S1 E9: Katie O'Keefe Overcoming Overwhelm: Her story

Season #1

Introduction: Katie O’Keefe

  • Musician 
  • Wonderful academic 
  • Wonderful mom 
  • Community citizen in Columbus, Ohio

Professional Background 

  • Professional musician for about 30 years. 
  • Specialized in folksong, most especially in the German community, but also in the Irish community. 
  •  Performed Renaissance and chant in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus where I was employed for many, many years as music director. 
  • Lost my voice following surgery I lost my voice
  • Went back to school 
  • Finished my Bachelor’s degree at 48 y.o.
  • Got my first grown up job at Ohio State University 


  • Instructional designer, so I helped teachers teach better online
  • It gets really stressful when you're getting down to the wire on some things
  • Important keep yourself, grounded 
  • Angela came in in the middle of the pandemic to help me with getting and staying grounded
  • Pressure was immense & I was all by myself in an office that was designed to be run by two.

Personal Sacrifices

  • Made many personal sacrifices to help work at the office
  • Felt under appreciated
  • Was doing the workload of two people
  • Switched colleges within the University…
  • Stress of the mid-pandemic
  • Distrust amongst the new colleagues: “My job is to alleviate your job” but colleagues saw it as more work

Different Work Cultures

  • Same University, different cultures
  • Different colleges have different values
  • Different colleges (i.e. departments) have different focus

Emotions during Overwhelm

  • Burst into tears
  • Everything was changing constantly
  • Nothing was improving
  • “Women aren’t supposed to cry in professional settings”

How did you get there?

  • So how I got there was by asking more of myself than anyone else was asking.\
  • Come in, take charge, make it happen. Make everybody's day and keep everybody kind of floating. I mean, I felt like that was my responsibility.
  • Missing colleague
  • Missing well-loved former manager
  • That all of this work was going into keeping people alive and keeping them safe.


Moving Pieces & Parts at Home

  • You were building your home. 
  • You were building on.
  • Grieving: we lost 25% of membership in German clubs in 2020-2021
  • Family illness
  • Covid in the community

Losses in the Community

Many holes. It leaves holes in the, in the cultural makeup of of your circle. Even if you weren't, their best buddy. You didn't sit next to them in choir or anything. You were still looking for that person across the way and listening for their laugh

Angela: Choir is a supportive Community

  • Without the choir and support, feelings of isolation. 
  • Setting boundaries requires support to establish & maintain them.

It’s OK to cry

  • You know, sometimes crying is the first step of saying, OK, I need some help, yes?
  • Final step in the stress process
  • Pressure Valve to keep us safe
  • Warning signs

How did you recover?

And I I even have that on the door. It's very exciting. So there were there, were a few things that I did. One of the first things that I did was you reached out to me and said, "Hey, I can help you"

We need Community

Because you absolutely have to have people. People do need other people. And I definitely needed somebody who knew more than I did about how to handle burnout.

Recovery Tips

  • Good Food
  • Walk outside
  • Drink Water
  • Get an accountability partner


And it literally works every time. And of course, right now it's,, fall. At this moment in time, it's fall and all the trees in my neighborhood are in full color. It's beautiful out and so I'm, I'm just I'm delighted that I that I took that time for myself because when I got back I was able to refocus and dig back in and really make some progress on the problem I was working on. And that's, that's like one of the most invaluable things that I got. And then I don't remember if you told me to do this or if I just intuited it, but I realized that one of the things that I was missing was the creative activity of music.


My, my, my music, my musicianship. I conduct. And so there is no conducting, your your phone and, it's kind of hard to do on zoom also. Just, I mean it's just not an easy thing. And especially in the early days of the pandemic, they, they had this squelch thing going on where if you were both talking at once, somebody shut it down.


I'll go over here and I'll play a piece or two on the piano and it is always terrible. Nobody needs to hear this at all but it helps me. It helps me kind of unwind that problem. And so when I go back, it's like the walk. When I go back, I can, I can do more with it. And neurologically, from a learning perspective, neurologically this makes total sense because they've proven that having exercise after you've studied actually helps you retain better.

00:21:48.14It activates that diffuse thinking that you need in order to sort all the information that you just got into its little holes so your brain isn't full anymore. It really does get full, so.


Meditate on it. And together, I mean, and they've proven that too. I mean, there's that whole vagus nerve that calms and and sues.

To that community it cannot be overstated. And so, I mean like in a time like COVID where we were not with our church families, so we weren't singing every week with our church families and we weren't singing in choirs because we couldn't stand together in order to do it. We were not in our offices and we were at home with our families, which is lovely. However, sometimes the house.

It's really small,  listening to live music. I remember Michael and I went to see Hello Dolly right after, right after the the first wave of the pandemic. I was sitting in the theater and realized that this was the first time I had heard live music, like, live musicians in months, months and months and I I almost cried.

I couldn’t see my overwhelm

Yeah, yeah, that was that was a really ...I didn't. I couldn't see it because I was in this situation. I was just like, well, how can I manage this? Well if you need a break, take a break. So I did. And then I ended up using up all my vacation time, taking one little break here and one little break there, and it wasn't helping. I was still coming back, just as burnt out as I was before I went on for my three day vacation to nowhere.

