Failure and Success

I had an experience today that was both a failure and a success.  Most people call them learning experiences.  That’s a grand statement, but for those with depression and severe anxiety, you don’t learn, you just repeat until you learn to cope.

Today’s story relates to something I wrote about a long time ago on this blog, but don’t talk about it much.  I graduated from college with a bachelor’s in music performance.  I was good.  Not the greatest, but I played well enough I could have made a career out of it.  About 6 months after I graduated, I started having panic attacks. I won’t say music was the trigger, but I will say I was unable to perform in any capacity.

What does anxiety mean to a musician?  Well, imagine you are onstage, with hundreds of people watching.  You can’t breathe.  Your chest feels like somebody is crushing it.  Your fingers won’t move because they’ve suddenly become cold and stiff.  All you want to do is run off the stage and hide in a corner.  Now imagine you’re halfway through a Beethoven symphony, or plugging through a solo piece.

I think the closest I could liken this to is this:  One time, in Las Vegas, I was in my car and stuck at the intersection of Flamingo and Maryland Parkway.  Las Vegas traffic being what it is, I was sandwiched at the turn signal in the middle of a bunch of cars and unable to move.  My brain decided that was a perfect panic moment, and instead of my body having the freedom to flight (panic attacks are flight-or-fight), I was stuck sitting there. Vegas traffic lights are dumb and long, but I swear that 3 minute time period felt like an hour.  The light eventually changed, and I had enough sanity left to pull into the first driveway and sit there until I composed myself.  I’ve never forgotten that moment because for a brief time I was sure I’d either pass out or run out of my car.  I held it together long enough to get through it, and after I got home I sat shaking in my living room until it all passed.

Like the time I panicked and dropped a full basket in the checkout lane at the grocery store and ran out, I had immense shame.  I felt like every person was staring at me and judging me.  I never went back to that store, and for the record, I never drove through that same intersection again.

Back to music: one of the many reasons I gave up music after I graduated was because I was unable to sit on a stage for any length of time without having a panic attack.  I remember my last performance before I quit.  I barely held it together, and when it was over I swore I’d never put myself in that position again.  I’d say it weighed heavily in the favor of quitting.  So I quit.

Years later, I found myself playing again.  I was in a better place.  The panic attacks had abated to the point where they were no longer several times a week but at the worst a few times a year. I stood on the stage, and I had the confidence to get through what I was doing.  I’ve done multiple solo concertos, duets with famous musicians, and pushed through heavy-duty arias.  Never once did I freak out.

And then there was today.

Today wasn’t quite any other day.  For some backstory:  I’m mostly okay, and I’m honestly ok now.  That said, I’ve hit a rough patch with the depression.  Up until last week, I spent the previous month hiding in my house, avoiding humans, and in general trying to shrink up into nothing.  I promised I’d do a Mozart Sinfonia with some other winds in my orchestra, and while I could not give a single fucking crap, I pushed through it and got the music under my fingers.  I put reminders on my personal calendar to make sure I did the work.  I made myself sleep by taking a half-dose of Benadryl, even though most days I barely scratched out 4 hours.  In short, I made a promise, and I made myself keep it.  Even though I really didn’t care.

In addition, I was asked to play at a small fundraiser for the orchestra.  All of my previous experiences were amazing, so I figured why not.  I dusted off Marcello and ran it a few times to make sure I was cool.  I was cool.  I had enough threads to hang onto I knew I could do it.

That was all well and good, but my brain decided otherwise.  I had that stupid music down.  I can do it from memory in my sleep.  Today, I just couldn’t.  It’s like I burnt out all the energy I had with work, and by the time I hit that fundraiser, I was broken.  I made it through about 2/3 of the second movement, and then the full panic set in.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t think.  I actually stopped the accompanist (who was our guest soloist for this concert series). He was such a kind man, he gave me a minute, and said “where would you like to pick up?” I took a breath, gave him a measure, and finished it.   When it was over, I pulled out enough words to thank everyone for their patience.

That wasn’t the amazing part.  The amazing part was after the first set was over, everyone came over to talk to me.  One patron said, “I don’t know why you would get nervous for music illiterates like us”.  Another gal, our amazing coloratura soprano, said “You make me feel so much better about my mistakes! You are always so perfect, and never mess up. Now I don’t feel so bad about the time I forgot the words to that one song.”.  Another lady said “Don’t even worry, I hear you perform flawlessly all the time.  I just wish you could have enjoyed the music as much as we did.”

