Hello folks – so its been a whopping three months since my last post (this almost feels like confessional!) summer hit me with all of its busy busy-ness and the posts went on the backburner.
As a wonderful result however, I now have 3 stories to share with you from some folk who introduced singing into their lives and how it has impacted them.
I was initially going to edit these posts as I will be doing for the book but I’ve decided to post the stories as they are for the blog, because it resonates with the authenticity of the people who wrote them. These stories are personal to the singers that poured their lives out on an email for me and I don’t think I should be the one to disrupt that process.
so – to make up for the lack of monthly posting, I’ll be posting up 3 posts each with a story about how singing has changed a life.
The 1st story is from the lovely Louise Czekaj who is one of the members of one of our Sing & Inspire Superchoirs. Louise’s story is really centred around meeting My business partner, Georgina Jones (George) and I for a training session that changed her perspective and began her process of healing, by helping her centre and ultimately ‘find her voice’. Its very inspirational and you’ll notice that’s it written personally to me, So it might help if you put yourself in my (Andrea’s) shoes when you read it to feel the impact of her journey.
so here we go…..
“When I first met you and George in 2011, I was slowly starting to get back on track after suffering from anxiety and panic attacks for about six years. I had an extremely stressful 2004 and over a year later, I started feeling as if I was going to faint in public all the time. I didn’t make the connection to the stress in 2004 immediately. The first time it happened was on the Tube in London, the morning after a huge drinking session, which I put down to being hung-over but then it started to happen all the time: on the train to work; walking down Queen Street; whilst sat in the pub with friends. It started to seriously freak me out.
I went to the doctors (thinking that perhaps I was anaemic) but after several tests my local GP said I was fine and that it was probably anxiety; the feeling I was experiencing on a daily basis with no warning or reason was the ‘fight or flight’ sensation and it was causing me to have panic attacks. She asked if I had suffered from any stressful events recently and I discovered that it was some sort of post-traumatic, delayed reaction to the stress of the previous year. She told me that if I suffered from an attack I should just take deep breaths, then offered to put me on beta-blockers and sign me off work for a month, which terrified me because I knew what a slippery slope that could be. I didn’t want to end up at home stuck on medication and afraid to leave my flat so I chose instead to carry on, in the hope that it would go away.
It didn’t just ‘go away’. It was really frustrating, because I knew that there was nothing physically wrong with me and that my mind was making the attacks happen, yet I had no control over it. Prior to an attack, I experienced what is described in a lot of literature about panic and anxiety as a ‘feeling of impending doom’ – the sensation that something awful was about to happen – which was horrible and it made me feel as if I was going mad. I started looking at alternative remedies which included homeopathy; acupuncture and Chinese medicine (I left a clinic in floods of tears once after being told in broken English that there was something very wrong with me and that I needed to spend over £200 on acupuncture and foul-tasting tea to fix it); and hypnotherapy. I went to the doctors again and was put on the NHS waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Everyone told me I should just take deep breaths when I was suffering from an attack, but that didn’t help. The hypnotherapy seemed to work the best; after several hypnosis sessions and learning some ‘tapping’ techniques I felt fine and went for over six months without a panic attack, until I felt brave enough to go on holiday in 2007. At Heathrow, on the way to Warsaw, a fire alarm went off and the terminal was evacuated. I was unfortunate enough to be sat next to a melodramatic American lady at the time, who was convinced that she had heard an explosion before the alarm and was loudly telling everyone that it was a terrorist attack. It wasn’t of course, but half an hour later, in the departure lounge, I suddenly started to feel faint and for the first time since my panic attacks started I actually started to black out – I couldn’t see anything and I was absolutely convinced that my boyfriend (now husband) was going to have to call for help. It was the worst I’d experienced and I remember thinking that I hope I don’t get carted off by the men in white coats. Somehow, I got on the plane but the following week in Warsaw was not a relaxing holiday. My husband had to put up with this happening a lot; over the years we often had to leave places because I was having a panic attack. I remember him having to walk me out of Tesco’s on Western Avenue with me clinging to him and it was years before I could go back there. I hated busy places, crowds and the feeling that people were looking at me.
I finally got to the top of the waiting list for CBT and saw a therapist for three sessions. It seemed to work because over time the attacks seemed to lessen, as did the severity. I started practising yoga and continued to use the tapping techniques taught to me by the hypnotherapist when I did suffer from attacks, but the anxiety was always there in the background, stopping me from doing all sorts of things socially especially visiting my best mates in London as much as I would have liked (they would have to collect me from Paddington to chaperone me on the Tube and I would never go into Central London), but also practical things too, like learning to drive. The thought of being behind a wheel and suddenly feeling like I was going to faint scared the hell out of me.
