Thanks for all the comments on that other post, by the way.
I should be reviewing more biology or sleeping but instead I am up thinking about beta blockers, which I guess are at least marginally related to my studies.
The reason I am taking beta-blockers is for a heart condition I developed 4 years ago. I wasn't playing oboe yet and had already quit the sax. I began to notice that everything I did felt like I over-exertion. I frequently felt the "fight or flight" feeling. It began to interfere with my ability to handle everyday tasks. They ruled out things like adrenal gland or pituitary tumors and eventually we realized that for some reason my heart had started beating too quickly all of the time. It was downright scary. As I lay in bed every night with my heart pounding in my chest, I would wonder if I would wake up to see morning. The cardiologists couldn't figure out the WHY, but since the symptoms were severe (and confirmed on various tests, i.e. it was not in my head) they decided to treat the symptoms with the beta blockers. Eventually we got the dosage right and my heart rate is now in the normal range.
I brought up breathing in my post because I have always been a shallow breather. My Dad would yell to me about it as a kid. Sometimes I wonder if the shallow breathing was part of what caused my heart to go haywire in the first place. Maybe all the shallow breathing forced my heart to work harder (or to think it needed to work harder) to get oxygen to all my cells? Hmm. Just my own little theory. Because even with the beta blockers I still tend to hyperventilate when I exert myself. So there may be some respiratory aspect to my condition that is still untreated. And maybe that same thing is causing me all my headaches at my lessons. Or maybe I am just looking for excuses.
When initially prescribed them, I knew nothing about musicians taking beta blockers for anxiety or stress since I was very much in the fringes of the musical world back then (and I guess I still am). So it came as a pleasant surprise to me when a few months into the regimen I realized that I was getting bolder about my harmonies at church. I had been singing in our "choir" for a decade and had NEVER sang solo and was always loathe to get picked up by the microphones. The few times they tried to get me to sing on my own, I got so nervous that my teeth chattered and I broke into cold sweat. I realize now that it was nearly a panic attack. My voice would either come out tiny and quivery or would completely disappear. All of a sudden the person with the good ear became tone deaf and arrythmic. I simply broke down artistically due to the nerves and so always preferred to be in an ensemble where I didn't stand out. I was delighted to finally be able to do the things I wanted to do without the panic. Within a year I was able to finally sing solo at my church. Now I do it all the time. I wish I could say that I grew up and that I overcame my irrational fears. But no, I know NOW that it's just the beta blockers.
So it sounds like on top of the heart thing, and the possible (but improbable) lung thing, I definitely have some anxiety issues. Otherwise the beta blockers wouldn't have "cured" me of my stage fright, right?
All of my oboe playing has been "under the influence" so I know no other way. It's been great to be pretty fearless about my playing. Fearless for me, that is . . . which might not be saying much. Less than a year into playing I got together with respected friends of mine to try to form a woodwind quartet. I can only imagine what I sounded like back then, yet I wasn't really nervous about them hearing me play. If anything, I was excited about it. Then again I think that at that point my passion for the oboe was still so novel that I was just happy to share my love of it with others. I really need to get back to that point. At this point I've overcomplicated things with emotional issues. Playing is not about my love of the instrument so much anymore. I've gotten all worked up about not being "good enough" yet or am too busy whining about not having people to play with. All these feelings play out at my lessons these days I think. But I digress . . .
I wonder, with some degree of fear, what would hapen to my playing if i stopped the medication. If I am a nervous wreck at lessons now, what would happen then? This past Sunday I played the intro to a Mother's Day song at my church. While I warmed up when the church was empty I produced a very nice sound, but when the time came to actually perform I did get nervous and my sound and pitch were both iffy. If I had to go off the beta blockers will I be able to even get through a lesson? As it is I am fighting back tears at most of them. Would I be able to play at all? Or would I completely break down like before, unable to play anything closely resembling music? Scary thought.
Or perhaps, as was suggested, maybe the beta blockers are holding me back in a way. Maybe letting some of the nervous energy back in would help my musicality. Well, we won't know for now because my use of the medication is not really elective so I can't just stop cold turkey. But my doctor did recommend to stop if I conceive (no, I am not trying just yet).
So maybe in the not so far future we'll be able to use me as an experiment. I don't think there are that many other musicians in my situation where they were on beta blockers BEFORE they began to play an instrument. It was a coincidence that I was placed on beta blockers and then years later had to deal with anxiety issues in music. Now I am curious to see what will happen without them. Given my penchant for anxiety, however, I have a feeling that things will just get harder. *sigh*
Now in the meantime if I could just recapture the joy of playing just for the sake of it, then maybe everything will be ok in the end.