After that whole experience, Previous Me would have been embarrassed. I would have run away and never played again.  I realized I not only held it together, I did it with grace.  I cracked jokes with the audience.  I smiled and chatted with people.  After the performance, I explained what happened to everyone that came to chat with me.  I talked about the difficulty of the piece.  Explained what anxiety is like.  Told them to come to the concerts, because I’ll be just fine. And they were all loving and caring because they’ve heard me play before and just want the best for me.

I’ve not shed one single tear over that mishap, and I’ve pulled out the strength to push through the upcoming concerts where I’m a guest soloist.  No, I am not cured of the depression sinkhole I’m in.  I just know I can still do it, and this will pass.

 

Delayed Spring Cleaning

Salzburg – Vienna – Prague Wrap Up

The last tour with Toccata turned out great.  There are a ton of memories, but I think I just want to lay out the ones that still are sticking in my brain after all this time.

First one: I got sick.  For the first time in 5+ years I got an actual cold.  The illness landed on me the day we got to Vienna, and pretty much knocked me down until we got to Prague (3 days).  Cathedrals in Europe do not have internal heating or air conditioning.  So I sat through 2 performances with chills, fever, and no heating (average daytime temperatures were around 40-50 degrees F).   I lost an entire day to sleeping and high fever.  I think the most hilarious moment of the entire illness was racing through the streets of Vienna with my newfound friend Hope at 6:30 PM in a cab trying to find a pharmacy that was still open so I could purchase the Austrian version of NyQuil.  Bless our cab driver – he was yelling into his radio the whole time with his home base getting addresses of pharmacies still open.  If I wasn’t running a high-grade fever, I would have recorded the whole thing for posterity.

The next notable part of the trip was making friends!  On my previous trip, I met Marcia and Mary Anne.  They came again on this trip (YAY).  This time Elizabeth brought her friend Hope.  And we all 5 bonded.  I still am marveling at how you meet the best people in the oddest places.  I got to know Liz better, and I got to meet Hope. I was traveling buddy-less on this trip, so having the five of them to spend time with made the entire excursion that much better.

The last notable part was the oboe-ing itself.  I got to play the Bach duet again with Liz and Allison (they doubled the part to match my awesome output, haha).    The next best part of the music we played was the arrangement of Amazing Grace we did.  I had played this before – it starts off with an oboe intro (meant to mimic bagpipes).  I usually make Rebecca play it with me (our other oboist), but on this trip I was alone.  I thought it would sound wussy, but park an oboe in the middle of a cathedral, and when the sound comes bouncing back, it sounds like bagpipes.  Someone actually wrote an email to our orchestra saying it was the coolest thing they had heard in a long time.  I made people happy.  That makes me happy.

More Orchestra Stuff

Beyond all of that, I returned from the trip, had a few weeks, and then I was back into orchestra.  I seriously feel like I haven’t had a break from my oboe in MONTHS.  It’s just been a cycle of making reeds, doing performances, and then working through the next set of music.  It’s our busy season (summer).  I did get to do some fun stuff.  I generally get copies of my performances on DVD, so the audio quality is not great.  This time around I got a smidge smarter and just ripped the audio track raw and uploaded it to SoundCloud.  So here you are:

I think in the future I’ll stick with SoundCloud – the audio quality from the DVDs could always be better, but raw audio trumps compressed audio + video on YouTube.  I got a DVD of me doing the 2nd movement from Dvorak’s New World Symphony (English Horn), but it’s outdoor so we’ll see how that sounds before I bless you with that.

The Tooth Fairy

Fractured my tooth way back in October (I have this thing about clenching/grinding my teeth). Two surgeries and several dental appointments later, I now have a post and crown.  Dentists didn’t lie – it feels like a regular tooth.  The only problem I’ve run into so far is I’ve had to ease my reeds up a bit, otherwise my jaw gets sore after about 3+ hours of playing.  Still working through that.  Also, I may be one of the few patients on record to have a panic attack when getting fitted with a mold for a crown…

Gardening

As a result of the Europe trip + orchestra-in-the-face whammy, I didn’t get half of what I wanted into the ground this year.  I have 3 very healthy cucumber plants, 3 jalapeño plants, and 4 tomato plants.  I’ll just roll with that this year. I see pickles in my future.

