Thursday, April 21, 2022

My Singing Journey

Part of working through my anxiety when singing by myself in front of people is determining what caused the anxiety in the first place - so here's how that was discovered, along with how MS is part of what is "My Singing Journey." It's another one of those very personal things I'm sharing, mostly because writing about this stuff somehow seems to help me.

Like most kids, I had music class in elementary school. Outside of school, I played the piano, starting when I was 6. Music class in school was really easy for me since I already knew notes, rhythms, etc. I loved learning how to play the recorder. I loved the small amount of singing we did. I loved our December holiday singing concert. I loved performing.

My older brother had been in the school choir and it was probably assumed that, just like him, when I could be in choir, I would. One day, our teacher decided we would have choir auditions, in class. I was a painfully shy kid, but music was my thing, so this audition was not a big deal. The teacher played a brief series of notes on the piano, and then 5 kids or so individually sang those notes back to her, one kid at a time. Then she played another series of notes for the next group of 5 kids. I was the second or third kid in my group. My friend went right before me, but my friend started on the wrong note. And then I repeated exactly what my friend did, starting on the wrong note, instead of singing what the teacher had played. I knew immediately what I had done. I didn't say anything. I was a kid. I remember feeling confused and then mortified. How embarrassing to sing the wrong notes. I didn't make the choir. That was the end of me singing for the most part. I learned to play the flute in addition to the piano, and over time told people I couldn't sing (all because of those few wrong notes). Ouch. 

This is where MS comes into play in a very strange way. Years later, in college, I was having trouble running. At the same time, I was also having trouble feeling my fingers. I remember my flute teacher  made an off-hand comment once: "you're falling apart." Ouch. Besides her badly-timed comment, no one connected the running problems with the feeling problems, including me. I went to one neurologist for my running problems, and a completely different neurologist for the lack of feeling in my fingers problem. Once I was diagnosed with MS, everything made sense. At the same time, all of this was devastating. I wasn't going to be able to run like I wanted; I wasn't going to be able to play the flute like I wanted; I wasn't going to be able to play the piano as I had done in the past. I was 20. My college physician had asked me, before I was diagnosed with MS, "what would you do if you could no longer run?" And now add to that list flute and piano. Ouch. Music has always been an important part of my life. 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Could I sing?

__________________________________________________________________________________

Singing became the possibility for me continuing to perform music. I had actually joined the (non-audition) community choir my sophomore year of college since I wasn't able to run on the cross-country team. I already had a start to singing. But what about that frightened 10 year old who was so embarrassed and mortified that she had missed the notes? She was still there. And I needed more music.

I returned home after my sophomore year of college and took voice lessons. I then returned to college in the fall and auditioned for the select Chamber Singers acapella choir. What do I remember? I remember being terrified - I don't remember what I sang, how I sang, and I had no idea how I sounded. But somehow this terrified student made the choir, sang with the choir for a year, re-auditioned, again terrified with no memories of how it went, and sang in the choir for my senior year. I got to sing every day. Despite the terrified 10 year old who showed up for auditions, I got to perform. 

After college, I auditioned for a number of choirs, and somehow made it into most of them. But at each audition, the terrified 10 year old showed up, and she only got more terrified with time. People can't sing their best when this is happening - some nervousness is good but this level is not. Since before my daughter was born, I stopped auditioning. It was too much.

Since I didn't have to audition for the college reunion choir, I returned a few years ago to sing there. I recorded myself. Ouch. I really hope I sounded better than that in college. I returned home and gradually started singing lessons again. I have done a few auditions. The terrified 10 year old has shown up to each one (but I didn't realize she existed until very recently). She won't leave and it's been frustrating.

Recently I've been exploring all of this, starting with identifying the problematic terrified 10 year old. It's exhausting to explore this stuff and recall the stellar time when a few missed notes stopped me from singing for at least 10 years. Yikes and ouch. At the same time, this exploring has been very helpful. I've been told that I need to take the 10 year old with me on my musical solo experiences... but not the terrified 10 year old. I'm supposed to bring the free and fun 10 year old who did exist. Standing between her and the adult me is something called "the protector." The protector says, "Oh no - I'm not letting this happen - No way - here is the terrified 10 year old - FREEZE!!" 

We worked through an example of this today. It's amazing how quickly the protector shows up, but the protector has had years to perfect their role. It went something like this:

Coach: "I'd like you to sing the gibberish version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." 

Me: You want me to do _what_?" (Freeze - see how quickly that happened?)

Coach: "First you have to breathe."

(I take a breath)

Coach: "Now imagine yourself singing this on stage."

(I can see myself doing this with no problem.)

Coach: "Now can you say you are ready?"

Me: Pause. "I guess so."

Coach: "You have to say it."

