cold leather glove. I felt like I was looking over the edge of a building, all the time. As I remained placid on the exterior, my body was being pummeled constantly by anxiety ions that rattled through every pore. It manifested even worse physically when it triggered a severe outbreak of Psoriasis (a usually very minor skin condition which causes patches of dry, itchy skin) so bad that I had to back out of a tour weeks before it started because of the volume of my body suddenly covered in these red and white patches of dry skin. I was just about to go on the road in Europe with Birds of Chicago, one of my favorite bands, when suddenly my body began going haywire like a grade school science project because of it.

As the inflammation increased my joints ached so much it made chords difficult to play. I became depressed. I isolated. I indulged. I writhed in discomfort seemingly all day. As my hands hurt more my panic only increased.

Then one day I was sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office to look into my hands, contemplating my value as a human being if I can’t be a rock and roller, when someone sent me a link to a video of my bandmate’s new band. I knew it would make me a little wistful, but I was excited for them, totally confident that this was just a thing happening until we could resume Plan A again. But when I watched the video I was shocked to see the new band was playing our songs. The music I had given my life to, the music I was missing so much right now that my mind and body was declaring war on me at that very moment, was being played by imposters. Even though my band never broke up.

And it was in that moment that I realized what nobody had wanted to say: We hadn’t broken up. But Plan A was now Plan B.

It was a tough realization. Heartbreaking when made visceral like that. But it didn’t make me sad. It made me wake up. I had to stop waiting for a call that may never be made, and make the call myself. One of the most relieving moments of my life was to reach out to a loved one and say, I need help badly, I will try anything, I will go with the process instead of against it, and I will do what I need to do to get better. Within hours that process was underway, and what had been an absolute low in my life was suddenly a moment of hope, one I look back on fondly despite how sad it was at the time.

Since then, not everything was magically fixed, of course. But it is so much better. I got out of the worst of it. I learned with help a lot about myself. Getting real help I started realizing for the first time how much was in my control all that time when I felt the only force controlling my life was, “No Plan B.” Nowadays my only plan is trying to learn from the help I’ve been given and to ask for more when I need it, and to show gratitude along the way. Rather than cursing my luck, or my health, or anything else, I choose to see the best in things. Now rather than being bummed my band ended the way it did, I can smile to myself and say “Hey, at least we never broke up.”

-Deren Ney