Performance Anxiety

sadnessMy class-day schedule looks a little like this: I arrive at work at 8:30 a.m., take a 30-minute lunch, and typically leave work at 5:30 p.m., working close to a nine-hour day that only leaves me time to eat dinner in the car. I could leave at 5 p.m., like normal people, but I work close enough to the Deep Ellum area to take the risk. Especially since it leaves little time for my brain to go into its coercion mode:

“Hey, buddy,” it says, “there’s still a chance for you to turn around and go back home. I mean, you can miss one class, right? Make it the first one! The first class is just a ‘getting to know you’ type thing. Plus, The Great British Bake Off is on Netflix now. Yay, cake!”

Driving to the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) training center with this voice isn’t hard at all. For me, the hardest part is getting out of my car.

I arrive at the training center at six-ish, pay the meter, and then sit in my car for a little while longer. There are people I don’t recognize sitting outside. They talk to each other and check their phones for texts and Facebook updates. This means that the training center isn’t open yet. My chest tightens and my brain kicks back in with a new strategy…. utter panic.

“There’s still time!” my brain screams. “Run! Drive away before it’s too late! Never come back! Let them keep your money and consider it charity! Please, please don’t do this to meeeee! Oh god, we’re going to DIE!”

But here’s the thing: I love performing. I have a BA in theatre from Texas State University. I’ve been on my fair share of auditions. I’ve acted in a few short films for UT students. I’ve been in the chorus of community theatre musicals, very tempted to pull an All About Eve. I’ve been writing material that I’d like to use on my first open mic night. I’m never more comfortable in life than on stage or in front of a camera with a spotlight in my face and the ghosts of laughter responding to me.

I’m also an introverted person with depression and social anxiety.

Let me break this down a little bit. We all know that depression and anxiety are irrational voices. In some way, they are trying to dissuade us from taking risks, whether it is physical or emotional. Because of that, I am left with fear of rejection when it comes to an audition, playing around in class, writing an essay or script, or normal things like talking to my family about what I’m interested in. There are so many things that I haven’t even begun because these mental inhibitors play such a key part in my everyday life.

There is a bit of a stigma when it comes to depression and anxiety. First of all, they can be a situational occurrence for some people. Those situations are not fun. For others, they are constants for whatever biological reason - hormones, seratonin, etc. - and these have to be regulated with medication and counseling. (The latter is what I do! Hello!)

Depression isn’t just about being sad, and sure, it is that sometimes. But it’s also a lack of motivation, a negative state of being where the person who has it is not good enough or does not see the point. Not so much “glass half empty” as “what does it matter that the glass has water in it, we’re all going to die someday and it’s all my fault and I need to stress eat peanut butter M&M’s.” There are days when I’m drained of energy and will, and I think to myself, “I want to go back to bed… but I have work and class.” So what do I do? I go to work and class. And let’s be honest, those are not great days for me. I’m low on energy, and I don’t see the point, and the kind feedback of my instructors is translated by my brain as, “You were horrible.” I will then go home with an “I knew it” attitude, relive bad performances, and cry myself to sleep. And I will eat those peanut butter M&Ms because I’m an adult, dammit!

The good news is that I always realize the following day that my instructors did not say I was “horrible.” However, I did stress eat 2,000 calories worth of candy and I have to plan my day around a salad and a 5k run.

As for anxiety, it is that voice telling me that this cliff I am on is way, way too high and I need to retreat from the edge a bit. This is a good thing! Anxiety is a great survival tool. However, it also manifests as that strange urge to pee before a live performance because that gives me time to come up with an escape route. But then I remember that I paid $250 for this class and I don’t want to disappoint anybody, so out I go. The surprise ending is not the applause or Quentin Tarantino being in the audience wanting to cast me in Kill Bill, Vol. 3.

No, the surprise ending is that I just performed on stage... and I didn’t die. Even if I didn’t kill, I didn’t die. And for me, that’s a pretty major win.

So my goal for the next several weeks: Just get out of the stupid car and walk through those doors. I promise myself I will not die. I should know, my brain has been telling me that for weeks and I’ve yet to experience a Final Destination-type end.

KC Ryan is currently a Level Three student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She's a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.