Freedom Praise Band

My Journey with Performance Anxiety

Turning 40.  No big deal, or so I thought.  I had been playing/singing in front of people practically all my life.  The joy that it gave me was incredible.  Then one night, that all changed .  During a performance with my band, all of a sudden without any warning, everything started to go black; I felt as though I was going to faint; my legs started shaking; my heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my chest; my hands were cold, sweaty and clammy.  If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was having some sort of heart episode.  Thinking it was a fluke, that perhaps I was hungry or tired, I dismissed it.  Although, I didn't forget it.

Then it happened again...and again...and again.  Each time, I was playing/singing in front of an audience.  It got to the point that I didn't want to play/sing anymore.  One time, it happened during a mass that I was playing for.  I immediately unplugged my guitar and left.  I told the other musician that I didn't feel well and I had to go.  Despite my troubles, I kept trying to pull it off.  I discovered that if I sat down (instead of standing up) to play, it helped to put me in a relaxed state so I started to sit down to play/sing.  I also noticed that if I was not in the 'spotlight', I also felt better.  So, I started to situate myself 'off to the side of the stage' instead of directly in the center.  The changes definitely helped but by no means did the anxiety leave completely.

The anxiety started to permeate in my work environment where I am an Elementary Music Educator.  One day I recall rehearsing with my students for a concert that we were going to be doing.  As I was playing the piano for them, I suddenly was overcome with the anxiety feelings:  heart palpatations, feelings of passing out; shaky legs, etc...I went to our school nurse who decided I should go to the ER.  While there at the ER, they did all sorts of tests but could not find anything physically wrong with me, which was a relief.  Once again, it certainly felt as though I was having some sort of a heart attack. 

The Doctor suggested that perhaps I had a panic attack...the panic attack symptoms certainly matched my experience so I pursued that possibility.  I started reading up on 'panic attacks' and discovered other performers who suffered from the same issue.  On the one hand, I was comforted by that fact but on the other, I could not understand why, after all these years of performing was I just starting to exhibit these tendencies.  I decided to seek help by talking to a psychologist.

The psychologist offered me lots of possible ways to deal with my panic attacks (i.e. breathing techniques, visualization, etc...), which I believe helped to some extent.  Still, the panic attacks continued and I noticed that the sensations started to appear outside of 'performance situations'.  One day, for example, I was walking into a grocery store when all of a sudden the panic attack struck; another time, I was in line at a conference and once again, the panic attack came and I had to leave the area.  So now my day to day activities were being affected.

One day, I was talking to a doctor friend of mine and telling him about my situation.  He told me, 'You know, Eddie, it doesn't have to be that way...'.  He went on to explain that just like people who have high blood pressure take medicine to control it and just like diabetics take medicine to control their condition, there is also medication to help control performance anxiety/panic attacks.  Its a matter of finding the correct medication for my personal situation.  I have never been one to rely on medication for anything so my first reaction was to ignore his advice.  However, after talking to my wife and praying about it, I decided to take action and see if medication was something that would work for me.

At my first visit with the psychiatrist, he explained to me the physiological changes that can take place in a person's body (brain) over time and medication is used to help regulate those changes.  He went on to explain that there are a variety of medications that can be used to treat performance anxiety; it's a matter of finding the right one for each person.  So, he started with one that is most commonly used for my situation and 'bingo', my body responded in a positive way.  To make a long story, short, the correct med/dosage apparently did it's job in regulating whatever it was that needed regulating in my brain!

It has now been close to 10 years that I have been taking medication for performance anxiety and I can gladly say that I have not suffered a panic attack since.  My doctor likes to say that I am a poster child for this med since it worked so smoothly and effectively.  I am grateful for the fact that I can perform without worries for it (performing) is one of the things that I believe I was made to do in this life.  Reflecting back, I'm not sure what my life would've been like had I not taken my doctor friends' advice all those years ago.