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Signs of panic


Peter Clark
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I'll be second.

This makes me regret all the more not listening and taking the advice from my first post school tutor, a recitalist based on the US eastern seaboard, who was never a church musician. He clearly spotted the problems and pointed me in the direction of a book to help alongside his tutoring. As a spotty 18 year old I thought I knew better, but did not. Having found the book many years later and begun to read it, nail upon nail was hit firmly on the head. Whilst I find the concept of 'self help' books a little grotesque, it has been of benefit, but I regret never tackling the issues raised to give me the ability to perform solo to a paying audience; so frustrating when you know the skills are there, but the mindset is not.

 

At least my Sunday morning congregation gives a ripple of applause, and whether you think it's appropriate or not, it does make you feel good.

 

AJS

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My ancillary studies included Psychology, and I have spent a lot of time reading it since; largely due to someone I knew becoming delusional and eventually a full blown schizophrenic. I'm not sure that this helped very much, but it certainly made me more sympathetic to the condition.

In the course of that study, I think I learned much about neuroses, panic reactions, phobias and other things which can contribute to personal difficulties.

I currently have a young man staying with me, whom I have known for some time. He comes from an abusive family of dead-beat alcoholics, drug users and thieves, but he is good natured enough, and always turns to me when he has a problem. Four months ago, he crawled to my door-step in a terrible state following an accident, in which he suffered a badly smashed ankle. Following a major operation, my spare room seemed like a suitable nursing-home, and this is where he still languishes, simply because I hadn't the heart to throw him out when the pot came off.....he seemed so happy. Although not mentally-ill, John, (he has a name), has long demonstrated an impressive repertoire of phobic and neurotic reactions. . If anyone raised their voice, he would flee. If anyone passed within two yards of him, he would recoil. Any sharp movement, and he would flinch. The slightest leg-pull or criticism would cause an immediate torrent of irrational verbal abuse. Now things are very different. He giggles when I pull his leg, he calls me names when I call him names. He is more confident, and now that he knows he has potential, he is learning that he can be taught to read and write. He has a long way to go, but his progress has been staggering in so short a time, and if the truth be known, I'm enjoying playing a part in his future!

If I've learned anything from John (and others), I think it might be that panic reactions can either be phobic or neurotic; sometimes triggered by specific situations and sometimes not, as the case may be. As with all such reactions, they appear irrational and are often uncontrollable; the symptoms much less important than the cause.

Sometimes, the best "therapy" is simply sharing the problem with others. Some people prefer to share it with strangers, and others with those close to them. It doesn't matter, so long as it gets a result. After all, a problem is never as permanent as a solution.

The first thing is to know that phobic and neurotic reactions are not indicators of mental illness. I recall someone who was terrified of crowds, and I thrust sunglasses on his face, hung onto his arm and dragged him through Brick Lane market in London, on a Sunday afternoon. (Everyone assumed he was blind.....clever stuff!). A year later, he was addressing seminars with great confidence.

Phobias can often be confronted, as was his, and all it took was a bit of emotional support and the courage to face it head on.

Neurotic reactions are almost always, I suspect, due to a lack of security. We all get those; especially if we take on something which is a little beyond reach, or when we are way out of our depth. Some people are very ontologically insecure, and neurotic by nature, but everyone appears to have a natural neurosis or anxiety level, beyond which they start to have problems. Some performers refer to being "inside the comfort zone" or "outside the comfort zone," as the case may be.

Those who have been bullied are often very timid, even if they stand 2 metres high and have muscles like gorillas. Those who have been heavily and constantly criticised as children, are often terrified of the possibility of failure, (as I used to be, due to learning difficulties at school). The trouble is, that timidity and self-doubt tend to be self-fulfilling, and the more people try, the worse it often gets. Perhaps the best way around this, (as it was with the young man with the fear of crowds), is to have someone there to encourage and support, because there is no better way of overcoming things than by succeeding. My own fear of criticism and failure was resolved instantly, when I won the organ-class at a music-festival. "Can't be all that bad then," I recall thinking; since which I've never had any nerves at all.

Self-belief is everything, and to anyone who thinks that they cannot do anything right, I always remind them that they are among the cleverest and smartest animals on the planet. They can work things out, use tools, walk upright, do abstract calculus, see in full colour, and even find their way around from a map. These are amazing talents and abilities, which we all share.

Of course, if the clergy are at the root of the problem, I always think it is helpful to imagine, (preferably while they are giving the blessing), what they must look like naked in the bathroom, first thing in the morning.

 

MM

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Thank you MusingMuso for a wonderful post. All this is very relevant to this Board because all people who play the organ - especially, I suspect, those who do it in church out of a religious belief - will have times of self doubt. Without people to play them there would be no need for organs and therfore no need for organ builders!

 

A few more thoughts which I hope will not make me seem too pompous.

 

Years ago, when I used sometimes to go on residential courses at Addington Palace, I used to sit in the chapel in the evening and, through the clear glass windows, see the lights in the homes in, what was then the quite notorious council estate of, New Addington and I used to ponder that each of those homes there was a personal tragedy of some kind. Recently I have noted that, for me, on-line discussion boards and social networking sites are rather like going to daily Shrine Prayers (intersessions woven around the Rosary) at Walsingham because they all show you that other people's problems are worse than your own. That can, in itself, be a postive and healing thing.

 

Over the years I have commented to a number of people that by dealing with, and being helped by others to overcome,their own seemingly insurmountable problems, that helps to give them a wonderful ability and gift in the future to empathise with and help others in similar situations. This is not necessarily a religious thing, I know that many people without any religious or church affiliation do it naturally without thinking about it and do it every day.

 

One of the things we need to rmeember is that nobody is - or can be - perfect and that we all, at different times and to varying degress, need the hlep and support of others. Let's be personal. One of the most damaging and wicked things ever said to me was said by my mother when I was a young child namely "I want you to be perfect". Any deviation from being perfect was seen as reflecting badly upon, and embarrassing, her and what it was doing to me appeared to be irrelevant. Only in the past couple of years or so have I cme to terms with that. Philip Larkin was right in what he said about parents in one of his poems. In the last couple of weeks I have seen some passing comments by Charles Cleall in one of his books and, how I wish my mother had known and accepted what he was saying. I happen to find the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham an incomparible source of healing, peace and renewal; many others may find the whole place quite dreadful. However, I have had a lot of wonderful things happen to me there in the past 2 or 3 years and I got some very powerful messages when I was there three weeks ago, sitting silently for long periods. I came away with a renewed sense of what I needed to do. The first thing I saw on my e-mail when I got home was a message from a friend (initials BW) saying someone of whom I had only vaguely heard, in a totally different area of the UK, (not a member of this Board) was having a bad time and needed someone to talk to so would I ring that person and talk to them.

 

So. Accept that we all sometimes need help and support from others. Accept also that we need to give that help and support to others and, rather like giving music lessons, when we are helping/teaching others what we are telling them we are also, in effect, telling ourselves.

 

Malcolm

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