Grief and Performance Anxiety

October 23, 2017, 1:44 PM · Looking for some wisdom here. My "little" brother passed away two months ago. I'm definitely not over the shock of it and there's a busy performance weekend this weekend in my community orchestra. I'm in the first stand, so I have some significant duet parts with the concertmaster. At first I thought going to rehearsals and such would help me have something to focus on and the music would help me heal and it would all be a positive thing, but I'm remembering I typically have a bit of performance anxiety and sometimes the worst part is having the blues after a performance. I've been noticing a pattern of letting some of my worst emotions out on the weekends because I can, but this weekend would be one where I'd have to work very hard to pull myself together. Has anyone else experienced this sort of conundrum or have some wisdom they could share with me regarding whether I should play this weekend or even for like half of the season (I'm not feeling like my heart will be very much into Christmas music this year). Uff da.

Replies (14)

October 23, 2017, 1:57 PM · Let me add that I've enjoyed the social aspect of going to rehearsals, but now I feel like it's a choice between healing well or letting people down. It really should seem like a no-brainer, but I would really welcome some insight or personal stories.
October 23, 2017, 3:13 PM · I am so sorry for what happened to you! I can only tell you, that when my mother was in chemotherapy and in very bad condition it helped me to have something to do other than helping her to get from point A to B and cooking and watching for her after a session.
It was different to your situation though, because I was kind of forced to act all the time and somehow escaped into that workflow. Be careful though, that you eat and rest well, because in such situations the body sometimes runs in emergency mode and ignore its needs. Also mentally sometimes you avoid the silence, not to be confronted with your sadness. That can take its toll later, if you do not try to calm down and care for yourself actively regularly. My body did break down one year after the stress. I don't know if it was the only reason though.
I also had days where I couldn't play a note, because emotions overwhelmed me and even music seemed so pointless suddenly. But seeing my students and working with them was a help!
I also had concerts with my band back then and I cried the shit out of me before the concerts, just because the tension before the concert was too much for me at that moment. But I didn't show anyone.
Looking back at that time I probably should have taken some days off and cancel some concerts. But it is hard to "let people down", especially if you worked hard for the concerts and actually want to play.
But don't underestimate your mental health and the stress your body is going through!
I wish you all the best and I am sure you will do the right thing!
Edited: October 23, 2017, 10:27 PM · Dear Jenny,
I'm so sorry for your loss. It's still very fresh yet you are so brave to talk about your grief so graciously. Brava!

I experienced a sudden loss of my late husband a few years ago. During the first year, I was a total mess. I couldn't listen to music, which was always in the house, as Daniel was a composer as well as a scholar. Music permeated in our 20+ happy years together. I didn't touch the violin for more than a year.

I've got so much to say about grieving, but the most of all, I think we have to be gentle to ourselves during such moment. Let people know you are grieving, and that you are not well enough to keep up with everything you used to do. You'll be amazed how much people would understand.

I also experienced anxiety attacks since the passing of Daniel. I'm still dealing with performance anxiety, but I'm not sure if this is related to my grief. I wouldn't be surprised if it was part of recovery that I need to keep dealing with for as long as it is necessary.

During that first year, I did force myself go to watch a couple of live concerts. It was very hard. It brought back so many memories and tears. Looking back, I wasn't ready for that.

This is what worked for me. I took a few weeks off from work to rest, to get necessary paperwork done, to arrange memorial service, etc. I had months of intense grief counselling. That was very helpful. I read like crazy. Mostly books on grieving and acceptance (such as Stoic philosophy). I exercise regularly and eat well. I make sure to maintain a healthy (meaning on my own terms) social life. My immediate family is far away in China but I have been well-supported by my dear friends and people at work. Without such social support, my recovery road would have been very different I'm sure.

I hope you can find the support you need as well. Don't underestimate the impact of loss of your loved one. Take time to read about it and talk about it. When significant loss such as this occurs, grieve we must, but everyone grieves differently. Don't worry about others. They should be supportive to you, or else don't mind them. You will know when you are ready.

Edited: October 23, 2017, 4:22 PM · Jenny, my condolences on your loss. Please read this book:

May your grief recovery be a gentle journey through healing.

October 23, 2017, 5:23 PM · Thank you all for your gracious responses. It really means a lot to have insight from others. <3
October 23, 2017, 7:40 PM · I don't know what's best for you, but have the following to mention -- loss isn't something you have a time limit on, so you can't plan on stopping living until the time has expired and then do everything you should/want to, and music is a great outlet for emotion when played. If you play something sad when you're sad, you won't necessarily be sadder, as you'll have expressed that.
October 23, 2017, 7:46 PM · Jenny, you have gotten some helpful responses above. I just wanted to say how very sorry I am for your loss.
October 23, 2017, 11:55 PM · Same from me. My heart goes out to you.
October 24, 2017, 1:11 AM · Honestly, you probably need to take a break. I fear that the responsibility might prevent you from properly grieving, as much as a part of you wants a distraction from the pain. Later on, you can get back into it, but for the right reasons. Music is a luxury, but grieving is not.
October 24, 2017, 7:06 AM · Jenny, I am so sorry for your grief. My experience is one I hope no one shares, bit for what itvs worth...
My mother died the Friday of a Memorial Day weekend, when I was contracted to play on a quartet for a wedding and reception. No substitute was available on such short notice on a holiday weekend, so I went & played, closing my mind to everything but the job at hand. None of my quartet knew of my loss till afterward, and that, oddly, gave me support to concentrate.
The intense concentration squashed both grief and performance anxiety...for those 3 hours...& provided the first (and only for many weeks} promise that life, joy, and music would return, eventually.
I hope you find ways to weave your sorrow unto your life while it--slowly--eases.
October 24, 2017, 11:57 AM · Jenny, I'm not an expert in the grieving process, and I don't really think there is a correct way to do it, but you might look around for some counseling services, which can be free or low-cost if you look in places like universities.

If you decide that playing is a bit much, maybe take this concert off and let them know so they can find someone to play those duet parts. If you find that the orchestra is an important part of your socializing, then maybe you don't want to take a break, but I don't think you will do yourself any favors by forcing yourself through this.

When my dad died two years ago, I kind of put the grieving off until I had discharged some of my responsibilities. Practicing violin and going to lessons gave me some nice continuity, but things didn't hit me in certain ways until I had some space in my life. From there, I decided to do a lot of yoga, spend time with friends and do things for myself. If you find yourself falling apart, it may be what you need, but on the other hand, the tiniest sliver of a routine can be sort of grounding and keep you from completely unraveling.

October 24, 2017, 12:21 PM · I haven't really experienced a close loss yet, even though I'm in my 50s. But I can see them coming on the horizon. So I'm grateful to listen to all of this insight coming from so many warm souls.
October 27, 2017, 9:31 PM · I greatly appreciate all your perspectives. It's good to have affirmation on either side of such a decision. I've decided to try to rejoin the orchestra for the second half of the season and focus on teaching my students and arranging things for a recording project I get to be in this summer. Probably get a bit of professional help, too, besides my support group. Thank you.
October 28, 2017, 12:25 AM · A close loss is a reminder that we're all human beings here. One discovers what really counts in life, and in the long term, it is beneficial to know because it helps us become better people.

You're in my thoughts. :-)

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