Key to Reality

A university student asked me if I would teach his boyfriend a trumpet lesson last week. I told him to meet me after my last student on Monday. This student had a beautiful sound, his teacher demonstrated sound to him a lot, I could tell. He had micromanagement issues but that was an easy fix. I wanted to demonstrate length of note to him and I picked up my horn to play. I sounded like garbage.

I’m laughing to myself because I knew why, immediately. My depression had been well maintained until last week. It returned full force last Wednesday and lasted through today, as I type. The first thing that takes a hit is my playing. So when I heard that sound I knew what to do. I put the horn away and thought, “That’s not me. That’s depression.”

The next day my playing was kind of the same. The day after was only slightly better. I had strategies for performing in  depression but I didn’t have any gigs to worry about this coming weekend, which helped. I had a gig last weekend that was…a gig near a bar, so it was relatively easier to survive. Sort of.

I have a heavy gigging schedule in December, I have to kick this, I know how, I just have to give enough of a damn to escape the fog.

Empathy First

I spoke with friends, I let them know what was happening. I cancelled about three days of private teaching and I spent most of that time face down on my bed, flanked by dogs. I couldn’t see the end but I knew there was a way out. I had to be real with as many people as I could.

“With you.”

“Call me anytime.”

“Do what you need to take care of yourself.”

“I know how you feel.”

Empathy and connection has become a necessary bridge to my resilience. I know I haven’t excavated my entire story and that will happen in due time, so empathy gives me the strength to function, it dissipates shame and makes me want to try again.

Giving a Damn: Level Two

I played in a lesson yesterday and some of my usual flexibility returned. My sound was back. I wasn’t 100% but this was better than expected. I think my self-compassion, following the empathy received, got me here. My deep sleep had returned, which restored some hope as well. I have found that hopelessness and sleep deprivation go hand in hand.

I took stock of how I had been taking care of myself. Self deprivation is a go-to for me in depression. Yesterday, I barely ate. It was easy to forget. I had a coffee soaked workaholic day to replace the food consumption, water consumption, and exercise. Then I realized that was my entire past week. When I got hungry I had takeout but that was one tiny meal. I had not been creative, not really. Forget about meaningful work…

…okay, so I have been destroying myself.


I know things are getting better because my sound cleared up today. Getting back to normal, I think.

The Science of Self-Care

I learned that self-deprivation comes in many forms but four things in particular give rise to the levels of a certain hormone that the human body can’t handle too much of: cortisol.

When you are dehydrated your cortisol goes up, when you’re malnourished your cortisol goes up. When you’re under exercised, your cortisol goes up. When you’re sleep-deprived, your cortisol goes up. When you’re stressed out, overworked, underplaying, your cortisol goes up.

Cortisol, a steroid that acts as a hormone, is naturally released from the adrenal gland into the body for the purpose of processing glucose. Its levels decrease in a sort of ebb and flow over the day, the lowest levels being at the end of the day. Cortisol is also one of the main ingredients pumped into our body as part of the fear response.

(More details regarding the effect of the stress response on the body is best illustrated in this 4 minute long TED-Ed video: )

So, in summary, shame and self-deprivation can create a super fear response in me. This kind of performance anxiety isn’t just your usual irrational anxiety, it’s ultra irrational anxiety. Lock down the rib cage/can’t breathe anxiety. I know I am going to eventually feel better. It’s worth it to maintain my health.

Giving a Damn: Level Three

I’m now at a cafe where I will force feed myself a salad. I got a bottle of water and I’m going to watch my intake. I’m sitting in the sun, which feels awesome. I will be exercising after work, perhaps one of my Jillian Michaels workouts. I’m going to probably get some Indian food for dinner. Maybe I’ll get some epsom bath salt from Whole Foods and read the new book by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama until I drift asleep.

I figured out something very important.  All this time I have been engaging in self-care, so that I could be the best version of myself when I perform. Well, something changed. I realized that now I engage in self care, therapy, creativity, and exercise, etc, because that is what I deserve, I deserve tremendous care and self-nurturing and the rich life that comes with taking care of oneself. 

Some of you may think, “Well, duh,” and then some of you may think, “Exercising is for avoiding being fat so I can be acceptable.” This is the worthiness-susceptibility to shame spectrum.

I think this realization came with understanding that I over-identified with the self imagery built in years of self deprivation. So instead of thinking “I’m eating fried things to numb pain” or “I am being apathetic to numb pain” or “I am keeping my room messy” to numb pain, it was easier to think I am a fat, lazy, slob. A short-lived dissonance came along every once in a while when  my living space was clean, or when I ate healthy food or when I exercised, but I always returned to numbing. That’s the work of shame.

It makes sense that shame, up until now, has shape shifted itself into my self care for the purposes of playing well, because that has been the motivation all along hasn’t it? I think my self-care is now finally making itself separate from my job and my art and you name it. Trumpet playing is starting to become the side item it should’ve been all along. For me, this is pretty big.

Giving a Damn: Level Four

I slept through an appointment I was supposed to have with my therapist a couple days ago. She is sweet, allowing me to reschedule without charging. I still have issues to discover/resolve and this depression mess could happen again.

The cool thing is, this is the fastest I have ever handled the symptoms getting out of control. I know the only thing standing in the way of those gigs in December going smoothly is my self-care. Behind that self-care is the real me, my very best.

Times get tough, but I am really proud of what I have come to know. I am proud of what I have made peace with.

(originally published on November 17, 2016)


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