My Difficulty With Music

For many people, music brings joy and happiness, serving to soothe the soul despite life’s hectic measures.  When a melody sings, or when a beat percusses, the human spirit merges with this ephemeral strain and is uplifted into higher consciousness.  When I ride the bus, I see everyone engaging in this ephemeral process wearing earbuds in their heads, young and old alike.  Everyone is grooving to the beats of their own drums, and no one disrupts the other.


But for me, music is bittersweet and at times poisonous due to my schizophrenia.  If I put headbuds in my ears, the vibrations overwhelm me.  My brow sweats, and I get this rattled buzzy feeling in my brain that feels horrible.  If I close my eyes to try and eliminate distractions, my brain and ears feel like two magnets repelling one another.  The only thing that helps is to turn the music off, allowing me to enjoy the musical sound of silence.  Ambient noise is enough as I walk through the streets of Queens, NYC, where I live.  Hearing simultaneously birds chirping and cars whizzing by helps me to understand life’s balance between nature and pollutive human innovation.


It wasn’t always this way.  As a small child, I loved music and sang at all times.  I learned Christmas carols at the holiday season, then never stopped singing them year round.  One summer day before first grade, I sat at the window of my third-floor apartment, serenading passersby with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  My voice rang like a bell and was very well in tune.


My grandfather was also musically inspiring.  He was a retired professional musician, having played clarinet and tenor saxophone in his day.  I remember how every day, he would practice his tenor sax in the bedroom when I when to my grandparents’ house after school.  He always told me about the times of World War II, when he played clarinet in an army band stationed in Asia.  He never saw any combat.


I started violin lessons in the first grade.  Every Saturday morning, Grandpa would take me to our nearby Suzuki school (which was of excellent caliber), and I’d have violin classes along with other children of my same level.  There were also private lessons I had once weekly, where I studied one-on-one with a teacher.  I really loved music.  Every day after school at my grandparents’, I’d play my Suzuki tapes, recordings of music that I learned from the Suzuki violin method.  I was a good student.


Music began to get sour when I entered middle school.  Depression hit my life overall, striking me with feelings of uselessness, and my music-making too sullied.  When I tried to practice, feelings of self-hatred swirled around me, and so I learned to equate music with negative self-talk.  Yet it was more sinister because it was wordless.


And so my adolescence was a battle, between music as a shining inspiration, as well as it being a relentless evil spirit.  I collapsed in ninth grade, being hospitalized for the first time.  Upon discharge, I decided to stop playing the viola.  But the next year, I felt the pull of music and resumed studies.  This self-searing battle prevented me from practicing as much as I wanted, so it was hard for me to keep up with my musician peers.  Yet I did, and I played with the best and brightest of New York’s classical musicians, playing in prestigious youth orchestras as a high schooler.


I went to a conservatory for college, basically because I only knew myself to be a musician.  What else can I do?  There’s nothing other than music that I can study, because that’s all I am.  Such was my outlook.  I was a proficient violist and kept up with the demands of conservatory, but my battle in the practice room made me disappointed in myself.  I wanted nothing more than to practice at least three hours a day, but tears hit me after an hour if I was lucky.


Perhaps my aversion is not entirely unfounded.  Conservatory life is not a cakewalk, mentally speaking.  We musicians are highly-trained specialists, having spent nearly our entire lives perfecting our skills on an instrument that occupies the space normally assumed by a best friend.  Some of us pursue a competitive career where our successes are determined by the failures of others as equally as dedicated.  Orchestra auditions, where one plays behind a screen and is evaluated solely on the sound they produce.  The practicing process also, a solitary act often occurring in a tiny, windowless room.


And then private lessons, oh aye.  The pinnacle of one’s week, where you lug your instrument in its case to your professor’s studio (we don’t say office), and then play the music you were assigned to play in the previous session.  Scales and etudes for younger beginners perhaps, which feels like a grave insult.  The dream of the violist is to play the full repertoire: the sonatas of Brahms, the Bartok Viola Concerto, the works of Hindemith.  We violists play much 20th and 21st-century repertoire, much of it avant-garde.


At times, it feels like music instructors operate on 15th-century psychology.  You go into a lesson, play your heart and soul out, and then the teacher says, “Do this, do that…just copy me.  Oftentimes, teachers can’t verbally explain what they want done, which is understandable given that music is a complicated process involving both human anatomy and sound production.  It is only the highly specialized pedagogue who can really explain minute technical details.


At the same time, the word “lazy” is brandished wildly, an insult cutting into the flesh of people who don’t practice enough or those who do not progress quickly enough.  I fell into the latter category.  I wanted to practice, but could not.  There was no room for investigating mental illness, but instead I assumed I was lazy.


I tried to unlearn this laziness by hurling myself at all musical opportunities I found interesting.  I studied violin/viola pedagogy with a renowned pedagogue.  I explored body kinesthetics and posture In relation to viola playing.  I also played in the school’s baroque orchestra, wielding a delightful baroque viola and bow specifically intended for historically accurate performances.  Music from the 17th and 18th centuries played on contemporary instruments of those times.


My enthusiasm for the career ended after finishing my undergraduate degree.  I didn’t play as well as I wanted, and then I developed schizophrenia.  The act of practicing felt like self-harm, and the sadistic message of the music I created destroyed my sanity.  I was hospitalized again, and I had to stop playing.


That was ten years ago.  I still have not resumed playing at the level I once had, and I feel like I’m starting to forget things.  I intellectually remember everything I learned in college, but my fingers are flabby.  Yesterday, I spoke to my brother about musical modes and scales.  I tried to play a whole-tone scale, and I messed up the last three notes or so.  That was a frustrating experience.


I don’t want to forget my musician self, although life is pulling me in that direction at the moment.  I’ve strongly considered selling my white elephant of a viola, resting assured that my violin will suffice to satisfy my musical desires as both performer and violin teacher.  Yet I still cling to the white elephant, too “lazy to sell it.”


The sound of music still feels like repelling magnets in my mind.  I hope this changes one day.




I Wish My Mother Could Retire..

I feel like a failure sometimes.  I had a late start to my career, given my mental illness.  And now I work in mental health.  Being a mental health peer specialist is great, but also…I feel like this is the only job I could handle.  Because this is the only place where I can publicly disclose my condition, and be praised for it even.

Indeed, I am not a failure.  I have triumphed against all odds in spite of my illness, schizoaffective disorder.  I am disabled, yet I work full-time.  I am now an advocate, dedicated to helping others and fighting stigma.

Part of me feels like this is enough, but part of me also wants more.  I would like…success.  A higher salary.  More prestige.  Recognition.  Is this prideful?  Vain?  Should I instead settle for less, merely being satisfied with what I have?

