As promised (to myself), I completed The Holiday Challenge by successfully participating in a piano recital and my book club’s Christmas party. Going into this I expected to be stressed but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to talk about my experience. Seriously, I have been avoiding writing my update because of the feelings of embarrassment it stirs up… particularly the piano recital.
That was a doozy.
It made the intensity of my anxiety reach a whole new level. Anyway, I realize the worst is now over and I’ll do my best to recount what happened.
I have been taking piano for over a year and even today I experience an inward struggle when I go to my classes. During all my sessions I feel uncomfortable being under the scrutiny of my piano teacher. I know it’s not her fault. My teacher is such a sweet patient woman…though for all her kindness I can’t help but be anxious. I suppose it stems from the fear of embarrassing myself by being terrible piano player. It sounds silly because I have no prior experience with the piano and logically I’m expected to make a lot of mistakes. However, in that moment I am blinded by my physical reactions to SA…the sweats, racing heart, shakes, and stomach cramps. All I can think about is bolting from the room.
Gradually I’ve been able to control my reactions to my teacher’s presence and am able to play through songs without shaking. My teacher has picked up on my SA especially my avoidance of large groups of people. Despite her lack of comments on the situation, she has subtly tried to encourage me to attend recitals and parties with other students.
When I started piano I was able to dodge my first invite to the Christmas recital because I was out of the country. This year I wasn’t so lucky. My teacher asked me again if I would consider playing in the recital. This time I didn’t have an excuse so I said I would think about it. That night I asked my husband what he planned to do. He also takes piano lessons but is much more advanced. He told me he agreed to participate and coaxed me by saying it would be good for me and “you don’t want to disappoint your readers, do you?”. Ugh.
So there I was, ready to puke and shake my husband because I knew he was right. This was the time to act instead of run and I found the best way to deal with my jitters was to practice until I memorized the song. Moreover I consoled myself with the knowledge that my husband and I were the only adult performers in the recital. I hoped the audience would be more focused on the cute kids than me making mistakes.
On the day of the recital I did everything I could to keep calm. I practiced my song with my husband, dressed slowly and meditated 3 times. Even the during the drive to the recital I tried to breath deeply to control my jitters. When we arrived my husband and I took our seats close to the front but separate from the children that were performing. I was happy since it gave us space and some time to encourage one another.
I was surprised by turn out and the excitement of the kids performing. They readily began playing without a care in the world, never hesitating. I wished I could be so carefree. Then I suddenly understood why old people envied the young so much. Wait, how old am I? …late twenties going on 80, apparently.
When my turn finally came I felt like my legs had turned to jelly. Everything became so quiet as I made my way to the piano. I fumbled with my sheet music until I was satisfied. While playing everything became surreal and foggy. Looking back I wonder if part of my mind shut down to deal with the stress I was feeling. I made a few mistakes but kept playing (yay). After I finished I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and as I shuffled away my teacher said “Let’s give her another round of applause because as an adult it can be scary coming up here”.
The Holiday Party
Although I was sad the majority of my old friends were not there, this part of the challenge wasn’t so bad. Granted I did end up inviting my husband along but it didn’t deter me from conversing with new people. We ended up having some strange and fun conversations that were caused by having too much spiked cider. The low part of my evening came when we did the book exchange.
Everyone had to wrap and bring a favorite novel. During the exchange each person would take turns choosing a book to open then read the synopsis aloud. You were allowed to steal someone’s book if you didn’t like what you chose but could only do this 3 times. You can already see the problem with this…I hate reading the synopsis because I have to stand in the middle of the room. The first time I read aloud I prided myself for not stumbling over my words.
Then by the 4th time I had had enough. Everyone kept stealing my books! When I ended up with Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the new guys tried to take it from me. I had enough. It was time to speak up. I said “No way! There has to be a limit on how many times people can steal from you”. Also, I wanted to have a good book…dammit.
At first the completion of this challenge didn’t feel like a triumph. I dwelled too much on what went wrong rather than the small things that did go right. Why? Like usual I had a lot of high expectations…particularly when it came to the piano recital. I practiced so much and thought I knew the piece well. Then when I went on stage all of that hard work disappeared thanks to my anxiety.
It’s frustrating. You believe because you have dealt with SA for so long you’d get some relief. The thing is you do some times…you just have to change your perspective a bit and look at it from different angles. That’s why writing helps. Now I see the recital was a good experience. It may not have played as well as I thought but it gave me the opportunity to be vulnerable and work on something important with my husband. Then there was that pleasant surprise during the Holiday Party when I spoke up for myself. It’s definitely not something my old self would have done.
If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden
-Frances Hodgson Burnett