Cried at choir audition, how to cope with shame?
April 19, 2018 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I let a friend talk me into auditioning for the church choir he's in. Part of the audition involved singing a song that you could "sing with all your heart", as well as some scales. I've sung in choirs all my life, but I'm not a solo singer and have never had to sing a prepared song for an audition. I was wary about auditioning but decided to give it a go anyway.

I decided on a song that I know well and can play on the piano and sing in multiple keys if needed. It's just a basic folk song, nothing special (Song for the Mira). It was a song that my high school choir sang during my freshman year that I've always liked.

I was feeling confident and ready to go when approaching the audition, but also a little apathetic, like, I didn't care if I got in or didn't. This is just something I'm doing for fun and it's no biggie if I'm turned away.

My friend had said the audition would be just with the choir director, and no one else. But when I got there, there were three people in the room, three people who were already in the choir and one other guy who was also auditioning. They were all very nice and we had an initial conversation while waiting for the director to show up. They were saying the audition would be painless and quick and it would be no big deal. But for some strange reason I was starting to get more nervous. They kept telling me to "breathe" and "don't be shy." Their intentions were good. But my nerves were growing steadily.

The director came in and he was very good looking and that didn't help my nerves either. :( He gave the other new guy a very warm welcome, like, "it's so nice to meet you", but to me he just said a simple hello. I tried not to make a big deal out of the big difference in greeting and show him what I could do when singing.

I told the other guy who was auditioning that he could go first. To my horror, everyone stayed in the room. I had not counted on or planned for having an audience when auditioning. The other guy did amazingly. He sang a soulful song, from the heart (unfortunately I can't remember the title of the song), and had a big booming, strong, wonderful voice. He said he hadn't sang in years, yet from the way he sang, you'd think he was a professional singer. I was like WOW. His audition was over in snap.

Then it was my turn. All of a sudden I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to sing the Song for the Mira, or any song for that matter. I was not going to be able to sing with soul or from the heart, or what have you. I tried to sing but nothing would come out. Then I (in a stupid shaky voice) mumbled that I was super nervous and that I hadn't been expecting an audience. So the director asked everyone to step out. I felt so bad since they were all so nice and encouraging, but I simply cannot sing in front of people even if they're nice.

Well that should have solved the problem, but it didn't. Not only could I not sing the song I prepared, but I started crying and told the director I'm sorry, but I can't do this. I went to start gathering my things to leave, but he told me to come back and was asking what I was so afraid of, and I couldn't give him an answer, and he started having me sing some simple notes, and then he asked me to sing three notes like "la la la" while he sang harmony against what I was singing, and then he said I could join the group. My voice didn't sound very good. I can only sing when I'm alone or within larger choir, it seems, and once I'm singing solo front of other people I suddenly can't sing and sound breathy and off pitch, my voice simply betrays me.

He was being really nice and I told him I was sorry for breaking down and losing it, and he kept saying I don't need to be sorry and it's all good but I think he only let me in the choir out of pity. I know he thinks I'm a weakling and I made a horrible e first impression that can't be fixed or undone in any way (I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously).

I tried SO HARD to come across as confident, to meditate beforehand, to tell myself that I'd be fine regardless of the outcome of the audition. I had been on a real self-improvement kick, with exercising, not caring what people think of me, going to bed earlier and thinking positively. And then I get there and ALL of that goes out the window. I STILL cry. I STILL care what people think of me. Last night I went to bed at 4am. What's the point of meditation, exercise, positive thinking, etc, when it doesn't work at the moment when you need it to? This means I'm a big FAKE. I THINK I'm doing all this positive stuff but it turns out it's a SHAM. I needed the benefits of meditation during my audition, but all I got were nerves, tears, and made a first impression that is completely unacceptable and irreparable.

I don't know how to undo the extreme shame I am feeling. I can't express in words how much disgust and hatred I have for myself. I hate myself to the core, to my very being. I honestly wish my mom had not given birth to me. I can't stand to even look at myself, knowing that I cried like that. Knowing that despite all the effort and preparation, I still broke down. I still could not keep it together. I don't know how to move past this. There is no way I can actually join the choir, even though they let me in out of sympathy. I can't face the director now, because there's no way to undo that horrible first impression. I don't know how to cope with this shame. I will not be able to leave the house for days after this, I think. It's like, I need to be punished because I cried.
posted by starpoint to Human Relations (68 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to mention and can't figure out how to edit my post. But I am 35 years old. TOO OLD to still be having these problems.
posted by starpoint at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2018

You do not need to be punished. What you need is some help in dealing with what sounds like crippling anxiety and depression. Not knowing anything about you, I can't advise you on the best way you can do that. I can only tell you that your brain is lying to you. None of the awful things that you are thinking about yourself are true. I, a stranger, can say that with confidence, because they are so extreme compared to the event that prompted them. Please, don't take any other action right now, but do look into getting some help. You don't have to live with this monster in your brain.
posted by praemunire at 1:11 PM on April 19, 2018 [72 favorites]

I was just going to say the same as praemunire. You had made the choice to do this for fun, and your anxious mind turned it into a referendum on your worth as a human being. Be gentle and ask yourself if you were in the shoes of the choir director or the people who were unexpectedly in the audition, what would you be saying and doing for the person who got a bit anxious in front of them? I'm sure you would have treated that person with every bit of kindness, and maybe more, that you were given.

You were not auditioning for a Broadway lead or for a national performance. This is a group of amateur singers who enjoy singing together and doing a service for their community. It sounds like you would fit right in with a group like that. So give it a shot. If your voice isn't perfect, check the people around you and see if they might be struggling in spots too (my guess is they are).

Crying is a sign you are human and have deep emotions. Those are good things! The director wants you there or wouldn't have asked you to come back (ask yourself why they would want to subject themselves to seeing someone they feel is a burden back week after week after week).
posted by goggie at 1:17 PM on April 19, 2018 [17 favorites]

Oh sweetie. Your brain is catastrophizing BIG TIME. And if crying out of anxiety or embarrassment or whatever is a crime at 35, someone better lock me up because I cry for those reasons sometimes and I'll be 48 this year. It's okay to have and to express strong emotions, it really is. I would never, ever think someone was scum of the earth for crying in a very tense, anxiety-provoking situation, even if it was the first time I met them.

If your best friend or your cousin or your sibling told you this story you just told us, would you be gentle and forgiving and understanding to them? Of course you would! So why aren't you showing yourself that same compassion? You deserve to be soft with yourself. Please find someone, preferably a professional, and let them teach you how to be kind to yourself.
posted by cooker girl at 1:19 PM on April 19, 2018 [28 favorites]

Hi, I'm sorry, and I'm a fellow super-shy singer and performer. It sucks. This just sounds like you had a really bad case of stage fright. Please try to stop beating yourself up over it.

