Monday, June 24, 2019

My Journey with Anxiety

Since it's summer I decided to try and get back into practicing regularly with the hopes of being able to put together a recital in early fall (we'll see if that works out or not). It's not uncommon for me to ebb and flow and try to get into a new practice routine only to have it fall apart pretty easily. I then end up in some sort of shame spiral because I've yet again failed to prove myself a "real musician."

Earlier this week I had a realization while practicing that it has been seven years - SEVEN. YEARS. - since I was practicing and playing regularly and at a fairly respectable level.  No wonder why it's been so hard to get back into the swing of things! I was under a lot of stress during the end of my time in grad school (around 2011-2012) and that was the beginning of some significant anxiety for me. I left West Virginia after finishing grad school in 2012 and moved to south Florida, where I've had some significant dry spells.

During my last year in graduate school, I had a pretty humiliating experience with a playing a chamber recital for a pianist friend. The repertoire was the Prokofiev flute sonata and Saint-Saens' Tarantelle for flute, clarinet, and piano. By this time I was already struggling with stress and it was beginning to have a negative effect on my playing. After a several rehearsals on the Prokofiev and a couple coachings with the pianists' teacher, she told me that her teacher had decided that another flutists should play the Prokofiev. No one had indicated to me that there were significant issues with my playing. The pianist hadn't voiced any concerns to me directly (I don't know that it would have served anyone well if she had; it likely would have had the unintentional consequence of looking tacky on her part), her teacher hadn't said anything to me, and my own professor hadn't said anything either. I should add here that maybe they did, maybe someone did try to tell me that I was not up to snuff. If they did though, I never got the message.

This was the start of significant issues for me. My self esteem dropped, my playing continued to suffer. This manifested in two significant ways: long phrases were impossible (even "normal" length phrases were very difficult), and playing anything in the second octave (especially C/B/A's). Once I had moved to south Florida, my anxiety eventually got so bad that some days I couldn't even produce a sound. I remember once having to literally tell myself that everything was okay and I was fine just holding the flute down by my side.  Keep in mind that I had just finished my MM in flute performance and I had given my final degree recital only a year before. This was the tipping point for me.

In either 2013 or 2014 I started going to therapy for anxiety. I was teaching very part-time at a university and thankfully was able to sign up for therapy for very cheap. Going to therapy really helped provide me with tools to manage my thoughts and stress levels, and I was able to get back to playing although I still struggle with performance anxiety.

It's been a long time coming, but I am feeling more comfortable and confident about myself and my playing. I still have times of worry, but they are usually shorter and I have ways to handle the situation.

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