The Townhouse

I don’t even know where to begin.  I own a townhouse in Vegas.  Lived in it for 5 or so years.  Moved away from Vegas.  Rented it.  It’s had its ups and downs.  Well, it hit a slump.  My tenant was evicted for non-payment of rent in April.  Less than 48 hours after the tenant was thrown out, squatters moved in and demolished the place.  My property management company (Robinson Realty) has given me a property manager that can’t be bothered to ever answer my emails or phone calls or get work done on the place so it can be rented out.  I’ve been fighting with this for two months, and I think my brain is about to explode.

Bike

After years of running, I finally hit a wall.  I stopped running earlier this year – I was out on a 4 mile run and just realized it was no longer fun.  I hated thinking about it, I hated doing it, and when it was all over I hated the idea that I’d have to do it again.  Not a healthy place to be.  I tried walking for a while but it was too slow and ultimately unsatisfying.  So I bought a bike.  Aside from a 10 day gap in June, I’ve been out on that thing 2-4 times a week.  It’s enjoyable for me – just long hauls in any direction I want.  I get the same amount of time to think, but it’s not interrupted by my knees or hips hurting me.  I’m still slow, but I’m getting faster.  And the time I can go is much longer.  I’m up past an hour now (yay).  It’s still a challenge carving out 1-1.5 hours in the morning to get out there, but I’m trying hard to make it happen.

 

Oh, this thing

I suppose an update is in order about my tooth issue.  I arrived home from my glorious vacation (really, aside from the tooth problem, it was amazing).  I booked an appointment with the dentist for the day after my return.  When I got there, they did x-rays, poked around (without any valium to chill me out, that was stressful), and the dentist pronounced I fractured my tooth.  Not any fracture.  A fracture in four places.  In other words, I bit down hard enough to crack my tooth in four places, and one of them down to the root.

Now, I have had a mouth guard (custom) for several years.  I clench my teeth.  I do it when I sleep.  I do it when I work.  I lost it about 3 years ago.  I had this awful habit of pulling it out in my sleep – it was this little piece of resin that fit over my front teeth.  I pulled it out one night in my sleep, and it vanished.  I think the cat batted it into some random place never to be seen again.  So yeah, never got it replaced.  And as such I resumed my bad sleep-teeth-grinding-clenching habits.

As a result of this new fracture, I had three choices:  try to let them fix it (would not work in the long term), have them replace it with a bridge (NO – it would vibrate when I played oboe), or replace it with a new post and crown ($$$$$).  I went with option 3, only after they swore up and down I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference when playing.

I take valium to go to the dentist, even for simple cleanings, because of my anxiety.  I now had to go to an oral surgeon and let them pull out a tooth and do a bone graft.  Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I had the option to be put completely out for the procedure.  Not that it really stopped the anxiety. When I arrived, I had to sign a sheet that basically listed every worst case scenario from being sedated.  As I sat in the chair, all of that ran through my head.  I was shaking and terrified when they put in the IV.  The most humorous part was as I started to go under. I remember feeling each new effect of the sedative and asking if I was going to die.  This was the conversation:

Me: “Ben” – he was the doctor – “I feel dizzy, am I going to die?”
Ben: “No, you’re fine”.
Me:  “Ben, I feel like I can’t breathe, am I going to die?”
Ben: “No, we’re watching your vitals, everything is just fine”
Me: “Ben, it’s getting hard to talk, am I going to die?”
Ben: “That’s normal too, just try and sleep”
Me: “BEN! I AM SLEEPY AND I AM GOING TO DIE????”
Ben: <muffled words – I was out at that point>

An hour and a half later I woke up, and his assistant was greeted by me asking “I can’t see the hippos anymore, where are they?”

Suffice it to say, I felt like the world’s biggest dork later on.

Anxiety is a pain in the ass – the most normal sensation always means YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.  It’s so hard to explain that bit of anxiety to someone.  It’s kind of like going into your house and seeing a crack in the wood floor, and automatically assuming the house is going to collapse on you.  There’s no in between.  There’s no logic in place to say “yeah, crap, crack in the floor”.  It’s always, ALWAYS, worst case scenario.  This bleeds into everything in my life, and quite frankly makes it really difficult.  I live like this since my mid-20s.  I’ve developed ways of dealing with the anxiety, but it is always there, under the surface.  So I cope.

