The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
What is mental illness? It’s having to come to a blog that no one reads to talk because I have nowhere else to turn. I’m not doing so good, which is an understatement (something I rarely make). In the video from a few posts ago she talks about how sometimes she wishes she could just hit the pause button and make her life go away temporarily. That’s exactly how I feel right now. I’m not quite at critical levels but I’m at dangerous ones and all I want to do is just get on with my life.
I’m frustrated with myself and I’m tired of everything being ten times harder than it needs to be. I’m tired of upsetting people because I can’t communicate properly. I’m tired of crying, I’ve cried for hours today and I’m crying now. I’m tried of not knowing the answers no matter how hard I look for them. I’m tired of everyone working half as hard and being 5 times as good even though they want it 1% as much. I’m tired of feeling so alone and confused. I’m really tired!
It’s hard because there’s always a part of me that even when I’m a soggy mess drenched in tears, frustrated at the world and lonely as all hell just wants to get back on with it all. I’m grateful for that part of me because I wouldn’t be here without it. I’m writing this because this is a big part of my life and my strength isn’t just from being stubborn or determined it’s in overcoming mental illness. I’m writing today’s blog post to tell my illness it will not win, it will not keep me from what I want. If I have to work 100 times harder I will, if I have to search the whole bloody galaxy for answers I will.
Today I reverted in my lesson to 6 years ago when I first started with Zak. I thought I’d overcome that and was making progress and I have but it seems it can just come back even so. I didn’t think it could and it shocked and filled me with a real fear. If I can’t get passed that then is it even possible no matter what I do to get over my tension and performance problems? I still like to think it is, I did do my exam, I have performed better overall recently and the signs are good in other areas but it’s also clear that I do not control this and when I’m afraid it will control me.
So Autism, anxiety and general mental illness I stick two fingers up at you. I will get back behind the drumkit, behind the bass and behind the guitar and I will fight. I will do it through tears if I need to, I will scream out my frustration and I will battle alone if I need to but I will find the answers, I will earn my way to where I want to be with dedication, hard work and problem solving and I will get what I want. This is my promise to you mental illness, I will win.
I’m reading a book recommended by a very inspiring drummer I’m following lessons by on Drumeo. The book is called Bounce by Matthew Syed and what’s fascinating about it is not what it’s teaching me but what it’s putting into perspective for me.
The book is about how natural talent is NOT the reason people are successful artists, sportsmen and women, musicians, scientists, memory experts etc. The reason is good old fashioned hard work but not just any hard work – focused, precise, intentional and organised hard work. It’s as much about opportunity as it is about putting in the effort and therein lies both the good news …. and unfortunately the bad.
So the bad news. If you don’t have the best teachers in the world you are highly unlikely to become the best at what it is you want to do. I said unlikely as there are other ways to be taught. Copying our inspirations and doing so constantly challenged or competing with others of like mind is another route to success. We can even do it alone but that depends on what the skill is and how good we are at both self-motivation and learning. There’s no short cut and time not spent well counts for far less or even nothing in the long term. It takes 10 years of dedicated learning (the 10,000 hr concept) and there’s no short cut, you can’t cram, you can’t skip bits, you can’t fake it because it’s experience you’re actually getting and it’s that experience you’ll use.
The good news! You don’t have to be born with super skills to achieve super skills. This is open to us all and if we’re willing and able to put in the work we too can obtain greatness. No one’s promising you’ll be number one but you'll achieve enough for it to be pretty damn cool.
Why am I excited about this book? Because it makes sense of everything I’ve been blogging about for the last few years. My concepts on how I learn, how I push myself, how I prefer constant failure because it means constant progress etc they ALL make sense now. What he’s teaching I already do. It also occurred to me there are two areas in particular I have done my 10,000 hours in without even knowing how important they would be to my particular journey.