Without going into detail, I had a similarly humiliating singing experience in front of a bigger audience. I got so nervous waiting for my turn to sing that by the time I got on stage, my throat had completely dried out and my breath support disappeared. My voice sounded raspy and it cracked a bunch of times, and I sounded so bad. I was so upset and embarrassed because this was an important audition for me. I know I can sing. But my body and mind betrayed me when it mattered most. But, when I had another opportunity to perform the same material for an audience, hey- I was ready for the worst and ended up sounding a lot better than I did the first time. It did help to have some hot tea with honey in it that time.

Since they accepted you, I think you should take them up on the opportunity. They must have accepted you because they heard through your panic that you do have a voice there. Give yourself a chance.
posted by bananana at 1:24 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

You're never too old for self-hatred and anxiety! Or, that's what I've found.

In the immediate present, try to distract yourself and not think about what happened. if you're like me, the pain/shame will fade over time regardless of what you do, and just getting to the point where it's not so horrible is important. So watch TV, read a favorite book, do anything that will get you a little bit out of your head about this. When you start thinking about it, force your thoughts away as hard as you can - tell yourself "I am not going to think about it". If you're like me, you feel as if ruminating is somehow going to "work through" the feeling, but it doesn't.

I find that repeating a phrase like, "I can't do anything about it, it's over" sometimes helps.

Also, if you haven't slept or eaten normal amounts in the past couple of days, do both. IANYD, but if this were me and I were having difficulty sleeping, I would take melatonin or benadryl or whatever relaxing but safe thing I had to help fall asleep. You will feel better after normal sleep.

In the long term: Do you get these fits of self-hatred regularly? If you do, you should really look into therapy if at all possible. I struggle with the same thing, and I found a great therapist who helped me talk about a lot of life stuff - why I was so hard on myself over comparatively small potatoes, some bad things that had happened to me, my fears about the the future, etc - and now while I still have some of the same episodes, they are much shorter and less deep-seated, and I can usually talk myself down.

I started therapy because a kind friend wrote me a letter after I'd shared with her some feelings similar to yours about something that had happened where I felt I'd fucked up irretrievably, was horribly ashamed, wished I'd never been born, etc. My friend pointed out that she cared about my but could not help me through the depths of what was going on with me, and one of the things she said was that I was always using this catastrophizing, self-annihilating language about how I was the WORST, and the MOST [awful thing] and people like me were TERRIBLE, etc etc.

I see this in your post - you're in this very apocalyptic headspace. But it doesn't have to be this way. You can get yourself to a point where you can be disappointed in yourself or fail at something and keep it in proportion rather than feel it as a referendum on whether you deserve to exist.

If I were the director, I would be moved by compassion and would want to help you. It's not the best kind of first impression to make, but it's not the worst, either, and if you sing fairly successfully in the choir, the first impression will be re-contextualized and overridden. It will go from, "this is a person who really struggles" to "this is a person who was waaaaaaayyy too worried about her performance given that she's a perfectly capable singer".

TBH, if you're usually a pretty decent singer, it might be a good idea to join the choir anyway. It will be hard and stressful the first few times, but once you're performing up to your usual standard, you will fit in, and it will be really good for your confidence to have the experience of coming back from a less than ideal start.
posted by Frowner at 1:26 PM on April 19, 2018 [19 favorites]

You are great. I am a musician and I feel exactly what you're feeling because I've felt it before. I've crashed and burned and been rejected and messed up in performances and cried and all that. The director has, too. He gets it. You were there to do one thing: Show the director that you have what he needs in the choir. You succeeded.

Choirs that have auditions don't let people in out of sympathy. They let you in because you have what they need.

You are great. You showed him what he needed to see/hear: That you are a great singer.

No, it wasn't a bad first impression. No, he won't think of you as weak. He'll think of you as a great singer who needs to be in that choir to make it great, and who he won't have do a solo audition anymore.

I've been there. I feel what you're feeling. You got the gig!!!!!!!!
posted by The World Famous at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh my gosh, and here I am thinking that you are ao amazingly brave for singing even in front of that one person! I would never be brave enough to do that ... makes me want to cry a little just contemplating it. :)

I guarantee that those people have seen nerves before and aren't nearly as worried about this as you are. He understood that you had a voice in you, and he worked with you to get it out there, and he invited you to join the choir. YAY YOU! SINGER!!

Of all the musical talents that I don't have but I wish I did, singing is the #1.
posted by mccxxiii at 1:28 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I know he thinks I'm a weakling

You don't know that. You don't know what he thinks.

I made a horrible e first impression that can't be fixed or undone in any way

1st impressions are only that, the first impression. They can always be undone.

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously

No I wouldn't think that, and I'm not a very charitable or kind person. I may not even be a very good person. But I would not think someone who cried because they were nervous was the "scum of the earth"

This is anxiety run wild. Talk to a mental health professional or your GP about this. These are the kind of moments as needed medication can help a lot with or CBT or many other options. You cried in a high stress situation, that's a thing people do. You didn't hurt anyone, you didn't make the world a worse place, you just had some bad feelings that got out of control.
posted by French Fry at 1:30 PM on April 19, 2018 [25 favorites]

I mean. It‘s a church choir. And they accepted you.
I‘m trying to wrap my head around the fact that you‘re kicking the shit out of yourself about this because this is so completely out of proportion to what actually happened.

You got an extreme case of the nerves and fucked up an audition to a church choir. Despite that, the head guy was kind and decided to give you a chance.

This is your chance to prove yourself worthy.

It sounds like your brain is savagely punishing you for having the nerve to think something good about yourself. „I can do this, I can sing well, I‘m good enough to join a choir!“
It‘s taking advantage of a minor failure to beat you back into feeling like a loser and like you deserve to be miserable. And it‘s making sure you don‘t join the choir, despite being invited to, so that you‘ll never regain your confidence in singing.

Your brain is such a lying bastard.

Listen, to someone without that massive anxiety this would be merely an embarassing episode. They‘d continue to go to that choir and prove to the director that he made the right decision.

I think you deserve to feel calm like that, not like you do now. You deserve a brain that doesn‘t actively hate you.

Please get help. You don‘t have to live like this. You deserve not to. Trust that even if you don‘t believe it. Nobody deserves to feel like you do right now,
posted by Omnomnom at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2018 [9 favorites]

Have you knowingly hurt anyone? Made anyone's life worse on purpose? Betrayed your own morals or value? Those are the things that shame should be for. All you did was suffer an excess of humanity. A few billion people know the feeling perfectly.

For what it's worth there are easy ways to let somebody down graciously without letting them into your choir, and if this choir has such serious auditions I don't really see them just letting random people in if they think they can't sing.

