Death of a Mutual Friend

*Warning* This blog post is much more intense and emotional than what I typically write and could potentially be triggering. Please use your discretion.

I’m sorry to have such a depressing topic for this blog post, but it’s something that has been on my mind for the past month and I felt I needed to acknowledge it.

About a month ago, a violist from my current city had committed suicide. I actually had never met him, but with the Canadian viola world (and musical community in general) being so small, it definitely affected me greatly. We had so much in common too, he did his undergrad at the school that I am currently attending for master’s and we attended some of the same summer programs. It’s kind of crazy that we never actually met or interacted, but had so much in common that we basically knew each other.

I remember the day it happened. I was on my laptop, checking Facebook, as one does, and I went into the kitchen to grab a snack, make supper, or something. I refresh Facebook and my news feed is full of posts pertaining to this young man’s death earlier that day. It was so surreal and pretty much came out of nowhere. The more posts I saw, the more it started to hit me, especially ones from people who are close friends of mine. Seeing how his death affected those who were close to me started to have a profound affect on myself too. Based on what I had read, no one would have ever guessed that this young man was suicidal. People had talked to him weeks or days before and he seemed very upbeat and had long term plans.

The part that made it difficult for me is that people rarely acknowledged or discussed his death in conversation. I received several emails from professors, but it’s not the same as talking about it in real life. It almost seemed like people wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. I remember when I was in high school, there were two students who died in a fire (that I had never met) and I remember the next day at school, pretty much every single teacher I had that day took 15-20 minutes (or more) to talk to us about it. I appreciated that as it reassured me that feeling upset was totally normal and that the teachers and counselors were available for anyone who wanted to talk. I would have appreciated if even one of my profs had done that this time around, even more so than when I was in high school. Our orchestra concert was coming up and I get that the director wanted to put the pedal to the medal to get our music ready, but it still seemed a bit insensitive to not acknowledge that some students may not have been in a mental state to attend that rehearsal (yet did anyway as they felt obligated to).

It was a combination of not feeling like I could talk about it with anyone, starting to feel the stress of the school year, and worrying about my own career that kind of allowed these feelings to “snowball” in my mind. The weekend following the death, I started to have a lot of “existential” thoughts about the meaning of life and death. It was the first time I really thought about my own eventual death and if I would accomplish enough to have a satisfying life. I began to think, will I ever get married (or be in any kind of long term relationship for that matter)? Will I ever have a career? Will I get to see the world and experience things I’ve wanted to experience? The mere thought about being dead and experiencing nothing also freaks me out. Even if I think about the time before I was born and all the stuff that occurred and just merely wasn’t aware of, I get freaked out. What would it be like to be here, and then all of a sudden it all disappears? Why would someone want this for themselves?

I remember it was a Sunday evening. My school has chamber music masterclasses every Monday morning for all the students in a chamber group and my group was scheduled to play the next morning. I had gone to bed at a reasonable time, but literally could not fall asleep. I felt like my throat was closing up and I was sweating. Every time I would kind of fall asleep, I would jolt awake and not be able to stop thinking about either the young man or some thought about death. By the time I fell asleep, I had to wake up to get ready to go to school. If I wasn’t performing in the masterclass, I would have stayed at home, but I pulled myself together to get to school because I didn’t want to let my quartet down. Immediately after the masterclass was over, however, I went back home and slept.

At the time, I didn’t think much of the insomnia incident, until it happened again the following weekend. I didn’t originally attribute it to the thoughts of the death of the young man, I thought it was due to drinking too much caffeine in the day, being on the computer too late at night, or sleeping in too late in the morning.

This past Monday (Oct. 16) was when it became absolutely unbearable and I finally acknowledged it to myself that the death of this young man was having a negative toll on my life and I really needed to get help and/or talk to someone. During the day, I was thinking dark, disturbing thoughts about death and could not seem to get it out of my mind no matter what I did. Thankfully, no suicidal thoughts. When I went to sleep that night, it was the same thing. It was almost like I was scared I was going to die during my sleep or something. I had trouble breathing again. At around 1:30, I left my room and went to go sit on the couch. I was trying to catch my breath and relax a bit. I debated phoning my parents, even though it was super late, I have the type of relationship with them that they’d understand, but I decided against it. I told myself that the next day at school, I needed to talk to someone as soon as possible. I went back to sleep and was able to sleep a few hours.

The next day at school I chose to talk to my teacher. It was kind of impulsive. I knew he had a half hour break between a student and the orchestral excerpts class, so I went for it. I felt kind of bad storming into his studio and talking about such a heavy topic, but it had been weighing on me for so long, I needed to verbalize it and acknowledge it to someone. I didn’t go into insane detail about my insomnia episodes and morbid thoughts, but I did mention there were 3 nights that I couldn’t sleep. He was very understanding and said that how I felt was completely normal, which is exactly what I needed. He gave me the information for the counselling service for students on campus, which I may eventually look into, although I want to talk to people I know first. He also emphasized that it was completely normal to feel this way even though I had never met this young man. Even though it was a relatively brief conversation, it made a world of a difference to me for having told one person.