Perhaps.  But I think my notions are noble.  I would like a higher salary, because of my mother.  She is in her late 60s, and still working her hardest.  I see how exhausted she is, and I wish nothing more than to see her retire in comfort.  Yet we have no savings, no “nest egg” to rely on.  She and I work together, hand to mouth, paying each other’s bills, sharing money so that we both can live in comfort.

She is my best friend too.  She has seen me in all my hours, from birth to present, and has shown nothing but unconditional love.  She sacrificed everything in her power to give me the life I had.  She scraped pennies together to put me in a private school, when I became suicidally depressed in public school.  She gave me viola lessons.  She bought the video games and toys that my brother and I wanted, sometimes paying $8 each for packs of Pokémon cards we begged for.

And even now, she continues to drive me wherever I  need to go.  For a long time, I’ve been unable to drive due to anxiety, potential sedation and overall sensory perception issues.  But rides with her in the car are the best.  Over the years, we’ve racked up thousands and thousands of hours merely chatting.  Talking about life, our pet peeves, stresses, wishes, desires…

I wish she could retire.

This is far more important to me than “finding a boyfriend.”  I do not need romance or “true love” from a significant other to create completeness in my life.  I already have it.  It’s a great time, when I see my mother on the weekends.  We’ll watch a movie and have a barrel of laughs.  We go to the grocery store together.  Occasionally we’ll go to a restaurant.

And then there’s my mother’s dog, Moonie the corgi.  A very kind, chill dog.  He is an added expense admittedly, especially because he is old at thirteen, but he brings joy and much wisdom to our lives.  Animals are pure love, and they challenge us to slow down from life and really be present in the moment.  At times, pets can be the best medicine.

I admit that many, many people do not have this experience of parental love as I do.  Certainly it is unfair, because everyone deserves this kind of experience.  If not for my mother’s love and support, I might have ended up locked away in a hospital unit.  Or living in assisted living, my face flat and my body obese from medications.  Maybe I would have ended up homeless, living in a shelter with fifteen cots to a room, a target of extortion and bullying given my passive nature.

In any case, given my extensive, long psychiatric history, doctors and the government would not have had high expectations for me.  I could have easily been shuffled around in the government assistance system, living my life out without the freedoms that working people enjoy.

It is this reason that mental health advocacy is so important.  People suffer, and many are estranged from their families because they are difficult to care for.  I hate saying this, but this is likely the perspective that the “unafflicted” have.  We are an “annoyance.”  We “stifle” other people from living the free lives they want.  We get pushed aside, housed in homes or hospitals where others don’t have to worry about us.

Certainly, it is a difficult situation to discuss, and some people are in need of more acute care.  But why do those in need also have to be stigmatized and insulted?  People have to learn the skill of speaking their opinions and needs without offending others.  Instead of using “you” language…

“You’re getting in my way!”

…people could speak more “on the I.”

“I feel overwhelmed.”

In any case, I want to care for my mother as she gets older.  Because she cared for me.  I love her, and I don’t want to see her lonely and alone in a home.  I want her to retire in comfort.

Some way…somehow…

My Spiritual Quest for Happiness

Years of depression once weighed down on me heavily, beginning in my grade school years. Suicidality affected me as a teenager, and I was managed on medications throughout high school and college. While I was rehabilitated to the level of normalcy, I felt my existence to be anemic. Watching others socialize with smiles and laughter confused me. Such happiness seemed alien to me. I frowned often, and deemed jollity to be a product of immaturity. Naturally, I was miserable.

And yet, I knew there was something beyond constant misery. Though I had never felt it before, I knew something was out there. Something I didn’t get. I thus deemed it “the key,” and dedicated myself to finding it. It was this sentiment that caused me to turn to spirituality. In my senior year of college, I joined a meditation group on my college campus, that was affiliated with a guru in India. Earnestly, I applied myself to meditating in the mornings and evenings, going to group satsanghs and retreats. I wanted nothing more than to be freed from my mental fetters.

After meditating for a full year, I figured myself healed from my depression, and so worked with a psychiatrist to get off of my medications. It seemed successful enough, although in retrospect it was not. Right when I got completely off of my meds, I developed an obsessive crush on a student at school and had a brief fling. Summer vacation occurred right after, so I soon left college to perform at an orchestral festival in Texas.

It was supposed to be enjoyable.  It was supposed to be like summer camp.  But I couldn’t get my crush out of my head.  I couldn’t articulate or express to anyone, the fierceness of my obsession and…devotion?  My bliss soon turned to worry, and I was tremendously fearful and paranoid that “he hated me.”

All of this suffering occurred inside of my mind. From the outside, no one would have noticed that I was off. Of course, there were hints, yet no one connected the dots that I was suffering from mental illness.  I was mostly perceived as a miserable weirdo.  During the music festival in Texas, I was assigned to rehears with three other musicians, forming a string quartet.  I got into fights with the other members, so badly that the quartet ended up disbanding.  During one of the concerts, I put bright green and blue eye shadow all over my face as a “mask” of makeup.

I also abused Klonopin in a very specific way.  In the middle of the day, I’d take a Klonopin right before taking a nap.  When I awoke, my mind was woozy and my body felt rubbery.  I would go to rehearsals, sedated like this.  One musician did notice my odd behavior:

“Neesa?  Are you ok?”  She had a skeptical look to her.

“Oh yeah…I’m just fine…”  Her noticing actually fed into the excitement of me being drugged.

After Texas, I traveled to India to attend a meditation retreat with the Master himself. 50,000 abhyasis (aspirants) were present. And yet, meditating had become fruitless. I could only obsess about my crush 24/7, even in front of the Master. Thoughts of my crush now became a virus I could not escape.

When I returned to college to begin my Masters degree, all hell broke loose.  I suddenly began receiving messages from inanimate objects.  People had auras: invisible energies that spoke messages about that person’s character.  Very often, the auras would contradict the person, which confused me.  Former friendly acquaintances now had auras that spit daggers of hatred at me.  Anyone who had bad auras were now enemies of me.  I never told them, of course, but they still were.

Even my viola professor, formerly beloved, now communicated an aura of unsupport and indifference.  Though faithfully devoted to him for three years, I suddenly turned on him.

“I don’t want to study with you anymore.  I am switching to ___’s studio.”
“I don’t understand.  We have been working very well together for a long time.”  He was confused at my attitude.

“I don’t care.  This is over.”

I started developing eccentric behaviors.  I went to a party wearing pajamas under my clothing.  When I arrived, I took off my outer clothes and walked around like I was at home.  At another party, I saw my dreaded crush socializing with his friends, and so I started crying uncontrollably, bawling in the street.

I wonder.  Did anyone figure that I was suffering from mental illness?  Was there a shred of compassion in the mix?  Or was I just seen as batty, and to be avoided?

Likely the latter.

