Gigging with an anxiety disorder
I played a gig a couple of weeks ago at a café bar. To most, that sounds pretty simple. Turn up with your guitar and sing a few songs in front of people who may or may not care.
I live with an anxiety disorder. For me, that small night was years in the making. I wanted to write this post for every person out there suffering from a mental illness or two that has dreams which seem impossible to fulfil. And to those who shine brightly and push through fear to do the things they love. You're not alone, and we can do this together. The difficulties we face make the good times even better.
It breaks my heart to think of the amazingly talented artists out there who never get heard because performing live seems too big an obstacle. When I considered quitting music not so long ago (I just heard an audible gasp) I kept going because I thought of how far i'd come and how hard i'd worked just to be able to go outside on my own or answer a phone without my heartrate exceeding the numbers my newly-acquired Garmin Vivosmart HR* is capable of tracking.
It was painful to spend my teenage years watching people i'd gone to school with do the rounds at pubs and clubs seemingly without a care in the world. For those with adequate self-esteem and healthy brains, it's a fun experiment to take your music out there to the masses. At least, that's what I imagine it to feel like. To people like me who overthink a trip to the corner shop, it's part of a pyramid of goals. In my case, I actually did draw a pyramid.
Two years ago when I wrote this post, I feared I might never get to play a gig. I've mentioned before that music isn't in my genes and I didn't learn guitar through borrowing a relative's or decide to tag along with a mate to an open mic night. I never became friendly with anyone else who made music until I started uploading my tracks on SoundCloud and got talking to other artists. If it wasn't for the internet, I'm unsure i'd have ever played a gig. That's the internet for you — opening the world up to the socially awkward since err... whenever.
It's not like my dad could just ask Bob down the Rose and Crown for a gig either. We had absolutely zero contacts within the world of music, or the world of basically anything important. I couldn't even get a Saturday job in the local bakery because the woman my mum vaguely knew promised she'd post an application form for me through the door but never actually did. Then there was the issue of even broaching the subject of "Oh by the way i'm going to start being a musician" with my parents and convincing them to drive their carless daughter to random venues. It always seemed so easy for everyone else.
As more people listened to my music, more people offered me gig opportunities. Each time I sighed internally and declined, until one day I found myself in a much better day job that I felt incredibly lucky to have, far better health and a slightly calmer state of mind. It was finally time to accept a gig offer!
Simon Waldram and Autumn Dawn Leader almost fell into my life. I can't even remember how they got there. I just know that they were some of the most loyal, supportive people i'd ever met — particularly on the music scene. I expected Simon to stop asking me to perform with him after a while, but he waited patiently until I was ready. And when I was, he and Autumn were there to answer all of my questions and reassure me that everything was going to be ok and that shaking that happened every time I got I stood in front of more than three people wasn't going to kill me.
I've wondered so many times why I do this to myself — why I put myself through so much stress and fear. When I played that gig a couple of weeks ago, I realised. Standing there in my flowing white dress with my botched-up blonde hair belting out a cover of "All by myself" whilst someone eating their meal paused to shout the chorus whilst I was still on the verse, I finally felt like I was in my natural environment. Like i'd never known any different. Like for those magical moments, I didn't care about the world around me. I was getting lost in the beautiful creation of music. I was doing my second job. I was being emzae.
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