The first is how I listen to music. My lifelong obsession means I’ve clocked FAR more music listening than other people but is that enough to be an expert? No, absolutely not. It has to be purposeful study or it doesn’t count remember. But there’s a twist in my story. I know for a fact I don’t listen to music like other people, I know this because when I discuss music they don’t recognise what I’m talking about until I specifically show them. So what’s different about how I listen and why do I do it? I “think” I know why but it’s just a theory. What’s different is that I don’t listen to music in a linear fashion, start to finish, the same every time. I listen to it not as a road to go down but as a river to swim in. Every time I listen I swim through the sounds, rhythms and combinations there of and it’s a different experience I consciously take it and there it is… I consciously listen to all the elements creating my own journey each time.
The reason I think I learned to do this was because I used music as a form as escapism. I would listen to music and create worlds in my mind within the music so like a movie if you put the same music over different scenes it will have a different effect on you. I created different scenes with the same music and so each time I explored it as a different experience, I explored the music and conciously focused on them always in a slightly different way. That’s my theory and it certainly explains why I create musical journeys and “stories”. But on a practical note I have listened to a huge number of genres throughout my life and I listen to a ridiculous number of different artists. Even now I’m always discovering new music, new sounds and I’m obsessed with the ideas within them.
My point? I don’t just listen to music, I STUDY it and I have been doing this for 40 years. So why am I so good at coming up with melodies? I’m TRAINED to be. Why do I write so much? I’ve trained to. Why can I listen to music endlessly and not get bored? I’m trained to always hear it as fresh and interesting.
I was trained to write music decades before I even played my first note. What I’m doing now is picking up the skills that allow me to apply that knowledge and that is where my second skill comes in. I have struggled my whole life, I struggled at home, I struggled at school, I struggled with mental illness, I’ve found learning difficult because I don’t learn like other people, I spent 10 years fighting fire with my business. And what was I doing the whole time? Learning how to learn. I didn’t study like other people just memorising and repeating it back, I had to figure out how to learn and relearn FAST. I couldn’t just make friends and form relationships I had to learn how to interact with each person I met separately. I couldn’t just do easy tasks because my illness would make life impossible so I created games to help me do things, I learned how to get myself to do things I found incredibly difficult that normal people could just do.
What did I do in my business? I learnt how to be efficient, how to get over my perfectionism, how to create websites, how to write, how to design, how to stocktake, how to run a shop. I had no experience of any of that, I had no one to teach me, I had no idea what I was doing and I HAD to learn. I had to learn fast, I had to learn a lot and I had to do it in so many different ways, every single day. So I did and the more I did the more efficient I had to become in order to do it all myself. I learned very consciously and purposefully and it took a long, long time to do that and my failures actually served me very well it seems!
And what do I do now? I learn how to learn, I pick up on the successful and less successful approaches I try from my teachers and I build on them. I use online resources to push this further and I refine, refine, refine. I spent most of my life learning how to learn – consciously and purposefully and now I’m using that experience to help me work out how to balance the incredibly challenging task of learning everything I need to on these instruments.
There is no short cut. I have 10 years work ahead of me per instrument but because of my past, because I’ve already earned my 10 years in two very crucial areas I can juggle multiple instruments and subjects because I already understand how to multitask, how to learn how I learn, how to see the patterns and connections that will allow me to go faster and faster.
There is no way of knowing where I will be in ten years. I could be a fantastically talented musician and writer or I may be distinctly average or worse. The thing this book does is it gives me additional hope that wasn’t there before, it demonstrates that while there’s no guarantees my methods, my ideas and my strategies are all similar to those followed by the most successful people. It reminds me of the elements of success I do not have and forces me to confront that and compensate to the best of my ability. If reinforces the need to be focused, to not dither, to be clear on my goals and to dig in hard. Time will tell and if I do get anywhere near where I hope then that could very well give hope to others but at the same time it will also prove there is no easy route and that it can take decades to achieve what we want. My journey started when I was 5 and 40 years later I still have at least 10-15 years of HARD, HARD, HARD work ahead of me to even know if it’ll be enough.
I'm up for it though... that in itself shows just how much I want to be a musician.
First some good news. It will take time to really know but it feels like I may have got through the enormous wall I’ve been banging my head against for the last 3 years. The signs are good though, the “feeling” of constant tension (pushing on a door that says pull kind of thing) especially when doing something new or when I go past a certain tempo but even in general does appear to be going. Or at the very least it’s reduced by an incredibly significant amount.