Me: Long pause. (I think the protector is really trying to stop this whole thing.) "I'm ready."

Coach: "Ok, now the curtain is about to go up. Here is Beth, singing the gibberish version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Me: Freeze. "You're serious? You want me to actually sing it?" 

I can't believe this is actually happening... he is serious?!

Coach: "Introducing Beth, singing the gibberish version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Me: "Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are." 

No terror there.

And that, friends, is where I am on this journey, with so much work to do.

But I am making progress.

And, for the record, I am not going to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for anyone else in that random way. 

Also for the record, I can now play the flute and piano again - nothing like in high school - but it's been a long time, so that's ok. I can feel my fingers again.

Peace.



Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter joy

There are some things you never forget - random things that stick in your mind forever. 

One Easter morning when I was in college, I went on a run. I was so excited to go on this specific run because I _could_run at the time, and I wasn’t always able to run in college. 

It was a cool, clear morning, and I was headed around a very gradual turn on a country road. 

A car drove by me and and as it passed me, the woman who was driving yelled out in the most cheerful voice “Happy Easter!!”

It made me smile. And whenever I get to Easter, that memory always comes back and makes me smile. 

Happy Easter - may you smile and feel joy!!

Peace. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Finding Unexpected Joy

I'm resurrecting my blog!! I haven't written regularly in some time, but lately I have a lot of thoughts going through my mind, and then a few people said they missed my blog.... so here is the first entry of my resurrected blog.

I hesitate in writing this specific post because it is very personal, but I might as well go all out in my blog's resurrection. I suppose in writing this, I hope there is some off chance that someone may see this content and realize there is hope for them, or for someone they know, because I have been told that my problem is a relatively common problem, but that most people quit before they realize they can be helped. It has been tough for me mentally, realizing that if this had been addressed years ago, I could have had much different and better experiences in life. But at least I know now.

The truth, or the problem, is that I have always had extreme anxiety when performing, whether it be piano, flute, singing, public speaking, work presentations, church singing solos, and any other situation when I am doing this stuff alone and not with a group. When I am part of a band, a choir, a group at work…. then I don't have very much anxiety. But alone, I can freeze completely right before I am to begin, or I can freeze in the middle of something, or I can shake, and even if I am not frozen or shaking, I still feel like a deer in headlights. 

It is also true, and a definite problem, that throughout my life, I have been told that by doing more presentations, performing more, and being prepared to present something or perform something, that naturally the freezes I have will eventually go away. But over the course of my life, these freezes haven't gone away and, in fact, they have only been getting worse - the more I present, the more I perform, the more I do these things, the worse they get. Add heart palpitations and why do I continue to torture myself in this way? 

Presentations and performances have always been things I challenge myself to do, and they have never been fun. I've been following the thought process that if I volunteer enough, I will get better. And I don't like to quit either, so I shake, my voice shakes, my mind goes blank, my heart races. And then  I engage in a negative post-presentation self-destruction "technique" called performance bashing that only serves to fuel the same anxiety the next time I have to perform or present something. 

But there is a good ending to this - or I anticipate there will be a good ending because someone finally told me these experiences aren't normal and that there is help!! I think the kind of help I am getting is relatively new - I don't recall ever hearing of this type of thing growing up, and I think if it had existed, someone would easily have pulled me aside and talked to me about it. 

So how did I discover help? I have been taking voice lessons for a few years,  and once mentioned my freezing and nervousness to my voice coach. Without pausing, she said, “Oh, you just need to talk to Jon - he can fix that.” And that began a new journey, one of acknowledging who I am, identifying triggers, looking into the whys of these triggers. But it isn't quite as simple as "Jon can fix that," because I've been doing the same thing for my whole life. Instead of a quick fix, I've been on a deep search for answers, for reasons. It hasn't been easy; at times it is emotionally intense and draining, and yet going through this has also been accompanied by happiness.

How do we break cycles? In my case, I'm working through stages of dealing with anxiety. I'm recognizing that when my mind goes blank, my brain thinks I am in danger and gets stuck there. As a start, I have to break that danger feeling; if I can do that, I have to breathe. If I can breathe, then I can think.... and so on. 

And while I work on strategies outside of presentations, when I am not frozen, the hope is to apply those strategies when I get to the frozen state, or to stop myself before I get to being frozen.

Why has this been emotionally intense and draining? First, I'm almost 50 - I've lived my whole life using strategies that didn't work, now realizing this could have been stopped at a much younger age. It's been many years of self-torture that I haven't enjoyed, and along with that, the joy that comes with performing has largely been absent. It's also been emotionally intense and draining because I want to know why - why am I like this, but not in all situations? Why do I have these problems? Did something cause this? Yes and no - it's been an intense search. And I am grateful that I have been able to do this searching.

