I was once asked a question that got me thinking. It made me take a deeper look at myself and the complexity of anxiety disorder. The question was this:
How can you be a performer that gets up in front of hundreds of people without a problem, yet have an anxiety disorder?
My type of anxiety
I wish this question had a simple answer, but no question about my depression and anxiety disorder can really be answered in a few sentences. Anyway, here we go…
Anxiety is what is known as an “umbrella” term. This means that it is a large topic with many different parts to it. Anxiety can show be shown as Generalized (GAD), Obsessive-Compulsive (OCD), Panic, Post-Traumatic (PTSD) or Social (SAD).
If I were someone who had Social Anxiety Disorder, I would likely not be able to get up in front of a group of people and sing, dance or act, as I do on a daily basis. But I do not struggle with social anxiety. Instead, I live with GAD and OCD.
I am an anxious person, but despite the common stereotype, I am not shy. Actually, I am far from shy. I thrive in social situations and I love meeting and talking to new people. And I don’t have anxiety about being judged or disliked.
Most of my anxiety comes from irrational fear of the future and the unknown, but I am also obsessive-compulsive about simple tasks. For example, every night before bed, I used to put my glasses in their case. This is something that most people probably don’t even realize they are doing, they just do it. For me, though, this was a task that made me engage in obsessive behaviour:
1: Put glasses in case.
2: Close case.
3: Open case and stare blankly at glasses.
4: Take glasses out of case.
5: Repeat 3-5 times.
I would worry: what if my glasses disappear while I’m sleeping? Or maybe I’m dreaming and didn’t actually put my glasses away and I just think I did…
After two months of ludicrous behaviour, I finally hid the case and now I just put my glasses on the nightstand. Problem solved.
My safe place is on stage
I have been performing since I was 12 years old. Sure, when I started I would get the nerves and the pre-show jitters, but never true anxiety. In fact, being on stage is my safe place. When I am performing – for myself or for others – I feel a calm that I can’t seem to find elsewhere. As someone with a depressive disorder, it has always been a way for me to feel something when I can’t seem to feel anything at all. Performing has saved me from the world and from myself.
Option 1 or 2?
This summer, I was a performer in a week-long show that we call Folklorama. I had done the number 12 times already that week, so I was confident getting up on stage. Well, I was Mambo Italiano-ing my way around the stage when my heel got stuck in the lace of my dress. I went to take a step – and nearly fell flat on my face, but managed to stand my ground. Letting out a loud “OOO!”, I then continued to sing while fishing my foot out of the back of my dress.
I had two options here and about 0.5 of a second to decide which I’d take: I could 1) Run off the stage hysterically or 2) Get my shit together and finish the song. After what felt like five years of pure humiliation, I chose option 2 and finished that song like a badass.
If I had social anxiety, I would have chosen option 1 and flown off the stage and out of that building before I even realized what I was doing. Instead, my anxiety came much later when I had to go on and perform that song again. The “what if” played in my head over and over again and it sat as a knot in my stomach until the song was complete. After it was done, with no serious implications, I never was anxious about it again.
Anxiety is a broad topic. It has so many complex parts to it. Even to someone with an anxiety disorder, it is difficult to understand. But, just because you don’t understand it or have never experienced crippling anxiety, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I am thankful for the questions I receive and am excited to answer them.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here