For the rest, there's a reason they call meditation practice. It doesn't have to be your only tool though, and if you want to get a hang on your anxiety you could try out therapy and medication. (Both of those exist because you've got so very much company in the condition.)
posted by trig at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

he started having me sing some simple notes, and then he asked me to sing three notes like "la la la" while he sang harmony against what I was singing, and then he said I could join the group. My voice didn't sound very good. I can only sing when I'm alone or within larger choir, it seems, and once I'm singing solo front of other people I suddenly can't sing and sound breathy and off pitch, my voice simply betrays me.

It sounds like what he did in the audition was the determine to himself that the the second part of what you have written here is true: you can't sing solo in front of other people, but you can sing within a larger choir. He found that out by having you sing while he provided harmony.

And he discovered that you were able to do that even when you were in a situation in which you were nervous and found out that you had to perform in a way you didn't initially expect to.

Apparently, what he's looking for is not someone to perform solos but someone who can harmonize with the choir singing as a group. Congratulations--you passed the audition!
posted by layceepee at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2018 [35 favorites]

When I was in college, I took a few years of voice. When it came time to perform in front of the other voice students (many of whom were opera singers, and I'm not even close), I started crying in the middle of my song. The dean of the college was there, and he made me complete the song even while I was crying. He acted like it happened all the time, and I'm sure it does!
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

"your brain is lying to you"

Yes. I don't know whether it helps to deal with some of these point by point, but:

"I think he only let me in the choir out of pity."

Maybe he was trying to be nice, but there are other ways he could have done that. He could have asked you to come back for another audition, or suggested another choir that doesn't require auditions, or something else. He wouldn't invite someone that would make directing the choir a chore.

A few "la la la"s was probably enough for him to at least hear that you could hit the right pitches, whether or not he could hear the quality of your voice.

Maybe that's all they need, or maybe he heard more than that, or maybe they're just short singers with your voice type, who knows.

It's his job to figure out whether you could contribute to the choir, not yours. Believe him.

"I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby...."

I've known great people who cry easily. If anything it made them easier to like just because they seemed genuine.

He's somebody that does auditions on a regular basis. He's seen people with bad nerves before.
posted by floppyroofing at 1:41 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

By the way, one exercise you can do right now is to write a list of all the ways you did acquit yourself credibly at this audition, and add to it over time.

Here's a start:
- even at its very worst, your voice was good enough to be part of the choir
- you made pleasant conversation with the other people in the room while waiting
- you let the other singer try out first, which is a sign of decency and ability to work well with a team
- you explained your difficulty to the director honestly - you didn't invent excuses or just give up on the spot

(I have a whole bunch more, but you should do this :-)
posted by trig at 1:46 PM on April 19, 2018 [22 favorites]

People get blindsided by goes-straight-to-eleven anxiety attacks in performance scenarios all the time, and if the director's been directing for any length of time he's seen it before - in auditions, before/during performances, in rehearsals, during random conversations, every possible situation. He's probably even experienced it himself. It's just what neurochemicals do, sometimes.

Please rally your usual support and then let them help get you to maybe a physician and some mental health assistance, because you are having a dangerously disproportionate response to a low-stakes minor incident, an intense enough response that there might be something physically going on with you that is making this reaction so severe. And if all that checks out, then this is maybe a little bit of a wake-up call that you've got an anxiety situation that needs some management because it could happen again and you're suffering so much when you don't have to. Be kind to yourself, but also get it checked out.

Please consider accepting the invitation and joining the choir, though, if your professionals clear you to go ahead. What happened isn't nearly as bad as you think right now, and you might actually find a number of kindred spirits in the ranks there.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:47 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Which reminds me. I used to be a choir member in a church choir (a decent one, we performed on radio etc.)
I got in because I had family there.
They had a vocal trainer and she‘d pick individuals to train. When it was my turn...I don‘t know, my nerves failed. Not only did I not hit the notes, I alternatively whispered and croaked them. It was terrible. This lady told me I should quit the choir because I wasn‘t up to par.

I was humiliated.
I told the choir director that I would have to quit, according to the trainer. His mouth fell open. Then he got really mad. He reassured me that he wanted me to stay and that he was happy with my performance, gave me advice for improvement, then went and gave the trainer a talking to for chasing off competent singers of which there weren‘t enough in the first place.

I‘m not sure there‘s a moral to this story except: This is my tale of humiliating choir failure. And I survived it. And it was fun being in a choir, even if I wasn‘t a star performer. It was a community, we sang beautiful things and were kind to each other.

That‘s part of what you like about the idea of choirs, too, right?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:51 PM on April 19, 2018 [8 favorites]

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously.

Nope. Not even close. I'd think that you were nervous, and trying your best, and that you got overwhelmed with some feelings. I use "scum of the earth" for child molesters. Not for an ordinary person who cried at an audition.

Are you always this hard on yourself for a simple "mistake"? If you are, may I gently suggest that you don't need to be? Why not try extending some compassion to yourself? There are some good meditations here:
posted by tuesdayschild at 1:59 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I came here to say what Lyn Never said: if this guy has been a music director for any amount of time, I guarantee you you’re not the first person who’s cried in an audition. Or the second. Or the tenth. When I sang in a choir, one concert we had no fewer than 3 choir members pass out and fall off the risers. You were nervous and still managed to prove that you have the skills the director is looking for.
posted by coppermoss at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

People get blindsided by goes-straight-to-eleven anxiety attacks in performance scenarios all the time, and if the director's been directing for any length of time he's seen it before - in auditions, before/during performances, in rehearsals, during random conversations, every possible situation.

Just to pick up on this, this story happens to be in the news today: Broadway star opens up about missing show due to anxiety attack. It might be helpful to read about an experienced professional having a similar experience.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:08 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I absolutely adored Patti Smith's performance at Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize ceremony. So, so nervous, but she acknowledged it and continued anyway and it was astonishingly beautiful.

Be gentle with yourself, OP. And congrats on making the choir! May you enjoy singing in community.
posted by TwoStride at 2:12 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

It sounds to me like you had someone in your childhood reject you when you could not live up to their unrealistic (and mean!) expectations. Their voice is embedded in your head and comes out during stressful times. It is telling you terrible (and mean!) things that ARE NOT TRUE.

I've been there. I was finally able to let those voices go through therapy. It is such a relief not to have mean voices in my head telling me that I'm a failure.

Perhaps therapy would help you banish those voices too? You deserve to be kinder to yourself.
posted by mcduff at 2:15 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

fellow musician with terrible stage fright here. i sure feel for you! music to those of us who feel it in our guts can be both glorious and terrifying to share with others.

the thing that i should know by now, but that's only recently sunk in, is that the only way around nerves like this is to practice until what you're performing is muscle memory. i know "practice, practice, practice" is a tired old adage that musicians like to direct at everyone else, but it really has proven to be true (for me, at least) that practicing until i can play/sing the part in my sleep really helps both to calm my nerves and to assure me that even if i'm a complete wreck, my training will make sure i'll be ok.
posted by hollisimo at 2:17 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is normal and you can still join the choir. How to get past it is to talk it out. Make a joke to the choir people it will blow all of the energy out of the thing in your mind.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're feeling so awful. This terrible internal monologue sounds so familiar to me, and I would love to convince you that it is your brain LYING, just as everyone said, by sharing this, as a kind of mirror:

Today, I went to the hair dressers and walked out with a haircut that was, in my opinion, the end of the world. How could I be so stupid as trust a new hairdresser, and I looked like trash - no wonder, I am trash, and no wonder no one loves me! Nor will anyone ever love me, looking like trash, BEING trash, being so worthless, and what have I ever achieved with my life anyway?! And on, and on, for hours.

