Introducing I'm Afraid of Everyone, a New Column by Béatrice Martin of Coeur de Pirate
Béatrice Martin will explore her struggles with anxiety on a myriad of topics, including music, parenting, and coming out.
Béatrice Martin is a Montreal singer and performer behind the indie-pop Coeur de Pirate. Martin is, arguably, one of the most successful artists to emerge from Quebec since Celine Dion's reign during the 90s. Martin's debut self-titled French language record peaked on the Billboard chart at number six. From there, she began incorporating English into her work, notably with her last record 'Roses', broadening her reach as an artist. Still, though, the impact she's had on both Anglo and Francophone music is undeniable.
Martin came out as queer in an open letter on Noisey last summer after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shootings. The essay served as a way for Martin to work through and come to terms with who she is. Doing so as a public figure has its challenges: Martin's essay was met with praise and vitriol. But she was able to give voice to a personal transformation and struggle on a public platform in her own words. And so for her new column 'I'm Afraid of Everyone,' Martin will explore her struggle with anxiety, mental health, and doing that all while being a performer, public figure, partner, and, eventually, a mother.
For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid of everyone.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I felt socially crippled. I guess it probably comes from childhood, as most issues do. I was a dynamic kid—I mean weren't we all? My mother reminded me recently that, as a little girl, I would put on shows in front of my whole family—though I don't remember this—and that I had a great time doing so.
At that time, I was so excited to start elementary school, to make new friends. But when I got there, that's when it all started to crumble. Somehow, I became the go-to girl to bully. I was targeted by virtually everyone—even the kids who weren't my regular bullies. Every morning I took the school bus to get to school and I was forced to sit next to the trashcan on the floor next to the driver on the way there. The bus driver didn't do shit about it. I guess he was too worried about his drive, that his responsibilities were greater than my mental or physical health or he just genuinely did not care. I'd vote for the latter. I wasn't allowed on the benches otherwise something would be done to me and I remember being so scared of that. That's when I started to think people were mean and I couldn't trust them. I also believed I was probably as good as trash. Even in second grade, I was bullied by my teacher who went on to tell my parents that she thought I was "mentally retarded" because all I did was draw Sailor Moon characters in class. So now adults were after me too? If no one was going to have my back, then I better stay away from people.
I tried to belong—I really did try. It was hard because I went to private school and if you were from a family with an average income, there was no way you'd ever be popular. That's how it worked. You went skiing on week-ends? Your dad was a surgeon? You were automatically given a social pass. My parents had put all of their savings into my education, so we didn't get to go to places like Cancun on holidays. When I was done with elementary school, I begged my parents to send me away from anyone who bullied me at that school, specifically hoping to go to one in the east end of Montreal. It was still private, but in a different, less affluent neighbourhood. They agreed but I had to take two buses, and walk an hour every day to get there. Things weren't that much better over there. There were still cliques and they mostly revolved around sports because that was the school's focus—I wasn't the athletic type at all. I settled for the music program. I had a hard time belonging.
On top of my educational and social responsibilities, I didn't really know how to deal with my changing body or how to apply eyeliner without looking like an honorary member of KISS. These were normal teenage feelings completely expounded by being treated like an outsider. When I started realizing that even in the music program people were having fun without me I turned to the internet because it felt, at the time, like a safer haven for an introvert like me.
The year was 2005 and Bright Eyes was everything to me. I had learned HTML and had a lot of fun creating websites, like the MySpace page, which I made all on my own. I played emogame to learn about new music and bands. I was into bands that none of my peers at school knew about. I would go to shows to see how I fit in that world. But even in the scene, going to hardcore shows, I was always the side friend to the prettier girl; the one who is deemed uglier so the other girl looks more interesting. I became the one that all the straight edge dudes would say, "Hey, you looked different on the internet, haha, but how's your friend so-and-so doing?" I think there's a term for that. Anyway, even in the scene, with a bunch of weirdos, I was still the one left behind.
That kind of isolationist and defeating feeling builds over the years. You feel like you can't trust anyone; you're usually the one that's alone at parties, and you feel everything way too fucking much. That maybe I was too fucking much. During that period of my life, I had some decent relationships, made a few close friends, and my hair grew back to it's original color. I was in CEGEP (for those of you that are unfamiliar to the Quebec educational system, CEGEP is a publicly funded, mandatory step before going to university...also known, to me at the time, where dreams went to die) and in a band. I would eventually quit that band because, honestly, it was a solo project disguised as a band, and I had wanted to write a few songs of my own. I put those on MySpace and then I was discovered, which was wild. I released an album and voilà: I am now known as Coeur de Pirate. My face was everywhere in a matter of months: from flyers to billboards in Montreal and in France.
My discovery or success wasn't Justin Bieber levels fame or anything like that. It was moderate and it was gradual. But to have even a little amount of attention on me at 19 years old was crushing. I didn't know why people wanted to know anything about my life. I just couldn't fathom it. I had been invisible all my life and now they wanted to know why I had written certain things in my songs? Well, honestly, now I can say that it's because no one listened to me in the first place.
My anxiety was front and centre. Whenever someone asked me to take a photo in the street, I would jump in fear. If I had to play a show, I was hiding behind the piano, like it would protect me. It didn't. Soon my life became public matter. The nudes I had taken, my mistakes, my family, my love life, everything was up for grabs. For someone who wasn't prepared to face it all, who was still in a sense going to school and living with her parents… it was enough to leave more substantial amounts of damage.
I'm guessing that is why I shut down whenever I have to be in a room full of people. Trust issues are at the root of my social anxiety. It's fascinating because up on a stage, I control everything. I am another, better version of myself up there, probably to make up for my perceived and historical lack of control I have in my day-to-day life. To erase that fear I had to turn to substance abuse and reckless behaviour, surrounded myself with people that did very little to diminish that fear, and tried to control it in various but weird ways… but that's something I will keep on telling to you in the future as I write this column.