By the time I was playing chamber music over winter break, my mind was lost and destroyed.  While commuting to and from Manhattan to my home, my mind was overstimulated with everything along the way.  The subways and trains beeped with intelligent, hearty gladness, speaking messages to me with understandable words.  Dogs I passed conveyed human messages such as sexiness and loneliness.

My physical health was also very bad.  I weighed 125 pounds, standing at 5’10”.  It was not the issue of being so thin which was a problem, since that was my natural condition at the time.  But I was abusive to my body still.  Amidst the heavy snows and a blizzard, I wore only a thin coat, and sucked on lemons to “stay warm on anger.”  I also fancied that I was immune to heat and cold, as a sort of spiritual superpower.  On two occasions, I had nose bleeds while riding the train.  I figured that my heart was sad, and literally crying.

Flimsy spiritual inclinations were very much my guide.  I’d go wherever the “energy” led me.  I went into a clothing store and sniffed the merchandise, determining which pairs of clothes were “married.”  At an appliance store, I sniffed merchandise to see which appliances were “heterosexual” and which were “homosexual.”

On a snowy evening, in the wake of a blizzard, I had plans to see an evening concert at Carnegie Hall.  Enroute, I was hungry, and went into a pizza place.  I was cold and tired.  I realized that I felt incredibly weak, given that I had been a vegetarian for the past year and a half.  I ordered a slice of pepperoni pizza, effectively ending my sobriety from meat.  But I was too overcome with emotion to find comfort in the pizza.  My mind was confused and filled with panic.

Much of my turmoil was likely due to organic reasons.  Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not necessarily sprout from New Age-ism.  And yet, my mental illness was incredibly intertwined with my spiritual inclinations.  I neglected to care for myself physically, by using rationale that it was a spiritual quest.  I wandered around aimlessly because I considered it to be an intuitive, meditative process.  All of this was in the name of “achieving Enlightenment.”

Over the years, I have encountered many diagnosed people who express themselves in spiritual terms.  Some are in a constant state of prayer, and so their words are removed from reality and incomprehensible.  Some people adopt beliefs that they are God, Satan or perhaps a reincarnated being.  I myself once thought I was the reincarnation of Beethoven and the Antichrist.  As one who has experienced this personally, I will say that these convictions were fixed and convincing.  The messages that my mind received confirmed these identities absolutely.  No one could change my mind otherwise.

My recovery story from mental illness is incredibly long.  There is recovery and relapse, again and again.  Yet I am not alone, and certainly have not suffered as much as others.  Many people spend their entire adult lives in the system, cycling in and out of hospitals, living in hospitals for years on end, having their freedoms taken away because they have been deemed unable to care for themselves in the outside world.

In my own life, I have teetered on the edge of falling into this sort of fate.  My history is long enough, and for a long time I ceased to recover.  Miraculously, I am rehabilitated with Clozapine, Effexor, Lamictal and Ativan.  If not for these drugs, I’d be living in a hospital.

I am grateful that I can pass as normal now.  And most of the time, I really do feel normal.  When I see people laughing, I can appreciate their merriment.  (While I personally find things amusing, it is difficult for me to actually laugh out loud.)  I am open to people I encounter, and now have many friends.  I have a job, and aspire to have a career in social work.

I also realize that my inclinations towards New Ageism are akin to an addiction.  I have lost a lot of money over the years, paying exorbitant amounts, thousands, to charlatan healers who promised to get rid of my mental illness.  I confused my mind by playing with tarot cards and crystals on end.  It was a world that promised answers and power, neither of which benefit me.

All I desire these days is healing.  Wellness.  Recovery.  Reiki has served me well, and I’ll just stick to that.  And there’s the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000.  That gives me a lot of profound laughter too.  Then there are my Facebook friends!  My loving and supportive mother and brother.  The apartment I live in, with its warm bed and goose down blanket.  My neighborhood, on the outskirts of Queens in a green area with nice neighbors.

THIS is wellness.  Groundedness, far removed from spiritual hunting and error.

Thoughts About Compassion’s Effect on the Mental Illness Experience

I have been a recipient of mental health services since I was ten years old, due to depression instigated by domestic discord. And right from then, I figured the major principle of the therapeutic process: tell everything on your mind, so as to be honest and thorough. Most of the time, I have been received well in therapy. I am verbally articulate and intelligent, and so therapists enjoy working with me. Even in my worst times, during psychiatric hospital stays, I have been considered as “highly functioning,” and a favored patient by doctors.

I have enjoyed staying in the nicer of hospital units in New York City. Following ER visits, I have been sent to New York Presbyterian’s units in both the East Side and in Westchester. I have been to NYU Langone Medical Center’s psychiatric unit twice, where I enjoyed art therapy twice daily, five days a week. My final hospitalization was at Long Island Jewish Zucker Hillside Hospital, and it was this place that best rehabilitated me to functioning normalcy. After a two-plus month stay, four years ago, I am now steadily climbing higher and higher towards recovery. I hope to never return again, but if circumstances force me to, I will again gladly accept the help as an inpatient.

I realize that my inpatient experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. I have never been shipped off to scarier places like Bellevue Hospital, or to any state institutions such as Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. It was only my last hospitalization (the seventh), when I was required to follow up by spending a year in an outpatient treatment programs. (Note that an outpatient program is often full-time, thereby disrupting one’s ability to work or attend school.) After previous hospitalizations, doctors did not mandate me to attend any outpatient treatment programs.. Instead, they gave me permission to return to my previous engagements, uninterrupted. Many times, I really was too ill to continue, but doctors gave me the benefit of the doubt, overestimating my capacities.

It disturbs me then…if I am offered benefit, then who is not? Why me, and not others? The truth could be as scary as blaming it on race and socio-economic status. I myself am of mixed heritage (half Nepali/half Caucasian), and come across as an olive white person. I do not bear the brunt of institutionalized racism. I also have a devoted mother who has caught me every time I fall. When I was unable to support myself, she provided me with food and shelter. Although my father was abusive to us in my childhood, my mother fought back by providing me with unconditional love. This gave me a fighting chance.

By no means is my small family wealthy. My mother and I struggle merely to remain in the middle class. Yet she always gave me the very best. She paid for me to have violin and viola lessons, and I became skilled enough to receive a bachelors degree in music performance from a prestigious conservatory. When I was suicidally depressed in middle school, she scraped pennies together and put me in a private school. Whenever I was hospitalized, she would visit me every single day, for weeks on end.

I am so lucky, it’s ridiculous. I don’t say this to be arrogant, but rather to make a point. If I did not have this support from my mother, I would not have had the clean clothes on my back. I would not have had a place to return home to after discharge. Instead, I would have been shuffled into the public assistance system, ending up in a homeless shelter. I’d get into public housing eventually, forced to live on a shoestring budget, perhaps in an unsafe neighborhood.