I can feel it but it’s more than that, I can sense myself getting more control, I can relax more (still a mountain to climb there) and I’m picking things up not necessarily faster (although that too) but much easier, I fight myself much less. I’m able to do a little more in lessons but… it’s early days and I’ll need to see consistency before I believe that particular battle has, well maybe not been won but has certainly gone from being a war to a skirmish! 3 YEARS... even I can't believe I kept fighting for that long but I WANT THIS SOOOOO MUCH.
We will see!
The bad. My anxiety is so bad I burst into tears while hoovering just because I felt so overwhelmed with all my emotions dialled up to 12 and all flowing over at the same time without any break. I refuse to try medication and so I just have to ride it out, it will pass and until then I need to hang tight and fight (literally for my life). This really is no joke and only one person in my life knows just how serious it is, so it's also very lonely and isolating. Mental illness is very cruel.
I’ve been getting my head down into my drumming exercises which is helping as it focuses me but the second I stop it’s all still there. Well if I have to suffer I may as well turn it to my advantage, right? so Ive been working even harder than normal. I’m still not sure of this years plans as that got all thrown up in the air but I know eventually the dust will settle and I’ll have my goals, direction and focus. I hope it’s soon but until I know what my teachers overall objectives are it’s hard to align them with mine. I have no doubt I will be able to as we do both want exactly the same thing, it’s just I want that AND other things and I believe I can have both.
My current plan regarding the exam has changed a little and now the idea is to not pick the songs easiest or that I like most but pick songs that will serve my ultimate goals (short term & long term) best. I may not do the exam at all though, if my teacher isn’t behind me then I will wait but in all likelihood by the time he does think I’m ready I won’t think it holds enough benefit. However if that happens it really doesn’t matter I will move forwards one way or another as well as continuing to strengthen my foundations, fill the gaps and get myself out of this beginner phase once and for all!
But back to the current plan, I’ll “assume” I’m going to do it and evaluate (with my teacher) the elements, skills etc that I’ll need to focus on, work on, develop and learn in order to reach the point where I have enough ability I can apply them to the exam songs. Only THEN will I start learning the songs themselves, that will inspire me to kick my own behind to get there. One more step in the plan but one designed to drive me even more and it's something I learned from doing Grade 7 so I'm simply applying it again. My thought process currently is to do this with exercises & songs suited to my current level within each technique/skill etc and then keep pushing that up as FAST as possible. I hope to work on that with my teacher because he'll have ideas too and experience that matter very much to me. I can't learn without listening! Learn-grow-go ... so work first and then when the time is right I'll go for it but the goal is to make that time ASAP.
Again we will see!!
Finally I’ve asked my bass teacher if we can take one song and really push it, slowly but surely which is totally the opposite approach to what I just described for drums but there’s a reason for that. It’s a song with both slap and finger style, not too hard but still a challenge to get solid. In this instance I see sitting on this song as a way to work on the technical side of my slap and fingerstyle and my confidence. I believe by focusing on this it will open up both styles of playing to much faster development afterwards. I’m never against going slow – as long as ultimately it will make me go faster, it’s just a question of evaluating if long term I’ll get to my destination faster one way or the other and being careful to select the right project for the method. In that regard all I can do is know ME best, use my experience and judge when I think I will get more from one or the other. We will only be doing this half the lesson so there will still be plenty of progress in other areas too and he's already working with me on my bass targets for the year. It's actually a little scary as I feel even more accountable now but that's good right!?
I trust my teachers, they are amazing at helping me learn but I trust my methods too. I've spent 30+ years teaching just one single student... ME and I've learnt a lot in that time. You should see me clean the house (on the rare occasions I do!) none of my kids or my hubby can understand how I do it but I can do it 10 times faster and yet still 10 times better than they can combined. My method is exactly the same I’m applying here, exactly the same as I applied in my business (I could always do my staffs jobs 20 times faster, it was so frustrating) and the same as I did in my old accountancy job (my boss got cross at me for doing his job and mine more efficiently while he was on holiday because his boss picked him up on it, I SWEAR I would never have done that on purpose, it’s just who I am). I organise better, shop faster, I can solve just about anyones problems (except mine, haha no I do solve mine it's just a little more complicated) and I'm superbly efficient when I want to be.
