You’re Doing Great! And Other Masks We Wear

In my normal day-to-day life, I am not confronted with the dilemma of “putting on a brave face” for those around me. My loved ones appreciate the wide variety of experiences and challenges which living with MS and RA may present. But for the past couple of weeks, I have been confronted with the public-face vs private-face contradiction which so many people living with chronic disease encounter.

As a private music teacher, April is often the time I push a little harder to help fine-tune practice and performance techniques of students while encouraging confidence as they prepare for contest performances and our annual recital. It’s a stressful, but exciting time, for both teacher and student. However, trust me when I say that getting ready for the big recital is probably much more stressful on the teacher than the students.

April is also the month during which our state region hosts the annual Solo and Ensemble Festivals at which I accompany my own private students, as well as several other young performers who are required to have an accompanist. This has become a significant source of income which balances the fact that most of my private students do not continue lessons during the summer. Too often it’s feast-or-famine for a freelance musician.

This year I have been working with 21 students in preparation for 25 performances, totaling more than 35 distinct movements of music, in addition to the digital recording of two pieces for one student’s “introductory” video for her intended private teacher at college next year.

Some of the selections of music are not too challenging, but others have been so difficult that I’ve had to put in several additional hours of practice time outside of rehearsal time with each soloist. One piece in particular seems nearly impossible to perform as composed, and indeed is within our short timeframe, even with an estimated four hours of additional personal practice time put in so far for that piece alone.

But yet, it is my job to do my best, and to do so with a cheerful and encouraging demeanor. I can’t simply say, “that crazy tempo you want to play, which is faster than any of the professional recordings I’ve studied in preparation for our time together, simply ain’t gonna happen.”

I’ve been putting on a brave face for so many people this month: the students and their parents, as well as the judges, band directors, teachers, and other students in hallways at the first Festival event itself. The second day of performances will take place this Saturday, as my day begins before 9am and doesn’t end until 4pm after which my husband and I will drive four hours so that I can attend a workshop on Sunday and distribute literature and answer questions at an MS-related event.

Not only has the preparation and rehearsal time been exhausting, both physically and mentally, the you’re-doing-great, smile, be encouraging, don’t-let-them-see-you-sweat (in pain, overwhelmed, tired, ready to cry, exhausted, weak, numb, starting to lose vision, overheated, mentally fatigued, etc), falsely energetic, make-the-performer-feel-confident part of the job is even more exhausting.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve felt such a disconnect between the outside persona of me and the inside reality of my current emotional and physical experience. This feels awful!

I know that there are others who feel like this much more often. My sympathies go out to each and every one of you. I’m fortunate that in my normal day-to-day life, I do not need to hide so much of what I’m feeling. In the meantime, I need to remember to tell myself that “You’re Doing Great!” and try to believe it.

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