When I got home that day, I phoned my parents and talked to them and once again, they were very understanding and once again assured me that the way I felt was normal. They also recommended looking into services on campus but also named some other family members or friends that I could talk to as well.

And now, I already feel a thousand times better. I still feel like I need to talk about it more, but the way I feel is night and day from Monday. It’s an important lesson to all of us to seek help if you need it. There is no need to feel ashamed of feeling the way you feel about anything in life.

Why do I do this to myself?

Oh yes, here I am again. It’s sad that this blog has become more of a space to rant about recent events, but it really does help me to put my thoughts, irrational as they may be, into words. I haven’t really had time to do legitimate blog posts lately and I don’t know when I will ever have that time, but I digress.

I’ve made posts like this one before. I could call this post “My beef with Concerto Competitions Part 3” but I won’t.  If you need some background, feel free to read my previous posts. If not, I totally understand.

Part 1:
Part 2:

So, assuming you read or skimmed the posts linked above , you’re probably wondering, “Why would you enter another concerto competition after experiences like those?” My response is I don’t even know. You think that I would learn that I suck and will never get better. But no, there is part of me that just won’t give up and insists on putting myself out there to be shot down. But I guess that’s life.

To be fair, I wasn’t originally planning to even enter the concerto competition this year. I figured if I didn’t win in fourth year that it was a lost cause. There’s always a prejudice against fourth years in the competition as many of them go away for grad school and the school would never pay to fly someone in to play a concerto. No reason why they couldn’t pick a fourth year, but the plane ticket would be on them. I need to learn two movements of a concerto for grad school auditions, so it just seemed like a convenient way to get a run through of it and make sure the first movement was learned by November. I entered mostly just as an excuse to practice and get going on my concerto. I was dragging my heels most of September so I worked hard to learn the first movement in basically one month.

I went in to the competition knowing my mistakes from previous years and said that I would not get hurt regardless of what happened. I was just going to go in, play my movement, then focus on other rep. It wasn’t until I had the first rehearsal with my pianist that kind of changed things. I sounded like crap the first rehearsal, but that’s normal. It’s always a bit of an adjustment when you put it together with piano. Despite that, my pianist was quite impressed. She said the piece was really cool and that I’d have potential to win the competition based on the piece. She said I have the musicality and everything. I hate it when people say stuff like this to me because when I don’t win then I just feel like even more of a loser. All of a sudden I have expectations to live up to.

Obviously you can’t let stuff like that get to your head. I did, a little bit, it’s hard not to frankly. It wasn’t in an extreme way. I still practiced the piece and prepared just as I would for any performance. I didn’t do anything special and tried not to think about it too much.

Honestly, looking back, I don’t know where my pianist/myself got the idea that it would be possible to make it to the final round. I picked out the piece and had the music since May, but I didn’t really get down to serious work on it until very late September and October. I was competing against people who had been working on their pieces much longer than that. I didn’t play poorly, but ultimately it didn’t have the same maturity as it would if I had been working on it longer.

So, basically, you know the drill. I go in, play, mess up a bunch of stuff and play horridly out of tune, try to convince myself that it wasn’t a total disaster, and then see the list of the people who were selected to move on and now it’s the end of the world as we know it. I saw the list of the people who made it to the final round and was once again, unimpressed and all like “Why that person and not me?” They picked a guitarist for the final round. Guitar is even more of an underdog instrument for a competition like this than viola. If a guitarist can get in, why can’t I? Also a freaking soprano got in. It’s a CONCERTO competition, f*** off singers!!

It’s just generally an awkward situation. Part of me is like, I only intended to enter as a way of getting a run through of my piece and I got just that. The other part of me was hoping (as I do every single f***ing competition) that this time would be different. Maybe this would be the time that someone recognizes my hard work. But of course not, why would anyone care what I do or how hard I work? I’m just a violist. I also have been forced to let go of having the opportunity to play with an orchestra. I’ll never get to have that experience. I don’t really care about that anymore, but still it’s hard to accept, being something that I’ve wanted for so many years.

Why do I keep entering competitions? Good question. You’d think I would have given up years ago. I wish I did, then I wouldn’t feel like I suck every day of my life. People always say it’s a good experience and prepares you for orchestral auditions. I would almost disagree. When I’m auditioning for an orchestral position, I don’t have to worry about freaking pianists, violinists, and flutists taking my spot. I only have to compete against other violists. Entering these competitions is a waste of time, as I will never win no matter how hard I work or how optimistic I try to feel. At the same time, the fact that I am still in music and still entering competitions after losing so many is miraculous. I like to think that I have the mental fortitude and thick skin to keep going in a career of music. I have never been one of those people were everything was easy and I effortlessly won everything and everyone was in love with me. No, I slave away for hours and no one gives a sh*t! As much as I’d love for one shiny moment to be that person that everyone’s proud of and does all these amazing things, I think it’s more valuable to be the person who works hard and slaves away and no one seems to care. Because guess what, that’s life!

Okay, I actually need to go to bed. I have class tomorrow morning, with one of the profs that was on the panel which I’m super tempted to skip because he probably hates me and I feel like I really just need a day away from school. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a brat.