Can you hear how similar it sounds?
Can you maybe see in my case how my brain is clearly torturing me without any basis in reality?
Can you possibly see this even for yourself?

You did fine, you were human instead of perfect, and you're torturing yourself over it.

I'm in therapy for this, and I wish you the same help, and if you want, memail me. :)
All the best!
posted by any_name_in_a_storm at 2:20 PM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’ve been in a church choir that does auditions before—the auditions were mostly to get to know the person and confirm their vocal range, especially if they are not an active member of the congregation. Any screening was for unpleasant people (arguing with director, auditioning falling-down wasted). You are not scum because you got nervous (I hope you’re not this hard on other people who get nervous!). You were not allowed in out of pity. You demonstrated that you are a decent human, probably not someone gunning for a big solo, able to hear your musical line when other stuff is happening, musically and emotionally. You passed with flying colors.
posted by tchemgrrl at 2:23 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

You are not scum of the earth for crying. I'm a musician and even after years of performing auditions are still always scary. It gets easier, but I still get nervous.

I guarantee you that you are not the first person who has broken down or had some sort of huge emotional attack of nerves in front of the choir director. Music and performing, just like any art, can make people emotional. Being sensitive means you can tap into those emotions easily and it brings a lot to a performance. Don't beat yourself up for being sensitive.

Being sensitive also often comes along with a tendency to be hard on ones self. If the choir director truly thought that you were a lousy singer he wouldn't have let you in just because of pity. Even in a church choir setting. He saw that you had potential.

Singing in a group can be very therapeutic. Absolutely you should seek help for your anxiety and depression, but please participate in the choir. Music has an amazing ability to lift spirits and calm the mind, and you will be amongst kind-hearted and like-minded people.

Please be kind to yourself.
posted by thereemix at 2:30 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been a choir singer for a long time.

Audition nerves are AWFUL, very similar to interview nerves. And honestly, no matter how much you've meditated or practiced or whatever, the nerves can bite you badly. The only real solution in my opinion is going on more auditions - over time, you might get a tiny bit more relaxed.

I've never heard of another person auditioning being in the room! Normally you would audition for one or more people in charge of the choir (conductor/choirmaster/director etc), but others auditioning shouldn't be your audience. That seems really weird to me and of course it was nerve-wracking!

Choir directors are generally not looking for soloist types. They are looking for people who can sing on key (obviously), who have a good ear, who can blend with the other singers, and, depending on the specific choir, can read well enough to learn the music and keep up at rehearsal.

They knew you were nervous. They always know because pretty much everyone is. So I'm sure they took that into account. Congrats! You got in! Enjoy being in the choir, stop beating yourself up for crying, and know that next time you audition for something like this, maybe it will be just a tiny bit easier than it was this time.
posted by sunflower16 at 2:36 PM on April 19, 2018

Longtime choral singer here. I am a confident soloist with a range of audition repertoire and I would have been rattled by having those extra people in the audition room unless I knew in advance it would be a group situation.
I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth?
Nope. I'm not an especially warm and sensitive person, but "scum of the earth"? Not even close. I'd think you were nervous about the situation, maybe having a bad day, maybe very sensitive in general. People who abuse pets and scam elderly people out of their retirement funds are scum. Getting an anxiety attack during a situation that even experienced performers find stressful isn't anywhere close.

I don't think the director admitted you to the group out of pity. In a group with an audition process he is free to exclude people he doesn't think will be a good fit. He could have advised you to try next year, or try a non-audition group. Instead, it sounds like he was able to hear enough of your voice quality to think that you would be a good addition to the choir. You were admitted on your own merits. Congratulations!
posted by 4rtemis at 2:39 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I

Would you think this? I don't think so. So why would anyone else?

When I'm really beating myself up about something, I often ask myself, "what would you say to a friend in this situation?". It really makes me realise that I'm nowhere near as kind to myself, as I would be to a friend, and really, I should be my own best friend when it comes to championing, comforting etc myself. What would you say to a friend who told you this story, OP? Try saying that to yourself.

The other thing I think you should do is just try pivoting this narrative a little. The real story here is, "I auditioned for a choir, I was nervous and didn't do my best, but I stuck it out even though I was scared and got in! Everyone seems super nice. I'm really looking forward to making some new connections and singing. I know they haven't seen the best I have yet. "

Same event, very different narrative. Let yourself have the good stories, OP, there's no penalty for it, only upside. It's taken me a long time to learn that.
posted by smoke at 2:41 PM on April 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth?

If I met someone for the first time and they cried, I would think that they must be having a tough time, and I would offer to hold their hand or give them a hug or get them a cup of tea. Because we all have weaknesses and frailty and need compassion.

Please get help. You deserve more than this.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:43 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am rushing in without reading anyone else's comments because I recognize myself in your last two paragraphs. I know that self-loathing so very well and have lived with it my whole life.

However. I finally "talked to my doctor" about depression a few years ago and while I haven't stepped up to seek counseling, a low dose of Prozac has absolutely changed (and saved) my life. I don't really see the possibility of ever loving myself, but for the first time I recognize a few things about myself that are okay, and that familiar black hole of hating myself, wishing I hadn't been born, crying myself to sleep in defeat most nights, and the rest of it has ... GONE AWAY.

My truth isn't your truth but if my experience helps you at all, I wanted to speak it. It can be so much better even when you make (what you think are) dumb mistakes and succumb to anxiety and act all awkward. I hope you take it easy on yourself for this and everything else.
posted by Occula at 2:47 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth?

I forgot to address this part in my first response, but seriously nobody with an ounce of empathy and humanity would think this. It is not unusual for people to panic at auditions. I think you will feel better about yourself if you accept your place in the choir, and it will give you a chance to gain some confidence, rather than letting this experience crush you.
posted by bananana at 2:56 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh man your last paragraph is SO SAD and also I looked through your question history and wtf, you are SUCH a cool and brave person! You race dragon boats! You ask smart, well written questions that clearly convey you have a good grasp of social convention.

I know it means little to say but the fact that you even went to a singing audition is kind of amazing. I don’t know anyone who would do that... literally... and I’m your age and have cool friends. And as a not super strong singer you were going to have a harder audition than the guy who can belt out a show tune. I mean not that we are judging these things but your audition was more commendable than his based on that fact.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:02 PM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Those people you auditioned for actually did a bunch of weird stuff.

