Battling Fear: The Wall

I began my morning with meditation again, and while my mind still spins, I can already feel the benefits of what this daily ritual will do for me. Focusing on the breath is really important – not just when I’m playing clarinet. We hold so much emotion inside of us…I am an overachiever in that area. I added another layer to my battle against fear yesterday- I began EMDR, or “tapping” therapy with the wonderful therapist who did grief counceling with me after Mom died. It is a fascinating approach to dealing with deep-seated fears and issues, and I am embracing what it has to offer.  Some people are uncomfortable with the idea of therapy, but I want to be open and honest about this process in the hopes it might help someone dealing with difficult things. I believe it takes courage to admit that you need help and to seek it out- it is in no way a weakness. 

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapy method that helps people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that result from disturbing life experiences. It works much more quickly than other forms of therapy, and shows that the mind has the ability to heal a psychological trauma very much like the body heals a physical wound. If you are interested, here is a link that describes it for laypeople:

I am a big believer in EMDR, as I used it two years ago to help with severe nightmares I was having dealing with issues from my first tumultuous marriage. The nightmares decreased significantly. Unlike traditional talk therapy, there is not much talking during each session. I hold alternately vibrating ‘paddles’ or ‘tappers’ in each hand, and we address a specified target or memory that we are going to work through. The intervals are brief, and my therapist stops to ask me what thoughts or feelings came up, then redirects me to focus on that and we go again, working through the web of memories and emotions tied to them. All along, she asks me to be aware of my body and what I am feeling. 

As we began, I told her that I felt a knot in my stomach and tightness in my chest, something that had been with me for months. I have held so many things inside for many years…and it’s time to let them go. We began the session, focusing on the first performance I did less than two weeks after Mom died- too soon. It was a terrifying experience- I played a piece I’d performed many times, and I’d just had a terrific run-through with my collaborative pianist. When I walked onto stage and began to play, for just a few seconds, the strangest thing happened- I couldn’t read the music- it looked like a foreign language…music that I had read and performed successfully for over thirty years. Something clicked after the second measure, and I went back to “normal”, finishing with a strong performance. But…I was terrified, and went to my office, shaking and bursting into tears. I have felt fear every time I have stepped on stage since then, afraid that the phenomenon would reoccur. This is not good, as I perform a lot- it’s part of my job- and I want to enjoy it. With the Madrid recital coming up next month, I knew that I had to find a way to deal with this. 

As we worked through the target experience, I was amazed at how the mind works. Layer after layer of memories and emotions peeled back. One of the strongest images that came up was of a wall. I was trying to kick and punch my way through it, but the wall was very thick. I could see the small points of light shining through where I had managed to make holes. I knew what I was looking for was on the other side, and that it was worth the battle to get there. 

At one point, she asked me to check in with my body again, to notice what I felt as she turned on the vibrating paddles again. Out of nowhere, I felt a pain in my heart and began to tear up. When she stopped and asked me what I’d noticed, I told her that my heart hurts because my mom was gone. She helped me see the difference between what felt like tension from performance anxiety or anxiety in general, and the hurt in my heart that would probably be there for a while. It does help to see the differences and honor them. 

In a way, I felt like I was an observer, seeing the progression of my thoughts float by, building on one another to a more positive conclusion.  I saw my father and my first husband as the purveyors of “you are not good enough”, and my mother and Dan as the bearers of love and encouragement. There was so much more, but by the end the original disturbing memory of not being able to read the music seemed like it was far in the distance, and the tightness in my chest and belly were gone. I am eager for our next session to see where it takes me. 

When I talked with my therapist about not wanting to live in fear like my mother, she told me that she didn’t see a woman who was living in fear- she saw a very self-aware  woman who was facing an issue and looking for healthy ways to deal with it. That mindset is a much more positive one than I had prior to meeting with her, and I am grateful for it. 

Another step along my path in this summer of focusing on self-improvement and growth. I am working to disband the feelings that I have to be perfect (whatever that is), and know that if I am doing my very best, that will always be good enough- no matter what. One day at a time. Now, time to practice and work on revamping my book proposal. As I tell my students, “positive thoughts, positive actions, positive results.”  It’s time for the teacher to listen to her own lessons.  It’s also time for that wall to come down- there are beautiful things on the other side, and I am ready to embrace them all.  

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