G.P. “Music is my first love”

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A friend mentioned to me that he found Arty-Folks had been useful to improve his mental health and I also picked up a leaflet at Willow View which encouraged me to attend. I’ve been attending Arty-Folks a couple of years now and reflecting back I feel I have progressed in quite a few ways.

My difficulties started while I was studying for my Masters in London.  I had a great upbringing in a loving and supportive family, got through schools ok, and enjoyed Uni.  I am not sure why about half-way through the first year of my Masters I started having bad panic attacks. I was sitting in a seminar and I remember my heart racing and feeling like I was going to die. I thought then it might be a panic attack but because it hadn’t surfaced in this way before I felt frightened.  I remember someone on my course also saying they struggled with anxiety and I realised that I wasn’t the only one who found the pressure hard to handle.

I have such high standards of myself that I need to reach, I feared looking foolish. My perfectionist tendencies and fear of being humiliated kept me stuck in a cycle of fear. It was at this point that I sought help through the NHS. I had some cognitive therapy which has taught me how to deal with panic attacks and I was able to complete my Masters.  After I completed my PGCE I taught music for seven years but didn’t enjoy it. Then something unexpected happened which changed my life.

My breakdown happened during the summer holidays; I had come back to Coventry and the thought of going back for the new academic year simply became impossible. I was unable to do much for a while but began to recover slowly through volunteering and also some focused therapy that helped me to understand that I need to continue challenging myself step by step.  It opened up new doors for me like starting Arty-Folks and having piano lessons.

I have seen Arty-Folks change and develop since I have been there and it is providing me now with new opportunities that I wouldn’t have had before. Over the last few months, and especially since Ellie has been in post, Arty-Folks has had more links with the community and it has helped me to find the confidence to play in public again. It had been a long time since I performed so I started playing with the Coventry & Warwickshire Mind band and now I play twice a month at Soul Space lunch time concerts run by Warwick Road United Reform Church.

I visited the church with someone from Arty-Folks just to have a look at the space and meet organisers. I felt safe going with someone I knew as I become very anxious trying new things. Soul Space absolutely boosted my confidence.

After all the years of not playing publicly it was strange. I’m used to playing at home, which I do often, but it’s usually for myself and it doesn’t have that added adrenaline and excitement that performing gives me. The first session went well but from then on I was apprehensive because I was aware of my expectations and the routine. I felt more self-conscious that I would go wrong.

I’ve been choosing pieces that I feel more confident with and will help listeners practice their relaxation techniques.  In the new year I’ll be trying some of my Grade 8 pieces which are more challenging. I recognise that I can practice towards my exam whilst giving something back and helping others to grow through my music.  This is such a nice feeling and I have noticed how much my confidence and self-belief has grown.

Once a fortnight performing at Soul Space is enough for me at the moment.  But I have been considering working towards a diploma which will help me start teaching piano. This is an option that I wouldn’t have been able to consider six months ago.

I’ve realised that I have the tendency sometimes to stay in a box and that I need to open up and reach beyond the limitations of my mental health condition.  But I know now that I can counterbalance my fear and nerves and get my life back on track.  Arty-Folks will be there, pushing me to open up to others, continue communicating through my art and music, and to build my skills and confidence to move on in life.

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