Fast forward to 2011 and I was halfway through a leadership and management program at work, which was pretty brave of me at the time looking back, but I had started to realise that I wanted more out of life and my career was the first thing I wanted to change – for years I’d worked in jobs that were a means to an end and I had a feeling that if I didn’t do something I would be stuck like that forever. One of the modules of the program was a presentation skills course; Sing and Inspire were brought in for the day, to teach us how to project our voices and our confidence when presenting to an audience. I was in your group for the first session and one of the first things you did was to teach us how to breath diaphragmatically, to slow our heartbeat down and therefore calm any nerves when presenting or performing. This completely overwhelmed me and by the end of the session I was in the loos having a bit of a cry because I’d realised that what you were doing was simply teaching us to breathe – something that people had always told me to do when I was suffering from a panic attack but until that day, I never knew how to!
George’s session followed and she took us through a ‘grounding’ exercise to give us confidence, which involved closing our eyes and taking ourselves back to a memory of when we felt really confident and happy. My mind automatically took me back nearly ten years and again I was overwhelmed as I realised that it was such a long time since I had felt truly happy or confident. That day, you and George gave me a light bulb moment, which went round in my head for months afterwards. Looking back, that day was a key turning point in my life. The positive energy and confidence you both exuded and shared with us inspired me to find the confident old Louise, who it seemed had been hiding inside for years. What a wake up call!
In January 2012 I decided that it was going to be a year of change for me. I booked a load of driving lessons, signed up for a series of yoga workshops designed to get back to ‘the real me’ and made a promise to myself that I was going to get involved in something creative (the thing that I always procrastinated about – I love music and writing but never spent any time developing either). A few months later, I receive an email about the launch of SUPERCHOIR and immediately signed up to attend the first session in March. I went along, absolutely terrified; I spend a lot of time singing my heart out in the safety of my home but I had never sung in front of a group of people before and walking into a roomful of complete strangers was something I absolutely dreaded. A few years before I wouldn’t have even entertained the idea. I absolutely loved the choir session. The energy and atmosphere Patrick created was amazing – just like when you and George did the training session the year before – and I couldn’t wait for the next one. It wasn’t long before our first gig and during the last rehearsal before it, I suddenly started to get anxious mid-song as it dawned on me that we would be soon performing in front of a crowd. I started to have a panic attack (nobody noticed, thank goodness, which is often the case!) and I worried afterwards that I wouldn’t cope during the gig. That was the last panic attack I have suffered from to date! I forced myself to turn up for the gig and it turned out to be fantastic fun. I realised that if I can get up and sing in front of a room full of strangers, I can do anything I set my mind to.
I’ve since used the techniques you and George taught me many times, when delivering training to large groups of people at work, or presenting to senior management. I use them before choir gigs too.
Since I joined SUPERCHOIR I’ve: walked down the aisle with a crowd of people watching me; passed my driving test; got over my Tube fear and travelled alone in London; started networking with some really cool and inspiring people in Cardiff; and I’ve just made a rather exciting career leap – I started a new job this week in Marketing Communications and I’m thinking about setting up my own business long-term.
As I’m typing this, I’ve actually got tears steaming down my face as I realise: a) how unwell I was; b) how far I’ve come in the last few years; and b) how grateful I am that I met you and George, and that you two and Sing and Inspire are still in my life, nearly two years on. I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me and you were just doing your day job! What Sing and Inspire does is change peoples lives. It is a wonderful, powerful thing and I know that you will change the lives of hundreds more people, which is such a lovely thing to know!
Singing with the other SUPERCHOIR members has given me a great sense of musical belonging – it’s like being in a band only on a much larger scale! When we learn new songs we help each other out with the words and harmonies; there’s an over-arching positivity and kindness to the sessions, which encourages me to sing better but has also taught me to listen to everyone else. I’ve become much more confident about my voice over the past year and I’m less scared to try things out vocally. When I leave at the end of the session, I sing my head off all the way home in the car, then bounce through the front door like a bundle of energy. I’m usually still singing at work the next day – it doesn’t wear off overnight! I’ve always wanted to sing and now I’m actually doing it.
I completely forgot to mention the amazing friends I’ve made through Sing and Inspire and how, over a year after joining, SUPERCHOIR remains a huge part of my life. No matter how tired I am after work on a Wednesday I drag myself down the Bay, knowing that once I’ve been to choir I’ll be in a brilliant mood with loads of energy and this is true every single time.”
Thank you so SO much to Louise for being the debut story posted on ‘its all about the voice”. Lou – you are so full of courage and strength, your story brought tears to my eyes. you truly are an inspiration to know. Also as an aside, I feel I should say that if you met Lou – you’d truly have no idea just how powerful her journey has been over the past few years, it just goes to show how amazing life can become when you meet the right catalysts and refuse to accept your situation.
I think it’s summed up perfectly in the following Walt Disney quote which I’ll leave you with………look out for the next 2 stories which will be posted by the end of the week…
I forgot to add this last week – here’s the link for Superchoir if you’re in South Wales…
and…….another update! just found this gorgeous pic of Lou on her twitter profile – and she is a very beautiful lady I’m sure you’ll agree!