Striking a Balance
This has been a challenging week for me. Session 2 of the NYDV Summer Role Intensive starts next Monday, and my first priority is making sure I am as prepared as possible before my program starts. But as a singer with a chronic illness, it can be really hard for me to balance my goals and my health needs.
The first challenge to my training regimen this week came in the form of breathing problems. Apparently the fires on the west coast got caught up by some weird air currents and ended up causing a sharp downturn in the air quality in New York City. Nature is weird.
Anyway, I discovered this the hard way. Last week I was practicing my music and I could not make it through a long phrase. Breathing has always been a bit of a challenge for me, and I have put in a lot of time and work to make sure that my phrasing was solid and consistent, so my sudden inability to complete a phrase was a pretty big surprise. At the same time, my upper register felt ... scratchy, I guess? I was concerned.
Fortunately, it only took me a few minutes to discover that my weird breathing problems were probably a result of the high concentration of particulate matter in the air. It was certainly a relief to know that there was a clear explanation for my challenges. Unfortunately, it also meant that I needed to take a few days off of singing.
My other big challenge this week was a small medication mixup which resulted in some serious sleep disruption. Believe me when I tell you that lack of sleep shows up in my voice immediately. Fortunately, I figured out the problem fairly quickly, but not before I lost another two days of singing. If I had been booked for a performance I could have pushed through, but at this point, my priority is making sure I am in tip-top shape for my program next week, so I chose to be disciplined and put myself on vocal rest.
I am extremely dedicated to my art, and I hate going on vocal rest, even when I know it's in my best interest. Fortunately for my sanity, I still have plenty that I can do to prepare, even when singing is off the table. In general, I put around four hours a day into my music, even though I rarely sing more than 90 minutes a day. But I have to be disciplined. I have to be responsible. I have to protect my instrument and my health, and that means I can't push through exhaustion and illness the way I used to when I was young and invincible.
It's a hard lesson to learn. As a disabled performer and a person living with a chronic illness, it is critically important that I keep my life in balance. As singers, we cannot just push ourselves to the limit over and over again without paying a price for it on the back end. And that's a lesson that's true for all singers.
Like a lot of Americans, I have hangups that are born of the Puritan work-ethic that permeates our culture. We take pride in working ourselves into an early grave. We brag about how little sleep we get and how many hours we work, as though it's virtuous to kill ourselves for the job. Most Americans think they would love to get paid vacations, but the Americans who actually have PTO as a part of their benefits package very rarely actually take it. We don't want to be seen as the kind of employees who want to be paid for slacking off. We sacrifice our physical and mental health and well-being because we have become convinced that our self-destructive behavior makes us worthy of success.
I can't keep up that lifestyle anymore. My health won't allow it, and frankly, that may be a blessing. How many singers end up with vocal injuries due to overuse and insufficient rest? How many great singers have left the profession due to burnout? I didn't enjoy my forced vocal rest this week. I was impatient to get back to singing. But I am responsible for the longevity of my career, and by resting this week, I ensured that next week I will be able to really shine.