I think a lot of musicians would agree with me, that early on in our lessons and as we build our musicianship, the idea of perfection becomes ingrained in us and we begin to feel that we must be perfect, not only in our music, but also in everything else we achieve in life. I am no exception to this, and can identify as having been a perfectionist since I was in College for an Interior Design Diploma. Design too, demands perfection; accuracy in measurement and a keen eye for balance. During my University years, in which I took Music later in life, I found it very hard to be critiqued for my singing even though I had attended many lessons and masterclasses in the past ~ this was different, because a mark depended on it. I was also subject to at least one ‘professor’ who made everyone feel as though they were substandard in everything they did. This is where the cesspool of self-doubt begins, when we have abusive teachers.
Now 5 years into my pursuit of a singing career, and half way through my Degree, I suddenly felt more stage fright than I had ever noticed before. More doubt in my ability, and in particular, whether I could really memorize the way I used to. My brainbox was full!
At this time in my life, I also began to notice the effects of peri-menopause, and was working to find out how best to address uncomfortable symptoms with hormone replacement therapy, or natural solutions, or, nothing at all. At the same time, I was taking seven classes in University and also prepping for my debut appearance at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto.
My headaches were brutal ~ a mix of stress, tiredness, and hormone imbalance, paired with lack of exercise as I was constantly in a chair and bent over a book. I mediated this with massage but wasn’t looking after myself. My confidence began to spiral.
I was not depressed, but I was anxious! Anxious before a test, anxious when I had to face anyone or anything that I thought would bring me a face to face challenge. I began taking Ativan whenever I felt the pressure in my chest building up. The Doctor had also prescribed Topiramate, for my headaches. For two weeks, the very nasty side effect of diarrhea and lack of hunger beleaguered me. I attended a rehearsal and took an Ativan just beforehand...and I felt that I didn’t sing well that day, as a result.
I reached out to Paula because I wanted to figure out how best to overcome these feelings of stage fright, paired with my anxiety in general, and she, the Godsend, helped me through the fog and into clarity.
My need for perfectionism in music, not only because of music itself requiring it, is also founded on what my last name is. How will I live up to it? Do I deserve to even use the name, as a singer? You see, my family are all singers and musicians, some are world famous. I discussed this with Paula, and she firmly established that I deserve to take up the space, and to use the name because it is MINE and not because of anyone else. After all, I had gotten the gig because of who I am and how I sounded, and not because of anyone that I am related to. I have gotten this far on my own merit, never being given a leg up or a favour.
I spoke with her about how it pained me so much to receive a B+ in class instead of an A or A+ which I had gotten consistently in my first and second years. We could have spoken for hours about where this need comes from, who we think we need approval from, and more. We spoke about past relationships, parental relationships, and even about relationships with the rest of my family. Paula brings a great amount of expertise in discussing these matters, exploring reasons for our feelings, and then working through them with solutions that allow us to accept, and then to move on with our lives. There were tears as I bared my soul to her, and she was quiet and gave me time to collect myself, before offering her words of support.
Paula worked with me on mindfulness, and helped me to establish good habits for relaxation and connecting with my breath, not for singing, but just for living. We take our breath for granted and sometimes we forget how much it can ground us and calm us down when we focus on it. Paula led me through meditations with expert ability, a soft voice, and much patience. We did it over the phone!
Most of all, Paula reinforced for me the whole reason that I wanted to be a performer, and a soloist. It is because of the amount of joy that the music brings me. And that joy, is what the audience is there to see and hear. Why then, can we not get a grip on ourselves and get out there and exude that joy? That is exactly what we spoke about, and once I let go of the feeling to be perfect in every way, and embraced the fact that I wanted to share my gift and bring people joy, I suddenly found myself full of confidence, and excited to perform instead of nervous.
As a singer herself, Paula knows the techniques that are needed. We discussed that too ~ did my toolbox have all the technique already in it? Yes! Did I need someone to tell me that these things don’t automatically disappear when we step on stage, but rather, that because they are part of us, they will be there for us when we need them? Yes! You see, if we doubt that our technique is even in place, then we have nothing to fall back on, but if that technique is firmly entrenched, it will be there. We just have to focus, and tap into it. The strategy of finding my feet and planting myself on that stage, to connect and ground myself, was a very good one.
We even discussed my approach to practising, and I applied every suggestion Paula gave me, during the two weeks prior to my performance. Once exams were done, I could focus 100% on this. I had so much fun just preparing for the show!
I brought my ‘Paula tools’ into the dressing room with me. Yoga mat, affirmations to stick on the wall, letters of encouragement from friends and people that I have moved with my singing. I used all of the strategies that she reinforced for me ~ I knew them all to start with, but sometimes we forget, and we need a reminder, a nudge.
I know now, that I had allowed myself to spiral into a frenzy of studying, marks, and self-imposed pressure, and had completely neglected my health, both physical and mental. I got worn down and that made my confidence sag. It can be a vicious circle if left unchecked! I am so glad that I reached out to Paula, because her demeanour and understanding was exactly what I needed, to pull myself up and out of where I was, mentally. Who we are as performers can be a very complicated thing.
I stood on that stage, and I nailed it. I didn’t need any Ativan that day. And it was the best feeling in the world, to know that I had overcome all of the fears I had, and made my debut a success. I am well into my next Semester at school now, with a reduced workload and am stretching out my graduation until Spring of 2021, and that’s okay. There is no one with a stop watch on me. There is no one measuring me, and even I myself have relaxed... I can accept a B+. Maybe even a B! And I pledge to look after myself, to listen to my body, to allow myself to rest and to take time to replenish myself.
How confident do I look here? :D