What if my circumstances were switched, and I did not have my mother to catch me when I fall? Would I be sitting at this desk right now, typing out this article? Would I be mentally lucid enough to organize my thoughts, in a way that allows me to impart my experiences in a sensical manner? Would I be as pleasant to look at? I remember five years prior, when I was living at home with my mother, with only a disabled future on the horizon. I was obese, unable to keep down a job, and at times convinced that I was the reincarnation of Beethoven. And while my skin’s shade may have then still been what it is today, skin color does not determine how sick one can become. Mental illness can affect anyone.

I work at a mental health agency now as a peer specialist. My agency provides services and housing to people with mental illness disabilities, and I specifically work at one of their housing offices. We have apartments in the community that our clients rent, and we manage that whole process. As for being a peer specialist, I relate to clients by remembering my own experiences, and then using that wisdom gleaned from experiences in order to empathize.

Aside from my mother’s support, I still have had the experience of being on subsidized health insurance (Medicaid and Medicare), receiving food stamps (EBT benefits) and also monthly SSI disability payments. I know what it’s like to wait on lines for hours with a ticket number in my hand. I know what it’s like to have a bank account in someone else’s name. Little things like this really help me understand the day-to-day living of clients.

And yet I see so many people suffering. Suffering because they don’t have the support of family. Exhausted, because they have been shuffled through the system for years. Hopeless, due to having numerous hospitalizations, thereby impeding a person’s capacity to hold down a job. How is a person expected to fully recover, when these barriers become insurmountable?

In my experience, New York City offers excellent psychiatric care to those who are disabled and on public assistance, in comparison to other parts of this country. I remember living in Indiana when I was in college, encountering psychiatric professionals who were only really able to manage depression. Once I developed schizophrenia, I was beyond their capacity.

In the future, it is my hope that people with mental illness can be provided with opportunities to better themselves, on a “personal journey” level.  I think a great way to achieve this is through the arts.  Teaching people to express themselves through creative discipline.  When one takes violin lessons, or learns to paint, s/he practices the skill, learning to improve from a mentor.  In this process of artistic growth, personal psychological growth can also occur.  And for those not artistically inclined, there is writing, athletics, and so forth.

A return to “apprenticeship education” can help a person grow and develop, while also benefiting from highly-personalized interactions, and dare-I-say faith.  Faith that the person will succeed.

And if we went back to this type of education, we might have a resurgence of Renaissance. People, not only being productive and profitable, but creative.  I’m tired of seeing boxy brick houses.  Why cannot we allow workers of all types to adopt creative techniques as they apply their skills?

I muse, I wander here in this post.  But such I feel.  Society must abandoning the negative assumptions that stigmatize the “mentally ill.”  Instead, they can offer unconditional love and belief in a “crazy person’s” ability to grow and develop, like anyone else.  When we water a seed, it grows.  Such too is mental wellness.  Such it needs to be.

The Joy of Working Despite Disability

It is a wonderful privilege I enjoy, having a full-time job.  In fact, it is a sheer miracle, given that I am diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder.  This is a combination of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  I have suffered from tactile hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, depression, mania and anxiety.  Such crippled me mercilessly for years, and I was unable to hold down any job.  I went on disability, prepared to never work again.


Yet I recovered against all odds.  Four years ago, I started the drug Clozapine, and it completely reformed my life.  No longer do I relapse and fail, repeatedly falling to square one.  Instead, I can climb higher and higher each day, dedicating myself to my profession.  And my current profession?  Mental health work and advocacy.  Namely, I work as a peer specialist at an agency that provides housing for people with mental illness disabilities.  Given that I am diagnosed myself, I am able to understand clients on an equal level.  A degreed professional cannot do this.


Now that I have a profession, I enjoy going to trainings and conferences where I can meet and network with other similar professionals.  It feels good to belong to such a passionate community.  I also now sit on three committees with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), sitting at the table as a representative for those who receive Medicaid health insurance for a mental illness disability.  My insights and opinions are well received.


As I devote myself to mental health advocacy, and as I encounter professionals with masters degrees, I realize that the “world” of consumers in the system is much different than the “world” of well-off, working professionals.  Working professionals can assume a cushion of sanity within their their minds, while those struggling with mental illness suffer from being robbed of stability.


Mental illness can be difficult for an unafflicted to fathom.  Why would a person behave paranoid without provocation?  Why would a person spend thousands of dollars wildly at fruitless investments, without being able to discern imminent failure?  If I could explain succinctly why I personally once behaved this way, I would say thus:  I had no choice.  Thoughts attacked me, and I had to express them outwardly if I was to have any emotional release and releif.  Bottling thoughts up is unhealthy for anyone.  If insanity is what comes out, then just imagine what that person’s internal condition is.


For some people, only Christian hell can compare.


Looking back at my own unstable years, I realize that I had no capacity to learn from past experiences.  I was unable to learn from the people around me, and I was unable to grow and develop as an adult.  This is because the voices in my head never evolved.  Thus, the same conditions afflicted me year after year.  This lack of change served to keep me at the same age and maturity level for many years.  I failed to age emotionally.


This is why I often feel younger and less mature than others my age.  At age thirty-one, I only have worked two years full-time, and have not yet earned a master’s degree.  (The latter is not so terrible.)  I see friends from school now working as doctors and lawyers, and I feel dreadfully behind.  What makes me different from them?  Why was I afflicted, and not they?  I suppose it does not matter.  I have survived.


That is all that matters in the end.  I have survived.  And now, I want to help others survive.

Redefining Perfectionism

Regrettably, I have not written as frequently as I would like.  As a full-time-employed peer specialist, the gravity of life affects me as it does everyone else.  I commute via bus.  I have errands to run on the weekend.  I need to clean my apartment to keep it presentable, although I shirk in this task according to my mother.

Things have changed now though.  For the next few weeks, I will have time to more writing.  This past Tuesday, I had foot surgery to correct a bunion on my right foot.  So now I am homebound as I slowly heal.  The first couple of days were very painful, and I could not ambulate much around the house.  I am sleeping a lot, even though I am not entirely “tired.”  Sleep is helping to pass the time, more than anything else.

My mind is no longer groggy, and so I should write now.




I have been a perfectionist for many years.  Always, I have wanted to do things “correctly.”  “Perfectly.”  Externally, this can appear to be a good trait, given that perfectionism allows a person to strive for a high quality of work.  But it is also a fetter.  When I try to write perfectly, or draw perfectly, or play a piece of music perfectly, I more-often-than-not end up taking too many pauses in the task, stopping my creative flow while internally criticizing myself.


Why are you playing music?  You suck!


This art piece is dreadful.  Just stop while you’re behind.


Quit writing.  You’re not saying anything original.


While it is important to be critical and discerning during the process of writing and creating, this “inner perfectionist” does more harm than good.  It kicks me behind the knees, forcing me to the ground.  When I attempt to reach up, asking for a friendly hand of support, perfectionism simply spits in my face.


