Fear Itself: Awareness, Part I

I wasn’t always afraid to sing or perform in front of others, of course.  Phobias aren’t delivered when we are.  “Congratulations!  It’s a girl . . . with Friggatriskaidekaphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Ablutophobia, so good luck with her first bath.”

**Friggatriskaidekaphobia – Fear of Friday the 13th.  Ablutophobia – Fear of washing or bathing.**

Like all newborns, I was fearless.  So, of course, I wasn’t afraid of being heard.  I wanted to be heard.  If I had something to yell, or cry, or laugh, or squeal, or grunt, or coo about, I opened up my mouth and let it fly.

And so it was with singing for the first decade of my life.

Awareness, Part I

Learn to let it fly again!

Midway through my third grade year, a new job took my mom, and consequently me, sixty miles south of my birthplace.  I arrived at my new school just in time to sign up for the annual talent show, and I was thrilled.  Finally, a chance to sing “Tomorrow” from Annie for an audience larger than my dog Daffodil.

I auditioned for the music teacher, Mr. Sump’n-or-’nother, in front of my entire class.  And before agreeing to let me sing for the show, he gave me this advice:  “You’re trying to sing this song like the actress in the movie sings it.  Sing it like you instead.”  It was the first voice lesson I ever received, and some of the best advice I still take to this day.

Performance day was just three weeks into my stint at this elementary school.  And in front of a gym-full of unfamiliar parents, teachers, and students, I sang with pure joy and enthusiasm.  Was I any good?  I don’t know.  I don’t remember how I sounded.  I only remember how that moment felt – and it felt great!  I also remember, and remember well, how my mom was in total awe of my courage.  “Who is this brave kid?” she wondered aloud.

It was as good a start in performance as anyone could hope for.  If only it had lasted. . .

Awareness 2, Part I

As a kid, I was perfectly happy to step in front of one of these.

Another move at the beginning my fourth grade year took me to a school with lots of opportunities.  My music teacher was kind, competent, and thanks to her, I was progressing as a musician.  I remember in choir rehearsal once, she told the group, “Someone besides Anita needs to start singing out!  She’s the only one I can hear.”  Shyness was clearly not my issue yet.

My mom decided that singing was not a phase I was going through.  I had found my “thing,” and she felt that I needed a private voice teacher.  She had a lot of trouble finding one that would take a nine-year-old student.  I’m glad for that because it eventually led us to the person who would be my teacher, mentor, and big-sister-type for the next ten years of my life.  No one else would have been as good a fit for me.

After a school-year of voice lessons, my teacher hosted a vocal recital for her students.  Like every other opportunity to sing and perform up to that point, I was excited about it.  I was prepared.  I knew the song.  I was ready.  So it came as a total surprise to me, to my voice teacher, and to my mom when I got on stage, and completely froze.  I opened my mouth to sing, and nothing came out.  Not a sound.  My throat choked.  I had my first panic attack.  There was a roaring in my ears that I can only compare to the rush of an avalanche.  My vision went blurry, my muscles went numb, my skin was stinging, and I stumbled forward.

What happened between my third grade and fourth grade years that initiated my stage fright from – what felt like – out of nowhere?  In a word – awareness.

Anita_Ortiz - 009

‘Does this piano make my butt look big?’

– Anita, Noted in Nashville

TO BE CONTINUED . . . WHEN?  Depends on how much the sun shines next week.  😉

*This is part of my “Fear Itself” Series.  To catch up on past posts, click here.


16 thoughts on “Fear Itself: Awareness, Part I

  1. Ah, yes, awareness. Sometimes being lost in our unaware mindsets can be a blessing. Of course, if we stayed that way, we wouldn’t be very popular, everyone avoiding us like the plague.

    It is interesting how phobias creep up on us though. But I have to say, I’m really glad no one in my family has Ablutophobia.

    • Ha, ha! Me too. Talk about avoiding someone like the plague. . .