I have also found joy in performing with a group. While I did have a bit of joy in the past, it hasn't been like what I experienced recently, when all of a sudden I was performing with a group and realized I haven't had this much fun performing - that was its own intense moment.

In writing all of this, acknowledging the somewhat painful process of finding a way to joy, I wonder how many other people like me are out there? I've had this since I was a kid - I assume kids out there today have this same problem, and they are being told to just keep presenting, just be prepared, and eventually everything will be ok. What if someone realized it isn't going to be ok to keep doing the same thing again and again; what if someone realized this in kids struggling; what if those struggling kids got help and found joy? What if someone realized the teenager in speech class needed more than repeated speeches to get better? What if someone realized the college student who struggled with presentations had given plenty or presentations, so their nervousness was due to something else that could be fixed? 

I don't work with kids much at all. Maybe someone will read this, see a kid, a teenager, a college student, or someone else who is struggling, and can reach out to help them. Maybe this can lead to other people being helped through anxiety. In this journey, my greatest hope is that others get help with anxiety as kids, teenagers, college students... at younger ages, so they can experience the joy I have found at almost 50 years old.

Peace.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

MS Walk 2022

It is already the time of year when I am getting ready for the MS Walk!! The yearly MS Walk is May 7 in Denver's City Park – it’s in-person again (or virtual if one wants to do that).


Here is the link where you can donate to support me in the MS Walk:

https://mssociety.donordrive.com/participant/147676

Money raised goes to research toward a cure for MS as well as for programs for people with MS, their families, and friends.  Every donation, large or small, helps!!

My life with MS since the virtual 2021 MS Walk:

I have kept swimming – in fact, in 2021 I made a goal to swim 100 miles and I reached that goal in December. I’ve been told I stand and walk straighter now, and that is from swimming. I also got back to skiing after a year off, and this year was able to ski, standing up, for half-days which was exciting. My ski instructor, who has tethers attached my skis to help me ski, told me that I was making my own turns, even though I couldn’t feel myself making my own turns. I do remember another time, when I started to be able to lift my foot again, randomly, and I remember not being able to feel that at first (but now I can), so this seems like a similar thing. Maybe next year I will feel that I am making the turns myself. There is always hope.

 And this year, additional humor is helpful:

  • I’m not getting younger, part 1: While simply taking off my ski boot one afternoon, my right upper arm made a loud “Pop!!” Sudden, excruciating pain followed the “Pop!!” and did not go away, but I made it home even though reaching for the steering wheel seemed to correlate with pain and tears the whole way home. Yes, it is true – I skied all day with no problems, but it was the taking off of the ski boot… “Pop!!” I am slowly improving and have been told I have an “unstable bicep.” This has nothing to do with MS except that I do use my arms more than the average person to compensate for my not-as-strong-as-I-would-like legs.
  • I’m not getting younger, part 2: After 2 years of right knee pain, I went to see a doctor about that pain, had an MRI, and was told my right knee is not in good shape (that’s the short version). The good news was that physical therapy could help!! Recently my physical therapist said “Your right quad is not strong enough for you to be able to bend your knee when you walk.” Most people know that using the word “not” with me is probably just going to result in me trying to prove them wrong. So, in true Beth style, I have figured out how to walk with a bent right knee, and my knee is feeling much better. This does have to do with MS – I continue to get stronger.
  • I’m not getting younger, part 3: it’s a story of a cat who wanted food and was incessantly meowing, so I tried to hurry to get the food. Result: the iPad escaped the counter and landed on my right foot. Ouch!! Did the cat care? Of course not. He is not a small cat and was still hungry. The iPad was fine, the cat was fed, and I survived. This has to do with MS in the sense an iPad landing directly on my foot caused my foot to have spasms  – a symptom of MS – for a long time.

 Yes, I am still taking the miracle walking medicine that only seems to work really well for a few people with MS – and I am one of those people. My Bioness devices which have helped me walk a lot, over many years, aren’t used much – I only need one for my right leg now, and only when I have to walk a long way. I’m mostly walking with nothing (around the house), 1 or 2 hiking sticks, or my walker. I suppose my wheelchair is a bit lonely.

More walking in Boston!! Lori got a scholarship to the Boston Conservatory to study musical theatre and started this fall. Dave helped her move, my mom and I visited her in October, and Dave and I are going visit her in late April/early May. Boston is a great city to walk!! In October, I spent a whole day walking through the parks there – it was beautiful. I have wanted to spend a whole day just walking through parks for a long time. From our Boston trip, I know that I can walk far, day or night, wind or no wind, up and down hills. I enjoyed it so much.

Treatments for MS have continued to improve over the years, and I still hope for a day when there is no MS. In the meantime, I am incredibly grateful for the last 10+ years where I have gone from wheelchair, to walker, to hiking sticks, to no assistance; from leaning to standing straight; from having trouble writing to being able to write again; and much more.  