So back to the tooth.  Everything went normally.  Destroyed tooth was yanked.  Bone graft done.  I healed up just fine, although it took about 3 days to get back to eating solid food.  I had a minor complication with a fragment of bone poking out, so I was banned from oboe-ing for about a month total until it settled back where it belonged.

Right now I’ve still got the gap there.  I am playing again.  Net side effects from the hole are excessive drooling when I play. Seriously, I collect so much water in my horn now, it’s gross – I have to keep swabbing and blowing out the upper joint.  Second weird effect is the tooth behind the gap resonates when I play a D above middle C.  It buzzes a bit, and my inner ear itches.  Luckily, oboe is not a long-note holding instrument so when I’m plowing through Bach the feeling is fleeing.  Long tones are a bitch, though.

I go back in one month to get the post put in.  I was promised the heal time will be less than a week.  After a month, I’ll go to my dentist, get a crown, and VOILA.  New fake tooth.  After all of THAT is done, we’re getting me a nice mouth guard for sleeping (again), and hopefully my sleep tooth clenching will be a thing of the past and I won’t have to live through all this again.

It’s been one year and 10 days since the last time I was told what a horrible person I was. It’s been an interesting year.  I tried hard to let that little awful anniversary pass, but I couldn’t.  Next year will be better.  And the year after that I’ll remember it without hurting.

Today, however, I was reminded by The Man Friend™ (ok, more than a friend, shut up) that I am wanted and needed.  Maybe I’ll remember that more next year than the Awful Memory.

 

 

Good Vacations

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good vacation.  And lately I feel like I’ve had a vacation from my old broken self.  There’s a lot of reasons for that.  I think first and most important was taking the time to invest in myself.  At least, that’s what I’ve called therapy. Because I did it, despite the expense, I feel like I have a grip on everything now.  And if it’s hard to handle, I can talk it out.

A few weeks ago I decided to try dating again.  It was not so much for the purpose of filling a hole in my life or rebounding or anything like that.  It was more like: I have a handle on me, I have a handle on my life, and I’m getting a little bored being solitary.  I thought it might be nice to get out and meet other people.  Have some conversations.  Do some fun things.  So I went for it.  And surprisingly, it was short lived.  I filtered through the usual weirdos.  And I scored a date, but boy was that a hot mess – the guy was this bizarre combination of everything I really didn’t like about my last couple of boyfriends.  And for the love of everything he wouldn’t stop talking.  Mostly about everything he believed and how if you didn’t believe that you were wrong.  That man hit all the no-nos of a first date:  He thoroughly covered his ex wife, religion, and politics.

nope

(Per the greatest cartoonist evar, The Oatmeal)

When that date was over, I went home and fired up Ye Olde Dating App, and sent a message to this guy – he had a picture of a rusted out car in Bodie.  I thought the car was neat, and saw familiar things in his other pictures.  I kind of figured we weren’t quite a match based on what he wrote, but he was interesting.  My brain said: why the hell not and I fired off a message.  He replied.  And then we went on a date.  And then a few other dates/events.  Then, at his suggestion, a Memorial day weekend road trip.

The road trip was the vacation for me.  We had no real plan – just go and then sort out what we wanted to do as we went.  We were relaxed – I jokingly call him my human prozac because he has that effect on me.  He makes me live in the moment, which as any of you who actually read this and who know me are well aware that’s quite a step from my control freak nature.

So we hiked.  We ate crab cakes.  We did a tour of my old digs in Oakland.  Went to see my cousin.  I played my oboe for his parents.  We drove, we chatted, we stopped when we needed to.   I’ve not been on a trip like that on a long time.  There was no agenda, just mutual agreement.  My vacations the last few years were not so much that, and towards the latter end of my previous relationship they were full of land mines and fights.  This was different.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post. I guess I’m trying to say that things are good, and I’m having a really nice life right now.  I’ll make no prognostications about this nice man that I’ve met, nor plan beyond the next road trip with him right now.  I just know that I’m ok, and this is ok, and while it may be soon it doesn’t feel soon, and I’m good with it.

So, to tie this up:  that slavedriver of a man made me climb the majority of Mount Tamalpais two days in a row.  The first day was all fog and when we got to the top I didn’t even realize we were there.  The second day I thought he was just torturing me, and I’ll admit I did a bit of whining at the beginning.  But we climbed forever, and then we hit the overlook and this is what I saw:

2016-05-30 09.05.07

I still told him he was a slavedriver, but I was happy he made me do it.  That’s the SF bay in the top left.  Pow.