      Yeah, it’s funny how our “issues” creep up on us in unusual and unexpected ways. I remember the last time I wore a turtleneck. I was in 10th grade, and by 2nd period, I was nearly in tears. I never knew before that day how much I can’t stand things near my neck. It’s a shame too because the older I get, the better I’d look in a turtleneck. 😉

  2. Fantastic story Anita and so true! It’s funny how those little demons creep up to bite us in the arse. And your description of stage fright was spot on. It’s a horrible feeling to get alone, or in the company of a few but in front of an audience…crippling. As if everyone in the entire world is wholly focused on YOU! I do like your point too because it’s absolutely true. How these things can come and go at different times in our life and strike us strong again as if they had never left! Looking forward to the follow up on this Anita. Great post and sharing now.

    • “. . . Bite us in the arse” is the absolute best way to put it! I was talking to a friend the other day (who is also a musician) about stage fright. She, like me, has suffered in silence for a long time. She worried that talking about it might only exacerbate the situation. I told her that keeping it private for so long has never helped it go away for me, so I decided to try being open about it. I figured there’s no better place to start than from the beginning. . . Waaay back to the fourth grade. 🙂

      I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been that others – like you – have shared their stories, and admitted to their own fears. Thank you!

  3. Very interesting post, Anita. I can recall myself having a few “episodes” that seemed to come out of the blue, completely unexpected, and this was when I was out of college, an experienced teacher, far past childhood fears and imaginings. I guess they must have been adult fears and imaginings! Whatever, they haunt me to this day. Looking forward to reading your next installment of this series.

    • The more I open up about my own fears, the more I find others who relate. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you want to “bond” with people over, 🙂 but it’s comforting to know I’m not alone. It definitely helps to take the sting out.

      Thank you so much for reading; and as I take this journey to overcome my stage fright, I hope I stumble onto something useful for us all!

  4. I didn’t want the post to stop. I love the progression of your narration and I sincerely wish you would go back to your ‘fearless stage.’ I believe it would happen though, I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. Do have a pleasant weekend my friend!

    • What a lovely compliment! I broke up this post because I was afraid I was rambling, so thank you so much. And it also means more to me than you can possibly know that people are cheering for me to overcome my stage fright. You are a blessing!

  5. Thank you for having the courage to share this. I used to want to be an actress (can’t sing worth a darn though) and had no fear when I was a child either. It wasn’t until high school that it hit me. I wanted to write too, so I switched to writing instead. I can be a character without thousands of eyes watching me. I look forward to you sharing the rest.

    • I also pursued acting, and what I found sooo intimidating were the other actors. I’m sure they were just as terrified as I was, but they seemed so poised and confident. At least as a writer, people expect neuroses. 😉

      Did you see the introduction on The Oscars for the writer awards? Robert DeNiro said this:
      “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story Lori!

      • I did not watch the Oscars, but that surely is an accurate quote. Especially the part about “soul-crushing inadequacy.” I do get lonely in my isolated writer’s world sometimes too. Thanks for sharing that quote. I may use it some time.

      • I’ve heard it said of parenting that as long as you have doubts that you’re doing a good enough job, you’re probably alright. If you think you’ve got it figured out, you’re in big trouble. I think it’s probably the same with writing. 😉

  6. Nice post Anita. I can’t help much with your stage fright, but I do enjoy hearing more of the Anita backstory. You use humor very effectively in your writing, and even if the topic is serious, it’s fun to read. I don’t know if you’ve tried this, but my last corporate job kept my stress meter in the red zone most of the time. I was working in London, and for a year or so I was very into meditation. I attended classes regularly and learned a fair amount about meditation-based eastern religions. It really helped with my stress, and helped me truly see what was important vs what was BS. And where meditation might help with stage fright is that over time, you learn how to focus without focusing. And then there’s the old visualize the audience naked trick. Looking forward to the next installment. ~ James

    • Thank you James. I was really lucky as a little girl to have someone in my life to teach me the art of “not taking yourself too seriously.” I’ve learned to laugh at myself and my circumstances . . . eventually. 🙂

      I have tried meditation, and I’ve read that it can definitely help with stage fright – although I haven’t been able to make the connection yet. What you said about separating what’s important with the BS really turned on a light bulb. Thank you, great advice!

  7. Pingback: Fear Itself: Awareness, Part II | Noted in Nashville

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