It just takes time to work out what the most efficient methods are to apply to my current situation as it's far more complex because I’m learning a LOT that all needs to be connected. However I'm learning more about that every day by paying good attention to what my teachers tell me and evaluating which elements work and which don't and WHY and applying that knowledge to my personal teaching method.
One final thing. I had a teacher I hated at school who taught Social Science, he hated me right back and I couldn't learn from him. Of course that was all my fault (only teacher who I didn't get on with like a house on fire was him) and his prediction for my final grade was an F. I moved school and they didn't do Social Science so I took it upon myself to do the exam independently. I taught myself and did the projects I had to, completed the assignments and took the final exam and got a C. I did this while battling problably my most severe episode of depression & anxiety ever. My point is I've always struggled to learn like my peers and yet I have 10 GCSE's grade C or above, A GNVQ Advanced in Art & Design and an A in A-Level Accountancy. I can learn it's just I have to figure out HOW to make it work for me. Good teachers (my accountancy teacher was amazing!) make my life easier (my current teachers ALL fit into this category) bad ones make my life so much harder but I get there either way.
The thing I find hardest about being who I am is my inability to communicate. I'm literate, reasonably so, I can express myself and I can explain things in detail (too much often) but I still can't get the thoughts in my head to make sense to other people.
They nod and agree and express words of acknowledgement and then reaffirm what I'm thinking back to me but it's NOT what I'm thinking. I use the same words as them and yet the meaning and context is different, what they're saying is not even close to what I was saying. To make matters worse things have so many meanings to me depending on the context of my feelings or thoughts at a given time. This makes me very specific in my meaning when most people are very general in theirs. It's actually left me afraid to try because more often that not they'll misunderstand and I have no way of correcting or explaining.
How does this affect my musical journey? Unfortunately quite badly. I can't explain what I need, I can't explain why I struggle, I can't explain what people can do to help me and sadly in most cases people don't want to help me. WAIT... no I'm not being a victim. They are NOT ogres who are selfish and mean, on the contrary they're good people who care a great deal but they've got life to worry about and my complex layers of problems are just too much extra baggage.
People in general like me a lot but I'm also a burden and aren't we all taught if it's not making your life better cut it out? Well they usually do and I don't blame them, sincerely I do not, I am overwhelming but that doesn't mean I don't feel hurt, I don't feel lonely, I don't feel rejected and I don't feel like... I'm wrong. I'm broken. I'm complicated. I'm difficult. I'm the odd one out. I'm not worth it. I'm nice but I'm not good enough to deserve your understanding and compromise.
It's hard for me to accept the only thing I am is Autistic. I'm kind, I'm loyal, I'm funny, I'm determined, I'm passionate, I'm sensitive, I'm curious, I'm smart, I'm thoughtful. I am worth it it's just few people understand me well enough to know that or if they do I just demand too much effort to justify it in their lives. How can I not understand that even if I don't deserve it. I came across this video and the weight it lifted from me was so big, it really resonated and I realised I can't help my fear. It's part of who I am, of what I am. I have to stop feeling like I'm being irrational.
Some things I learned from this because I'm always learning!
a) My fear is ok, it's not good, it's not wanted but it's not irrational. As she says I need to fix it top down and I can't do it alone.
b) I must find a way to adjust the structure of my lessons if I want to be more productive. Being pushed is great, it's working and I'm doing so well I do not want to change that but there's no balance so the fear is never evened out and I need more structure to support my mental state.
c) I understand now a lot more why the fear is there and I can begin the work on it and with it. It serves me very well but I need to find a way to keep some fear pushing me without it shutting me down at other times.
d) My fears have nothing to do with ego, in fact my ego is so damaged by my fears that it's something I need to work on. If I didn't always feel like a failure and expect to be one maybe I could look for, achieve and embrace success as well as the progress I already hold on to and enjoy so dearly. Part of my action plan needs to include me succeeding not just embracing the failure for the progress it represents. There's a big difference.
