There is some irony in the fact that while I (almost) never compromised the choir, it is now the thing that is most compromised by my mental health. I think the most difficult thing about living with PTSD is that it hugely impacts on my capacity to contribute to the choir. Anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, dissociation – I’m so much more likely to experience all of those things when I’m singing – the thing that kept me alive in the first place. If I didn’t know that God’s not a bastard, I’d think that He was having a laugh.
They are the words I wrote last Sunday, words that raged against the fact that singing – the thing that kept me alive – is now about the hardest thing I do in my week. Something that brought and still brings me joy is now fraught, painful. Something that should be easy, that should come naturally, feels like working my way through a storm.
I found myself late last night wondering what I should do about it. My limbic system, my irrational fearfulness, my very body with its fight-flight response is letting me down; I hate it. I found myself wondering whether I should have a break from the choir. One email would be all it would take: explain the situation and withdraw myself from the singing for a month, or two, or as long as it took. Or simply fail to show up. No one would notice, the nasty little voice in my head whispered. It would make no difference. I could do it: admit to myself that it’s too hard, that I don’t want to put myself through this struggle week after week, that it’s too painful, that my mental health is letting the choir down and that I should put them first and pull out, at least until I can work through some of this stuff in the quiet privacy of my own head.
Even writing the words – the first time I’ve ever acknowledged that option outside of my own mind, for real people to see – I feel myself recoil. The idea of pulling out of the choir is simply abhorrent to me: like the idea of cutting off my own hand, or putting out my own eye. It’s akin to self-mutilation: mutilation of my very soul. I could not do without the people who have become friends and family to me, who are God to me, who have the grace to allow me to be God to them. I could not do without the music that feeds me, that flows through my veins and that heals me even as it sears me down to the bone.
It’s not the first time though that I’ve had that thought. Maybe it is just too hard. Maybe this will be the thing that I can’t do, the thing that gets the better of me. It’s not the first time I’ve been wooed by that siren call: just give up. It will be easier. But I can’t. For one, I’m too stubborn. I’ve taken beatings for singing in this choir: I’m damned if I’m going to give it up now. Mostly though, it’s the music. It’s the friendships. It’s what this means to me. I couldn’t not sing. I won’t not sing. Fuck it. It’s that simple.
And there’s pride in that. I’ve stuck it out, despite everything. Despite how hard it has been, despite how hard it still is. Despite all temptation to accept the resigned peace of defeat. I’ve fought, and I’m still fighting. I might not win: I have to accept that. I probably will, though, if for no other reason than the value of what’s at stake.
And while I’m fighting, I know that there are a hell of a lot of people who’ve got my back.
- Singing, emotion, and an irritating irony. (naomijjohnson.wordpress.com)