Having all those people in the audition was weird and kind of unprofessional of them.
Having the other guy sing first in your session is weird and causes competition that's not helpful.
The director being sooo nice to the other guy and meh to you is weird and rude.

There are actually some red flags in how they treated you. They're not perfect. They're probably still nice and since they accepted you, you should join! But it's not like some ULTIMATE AUTHORITY made a judgement about you. A recreational choir held disorganized auditions and then liked your voice enough to cast you. Cool!

You being intimidated, nervous, emotional.... eh, it happens. Performing is emotional. People cry all the time. Artsy people are used to it. I'm an artsy person professionally, and I actually LOVE people who cry.

In fact I chose my life partner because they cried a tiny bit on a first date and I loved that they were in touch with their feelings rather than blustery or fake. They felt an emotion and let it show, and I was impressed by that. Way better than being repressed or expressing vulnerable emotions as anger rather than softness. Actually the crying was the number one reason I chose to see them again, and now we've been together for years. Crying isn't bad at all.


Omg, the way you're whipping yourself is so not needed. You had one bad hour in a great life. You'll be ok.

I think you should audition for another choir or group asap- just to prove to yourself you can and help you get over these feelings. Or take a singing lesson or acting class. Don't let this chase you away from doing creative performative things, they're good for the soul.

Also maybe some therapy or read a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy book to help you get out of these negative, catastrophizing self-talk habits.

You're a human who had a bad day. You're still worthwhile!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:06 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously)

No, it wouldn't occur to me. I would want to know if there was something I could do to make them feel better, and I would forget about it rather quickly. Church people, ideally, should be pretty empathetic because that was kind of Jesus' whole thing, as I recall.

This could be a symptom of depression & anxiety or it could be a one-off reaction. Have you stopped/started any medications and/or birth control? Stopped/started smoking or drinking?

There is NOTHING wrong with you. Every single person has had some equivalent experience, whether it's falling down in front of someone they like (check), spilling coffee on themselves before an important presentation (check), calling a job interviewer by the wrong name (check), or vomiting at a birthday party (check). I did not die, people do not hate me, I have friends and I'm a worthwhile person. You are too. You will be okay.
posted by AFABulous at 3:10 PM on April 19, 2018

Maybe I would think someone was the scum of the earth if they cried because they found out they would be expected to sing with people of other races, or something like that. Not if they cried because they were anxious at an audition.
posted by Anne Neville at 3:27 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

What I'm reading is:

1) you got stage fright at a choir audition

2) the director recognized it, helped you through it, got you singing, noted you could stay on pitch, noted you could sing harmony.

3) the director offered you a spot in the choir

Can I restate point 3?? You got an invitation to go sing in the choir. You did a hard thing, and succeeded!!!

Stage fright sucks, and it can be the absolute worst, but not only did you get through it, you found that the choir director is a kind, caring, decent human being who can help you work through the anxiety and who GAVE YOU A PLACE in the choir!

This is wonderful news. Go sing with these people!
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:30 PM on April 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I know he thinks I'm a weakling and I made a horrible e first impression that can't be fixed or undone in any way (I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously).

This is not high school and you are not on an episode of Mean Girls. Adults don't think this way. And seriously, nobody you're not intimately involved with is paying that much attention to you or devoting that much brain space to you.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:41 PM on April 19, 2018

I've been on both sides of the audition table for going on 20 years and am currently in a position where I sometimes audition, cast, and mentor performers who are pretty new to the art form that I practice. Stage fright is awful and can strike even semi-pro and pro performers. Auditions are hard for most performers, even semi-pros and pros. I only ever feel compassion for anyone who struggles in an audition, and if that person can fight through their nerves to show me things I can use, like you clearly did, I would never hold their audition against them as we move forward together.

Try to release the terrible feelings and judgments that you're bringing against yourself. They will only hinder you from finding joy in performing as part of a group that seems ready to welcome you!
posted by merriment at 3:48 PM on April 19, 2018

Marilyn Monroe used to get stage fright so bad that she'd hide in her dressing room and wash & curl her hair over and over, and not come out all day... so an entire film set- hundreds of people and all the gear- would sit there waiting for her, and the production would waste thousands of dollars.

Her stage fright was so bad that it fed into drug abuse that ultimately killed her.

Nobody thinks she's the scum of the earth!

Even people who were horribly inconvenienced by her nerves still remember her fondly and say things like "she was hard to work with (understatement of the universe) ...but I liked her."
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:55 PM on April 19, 2018

Everybody cries. Everybody knows what it feels like to be nervous. No decent person would hold it against you. Please sing in the choir. They invited you. They want you.
posted by FencingGal at 4:17 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, my god. Every single person who reads what you wrote loves you, I promise you. I'm sitting here for some damn reason (well, the reason is that I don't want to go home and clean my house) in the totally empty office which I should have left an hour ago, and like five times while reading this I said OUT LOUD TO THE EMPTY BUILDING (at least I hope it's empty), "No!" "Oh, no, poor little love!" "NOoooo, you're awesome!" and so on. It hurt to read it so bad that I teared up because within three paragraphs or so I cared about you a great deal, and I couldn't stand to see how much this hurt you. This ability to make people care is part of your make-up. It's a good, good quality. And being able to make people feel things? What could possibly be more important in a singer or a performer of any kind? If you can make people feel sadness, you can make them feel joy, too. That's what singing is FOR! I promise you, that director saw that great thing in you, and he probably also detected, under all the nervousness and embarrassment, a voice that would be an asset to the choir. If it didn't matter to you, you wouldn't have been so flipped over by what felt like failure. But it did really matter to you. You showed that the opportunity to be in this chorus mattered to you. That's not a failure! That is so not failing! It's bravery. And it is the OPPPOSIIIIIT OF FAAAAAKE! You have it completely backwards. Nobody feels all nonchalant about this stuff. Everyone is terrified. You were real and showed your real self and you are completely lovable and I hope you will come back and sing in the choir because everyone is going to love you.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:21 PM on April 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

(Also. That guy who said, "O I haven't so much as hummed a note for six years, I'm ever so rusty but I'll do what I can" and then sang like the Warner Bros frog is a known type and the name of that type is FAKE. He probably caused the choir director to rupture himself trying to keep from rolling his eyes. After that your singing had to be balm to his soul.)
posted by Don Pepino at 4:32 PM on April 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

I also sing in choirs and have had to audition and I am always petrified of sight reading because I'm horrible. I think because the core of music is some kind of emotion and passion, having to open that part of you up to total strangers is TERRIFYING.

It's helped me a lot to repeat the logical conclusion, over and over: what is the worst thing that could have happened? The worst they could do is not let you in the choir. Whether you were the worst audition they've ever seen, or just that they had 5 spots and you were 6th-best, the result is the same. That's all the power they have over you.