My overthinking is also natural and is connected to this problem but that part I already suspected to be true. That's a trait I will not dampen as it's one of my greatest assets which I use constantly to problem solve and create but I need to learn how to gain more control, to wield it and stop it controlling me emotionally.
Finally, my mind has worked like hers many a time (you'll have to watcht the video to understand this part!). I've seen my own "penguins" and I understand what she says, it can be a curse, it does cause us problems and it's very hard to understand it but the otherthinking part of our brain can be such a blessing too! Being Autistic can be such a blessing we just need people to care and help us fit in with the rest of the world and sadly I have no one to help me. I've become very self sufficient for that reason and I'm actually very brave for someone with ASD and I do a lot of very rash and unusual things but that doesn't mean any of them are ever easy or that they come without consequence.
I'll probably blog a lot more this year as I work through this problem as I think maybe some day this might help others if I can succeed. It will help me to have somewhere mostly private to share my thoughts as I fight what's going to be a long, difficult and very deflating battle. It's never easy facing our fears. I'm very brave and I push through my fear all the time but being afraid of someone not because of who they are but because of who I am is really hard. It reinforces the "I'm the problem" mentality and thus fear. I consider my teacher to be one of the most special, caring, generous and nice people and kindest friends I've ever had so if anyone will help me do this it's him, and of course hubby.
Ultimately my fear is my teacher will reject me or be angry at me and that I couldn't bare because I care so much about him. I'm in a Hobsons Choice situation but I have to do find a way because I know he want's to help and I know I need to get through this. The question is how do I help him do that without making the whole thing yet another overblown complicated drama and losing someone who's been one of the most amazine people in my life.
I often ask myself what do I want, not in a throwaway fashion but in a 6 year old’s curious fashion. Why… but why… but why until I dig down to the fundamental reasons and that allows me to make choices. Sometimes harsh choices, it allows me to plan, to understand the context and price of those choices. I want to play instruments, I want to write music I’m proud of, why? Because I love music more than I love anything in this world, I NEED to play. Because understanding it, being a part of it, exploring it, experiencing it is my passion and who I am. I believe in choices, not excuses which means I do it or don't but I own the decision without regret and with purpose and reason. That's far harder than it sounds though.
I suffer from terrible mental illness and it’s my belief that my ASD affects me physically as well as mentally. They will limit my dreams by a long way if I cannot find a way to get around them, I can't choose not to have them but I do still have a choice. I can choose to acknowledge their limitations and do the best I can or I can find a way around them no matter how much it hurts me. The question I had to ask myself is what's more important and WHY and the answer is playing because it's who I am. So I will do what needs to be done even though I do not know how.
Today I had one of the most painful lessons I've ever had. I knew it was coming, I knew what I'd set myself up for and I knew why. It hurt me unimaginable amounts, not because my ego took a hit (if it was about ego I wouldn't have set myself up for this in the first place) but beause it left me confused, scared, lonely, lost and directionless. It pulled the very small (but faulty) security rug from under me and left me with the truth I needed to hear but had dreaded and forced my hand. I had no regrets because it did what I needed it to do for what I want - choices not excuses. “Either I will find a way, or I will make one” has become my motto and it's serving me well but without action they're empty words. Normally I at least havea an idea of what to try and I'm willing to take action but I have absolutely no idea what to do this time. I really don't known how to fix this and it seems no one else does either. So I can choose, accept or figure it the hell out. I choose to figure it out because I know what I want. Being that sure is so powerful but it's also a curse because it makes life so much more complicated and hard!
This is what my heart wants with all the passion in the world so I will do what I need to (even to myself) to get it. I just wish I didn’t always have to do it alone, I wish it didn't always have to be so hard and I wish I was stronger because it hurts like hell.
But then I also wished to be a musician and I've been given the chance to do that.... IF I can keep on fighting and find a way through. Moral - be careful what you wish for!!!
Learning Time Log
How long I've been learning as at at the end of Mar 2021.
What's This About?
One fateful day I decided to get guitar lessons. 6 years later I'm learning four instruments and trying to become a musician and songwriter. I set a five year goal (Aug 2021) to create a very special song for my 25th wedding anniversary and this is a record of my crazy journey, weird thoughts, strange doodles and unapologetic music obsession! Enjoy!