I was asked a question that got me thinking. It had me taking a deeper look at myself and the complexity of anxiety disorder. The question was this:
How are you a performer that can get up in front of hundreds of people without a problem, but you have an anxiety disorder?
I wish this question had a simple answer, but no question about my depression and anxiety disorder can be answered in a few sentences. So, here we go…
Anxiety is what is known as an “umbrella” term. This means that anxiety 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 actually not shy. Actually, I am far from it. I strive in social situations and love meeting and talking to new people. I don’t have anxiety about being judged or disliked.
Majority 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 put my glasses in it’s case. This is a task that most people probably don’t even realize they are doing; they just do it. For me, this is a task that makes me engage in obsessive behaviour.
Step 1: Put glasses in case.
Step 2: Close case.
Step 3: Open case and stare blankly at glasses.
Step 4: Take glasses out of case.
Step 5: Repeat 3-5-times.
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 2 months of ludicrous behaviour, I finally hid the case and now just put my glasses on the nightstand. Problem: solved.
Performing is something I have been doing since I was 12 years old. Sure, when I started I would get the nerves and the pre-show jitters, but I have never experienced true anxiety. In fact, being on stage is my safe place. When I am performing- for myself or for others- I feel a calmness 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.
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 going up there as I usually am. Well, I’m Mambo Italiano-ing my way around the stage when my heel gets stuck in the lace of my dress. I went to take a step – nearly falling flat on my face, but managing to stand my ground. I let out a loud “OOO!” and continued to sing while fishing my foot out of the back of my dress. I had 2 options here and about 0.5 of a second to decide. I could 1) Run off the stage hysterically or 2) Get my shit together and finish the song. After what felt like 5 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 flew 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 had anxiety 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.