The delightful thing about PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and the like, is how they can sneak up on you out of the blue and without warning. It’s very unsporting of them. One should be given a fair shake when trying to deal with one’s demons, I believe. Today was one of those days. We awoke to a lovely blanket of snow. It was light and fluffy, very pretty, and deceptively slippery. Mr. OneWoman and I sighed and said, “Ugh, not more snow!” But we brushed off the car and headed off to church like the troopers we are. We’re used to this winter nonsense, even though this year has been particularly wintry.
We slid a few times, but made it church without incident. Just a few minutes late. I’m in the choir, and I went in for the pre-church rehearsal. Our accompanist/organist hadn’t fared as well as we had. He had called and said he was stuck on the freeway, surrounded by multiple accidents, and he wasn’t sure how long it would take him to get in. This began a flurry of conversations amongst the choir members. Could we sing such and such a hymn a capella? How would we practice without our leader? What about the anthem? Could we possibly pull it off without the piano?
This is when I heard one of our members coming down the stairs saying, “She can play the piano.”
The panic started creeping in immediately. I knew the “she” being discussed was me. My heart started beating faster. Palms stared sweating. I tried to make myself very, very invisible.
Yes, I can play the piano. And I play very well. In my house. By myself. With no one around.
My stage fright is of colossal proportions. So much so that many people, even in the church where I have been since childhood, don’t even know I can play. When I do play for a group, it is after many weeks of diligent practice. And there’s a whole process I have to go through ahead of time. Yoga breathing, lots of psyching myself up, a good deal of prayer, plenty of reassurances from my husband that I will indeed do fine. I simply cannot play on the spur of the moment. I have a deep envy and admiration of those who can.
This all was tumbling around my brain as my dear friend came down the stairs. She came right up to me and said, “You can play the accompaniment for us!” I stammered and said that no, I can’t. She smiled reassuringly and said that I play very well and of course I could. In her mind, I think it was a done deal and I was not supposed to say no. She started looking agitated herself as I continued to say that I simply couldn’t. The panic got worse and worse. There were three people who could have saved me at this point, who understand my fears–my mother, my husband, and the pianist himself. They all understand and would have dissuaded her from asking further. But they weren’t around. Now others were joining her. They had heard me play before and couldn’t understand why, with 15 minutes notice, I couldn’t just play the music for today’s service. It was very, very triggering.
Thank the Lord, the pianist arrived just in the nick of time. Never has there been a more welcome sight than his snow-covered face.
I have always had stage fright, but the real trigger here was the demand for immediate action. And the lack of acceptance of my “no”. I do not know if this particular trigger stems wholly from my time with Mark. But one of the things he used to do was demand that I play songs for his friends, and then publicly berate me when I didn’t play perfectly. It was horrible, and I believe it is one of the main reasons I have such trouble playing “on demand”, even for friends and loved ones.
It took most of the day for the panicky feeling to completely leave me. I hate this. I truly do. I would have loved nothing better than to have sat down at the piano and helped out my friends, making a valuable contribution to the church service. And I hate the feelings I had about my friends afterward. I was angry. They truly did not understand, and their intentions were all good. They thought they had come up with a perfect solution to a tricky situation. I was angry, and felt guilty and sad at the same time. I felt I had let them down.
Do any of you have triggers such as this that keep you from doing something you truly love? Playing the piano is healing for me. It is the opposite of trauma. It makes me feel whole and close to God. It makes me feel good about myself, that I am a person with a beautiful talent. But then PTSD rears its ugly head and turns the thing I love into the thing I fear.
It just isn’t fair.