Early guilt and early perfectionism. Early signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder?
When I was about 5 years old, I started picking out tunes on our piano.
I remember sitting at our black Kurtzmann upright piano in the living room and sounding out “Jesus Loves Me.”
But my mother didn’t want me to play the piano by ear. She wanted me to wait and learn the notes. She played mostly by ear and saw that as inferior to playing by note.
So she told me not to play any more. I did anyway. I’d wait until she went outside to do something like hang up clothes to dry, and then I’d run to the piano and play.
Years later, my mother told me she could hear me playing but just didn’t say anything.
She talked with a local piano teacher, who agreed to try lessons with me. I started lessons and thrived on it.
The following spring, Mrs. Carwile decided to include me in her yearly piano recital. Her piano students at a local elementary school gave a yearly recital. For this recital, I would be a “special guest” and play.
She picked out a song for me, “Voice of the Heart,” Opus 51, by Henri van Gael. She modified which parts I would play to fit my abilities.
Then she broke the big news. She wanted me to memorize the song and play with no music.
I don’t remember being afraid at that point, but my mother was worried. Mrs. Carwile reassured her that I could do it.
I remember practicing and practicing, getting ready for the recital, which was taking place exactly one week before my sixth birthday.
My mother made me a long white dress with a white satin ribbon to wear for the occasion. I wore white sandals, and, much to my embarrassment, white socks with the sandals.
|Standing on our front porch before we left for the piano recital.|
I was excited about playing, but I also was very shy. It was difficult for me to be around so many other children backstage at the school. I remember that someone pinned a carnation to my dress.
All the other students sat on the stage, but I sat with my family in the audience. About halfway through the program, Mrs. Carwile called me up on the stage.
She asked me what my name was and then she asked me how old I was.
“Five,” I said.
But I felt guilty saying five. I was just a week from being six. Shouldn’t I say I was almost six?
Even at that age, I understood that Mrs. Carwile wanted me to be five for the audience. She wanted to impress upon them my young age before I sat down and played a song without the sheet music in front of me.
But I felt guilty.
Then I walked over to the piano and sat down. I was afraid, but I didn’t think I had any choice. That was what I was supposed to do.
I started to play and my fingers moved automatically through the song. I had practiced so much that I played without thinking.
I made one mistake. I hit one wrong note.
No one noticed, my mother said. I don’t think she noticed. But I did. I knew I had not played the song perfectly.
From the outside, my first piano recital was a good experience. I took piano lessons for another six years and took one year of organ lessons. I made it through other performances.
Today, I still love playing the piano, though I play on a keyboard now. I play by note and by ear, a combination.
But looking back on my first recital, I wonder if my OCD was showing itself in subtle ways: worrying about whether or not I was being totally truthful about my age, and being focused on the one mistake I made and not the rest of the performance.
If you have OCD, do you remember the first signs of it? Even if you don’t have OCD, do you remember a childhood moment when you felt great anxiety such as performance-based anxiety?