I was recently in the studio. Excitement! Bliss! Euphoria! There’s not a single day that goes by where I don’t think about being there. It’s where I empty my whole heart and leave everything on the floor.
After such a high, there’s always the low that crashes after. I often leave feeling completely emotionally and mentally exhausted. I feel the bliss and endorphins surging through my body as I express myself. I feel it all so strongly.
And then I leave.
But the therapeutic experience of the studio stays after I’ve left and I often find that I have a lot to process. I’m not just a songwriter. I’m a song-feeler. I’ve never thought of myself as a singer, but more, someone who has something to say. I have a voice. We all have our own, unique heartsong. I express mine in the studio and I come out feeling as though I’ve just gone on a mega soul-retreat.
This particular time upon leaving my little soul-excursion in the studio, I realized a question I’ve had since I was very young. “Is it ok to be me?”
I picture my younger six-year-old self crying and pacing around the living room because I’m in panic; It’s night time and my younger self hates night time because that means I’m alone to face the dark. I hear the loud voice of my dad yelling at me: “What’s wrong with you?” Those words reverberated inside my bones, jostling me like an earthquake. If there’s “something wrong with me” when I’m crying and panicking, it’s clearly not ok to be me. It’s not safe.
Because I was an anxious child, I was already extra vulnerable. Like the leaves that sputter in the wind, my little self was very susceptible to being carried away by the energy and emotions inside and around me. I had a lot of my own chaotic and turbulent feelings, so any outside chaos overwhelmed and overpowered me. Especially when I was in panic.
My heartsong became one of fear.
I didn’t learn that there’s something wrong and that’s why I’m having anxiety. I learned there’s something wrong with me because I’m having anxiety. This was a debilitating message and one often received by those who struggle with mental health. We learn to lock up and suppress. We learn to hide it.
There’s a lot of shame around the topic of mental illness. I wasn’t ashamed of my anxiety and my experiences when I was younger. But as I got older, I learned to suppress and withdraw. I didn’t do this on purpose, but by mere instinct. Whenever I had so-called “negative” emotions, my learned reaction was, “There’s something wrong with me.”
The lingering question, “Is it ok to be me” was a definite no. Accessing this heartsong of mine–buried deep inside–in the studio continues to be like digging in the ground for hidden treasure. It still feels unsafe and vulnerable, like my six-year-old self pacing in panic. Our voice–who we are–is our greatest gift to the world, and when we walk around not living out who we truly are, we become mere machines. We feel empty when we aren’t living from our hearts.
I’m acutely aware that my studio sessions with my producer are far different from his typical clientele. Dealing with anxiety in the studio is a “behind the scenes” experience that only he and I share. This continues to both challenge and transform me. What people don’t see or hear when I show them a song is how much work goes into it.
I’m learning that inner-strength comes in unexpected places. It is not on the other side of fear where our strength lies, it’s walking through it that is courageous. The trembling feeling I get when I step close to the mic feels like my voice of fear. But truly in these moments when I show up, shaky and uncertain, is when I’m being my bravest and strongest. Fear is merely an invitation to grow. In this way, fear is a gift. The price of being wholehearted makes us vulnerable, but it also brings out who we are and what we’re made of. And that, my dear reader, is priceless.
As I left the studio a few days ago, the vulnerability of being my truest self started to settle in. It’s what one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, calls a “vulnerability hangover.” (I’ve never actually been hungover, but I can imagine the discomfort of a vulnerability hangover is just as bad). In these moments of exposure, the question, “Is it ok to be me” nicks in my mind. I ask myself, “Why did I show up completely unfiltered AGAIN?”
If there’s anything I’ve learned from continuing to show up in the studio and in the world as my most authentic self, it’s this: It’s worth it to break through the shell of fear. It’s worth it to be vulnerable and raw. The six-year-old girl in me, who hears “what’s wrong with you” ringing in her mind still lives. But it is now outweighed by my firm belief that it is not only ok to be me, but it is my greatest gift to the world to be who I truly am. My voice is my unique heartsong and only I can voice it. Same goes to you. The question is: Are you willing to show up and be seen?