Flotsam

Maybe another half marathon?

Many moons ago I ran a half marathon.  I think I want to try it again.  I’m back up to 3/3/3/4 miles a week.  Granted, my running is still pretty slow.  However, it was slow the last time I did it, and I eventually got my speed up to something reasonable.  The thing I like the most about doing it is my brain is pretty much 95% endorphins all the time.  The thing I dislike is the amount of time it takes.  I have to be strict with myself, and run whether I feel it or not.

I’ve booked the first week schedule starting for next week.

It’s time to farm

This year I’m going to scale it back a bit and stick with what is successful:  Kale, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers.  I’m also going to get more berry bushes.  I may or may not try basil again.  I’ve only ever once managed to get it to grow successfully.  I think I found the right place for it this time, but I don’t think the ground was kind to it.  So I’m going to try the same spot again, but stick with pots.

I’m hoping the apple trees make it.  They are starting to bud, right on time for the next freeze.

Flat Pianos

This is more of a gripe, really. Let me tell you a story about the oboe.  Unlike most other instruments, you cant just “pull out” things to make it flatter.  Oh sure, I remember my band teachers telling me to pull out my reed.  When I grew up I learned that makes hardly a dent in the pitch.  The oboe is so dependent on the reed that all the wishing in the world won’t make it play in tune unless you make it to play in tune.

I make my reeds at A-440.  There’s some range in there – I can usually pull it 15 cents in either direction with my embouchure when required (and believe me, it’s required when the trumpet section gets excited and goes sharp).  But there’s a limit, and I hit that like a brick wall this week.  I’m doing a gig with a choir in Tahoe.  It’s actually a lot of fun – we’re playing Puccini.  It’s not a full orchestra, so it’s being supplemented by the piano.  . And the piano is about 18-20 cents flat.  I’m not sure if it hasn’t been tuned, or if it was tuned by someone that forgot to reset the tuner calibration.

Point is, I came in with my nice A-440 reeds and I was ridiculously sharp compared to everyone else.  I wound up gutting my reed mid-rehearsal to drop the pitch down to painful levels.  So, I did finally manage to flatten the reed enough to make it work, and in the process I may have killed it.  I give it two practice sessions tops before it curls up and dies on me.

Moar Concertos

I get to do the Bach duet again (the one I did with Elizabeth) in June.  This time with Josue Casillas covering the violin part on flute.  Finally, a chance to take another stab at that long and meandering second movement I didn’t get quite right in January.

And to make it all more amusing, we’ll be doing a piece by Fasch.  Flute and oboe duet.  Except I’ll be playing the flute part on that one.  I am on board with this idea because this has some tricky work in the upper register, and it will give me a chance to give it a workout.

I’m going to have to practice a lot to pull all of this off!

Cruise

I’m going on another one, YAY!  I wanted to go to Greece.  However, scheduling and timing failed me, so I’ll be hitting Spain, France, and southern Italy.  I’m sure I’ll see a few of the required sights, but quite frankly I just want to be chill, enjoy some of the luxury, eat too much food, and fly home so fat that they charge me an extra baggage fee for my ass.

Games

I don’t have much time nowadays to burn on games, but now and then I give them a whirl if they are interesting enough.  I have a pal that had pestered me (forever) to play Bioshock.  Then he gifted me the games – Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite.  I tried to play Bioshock, but it was so spooky I couldn’t get past the first few levels.  A few weeks ago I was bored.  House was super clean. I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to do something fun.  So I opened up Bioshock Infinite.  And started playing.  It wasn’t scary at first – and by the time the blood and gore started I was so hooked I couldn’t stop playing.  I’ve played a good chunk of the game to date, and I’m really enjoying it.  And once it’s done I’ll probably go back to Bioshock and try that again.  It’s really nice finding a new game to enjoy.  It’s been a while.

Solitude

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the general quietness of my life.  It’s been around 3 months that I’ve been on my own again.  I’m still talking to my therapist.  I’m slowly but surely finding myself and the things I like to do again.  Finding new hobbies.  Finding new things to do.  Taking care of little projects I’ve missed out on over the last year when I was more or less broken.

I do feel lonely sometimes.  I feel regret that things turned out the way they did, and I feel sad for what I’ve lost.  And I am also extremely grateful that it all happened this way so I could have my own personal spring.

That’s all I have to say about what’s floating around in my head.