Perhaps I’ll call this inner demon by the name of “Maude.”


Truly, Maude offers no sort of constructive inspiration.  She is only a critic.  Akin to a nosy next-door neighbor, she invites herself into my headspace, plopping herself down onto my couch of a cranium, shooting orders as I try to create and craft.  Everything has to “go through her.”  Everything has to pass through the gauntlet of her “advice,” which is all-knowing and absolute.


For years, I have never been able to find a suitable way to get rid of Maude.  When I try to push her away, she yells at me:


You can’t create anything without me.  You need me.  You need my advice.  If you don’t heed my word, then your work will be a mess, and no one will appreciate or understand it.


My fear of being wasteful with my time causes me to cling to Maude, even though I hate her so.  No amount of intelligence on my part has been able to rationalize her away.  She has caused me years of misery and despair.  Her nefarious voice has bled past even my creative endeavors, infecting other aspects of my life.  Namely, relationships with other people.


Those people are not good for you.  They have opinions that are wrong and not compatible with yours.  Avoid them.


In previous years, during attacks of psychosis, I was consumed with the tangential thought that I was the reincarnation of Beethoven.  His presence in my mind was overwhelming and impossible to ignore.  Thankfully these days, I am more of sense, so I simply say that I find the composer to be a source of inspiration.  A deaf man, writing glorious music.  A person with a disability, specifically defying his very impairment to heights beyond even the average-hearing person.


Thoughts of Beethoven as inspiration now allow me to live more peacibly with Maude.  I think of how he approached his own music-making.  He was very meticulous, and edited everything to the nth degree.  Perhaps he too was a perfectionist, but yet… his music seems to aim for something beyond perfection.  It aims for greatness.


And thus, the whole concept of perfection is redefined.  Instead of approaching perfectionism as a filter that discerns “right from wrong,” we can view perfectionism as merely a desire to achieve something that is “great.”  “Noble.”  “Understanding of the human condition.”  “That which channels wisdom.”  “That which uplifts humanity.”  Whatever your ideals and beliefs are, these can be infused into your own personal definition of “perfectionism.”  The word is thus redefined, and its crippling negative influence is therefore negated.


Beethoven has enabled me to fight against Maude.  In reaction, Maude now simply reclines in a corner of my mind, a school marm with a bell in hand.  When it is time for me to stop working, due to fatigue, she simply rings the bell and I retire.  The greatest purpose she serves, is to get me to stop working.  Which too is useful in the larger picture.  One cannot work without stop.


Thank you to Maude, and thank you to the idea of Beethoven.



Mental Health Advocates… We Must Unite!

As a professional peer specialist, I have had the opportunity to attend many professional events and conferences with other peers, both within the New York City community, and also beyond within New York State.  Always at these events, there are familiar faces to reunite with, and new people to meet and chat up.  All of us are passionate, in our own unique ways, about mental health advocacy, its political cause and the eradication of social stigma.


At these gatherings, many peers and allies facilitate workshops and lectures, and attendees can choose to attend those that pique interest.  I always learn something new, and I get the chance to network…


Network… I hate that word.


Let me just say instead: connect.  I connect with new people, because that’s what it feels really like!  Socializing at peer events is not merely about greasing the right wheels to find a higher-paying job at another agency (although certainly this happens).  No… there is much much more.  There is the social cause that we all fight for.  The desire to unite together, creating strength in numbers.


Being around these great people has inspired me to find my own voice as a mental health advocate too.  A year-and-a-half ago, I started a WordPress blog and opened a Twitter page.  To generate a following, I searched terms such as #schizophrenia and #mentalhealth to find users with my similar interest, and then followed them.  Many of these people followed me back.  Doing this alone allowed me to accumulate about 2000 followers in one full year.  It was a slow process, requiring a lot of consistent effort, not skipping a day.  Perseverance paid off.


I also had a vision for creating a “mental health discussion forum,” one which embraced the specific values of professional years.  So I started a Facebook group.  Again, it started small.  There were also conflicts between members and other distressing situations that jeopardized the group’s cohesiveness.  At times, I would spend hours trying to put out these fires, chatting one-on-one with members to hear them out, and also managing the page closely, making sure that posts remain supportive and non-antagonizing.


After about a full year, the group began to develop steadily on its own.  I suppose there is a bit of word-of-mouth going on, because we get one to three new member requests almost daily.  There are now about 620 members, and many people are regular posters and silent loiterers.  (I can confirm the latter, because several people have told me that they enjoy reading, although not inclined to post.)


I am happy that the group has allowed me to share my own approach to recovery with others.  For me, I attempt recovery by maintaining a curious attitude.  When I am distressed in a situation, whether it be anxiety or paranoia, I think of a friend that I admire, who maybe displays a sense of emotional mastery that I admire.  I ask questions:


I’m so nervous about this upcoming deadline… I see you and you seem so calm all the time, even though you’re working a stressful job.  How do remain calm?


I want to have more confidence with dating.  I see that you are friendly and assertive when approaching women you like.  How are you so confident in these situations?


I’m paranoid that this guy hates me.  What do you think?


I never run out of questions to ask.  Sometimes I think I’m a pestering parasite, but then I think again.  Some of my best friends are people who have stuck with me, patiently answering my questions for years.  6, 7, 8 years’ worth of online chatting.  My questions are creative and interesting, and as my friends answer, I think they get to thinking themselves.  It also helps them feel good, because my curiosity is rooted in a sense of admiration.  As years pass by, these friendships even out into a consistent, rock-solid dynamic.  This is how I really come to know people and their baseline.  If I am compatible with a person’s baseline, and they mine, then that friendship is unshakable.


This dynamic of curiosity, and the resultant bonding yielded from honest answers, is what I want to infuse into my Facebook group.  In the process of discussion of various concepts, questions and experiences, we go beyond talking about ourselves.  We go beyond sharing our stories.  Surely, we share in the process, but we also share our opinions with one another.  We also each introspectively brainstorm within, trying to formulate opinions on issues that we never before considered.  I believe that this process exercises the brain, allowing for a person to develop more confidence and resiliency within him/herself.  In turn, this can empower a person to better manage their mental struggles, in a way that is perfectly tailored to the individual.


In this process, members of my Facebook group start to forge genuine friendships with one another.  So often, we lament that it is impossible to make real friends online, because we are not face-to-face.  But it IS possible!  As I run the group, I try to model a type of messaging that encourages this type of interaction.  Principles I maintain:


  • Writing in complete sentences, maintaining correct spellings and grammar, aiming for eloquence.


  • In response to others’ postings, fully absorbing the content before responding.


  • Searching within myself to always have an attitude of gratitude towards all members, even in times of conflict and disrespect.


  • Smoothing over episodes of conflict and disrespect thoroughly, without stepping on toes if possible.


  • Using emojis and stickers to convey non-verbal communication that emotionally touches.


