Music Venues and C-PTSD

I had to be at two appointments today and run a few errands along with them. Later tonight I wound up downtown Munich, where I stopped by a friend’s to pick something up. When I got there, they kindly invited me in for a chat and we sat in the kitchen and talked for about an hour over a glass of wine. I really enjoyed it, but didn’t want to keep intruding any more than I already had on a Saturday night. So I decided to stop by a music venue I had gone to a few times in order to watch an open mic night. There are session nights all over town all the time and in my attempt to make music a more prominent part of my life again, I had been meaning to (re-) connect with the local scene on a more frequent basis. But then I always shied away from shelling out the money for trainfare or a car ride as I have to depend on very, very little money per month. Technically, I’m impoverished and don’t even collect enough to make all ends meet any more. So, since I had already bought a ticket today for my appointments – my car battery is dead, so I had to depend on public transportation -, I decided I was going to stop by tonight’s open stage night. Which I did later on. And the place was packed!

I had been to this place a couple of times before and always early enough to secure a stool at the bar. Not so tonight as I arrived late. And so the experience amounted to something that quickly reminded me of earlier days, when I had been playing with bands almost every other weekend and some time later in life even made a living from it. But especially during my High School days, I do have a clear memory of what it felt like to play small venues. While the response to the music is immediate and literally in your face – which is often considered a good thing by artists – I would regularly and constantly feel so incredibly uncomfortable from the sheer number of people, lack of space, everyone pushing and shoving to get a good spot and oftentimes not even enough space to set up your gear properly. I also remember that I’d have at least one strong drink prior to every show in order to calm down a little, so that I’d be able to let the muse visit me. And then, during breaks the band would take, the stress came right back, as people would express their fun and good times with you or have a little conversation, while I could only think of making it to the bathroom in time, maybe pick up another drink and get ready for the next set. Long story short: The stress level between sets was pretty much unbearable. And I paid the price with maximum physical discomfort. However, I craved the attention and I also had genuine fun when playing. So I somehow put up with it all, but I can safely say that I’ve never really felt comfortable about being on stage, even back then (and probably remained at least in partial denial about it). All of these memories came rushing back tonight, particularly so, as I never had a place where I could simply stand and watch the action. There’d always be someone pushing through the crowd, and when they do you get pushed and shoved to the side, elbows find your ribcage, you get trampled on and you’re always in the way. There is no moment of peace and I simply can’t relax and just let it happen. That is clearly one of the outcomes of my chronic c-ptsd. Other people probably just forget about it or even enjoy getting brushed past one another including physical contact. My system however registers those small physical contacts as a threat and immediately triggers a fight-or-flight response. The discomfort then is from my suppressing it. It’s torture, plain torture.

Initially, I had meant to join the open stage myself and even got invited by the guitar player of the opening band (he’s a really talented, nice guy b.t.w.). But it didn’t take long until I had become so tense from suppressing the discomfort that I felt all stiff – really physically stiff. And when that happens, I don’t have as much control over my hands and motions as usually and I start to feel even more insecure and disoriented and whatnot. Definitely not a good place to be in if you are about expressing something intimate through music. Time and time I told myself to relax and just enjoy, but that seems simply too much in such a situation. I had really forgotten that, as I have been avoiding such places for the longest time. The few times I did sit in with bands, it either happened in a different setting with more available space or I must have been more relaxed – I’m going to have to investigate this. If the latter, then there is one immediate conclusion right away: I better not plan on showing up for a gig, if the day has been stressful already, if I haven’t caught enough sleep, not eaten well or anything along those lines. In other words: If I don’t feel fully rested – the kind of rest you get from a really relaxing vacation – then there can be no live appearance for me any more. It has simply and physically become impossible. That’s a hard insight to make, but I have enough firsthand evidence from the early years and again now.

Oh, and by the way: The musicians were all great, the band was pumping and people had a jolly good time. And yes, I’m aware that not everything is about me. However… in this context it is. Or – was.

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