I just watched a ton of Mr Rogers and he used songs and music all the time to tell people they were good enough exactly the way they are right now.
You are the only one like you, like you my friend, I like you.

Keep singing!
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:55 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Auditions are nerve-wracking, and the fact that there were unexpected people there -- including another auditioner! -- made it even more stressful. Then you were disappointed by your own performance, though it was deemed more than adequate by the choir director. Disappointment is also a huge shock!

It is healthy to let it out, but self-flagellation is a dangerous way to do it because it can be as harsh as you want, and you might end up believing it. Please don't believe what you've written, and if you do, it's worth getting some chemical help for it.

fwiw, people who can sing solo can't necessarily sing harmony; your choir was auditioning for members, not soloists. I also cannot sing solo, but I can sight-sing pretty well and tune myself, and I think that makes me a valuable group member in vocal groups.
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:02 PM on April 19, 2018

OMG, you are being SO HARD ON YOURSELF. Please please stop berating yourself over this! You do not deserve to be treated like this by ANYONE, much less yourself. If anyone else was saying this stuff to you, you'd probably call the police.

I would never, EVER think someone who cried was the scum of the earth! Neither would almost anyone else! Would you?

I am not a particularly shy person and I have been singing since I was nine years old. I CANNOT AUDITION OR SING ALONE. I am a decent choir or group singer, my voice blends well, I will learn my part and stick to it, I have good breath control, I can sight read okay, etc. But if you have me sing in front of people by myself if you don't catch me, like, singing along to the radio or something? THE SAME EXACT THING WILL HAPPEN TO ME AS HAPPENED TO YOU. I start to crack and my voice is like this tiny little thing and it shakes and just really sounds nothing like my actual voice. I tried to audition for my college chamber choir with my choir friends and the same thing happened to me. Just couldn't do it. The girl I stood with every single rehearsal and performance in regular choir turned to me in horror and said, "What the hell happened to you? I KNOW you can do this!" And I didn't get into the chamber choir and I never tried again.

Are you in therapy or counseling? Please consider it. You don't deserve to suffer this way. And I don't mean what happened during the audition. I mean the way you feel now. ::hugs::
posted by Aquifer at 5:02 PM on April 19, 2018

I occasionally work with performing groups. Earlier today, I was speaking with the artistic director of one of the groups -- this week a new student bit a teacher. Bit, as in with their teeth. Twice.

Coping with stress by crying is much better. (and also a lot more common than biting, thank goodness)

I think he only let me in the choir out of pity.

This is not a thing that people who run auditions to get into their performing groups do.

I think he invited you to join the choir because he feels you have something to contribute.

There is no way I can actually join the choir, even though they let me in out of sympathy. I can't face the director now, because there's no way to undo that horrible first impression.

People sometimes get emotional at auditions, especially if they don't have a lot of practice auditioning. The director has probably seen this plenty of times, and seen that it's not uncommon for very skilled and talented people react in all sorts of ways during an audition.

You don't know what the director's thoughts are here -- he might be the sort of person who enjoys using their teaching skills to help people who are nervous to sing in front of an audience learn new things! The person who seemed already perfect might be less interesting to work with than someone who they can teach something new to.

And it sounds to me like your first impression was that you are a person who can have a friendly conversation with strangers, and who graciously invites others to go first, and you are a person who does not react to stress by lashing out at others verbally or otherwise. Important things, those.
posted by yohko at 5:07 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously

I'd feel sympathetic, probably like I could imagine how they were feeling, and certainly like I would like to get to know them more. I am really not saying that -- that's a fraught scene you're describing, and it takes a lot of sensitivity and awareness to even notice it, never mind transcribe it.

And if someone told me that someone auditioned, got freaked out, and cried and that the auditioning person seemed like....the scum of the earth??? I would think someone who felt like that was sincerely awful and would remove myself from their company extremely quickly and I would be very careful that my kid was never in their vicinity, because those are cruel and inhumane things to say.

Re the meditation and stuff: meditation doesn't necessarily more chill, less awkward, less emotional, More In Control -- any of those things. Powerful emotions do not have to be hidden and do not represent a failure. It hurts a lot less if you just let yourself have the feelings, and treat yourself gently, as opposed to having the feelings and smacking yourself in the head.

I think the whole deal pushed some buttons and you should explore but echoing everyone else who is saying 'Oh no, No -- you are okay! Don't beat yourself up like this!'
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:33 PM on April 19, 2018

Reading this made me cry because I see myself in this question. I also berate myself and self-sabotage and convince myself that everyone hates me, and it really, really sucks. If you read this question about someone else you would not think they are pathetic. Its just so damn hard to see yourself how others actually do when you are looking through the fog of depression. Be kind to yourself.
posted by gatorae at 5:55 PM on April 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I recently prepared a lot for a big work presentation in front of 50 people and then completely fumbled my words during the most important part. I heard myself making zero sense and it was horrible. I totally feel the shame and frustration you’re feeling and I want to thank you for asking this question. It also reminded me that I have a prescription for beta blockers for this reason. They help keep the physical symptoms of anxiety a little more under control - perhaps look into them in addition to all of the above advice. Hugs to you.
posted by curtains at 6:20 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The director sounded very gentle and understanding and I think joining this choir would be a very healing experience for you and you should do it.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:58 PM on April 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

I second the recommendation for beta blockers for performance anxiety.

Plenty of people who are not depressed and not generally anxious get terrible nerves at auditions. Beta blockers really really help a lot of people.

I've sung in some fine choirs with high standards and auditions feel like they have taken years off my life with the stress. I am like you, singing with a choir (even a small choir) is ok. But singing alone is scary, and especially scary when I know the whole reason I am there is to be judged.

I wish I had gotten my metoprolol prescription sooner :-)
posted by nirblegee at 7:55 PM on April 19, 2018

Feeling humiliated, embarassed or ashamed is one of the most intense, powerfully painful feelings out there, because that's how human brains are structured. Coupled with fear, it's quite the doozy.

It's also a feeling that all humans experience multiple times throughout their lives. Most adults have enough life experience and emotional development to empathise with people who are feeling those things, not judge and condemn them.

In addition, performers and performance directors are pretty accustomed to seeing those emotions and working through them; the exercises you were given were part of that tool kit, but would have also given the director enough information to know if you had the necessary vocal and personal skills to work with his group. Being able to follow direction when awash in terror and humiliation is one of those skills, which you did; The show must go on. Some performers cry or vomit before every performance.

The things that you are telling yourself you know about other people's emotions and motivations are your mind's way of reinforcing the fear and shame you felt, because they are defense mechanisms to protect you. Your brain is seeking a reason to convince you to stop what it has deemed a risk.

If you let it win, the world of things you can do will get smaller.

If you don't let it win, facing all of those people at the next rehearsal will be excruciating, at first. But only at first.

Eventually, one day, this story about you will become a charming, amusing one that you tell other scared newcomers to convince them to stick with it, and laugh about with your choir friends.

