This is the second of two posts on eating disorders and the voice. We'll continue where we left off with the story of Judy and her student, Jenni Schaefer...
Judy... Little by little, as Jenni got help, she got stronger. However, voice lessons became even harder. She developed a diaphragmatic spasm of some kind and a kind of fatalism took hold, making her expect the strange uncontrolled vibrato weirdness to happen at a certain place in her range. I sent her to Vanderbilt Voice Clinic. Only when they couldn't find anything organically wrong did Jenni start to believe she could beat this strange vocal problem. Soon after, I was able to coach her into the flexible rib stretch necessary to allow the issue to completely disappear.
Jenni... "Anorexia is characterized by intense perfectionism. While singing, I would concentrate more on being perfect than on getting a greater message across."
Jenni kept improving, but it was two-steps forward, one-step back. It was hard for her to picture singing to someone. She was stuck in self-consciousness. She began to experience feelings, but with the feelings came anger at being critiqued, which made her feel judged. At one point, I suggested she practice differently and she flew into a rage. I didn't see it coming. I didn't read the signs that said I was pushing too far, and the lesson ended in disaster.
Jenni... "All eating disorders are characterized by constant self-criticism. It is difficult to sing when a negative voice is constantly screaming in your ear."
The trust and friendship Jenni and I had developed made the misunderstanding short-lived. We got back to the business of vocal training and then another challenge set in. It was a long season of intense sadness. I was afraid for her; she would cry, literally for days, and then go numb. She pushed people away, saying she had no friends. For a while, she stopped singing and cancelled voice lessons.
Jenni... "Depression is often an underlying symptom of an eating disorder. When lost in despair and hopelessness, singing can seem too vulnerable because emotions might leak out. So Ed would often build yet another 'protective' wall."
Jenni and I began working together again, and this time every lesson seemed to break new ground. Her recovery was solid, her physical and emotional health much more stable. I watched her persevere with great courage through those monumental battles of recovery. And I watched her find her voice at last.
One of the last pieces in the puzzle was put in place by the brilliant performance coach Diane Kimbrough. Diane told Jenni to stop worrying about 'going there' every time she sang. She said this is way too much pressure for an artist to have to re-experience the emotional scene during every performance. Instead, Diane suggested, forget yourself and make THEM (the audience) feel something! It was a miracle.
Jenni stopped focusing inward and made the connection, through the song, to someone else. Her voice is now strong, controlled, confident and beautiful. She FEELS joy, frustration, anger, and love. All of this is giving her a voice with which to rock the world. She speaks and sings all over the country to entertain, teach and prove that recovery from an eating disorder is indeed possible. And oh, I so love to hear her laugh!
For those struggling with an eating disorder, we hope you read in our story that it's never too late to reach out for help, start healing- and start singing your heart out!
Jenni's contact info:
Jenni Schaefer - singer, songwriter, speaker, author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill) and her second book about being fully recovered "Goodbye Ed, Hello Me". Website: http://www.jennischaefer.com/