I was a child prodigy. I started taking piano lessons when I was 3 years old, and I showed promise by the age of 5. By the time I was 7, I’d won some local competitions and had some appearances on tv. I remember playing for a couple morning shows. My parents were my managers and got me concerts with famous orchestras. By the time I was 10 I was a touring pianist and was hardly in school. I wasn’t unhappy. I loved playing the piano and I loved the attention from audiences and my parents. I thought I would be playing the piano forever.

1. Then my dad died of a heart attack. He was 53. My mom took control of my career after that. She made me practice six hours a day. I had to wear frilly dresses in public, and watch what I eat so I’d stay thin. I couldn’t cut my hair short and had to keep it styled, never loose. I wasn’t allowed to have friends, so my mom home-schooled me. I did this until I was 15, when I threw a tantrum so I could go to a public high school. I did really bad at school, because my mom didn’t actually teach me anything. I was so depressed that I just stopped playing.

2. Then I got carpal tunnel. I couldn’t hold a pencil without shaking. It got worse than it should have because my parents thought I was faking the pain to avoid practicing. It took two years of physical therapy before I could play sort of normally again. I needed time to relearn my technique, and I was very discouraged. I lost a lot of playing opportunities. I was also getting older, and people forgot about me especially when I was no longer a cute 10-year old. My new agent planned a comeback tour, but it didn’t work out. No one was interested in an averagely talented 15-year old.

3. I met a professional pianist when I was 9. My mom had booked me into a masterclass with him. I knew he had taught a lot of famous pianists. He warned me that I needed to work on my technique and not focus on just playing showy pieces. I was famous and he wasn’t so I didn’t listen to him. My audience liked the music I played. But by the time I was 13 I was getting fewer and fewer concerts. My parents never let me read reviews. I sneaked online one day when they were out. Some famous old pianists called me a fake prodigy, that my technique would never pass if I was any older. I think some nice people tried to defend me, but I knew it was all true. I kept playing for two more years after that, but I didn’t trust when people told me how talented I was. I couldn’t get better even if I tried.

4. Then my parents got a divorce. They disagreed on how best to manage my career. I spent most of the week with my mom and weekends with my dad. With my mom, she wanted to make me into an online influencer. I had to act cute for interviews, and I promoted a lot of different products on our daily vlog. Off camera, my mom would often complain about how I wasn’t doing enough for the family. With my dad I was always practicing, and he would yell at me whenever I played something wrong and yell at conductors whenever they made any suggestion for my playing. It was a disaster. I was so stressed that I stopped playing before I turned 15.

5. By the time I was 13 I had 2-3 concerts per week, plus appearances on talk shows and daily vlogs to do with my mom. My dad had an affair and left us. I never saw any of the money I earned. I learned from my mom that my dad stole all of it when he left. I learned later that my mom spent most of it on expensive clothes and jewelry. The number of concerts I had dropped off suddenly after my 14th birthday. There was a younger prodigy who was starting to take up my old gigs. My mom thought it was just an economic slump and continued spending as we slowly grew in debt. My concerts never picked up again, and with the constant verbal harassment from my mom, telling me that I wasn’t getting concerts because I wasn’t trying hard enough, I basically gave up playing after I turned 15. I never wanted to touch a piano ever again.

6. But at a certain point in my life I realized that I was only playing for my parents’ approval. I felt like I missed my chance at being a child because I was touring and practicing so much. I wanted an opportunity to try other things. It took me a long time to figure that out, and I was confused and depressed for years when no one was booking me for gigs. I think even back then that my heart wasn’t truly into playing, but I didn’t know how to do anything else. Now that I’m on my own, I’m finally making up for lost time. I still don’t know where I’m going, but I like myself better now.