It's your choice.

(By the way, everyone telling you to "breathe", and "calm down", when you weren't yet very worried probably contributed to your nervousness, because their attitude suggested that you should be nervous and that you seemed nervous, and you were already primed to be hyper-responsive to suggestive cues).

I'm a little worried that you think having feelings, or having big feelings, is somehow bad or immature. Having big feelings is human, and self-help work lets us acknowledge our feelings, learn from them, and express them in healthy ways. If your goal is to suppress and stuff all of your feelings, I don't know if that's going to do you a lot of favours. I also, personally, think the current "don't care what people think of you" fad is a bit strange. Of course you should care what people think of you. You're a social animal, it is important what members of society think of you. However, thoughts of others' opinions shouldn't be debilitating, and it sounds like they are for you. Therapy might be more help than self-help.
posted by windykites at 8:31 PM on April 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

You're being very, very hard on yourself and it's completely unnecessary.

The director isn't being nice by letting you in the choir, he wants your voice. Try assuming that he and the others would be happy to have you sing with them and want you to succeed.

I've done a few choir auditions and they can be very nerve-wracking. As for crying, well, I openly cried in a performance a while back (I was really overwhelmed with emotion and the music). I got through it and the director still loves me and I'm still in the choir.

Talk to someone about anxiety. You did a really brave thing by auditioning and you do not deserve this kind of internal punishment. You deserve the fun of singing with a choir and you deserve to have some awkward moments - just like we all do - and move past them.
posted by bunderful at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2018

PLEASE! join the choir. What I can tell from observing my partner's community orchestra for a few years, is that your consistency, commitment, and enthusiasm are just as important as any “raw talent” you do or don’t have.

E.g. Show up at every rehearsal, hydrated and happy. Practise your music in between. Don’t hog the spotlight or demand excessive amounts of the director’s time. Praise others and don’t give unsolicited advice. Sell a few tickets, write the newsletter, recruit a friend to sell cookies and coffee at the show. These are all really valuable ways to support the group without being a star singer.

You seem like a perfectly lovely, humble, generous person with a lot to give. I really think this is a great opportunity to prove yourself wrong and to build your self-esteem. Just be steady and reliable and the director will be so very pleased with you.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:36 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I first started on my performance art career, I was part of a project by a local women's circus that involved 6 weeks of creative development leading up to a cabaret performance at a pretty big festival. I'd done a handful of performances at that point, but I was the obvious newbie - all I had was a burning idea, which they loved enough to pick me (you had to apply).

EVERY DAMN REHEARSAL I was convinced I was going to get fired. My directors and cast members were all very sweet and supportive; I just felt totally incompetent next to them with their years of acro or aerials or whatever. Hell the day of the first performance at the festival, even after so many rehearsals, I broke down in tears because I didn't think I could do it.

I did it anyway. Even that night where my act threatened to be derailed (it was a twist on a burlesque number and at one point some woman yelled out "CHILDREN!! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE CHILDREN!!", not that the kids actually cared), I kept going. I was nervous as all well but it went off really well and people enjoyed it. That performance, that opportunity, was really the thing that made me embrace performance art as a career.

Fast forward to about a week or so ago. I'm in Sydney because a dear friend invited me to perform as part of her cabaret. I've just had a full-on week that was emotionally and mentally exhausting. I'm crying every night because I'm so raw and vulnerable. Not my best planning, but oh well. I do my act, and the first two nights I fuck it up. Yet NOBODY NOTICED. They all thought I did very well, and if I did fuck up they didn't really notice.

Even those of us who have more experience on stage, who're not necessarily shy - we get anxious. We break down and cry. We forget words, forget what we're doing, melt down. And sometimes there are assholes. But often there's people, like your choir director, that understand. That care. That don't hold it against you. There are so many tears in the arts - those that would consider you scum of the Earth for having feelings are the real scum. You'll be OK.
posted by divabat at 9:59 PM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

If I'd been the director, and seen you cry, I would have been thinking:

"Ok, this person seems nervous. Maybe they have an Anxiety disorder or Depression or low self esteem, or maybe there's just stuff going on in their life (break up of a relationship, death of a parent.) But their voice seems good, and they'll probably get over their performance anxiety the more that they sing with the choir."
posted by Murderbot at 11:09 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth? I will forever be known as "the useless crybaby" in his eyes, subconsciously.

I work in a technical field, not an artistic one and the first time I met a colleague she cried. We were from a bunch of different teams based in different locations attending a training workshop about communication. We all had to tell a story and one woman from another team cried during hers. I think it was partly nerves and partly because the story content was quite personal. She sat in her professional suit among technical staff and wept as she tried to continue.

I know what my team thought of her because we sometimes talked about her as we worked with her team over the months after the workshop and although we are generally hyper-critical of our colleagues, it wasn't 'scum of the earth' or 'useless crybaby'. We though she was very capable, very professional and remarkably generous with her time. When she found a new job, we were frustrated that yet another of the 'good ones' had left. No one ever mentioned or cared that she cried once.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 3:05 AM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have cried at 3 out of the last 5 auditions I went to. It's ridiculously embarrassing but I guarantee you that no-one is thinking as badly of you as you are. You got in anyway. Go. Sing. If you don't bring it up no-one else will.
posted by h00py at 5:41 AM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh and I'm 50, so.
posted by h00py at 6:54 AM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, I cried at work about a month ago to my (lawyer) boss. I was feeling overwhelmed and overly responsible for some of the tasks we as a 2-person department had taken on. One of the things I value about my job is that my boss indulges my curiosity and gives me more challenging assignments than a legal assistant might traditionally get. After I cried, I felt like a complete loser and was convinced that she was only going to give me boring, non-stress work from that point onward. I also felt that I had likely undone a year's worth of good reputation building in one uncontrollable moment.

Instead, she took complete ownership of solving this problem, including fixing some of our workflow/process issues, and really altering her approach to giving me assignments. She eased up on me for a few weeks so I could catch my breath and has been gradually increasing the complexity and volume of the work as I felt capable of taking it back again. In turn, I challenged myself to "dig in" to some of the previously intimidating files and felt a renewed sense of competence.

And for unrelated reasons, she ended up loudly SOBBING a week later to an even more senior colleague, plus a small audience, and shared this experience with me. I had never imagined that she wasn't entirely professional and stable at all times.

I hope you can see some parallels between this situation and yours and realize that things aren't always what they seem, and that you can carefully and methodically reverse the course on a less-than-ideal impression.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:06 AM on April 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hi starpoint, I completely get it! I’ll depart from the consensus a bit and say I don’t think you should force yourself to join the choir if you don’t want to. Activities like this are supposed to be fun and if you are doing this for a friend to begin with and will end up feeling miserable and anxious the whole time, forget it! Yes, maybe people are right that it would eventually pay off as some form of exposure therapy but that’s not really a reason to do it, in my opinion. You should only do it if you genuinely want to sing in the choir and it’s worth it to you.

