Anxiety, self-doubt, and the day I lost my voice

Ariel, via Pinterest
Ariel, via Pinterest

I have terrible anxiety and deep-seated self-doubt.

As you can probably tell, it takes me forever to conjure up a new blog post, much of it to do with me being my own worst critic, and a crippling fear of being called out for my mediocrity. Far too often, I find myself seated in front of my computer screen, staring into the emptiness of WordPress’s “Add New Post” box, and trying to tune out that voice in my head going, “Forget it, you have nothing interesting to say, plus nobody cares.” And regretfully, 9 times out of 10, I close that window in defeat.

Since completing Tea in Pajamas in 2012,  it took me two whole years before I mustered the courage and confidence to decide to publish it. I told people it was because I was afraid of being stalked by an ex, but in truth, my real fear stemmed from the possibility of failing spectacularly in public. Nasty reviews, book sales of something like 5 copies—and only to immediate family members coerced into doing so—and an all-round soul-destroying experience of confirming I’m truly not good enough.

That explains why, being convinced that no traditional publisher would give me the time of the day, I decided to go the indie author route. The irony, of course, is that when you self-publish, you don’t get to let the publisher’s branding do the work for you, but are forced instead to build your own brand. Furthermore, I completely overlooked the fact that when you assume full ownership over the writing, production, marketing, and sales of your own book, you’re forced to come out of your shell and—horror of horrors—tell people who you (think you) are, and why you (think you) matter. 

Incidentally, 2012 was the same year I’d had enough of my eating disorder, and made a conscious decision to work at overcoming it. In my “recovery research”, I watched dozens of YouTube videos of girls who’d successfully “crossed over” to the other side (“recovered”) and tried to steal a few nuggets of wisdom from them. However, to my chagrin, most of their tips were general at best, and opportunistic at worst (“sign up for the complete online package to see how I did it!”). That really made me think that if I ever I did “make it to the other side”, I would absolutely share my story of how I did it, 100% free and online. From this desire came the birth of the Everything Takes Forever series, which is ongoing.

I am digressing a little. The point of this entry is about how paralysed I can be by an utter lack of self-belief. One of the things I came across in the myriad online literature concerning “ED recovery how-tos” was a single question posed by someone who’d recovered: “What would you being doing right now if you weren’t having this ED?” She went on to suggest making a list of all the things I’d love to do if I wasn’t shackled to the demands of keeping up with an ED (basically a round-the-clock obsession with food and exercise). I still have that list somewhere, but I remember “writing a book” being one of the items on my list, along with “learning French again” and “getting back into singing”.

I’ve spoken of my Francophile tendencies, but singing has been on my mind a lot more lately. Since I hung up my choir girl robes some 7 years ago, I’ve somehow come into a love-hate relationship with my singing voice. Growing up, I’d never questioned my ability to hit the high notes or sing a decent melody, and as proof of just how un-self-conscious I was, I chose for my choir audition song “Part of Your World” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Yes, Delusional Disney Princess moment. But I got in.

Maybe it’s simplistic to attribute a singular incident to deep-seated psychological fears, but I truly believe my confidence in singing, and therefore all things in general, took a nosedive one particular evening at a choir rehearsal before mass. The week before, I’d been picked to do a solo for a psalm and had considered it such a cinch I barely practised more than twice at home. Yet that very day, I’d overslept from an afternoon nap and in my rush to get to church, I didn’t warm up my voice, or see the need to. When it was time for a quick run-through before the real thing, I opened my mouth to sing, and something strange happened. It was like I was Ariel again—only this time, in the scene where Ursula pulls her voice out of her. Barely audible sounds escaped my lips and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong or differently.

“I can do it,” I’d said to the choir master. In my mind, I just needed a couple of minutes, and once behind a mic, I was sure I’d sound like myself again. “No, you can’t. I’m sorry, I just cannot take the chance,” he replied. Understandably, my solo part went to another more competent chorister, but that was the defining moment. Psalm 16 and the day I lost my ability to sing.

“I can do it.”

“No, you can’t.”

Such has been my internal monologue ever since—even today as I type this.

But I’m also done sitting back and doing nothing about it.

Terrifying as it was to put into action, Tea in Pajamas is one small step towards being kinder to myself. My own small way of saying, “So what?”, “Oh yeah?” and “Watch me.”

Now for the next step. After much careful thought, I’ve decided to give myself another chance by way of singing lessons. This weekend, I’m headed for a private session with a vocal coach—my first ever. If nothing else, I hope to find out for certain if my inner Disney Princess from all those years ago can be resuscitated, or even some of that delusion that came with me once believing I could sing like Ariel.

And as for that list I once made of all the hypothetical things I’d do if I wasn’t having an ED, I don’t know where I’ve placed the original scrap of paper it was scribbled on, but I’m in no hurry to empty my drawers and ransack my cabinets. Actually, I think I’ll compose a new list, and I can think of a new item to add to it:

“Sing Psalm 16.”