And perhaps a more strange strategy:


  • Writing in such a way, that the physical appearance of what I write is appealing to the eye.


I want to open people up to the idea that online communication can be as fruitful and fulfilling as face-to face contact.  Online communication is the future.  It is the present!  We must navigate it in such a way that it is emotionally satisfying.  We must learn how to “read between the lines,” to surmise a person’s intent strictly by what they write.  I believe this is possible.  If we develop this skill within ourselves, we can then feel more confident and fulfilled in our interactions.


I’ve now discovered, that my unique mental health advocacy voice is rooted in social media.  The maintenance of my Facebook group has taken priority over my writing of articles and blog entries.  I always wish I had more time to write, but then I step back and see the bigger picture.  Mental illness is an experience that can serve to isolate a person.  It is a condition that can impair a person socially.  And so, could not the resolution be social?


These ideas will develop further as the group continues to evolve.  Eventually, I want to put together a power point presentation of the Facebook group’s inspirations and concepts, and then present it at mental health events… worldwide!  Small steps, but big dreams.  For me, my guiding light through this whole process is the desire to connect people together.  So many of us mental health advocates are out there in little pockets and corners of the internet.  I want to find them, and bring us all together into the group.  We are strong together!


And… if you’re interested in joining my group, you should!  It is called:


“What is Wellness?  A Mental Health Discussion Group”


See you there!!

The Spiritual Undercurrent, Binding the “Mentally Ill” Together

[Originally posted on my Facebook group, “What is Wellness?  A Mental Health Discussion Group.”]

For many years, I have viewed my depression as evidence of spiritual deficiency. In 2006, I took up a meditation practice with a guru in India, with the hopes that I would become more Enlightened, and therefore less mentally ill. It backfired. The practice gave my subconscious extra food for thought, and I developed schizophrenia.

Regarding mental illness and spirituality, I notice that spirituality manifests in different ways. For some, spirituality helps. It provides a sense of balance, centering and empowerment. It helps to detach from the cruel world and find solace in that which is more organic and natural for the self.

But I don’t see it helping everyone it touches, necessarily. Yesterday, while waiting for the bus, I sat on a stone structure on a concrete park island. A woman dressed in green sat on a bench nearby me. She had a black cross drawn on her forehead, and she held up a green bible. She then threw a stuffed animal of a wolf in my direction on the concrete, which also had a green chain around its neck.

When I boarded the bus, she got on before me and sat in the back area. I myself also went back there, as there were some seats available. I passed her and sat across from her. She then talked to everyone on the bus, telling them that I brushed her with my bag and that I was an axis of evil. She said that I was plotting against her with my mind, and that I should be sent to hell. I was not inclined to move, nor was I offended by what she said. I work in mental health, and I’ve revitalized my own life. I guess others were amused, but no one said anything.

I remember myself having religious ideations. As I grew further and further from reality, I believed that this was justified because I was becoming closer to a spiritual sense. These spiraled so terribly into my head, that I eventually hit rock bottom: I believed I was the Antichrist. I was so afraid when I went to the ER. As I sat in the little room, waiting to be evaluated, I thought everything around me was a planned charade. That everyone knew who I was, and that the hospital too were devilish minions that were preparing me to deliver to Satan. When people spoke to me, I heard them speak in whispers. Incidentally, I had a bad case of eczema, which had completely covered the backs of my hands. I fancied that this was me shedding human skin, which would soon reveal reptilian skin underneath.

The creativity of the human mind is immense. Now that I am mentally well, I can use my creativity for a productive purpose, yielding positive results: connectivity to people, a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, and also movement in my life. Happiness, derived from growing and learning from the past.

Mental illness served to warp my creative senses. Instead of expressing them outward, they hit me internally. To the point that I was a walking method actor, 24/7 living the character of “the Antichrist.” It was dreadful. I thought that I was responsible for the suffering of every single thing that has ever lived. Sometimes, I still get fooled. I think, “Oh, I’m trying to help others with mental illness… but it’s all wrong.” When this happens, I’ll ask friends of mine if I’m evil, and they tell me not.

Perhaps it is something not much spoken of, but this whole “subliminal” world… it exists within the walls of psychiatric hospitals, as I have experienced it. People, coming in with spiritual notions, ideas that they wield spiritual “powers,” or are perhaps connected to deities, God, what have you… it is very real. People in hospitals, trying to play with magic and move energy around and try and escape, or comply… people who are convinced that it’s a conspiracy… this is the stuff of psychotic madness.

Once I thought I was the reincarnation of Beethoven, while hospitalized. During the morning, I sat adjacent to a young man, on the Schizophreniform spectrum, talking to his case worker. Suddenly, I heard in the corner of my ear,

“Beethoven’s here.”

And I freaked out. Now… whether he actually said it or not, I am not sure. Perhaps he did, perhaps I fancied it. But nevertheless, my imagination ran wild, and I became aware and frightened of an undercurrent that bound everyone in the unit together. This idea that, perhaps, we are all true in our delusions. That we are all who we say we are. That we are Gods, devils, reincarnated people, messengers, messiahs, saviors, or Satan himself.

I have many other examples I could describe of this “undercurrent”, but perhaps another time.

I’m glad now that I am well. I hope that what I write here is not… wrong, or taboo, or evil. I just know that I’m here. Alive. Breathing. And I’m away from that. Instead, I can play my viola now. Instead of having the viola speak gibberish to me, I now can just focus on the music. I can watch performers happily, enjoying their strains. I never could do that before. Always, the envy and hate and psychosis and depression shielded from music’s goodness.

So sinister the situation felt, that I had been afflicted since childhood. So sinister, that it felt as if the illness was inflicted not by brain chemistry, but by a personality, determined to stifle and suffocate my very life.

This is what I faced. I hope that I am only alone in this experience, but perhaps mental illness affects in this same way. I hope not. I hope what I write here is irrelevant.

I am also afraid of even writing this. Maybe I am evil. Maybe I am what that woman on the bus said. Maybe my mind should be put to death.

Music Education Manifesto (In Devopment), Part 1: My Past Griefs as a Classical Musician

For a long time, I have contemplated the nature of classical music instruction.  The general known format of it at present is basic.  A student studies individually with a teacher, during which s/he learns the physical technique of playing, while also learning repertoire.