And yeah, it was not particularly helpful and it was really starting to to get to me in ways that I didn't even realize were stress responses. So.

Crying is a Pressure Valve

Honestly, I didn't even realize that I was under that level of pressure, right? Like, of course I care for my sister. I love my sister. I love her baby, right? Like we're there for her. But I'm... I tend to be a person who cries in happiness, not a person who cries under pressure. Like, I might get it done, do it, solve it. But I feel like these people, myself included, who go out of their way to solve other people's problems also are more likely to get to the overwhelm.

Because we are doers. We don't maybe recognize the pressure that we've put on ourselves or the burden that we've chosen to carry and then when it's lifted.

I mean, like 45 minutes later I'm already playing my instrument. So in public with. Thankfully I have fantastic guys in my band, right? And I just had a huge emotional rush, almost like a sugar low.

Where all of that, from just the emotions coming and going. And I'm like I guys, I ... I need a break. Like I had to walk away and my instrument requires so much breath, so much control and that focus to play, which helps me in all these stressful situations. But it got to a point where I was like I must put my instrument down and walk away and our setup is such that it's made to do that.

Anyways, where I was like, "You guys got to carry it for 10 minutes. I need water. I need, I need a minute."

And it was, I would say that pressure release was more than a week of really working through the emotions of even recognizing how heavy that burden had been that I was carrying, of course...

Pray, meditate, wish for the best, work for the best, do all the outcomes, all these things, visualization. But at the end of the day, hardship is hardship and grief is grief. And when it relieves like that it's pretty fascinating, but I just want to say that we should all be careful and not criticize ourselves if we find ourselves in overwhelm again because it just creeps up and life is hard and the way we get through it is by building those communities and having wonderful relationships with in our, in our case, our musicians community, but talking to you, talking to my bandmates.

They were there. They're like, we got you.

Living the Tips to Overcome Overwhelm (Angela)

I've trained as an endurance athlete and I have many of these tactics that we teach during this class. They're part of my life because, yeah, because of the music and because of the physical activities that I participate in. And so I believe that it allows me to handle quite a bit; however, there is a breaking point for everyone and it's important to understand where that is and.

One, try never to get to it. But two, have that strong sense of community where somebody is not afraid to reach out and say, I've seen this before. No thank you, no thank you for you. Right, I'm here for you.

Katie/s OMA Records and ÅSMR

OK, so I started a record label, which is not something that I ever thought I would ever do. This is, and I really when I started it, I didn't really know much about it. I thought, no, this is not for me. But as I read about it, I realized that there were so many ways that this could go wrong for a young band, not just my kids who are a little older.

But they're still pretty young. For me anyway. But other young bands, bands that have only been together for a few years or maybe even a year, who, really.


Don't know what they're looking at when they're trying to navigate the possibility of getting a record produced for themselves. OK,  I want to be sitting there with the Fisher-Price recording studio and trying to do this, but you also don't want to necessarily throw it into Pro Tools and turn the reverb upl of the all of the things too.


OMA, OMA Records.


Yeah, I mean everybody calls it Oma and that is my nickname from my grandchildren. I am 

So it's a little attitude wave. It's an amplitude wave with kind of like an attitudinal quirk of the eyebrow nested inside. And so she's either our mother of amplitude or she's our mother of attitude. It depends on what kind of day I'm having.

Yeah, so I'm really excited. The kids put out their first album in August (2022) and I have been managing the song portfolio for.

Right around 35 days and they are doing extremely well. They have upwards of 3000 monthly listeners at this point, which is unheard of for a local band as small as they are, right? They've only been together for a year.

And they have 886 followers, which is also phenomenal for a band their size. They've made connections all over the country and that's all them. My goal is to grow this in a way that the artists have a voice always. So there's always one representative from each band on the board at any time, and there's always one representative from the.

And in the A&R board at one time so that, they have a, they have a say in who's brought in and they have a say in what we're doing to support our artists. But, right now that's just ÅSMR.

Yeah, it's, it's really close. One of the songs has really close to 10,000.

Again, that's a really, that's a big jump for the kids and their and their fan base. They worked really hard to build good relationships and a good community. I mean it goes back to that community again, right? Is building that community that family of choice that that the punk rock community is here in here in Columbus anyway, they take care of each other. They stand up for each other.

They help each other get better. There's none of this. Ohh. I don't like them because they're better than us. There's none of that. They’re always building things up and helping people up. Even the mosh pits are nice.

Columbus Music Scene (Columbus, Ohio)

Let’s give a plug to the Columbus music scene. We are tight. We are like I went to a gig two weeks ago. And there were people that I knew that I didn't even know I knew, right. And I showed up and he's like, oh, my mom is. So I'm like, I've known your mom for 30 years, right. And nice and kind and supportive, and you just want to get to know more about them. So little plug before we hang up here. Thank you. Thank you.

Further Reading & Listening

Overcome the Overwhelm - Class

ÅSMR on Spotify

ÅSMR on Facebook

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