From Recovering from Depression, Anxiety, and Psychosis, by Barbara Altman, availableon Amazon.CHAPTER NINETEENTwo Trips to Hell: 1961, Age 18
All of the music majors at my college had to participate in at least three choral concerts a year,comprised of classical vocal pieces and a few contemporary, 20th century classes. Although I loved singing, I hated those concerts because I would have one anxiety attack after another.
We’d all file on stage with the
top row first out of five. Being one of the tallest, I wound up right next to heaven. I dreaded standing there in my heavy black robe for an hour or more. With drythroat and stomach churning
, I’d sweat and shake throughout the whole ordeal. But since our class grade depended on participation, I couldn’t cop out.
One by one, I’d count off the pieces we sang. There would be fourteen songs, and then
thirteen, twelve, until at last we were done. I fidgeted and squirmed during the entire
performance. At the end, the midnight blue curtain would go down, we’d file off stage, and those
on either side of me would support me by the elbows and walk me off. Even our director wasconcerned about my unsteady appearance.For me, those concerts always culminated in tears. At the end of each performance, all fifty women were fried from the hot lights, and onecollege freshman, me, was relieved to have survived that particular hell.Our regular schedule of weekly choir rehearsals continued the following week with Sister
still complaining about our section being flat. At every rehearsal, she said, “Altos, we need to sing that part over again. You’re pulling all of us off key.” Her usually twinkling eyes
bored into mine. I got a C in choir. I needed to maintain a B average in my music studies in order to keepmy scholarship. So I tried to improve. Sister still glared in my direction. I made a strategicdecision to either put up or shut up. I decided
on the latter. For the next six months, I didn’t
sing one word. I became as non-singing as a female canary. Sister stopped nagging the altos,my grade went up to an A, and she even praised the improvement in my voice. I had jumped two letter grades just by putting imaginary duct tape over my mouth. By the end of my freshman year, my compassionate, overweight speech teacher,Carmelita Schmelig, could no longer overlook my constantly unkempt appearance and asked meif I would go with her to have my hair salvaged. Beauty parlor day arrived and she took me toan upscale salon located a few miles from the college.
“How do you want your hair done, Barbara?” inquired my gorgeous, blonde hair stylist.
“Make me look my best.” Under my teacher’s watchful eye,
she proceeded to turn asloppy teenager into a beauty queen. Nearby, three other customers were having a gossip field day.
“Sally just had her baby . . . Did you hear about Susan? . . . Thelma and her husband . ..”
Consumed with my own concerns, I was only half listening. Watching the stylist sculpt my hair, I first felt like royalty and then became obsessed with my horrifying image.