Musicians also accumulate experience while playing with other musicians, whether it be via a beginner’s Suzuki group class, a string quartet or a full symphonic orchestra.  And then there is the aspect of performance.  To prepare and practice a piece to performance level, one must be diligent and steadfast in the practice room.
During my childhood and college years, I was passionate about classical music myself.  I started as a violin student, and then switched to the viola as a tween.  I continued through high school, during which I enjoyed being a part of the Long Island and NYC communities of young musicians.  It was a lovely group of people, and I ranked highly among them in my abilities.  I felt proud and confident in myself.
I continued on at the college level by attending conservatory for college.  This provided me the chance of playing with top musicians, admittedly far more skilled than I.  Participants and winners of international competitions, elitely groomed since childhood.  Doctorate students, preparing for professorships.  People who traveled often, summoned by Europe for performance opportunities.  None of this was within my grasp, and so I was saddened.  Impossible to make up for lost years indeed.
But I made the best of it.  I took violin pedagogy classes with a renowned pedagogue who directed an incredible pre-college string academy.  I also studied with her privately for three summers.  Working with her really opened my eyes.  First off, I realized that performance music education requires a particular type of mental focus.  The most skilled of musicians have practiced with this mindset since early childhood, mostly because their parents were actively involved in their child’s practicing.  Young children cannot be expected to prepare efficiently, so their parents act as teachers at home.  Every day, the parent reinforces the teacher’s commentary and assignments.
I had none of this as a child.  No one was ever intensely involved in my practicing.  And even as a teen and young adult, I still struggled.  Despite my motivation, I rarely was able to get myself to practice, even when I wanted to.
This was because of my mental illness.
Around the age of ten, I started experiencing depression.  It haunted me terribly when I practiced.  Sitting alone in a room, cruel thoughts of self-depreciation plagued me.
You suck.  You will never be good.

Perhaps standard for a musician, to be hyper-critical.  But the thought was so relentless and persistent, that I would be driven to the point of tears.  Certainly, sadness was unpleasant, so I avoided practicing as much as I could.


This did not bode well in college.  To keep up with my colleagues, I had to practice at least three hours a day.  But I could barely manage an hour.  Again, the tears flowed, and the internal voice of self-criticism only grew louder and more desperate.  Desperate, because the stakes were higher.  I saw my classmates progressing beyond me, and I viewed the whole affair as a huge competition.  I needed to “beat” my classmates in proficiency, and yet I was the one getting “beaten.”

No one knew the scope of my emotional turmoil.  No one.  There was no way that I could have described the experience to anyone.  Even if I did, I feared that I would just be outed as a “lazy musician,” too undisciplined to practice.  I also did not have the perspective that I have now.  I didn’t think it was mental illness.  Again, I thought it was laziness.
Indeed, I started to get fed up with the whole classical education style.  The whole one-on-one instruction approach.  I found that many professors seemed to have their “favorite” students, whom they would treat with greater kindness and regard than others.  Some naturally favored students who were more proficient than others, but others would favor students who shone no brighter than his/her peers.  Very often, favoritism would be determined by personality.  Professors, having chummier rapport with some students than others.
It appalled me.  As a silent observer, I noticed that the preferred students generally were offered more opportunities.  Perhaps being selected to play in a masterclass with a visiting, renowned musician.  Being placed in a higher chair in an orchestra.  (Note: orchestral auditions were not held at my school for the first half of my degree.)  And besides opportunities, there was just… positive regard. Teachers truly believing in their students, instead of just paying lip for a tenured paycheck.  Favored students would progress through repertoire more quickly.  Teachers would push them harder, give them riskier assignments and advocate for them more strongly during juries and auditions.
It made me sad, because I didn’t feel favored in this way.  I started feeling desperate, and schemed ways to become a “favorite.”  I learned that, during the summer between my sophomore and junior years at college, my professor was to take up a ten-day residency at a masterclass event in the south of France.  I instantly wanted to go.  I thought that if I went, I would then become a “favored” student.  Even though my mother absolutely did not have finances to send me on a $2000+ trip, I begged.  We sold most of our paltry collection of gold to pay for it.
And so I went to France.  I spent the ten days with a frown on my face, trying to focus and “earn my favor.”  I failed to realize that the trip was intended to be more of a vacation than a grueling process.  The grounds were an old farm, converted into an artists’ space.  I lodged in a villa, and would walk among the reeds and trees to the main courtyard during the day.  Meals were served in a rustic, wooded dining area where French cheeses, meats and wines were served.  The relaxed attitude of it all disgusted me, and in rebellion I decided to become a vegetarian halfway through the trip.
Lessons occurred daily.  During one, my teacher gave me the constructive feedback:
“Your playing is inconsistent.”
The comment addressed my performance ability.  When playing a piece, I would make technical (physical) errors, and upon repeated trials, my errors would occur in different places.  It was a frustrating comment, because I saw no way to solve the problem.  I still could not practice focusedly for more than a half-hour, before the tears hit.  And no matter how much I repeated a passage, trying to perfect it, the mistakes would not go away.  In retrospect, I realize that my mental depression even affected my physical capacities for the instrument.  It made my arms and fingers sluggish and spastic.
As I saw it, there was no way I could cure my inconsistency.  I also took the comment personally.  I believed that I was labeled as inconsistent as a person.  That there was some flaw in my character that made me an inferior musician.
Perhaps so.  Mental illness does afflict one’s manifestation of character, sadly.
The trip ended, and I returned home.  While I did not turn into more of a virtuoso overnight as I had hoped, I did notice a more positive favor towards me for the next school year.  I felt more optimistic about my future as a musician, and practiced more enthusiastically.
And then I began to discover a new joy in playing from another source.  I took a body kinesthetics/awareness class, and this allowed me to understand physical technique on a new level.  I started to reteach myself how to play the instrument, and I began to find more joy in physical posture than in the music itself.  With posture, it was an experimental, tangible process.  Music was too amorphous.  Too subjective…
Because honestly, I had no idea what made one musician better than the other.  Indeed, if two people play with the same technical accuracy as one another, it would make sense that they would have the same career prospects and outlook as one another too.  But it didn’t seem such.  My own preferences for who I liked also seemed not to jive with the popular opinion.  At times, I’d see an excellent musician perform, yet I didn’t like what I heard because I felt a revulsion towards their stage presence.  Dare I say personality.  Many musicians seemed indeed not to be personable nor entertaining people.
But my judgment was colored too.  Already, I was suffering from depression and acute envy.  I hated everyone around me, because they seemed to excel without being impeded by the sadness that I faced.  It felt unfair.  But also, during my senior year of college, I began to develop schizophrenia.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the symptoms crept up on me, first episode-style.  I started to believe that excellence in music was due to a magical, spiritual property that the elite possessed, which I lacked.
I frantically tried to figure out how I could cultivate this property within myself.  I joined a meditation group on the college campus affiliated with a guru in India.  I meditated morning and night in their way, traveled an hour-and-a-half by car on Sundays to meditate with a group and went on weekend retreats every few months.  This culminated into a trip to India, where I meditated in the presence of the guru himself with 50,000 other abhyasis.
After returning home from the retreat, I struck gold, so I thought.  I started feeling “energy” in my body, which I could move around my person… up and down my spine, through my extremeties.  I thought that if I channeled this into the instrument, and the music, I would be a godly musician.  I also able to “sense” this energy everywhere I looked.  Subliminal messages were everywhere, and I became consumed with the concept every waking moment.
I maintained my face for a semester, but eventually had a psychotic breakdown.  I was hospitalized, newly diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder.  After discharge, I finished out the year in a daze before quitting my masters degree halfway through.
Much of my musical grief was caused by mental illness.  Paranoia, envy, depression, fear, self-deprecation, magical thinking… it all attacked me in the practice room.  In retrospect, I wonder what could have been different.  What could have eased my pain?  I’ve contemplated this question for nine years, and now I finally have an inkling of an answer…
Stay tuned for the second installment of this entry.