Your feelings are quite normal, polls consistently show that fear of public speaking ranks right up there next to fear of death for most people, believe it or not! Singing/performing is similar. Gavin de Becker has an explanation for this in his book The Gift Of Fear:

"Surveys have shown that ranking very close to the fear of death is the fear of public speaking. Why would someone feel profound fear, deep in his or her stomach, about public speaking, which is so far from death? Because it isn’t so far from death when we link it. Those who fear public speaking actually fear the loss of identity that attaches to performing badly, and that is firmly rooted in our survival needs. For all social animals, from ants to antelopes, identity is the pass card to inclusion, and inclusion is the key to survival. If a baby loses its identity as the child of his or her parents, a possible outcome is abandonment. For a human infant, that means death. As adults, without our identity as a member of the tribe or village, community or culture, a likely outcome is banishment and death. So the fear of getting up and addressing five hundred people at the annual convention of professionals in your field is not just the fear of embarrassment—it is linked to the fear of being perceived as incompetent, which is linked to the fear of loss of employment, loss of home, loss of family, your ability to contribute to society, your value, in short, your identity and your life. Linking an unwarranted fear to its ultimate terrible destination usually helps alleviate that fear. Though you may find that public speaking can link to death, you’ll see that it would be a long and unlikely trip."

This is quite normal and in my opinion likely means you have a very fine tuned/overdeveloped social sense. It may have helped your ancestors to survive and is just reacting to modern life with the vigor that was necessary back in hunter gatherer days and is now vestigial. It is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact an overdeveloped social ethos can still be beneficial in some situations (obviously not this one) so maybe it’s better to think of it as both a blessing and a curse. You are normal and this is well within the range of normal in humans, don’t worry.

I don’t quite like the way these people treated you either, and independent of whatever you did anything wrong (I don’t believe you did, but I know it’s hard to convince yourself of this) I truly believe they were in the wrong on several counts. They were quite rude and oblivious and perhaps this is just a matter of these people being rather insensitive and you being rather sensitive and it being a bad match. I think you would benefit from really questioning whether they contributed to this whole situation from their attitudes/arrogance/disinterest. I believe based on what you’ve shared with us that they did, and this indicates incompetence on their parts. They are the
“professionals” (well, experienced amateurs but you get it) not you! They did not try nearly hard enough to put you at ease and there was a weird air of competition. If I were you I would be quite comfortable blaming them for some/all of this and turning on my heel, sticking my nose in the air, and snubbing them right back for it. Really. You need to de-localize some of that blame, anger, and shame. Perhaps they take themselves far too seriously and aren’t worth your time. I think your mental well being is far more important than their choir and I think any decent person would agree.
posted by stockpuppet at 1:02 PM on April 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had to do student teaching or else they weren't going to give me any money. I tried every way I could think of to get out of it, but it didn't work. Everybody told me to drink a couple of shots before the first class, but I could see how that would end, namely in homelessness followed by death from liver disease, so for once I didn't take the bad advice. One person told me to think of the fear as excitement. Like to tell myself I wasn't afraid, I was just full of happy anticipation. I ignored this idiocy. The advice that finally worked was my own. "Well, look," I said to myself. "If it gets too bad, you'll just have a heart attack and die, right? So if you don't die, obviously it's not too bad for you to handle, and if you do, you're out of it. Either way, yahtzee!" I walked into the class full of terrifying eyes and wrote my name on the board and opened my anthology. An hour later, I was still alive. I proceeded to stand in front of two classes of 20+ college kids each three times a week for an hour each and I shook so hard I could barely be understood, the whole time. For two years. Then I began adjunct teaching. After about four years, cumulative, student and adjunct teaching, I stopped shuddering like a terrified gazelle and started calling all the students by their last names like John Houseman in The Paperchase and began to have a ton of fun. Like 20 years later I had a presentation at a work conference. "Oh, no problem," I said to myself, "It'll be just like teaching." Nnnnnnope! Back to the good ol' shaking like a wet stray dog detail for a solid hour, in front of colleagues from all over the continental US and Canada. But when it was over, no recrimination--the habituation from teaching did take care of that part. I was like, "Huh. Yeah, I guess obviously it's different when it's work people. Oh, well, lesson learned. Yet again."

I guess why I'm telling you all this is two reasons, one, that something similar has happened to me, but two, if you can get a little more practice at this stuff, it will become vastly easier, and even when it's hard, it won't ever be as hard as that first time, and you won't spend the ensuing week running over it in your mind and feeling bad about it.

Oh, and three, a tiny practical trick that worked for me that first terrible semester teaching: water.

Any time you're not actively using your voice or trying to listen to something, deliberately and slowly take a sip of water. Quiet every voice clamoring in your head, hold your breath, and concentrate on slowly swallowing your sip of water. Remember that your first job, before all this extraneous societal stuff like wearing clothes and talking to people and auditioning for things, is just to be an animal. You're a consciousness, sure, but you're also a body. A body that even as all this clamoring is going on up in the brain is placidly going about its business continuing as usual to breathe and circulate blood and drink water. You are alive and doing fine. You have everything you need. Life is sweet and so are you.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:04 PM on April 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Music unlocks emotions; that's why music exists. If we felt no emotions connected to music, we would be very poor musicians.

If it makes you feel any better, I fainted in an audition once. Another time I opened a door straight into my own forehead. Auditions are high-pressure situations in which weird things happen.

Singing in the actual choir will be much, much easier. Congratulations, and have fun!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:34 PM on April 20, 2018

I mean seriously, if the first time you meet someone, they cry like a baby, wouldn't you think they're the scum of the earth?

Absolutely not! My sister is a professional musician and she has cried at individual lessons, master classes, auditions, everything! Sometimes it's all she can do to make it off the stage before bursting into tears, and sometimes, well, there she goes, crying in front of her teacher. She does this for a living and it is still awful to have an audition that didn't go the way you planned it, and she still has emotions about it. No way is she the scum of the earth!

It sounds like the choir director was able to hear what he needed from you, and that's why he let you in the choir. If he has an audition process, it's to keep people out of the choir who he doesn't want in, so he must have wanted you in!

posted by chainsofreedom at 5:46 PM on April 20, 2018

Hi everyone, thank you so much for all of your wonderful, thoughtful, supportive answers, I am blown away more than I can express and you have all helped me more than I can express here. I'm sorry it took me so long to respond. Mentally, all of your advice makes a ton of sense and is perfectly reasonable. But part of my emotions don't agree. My emotions still want to tell me that I am a lesser person. I don't know how to make my emotions agree with my thoughts. I am going to look into therapy like so many of you suggested, because I clearly cannot go on like this. But I do feel better with all of your support. Metafilter is such an amazingly supportive community! THANK YOU!
posted by starpoint at 12:27 PM on April 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

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