Love and peace to all.

Beth

Friday, August 7, 2020

Happiness in the middle of the storm

Thursday: 4:15am: Up! Eye drops, medicine. Swimsuit, shorts, sweatshirt, sandals, bag, go!!

Wednesday: on edge. Will this ever end? Why can't people follow health advice? Why does everyone now think they are an analyst with healthcare expertise? This shouldn't be political. People should realize the severity of this. I am frustrated. I am sick of being at home. Other people going out means that I will have to stay at home longer because this disease spreads quickly. Even within my family, people go places and do things while I am at home more, frustrated. 

Thursday: 5am: Here I am, one of the very few places I go, the local swimming pool. I am purposefully alone (but for the lifeguard). I sit and put my legs in the water, then lower myself so up I am immersed, up to my shoulders. This next part is the worst. Head under water. COLD. Go. And I start, slowly at first. And then I have a section of intervals. Reach, stretch, pull, repeat.... (breathe...) Reach, stretch, pull, flip, push off the wall. Go!! I imagine my old swim coach yelling, "pull, pull, pull..." Rest. This feels so great. I attack the water. I give all of my frustrations to the water. I keep going. I push to go fast sometimes, really push. At other times I glide, taking my time with my strokes. I just keep going. I don't want to stop because here is where I can put all my frustrations and at the same time, find peace. I don't want to leave. But eventually my fingers are like prunes and I know I am tired, so I stop. I push up on the side of the pool, sitting on the edge again, my legs in their final dangle in the water. And then I get up, dry off, and do all I can to stay warm for the next few hours, which is difficult.

Find the small things. I do what I can. Swimming is my release. In these unexpected and very difficult times, we struggle for answers on what to do, how to relate to people through masks and physical distance, how to be nice, how to remain calm, how to be happy, how to be peaceful. We live in a chaotic world that keeps throwing things at us nonstop as if to see how much we can take, and how much we can use our "nice" voice of "I'm ok" when we may feel like bam!! We are about to explode in frustration. Or sigh. We are drowning in sadness and trying to hide it. 

Release the frustration. Release the sadness. Find the small things that bring happiness. Focus on those.

Swimming - my small release. 

Peace.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Where is peace?

                                                           1993 - 2010
                                                        During this time
                                       Early each morning I would wake
                                                        Paused Frozen
     A dream 
          A leg twitch
              Reality
                                                  I run
                                                        Spasm 
                                                             Uncertainty



                                                          2020
                                                       This year
                                                         I wake
                                                    Paused Frozen
                                                          

                                                                                A dream 
                                                                                     Dad. Death. 
                                                                                            Reality   

   
                                                                                                       The way things were
                                                                                                             Be still
                                                                                                                  Uncertainty

                                                                                                                       Repeat
                                                                                                                        Again
                                                                                                         Where is peace?


                                             

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

My Parents on this day

This day. 27 years ago today. I remember being able to call my parents when I was in my doctor's office after being told I had "probable MS."

My parents. They were/are my rock.  One of my coaches told me recently that what they remembered most about my parents was the support they gave me when I was diagnosed - that they did not give up on me.

I remember when I came home for spring break shortly after that diagnosis - looking into the living room from the kitchen. I remember seeing my dad in front of the TV, which was a normal occurrence, but there was something different about his expression. It was as if he wasn't watching the TV but was thinking of something else, with a great deal of concern. I imagine he was very worried about me. He was also a runner, and a stress fracture took him out of running. Now I would be taken out of competitive running which he knew that I loved.

This is the first "anniversary" of me being diagnosed with probable MS that my dad is not here. It is the first of so many occasions when that reality will hit me - that he is not here. I tend to grieve on my own - other people won't see the tears - they are there when I am alone. Since I never saw him cry, and the closest I saw him to crying was when I was diagnosed and then came home, I think he was like me and held his emotions for when he was alone, like that day when I looked into the living room and saw him with a different look, as he was effectively alone then.

He was so proud of all of his kids. Every time I called him he knew exactly who I was.
"Hi, Dad."
"Hi, Beth."                                 
Those words are going to stick with me.

And I'll never forget Christmas Eve this past year, when I looked out as I was the assisting minister for the service - and I saw him, in the pew, looking right at me. He smiled and waved and I smiled back. He was so proud of how far I had come. I think his goal was to make it to Christmas Eve and then to Christmas, to be with his family at a time when he knew he was not well, and to smile and do the best he could to be present with us those two days.

This year, on this day, I remember my dad, his support for all I have done in life, him looking up at me on Christmas Eve as the proud father he was - I'll never forget that moment.

27 years. He saw me get worse. And he saw me get better. And we'll run together in my dreams.

Miss you, Dad.

Peace.