I’m an Inconsistent Musician… oh Joy!

In the past, I found myself in many a situation where I was criticized.  It hurt when I was a child especially, on the playground with teasers and taunters galore, throwing names and jeers at me.  I was not resilient, but instead took it personally.  When dwelling on those petty words, I found my spirits diminished.

And then I studied the violin and viola.  Always at lessons, teachers would offer constructive criticism, intended to improve my playing abilities.  But again, I took it personally, and it was too much to bear.  I became sad, and avoided the instrument as much as I could.  I hated the viola, yet I enjoyed the opportunities and life it provided me.  For college, I attended a prestigious conservatory, where I played in orchestras and ensembles with top musicians.  I studied with renowned professors, and myself fell in love especially with baroque performance practice and violin pedagogy.  My academic education in lecture halls was excellent also.
Since I was in conservatory, the stakes were higher with constructive criticism, and so I felt even more depressed.  It was hard for me to detach music-making from my personhood.  Perhaps I was studying music for the wrong reasons.  When I went to lessons, I was not looking for musical guidance as much as talk therapy, if you will.  I wanted someone to care about me.  Some brilliant professor who would care about me and my potential from a sincere place, instead of someone just paying lip.  I noticed that the more “favored” students matured into better musicians, so it seemed.  As for who they selected to favor?  It seemed arbitrary and unfair.
Somehow, I had to make sense of this nonsense.  That’s just how I am, I guess.  So I coped by reasoning to myself that these professors were akin to gods.  Masters of music, paragons of spiritual enlightenment, and eternally justified in their arbitrary favoritisms.  And so every word they uttered in lessons was the bread of my life.  I contemplated on their “wisdoms.”  I aspired to be a musical master myself, so that I could join the ranks of these deities.  So that I could wield the superhuman power of musical expression and flawless physical technique.
Naturally, I was sorely disappointed in this quest.  Not to mention, my spiritual musical aspirations steered me in a direction that would not lead to gainful employment.  As I neared the end of my degree, this reality hit me.  There was no job waiting for me.  Instead, there was only the open world of networking and freelancing, and I didn’t have the energy for this.  I was too depressed and lethargic.  And for me, music wasn’t about the music.  It was merely a way for me to develop my character.

The greatest criticism I perceived was delivered unto me in July of 2006, while I was attending a ten-day masterclass in the south of France.  To explain the circumstances:  My viola professor at the time was instructing violists there, and several of my college colleagues also made the trek to the place.  Amidst the pastoral environment of the French countryside, we enjoyed leisurely music-making, excellent food and performances in a couple of medieval-aged churches.

But I was unable to enjoy any of this as a vacation.  Instead, I attempted stern discipline within myself.  My reason for attending this masterclass, was because I wanted my professor to favor me. I thought that I’d be a better musician if he favored me, in the way I had described above.
In one of my daily lessons, he delivered the bomb.
“You’re inconsistent.”   A piece of constructive criticism, yet not elaborated on further.
The most frustrating aspect of the musician personality, as I have perceived, is the lack of verbal eloquence.  A frustrating trait for me to deal with especially, because verbal eloquence is the greatest joy for me.  Of course, my professor meant well.  But his comment was like a dagger in my gut.  Here I was, playing my best, and now this criticism.  The reason why it perturbed me so, was that no solution was offered.  How could I have “fixed” this inconsistency?
And so I absorbed it to be that I, as a person, was inconsistent.  My character.  My spirit.  My mind.  My right to be alive.  I thought I was such because I lacked musical talent.  And because of lack of talent, I would never reach musical enlightenment.  The comment made me feel utterly doomed.
In retrospect, I can attribute my “inconsistency” to a couple of factors.  I was dealing with difficult, relentless mental chattering, which completely obscured my ability to practice effectively.  A year after this particular episode in France, my condition worsened, and I experienced my first psychotic break.  My mental chatter and depressions turned into schizophrenia.
But my musical woes root from another cause as well.  I now know that I have Hyperacusis, a hearing disorder.  When I listen to music loudly, as I do when playing the viola under my jaw, I become disoriented within a half hour. I feel dizzy, I get cold sweats, with anxiety and delusional thoughts galore.  Listening to music with earbuds also procures this same effect for me.  I am not sure how I developed Hyperacusis, but I know this much:  I have tiny ear canals, and I have had many many ear infections as a child.  I even venture to say that the way I hear music and sound in general is perhaps different from the norm.  The grandest frustration I still experience is when I record myself making music.  Violin, viola, singing with guitar, what have you.  What I hear in my ear is not what I hear on the tape recorder.  No matter how much I try to revise my playing, it still fails to improve.
Sometimes, I wonder if it was music that made me crazy.  I think it contributed.  Whatever physical torment it was that music inflicted upon me, was small in comparison to the emotional backup I developed in reaction to my father’s sadistic tirades.  Dare I say such.  From him, I learned that I should remain quiet and compliant.  Counter-intuitive for a musician.
As for solving my musical inconsistencies, I don’t much care now.  There is no need for me to have to “prove” or “defend” myself against a criticism hurled at me ten years ago.  It was my own overreaction that caused thatwound in the first place.
I look forward to better days now.  I look forward to the day that I am no longer afraid of the violin.  I don’t have to practice “the right way” in order to prove myself to pedagogues I used to know.  They are no longer deities to me .  Really… whose lives are they changing?  Who is changed by their art?  Sure, I can get box seats to a MET Opera performance of Mozart’s Zauberflöte, enjoy the tunes… but what else?  Have I gleaned anything profound from the musicians themselves?  Their little fingers pressing against strings, faces blowing into conical bores… The most I would gain is simply the mind of Mozart himself, for it is HIS composition!
I ramble now. I only wish to impart here… Inconsistency has become a proud badge I wear.  I’ve had a varied life due to bipolar impulsiveness and schizophrenic delusions.  Traumatic to experience, but humorous to recall.  Ha!  I had a British accent for a month!  Ha!  I maxed out a credit card to travel to Denmark for an orchestra audition, only to learn that the orchestra didn’t exist!  Mental illness is silly indeed.
Maybe it is such that I needed these failures in order to get my head out of the clouds.  Because now as a writer I am very consistent… so it seems.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.