My Introduction to Anxiety

My Introduction to Anxiety

Two years ago, I booked a dream job in a dream venue.

I was working in the best city in the entire world alongside an insanely talented cast, crew, and production staff. I experienced my first New York opening night. I performed two hundred performances of the most joyful show I have ever been a part of. I was making more money than ever before. For three months, I was "living the dream" that I had worked so hard to achieve.

I cried almost every day.

I was terrified that everyone in the cast and crew hated me or thought that I didn’t deserve to be there. I didn’t even think that I deserved this opportunity. I constantly second guessed my talent and my ability. I was mentally and physically exhausted for twelve weeks straight. I was having digestive issues and my immune system was intensely compromised. Finally, I had no concept of managing all of this newfound cash flowing into my bank account.

I experienced crippling anxiety and impostor syndrome for the first time in my entire life.

I had finally reached the level I had dreamt of performing at and I was squandering it, personally, through downward spirals of self-doubt, exhaustive circles of negative thought, and extreme guilt for feeling this way at all because, through it all, I was exponentially grateful to be there. So many people would kill for the job I was lucky enough to show up for each day. Additionally, I had an incredible support system at home who was so proud of me, that I put this unbelievable pressure on myself to do it all perfectly. I was subconsciously terrified at all times, and constantly on edge all while downplaying my attributes and skills without even realizing that I was doing it. The worst part was that when a very close friend or family member would try to say something encouraging, I would either bat it away as a reflex, or pretend everything was perfectly fine. My Mom became frustrated with me, my friends didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t know what I needed because I didn’t know the first thing about navigating my way through all of these overwhelming new emotions that I had no experience dealing with.

The day the show closed, I came down with acute Bronchitis and was forced to lay in bed for two weeks before leaving for Pure Barre Teacher Training in South Carolina. Two days after, I got my heart broken by someone I deeply cared for.

Those two weeks feel like a blur, but I do remember that forcing myself to finally rest resulted facing the marathon that had been the last twelve weeks of my life.

It meant a lot of sleep, a lot of tears, and a lot of resentment.

I was so angry that I had let this experience become something negative. I was angry that I hadn’t handled myself differently. I was angry that I had had this opportunity, and I left it feeling like I had done far less than my best. Meanwhile, I watched others breeze by, able to take care of their voices and bodies without succumbing to the anxiety or exhaustion that I felt on a daily basis. I questioned whether I was right for this world after all. It was intensely painful, and I barely made it through. I was devastated.

In the year that followed, I became obsessed with self-development. I made the decision that I was never going to allow myself to unknowingly squander an opportunity like that again without having the tools to at least be mindful of what was happening. I watched documentaries, downloaded podcast episodes, and read books all on mindset, anxiety, habits, self-development, and self-improvement. I researched therapists who are covered by my insurance. I made the decision that I was going to do the work, because if there was one thing that I learned from my experience it was that being talented is a small part of what it takes to work at that level.

what I learned:

  1. What got you here will not get you there. There is a huge part of the business that no one speaks about, and that part is aesthetics and fitness. Luckily, it is something that is slowly evolving to be more tolerant of different shapes and sizes of human beings. Aesthetics aside, there is a certain level of fitness and stamina that cannot be developed singularly in rehearsals.

    The stamina I maintained throughout the audition would not be enough to get me through 200 performances - something that sounds like a no-brainer, except it wasn’t for me at the time. Cross training is something that actors, singers, and dancers of all shapes and sizes take part in, because our job is incredibly physical. Listen to your body, because your homework seven days a week is to keep your body in its peak condition at all times.

  2. There is power in routine. When you have three or four shows ahead of you, there is power in controlling the aspects of your day where you’re not “on”. For me, meditation has become non-negotiable. In addition, writing down the things that I am grateful for and the dreams on my heart helps me to keep perspective. Doing at least thirty minutes of movement helps me to sing better, move more freely, and maintain the strong focus required of me.

  3. Control your physical environment. Make sure your personal station in the dressing room is a place of mental clarity. Keep it clean. Keep photos of family, friends or bottles of your favorite essential oils nearby. Stay prepared with healthy snacks on hand, or athletic aids to help with maintenance throughout your contract.

    If you’re not an actor, this can still apply to you. You control what’s around you, you control what you see when you get to work or when you’re finished with your show. Make sure it sets you up to succeed.

  4. Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business. It’s also usually a reflection of them, and has nothing to do with you. Avoid making assumptions. Remember that everyone has their own life and obstacles, and it’s not your job judge or take it personally. Remember to breathe, and be mindful of when it’s beneficial to step away from a situation.

  5. You’re allowed to vent and be grateful simultaneously. The truth is, that even though you may be completely grateful for something, nothing is perfect. You’re allowed to acknowledge the imperfections of something while still being grateful to be in the room.

  6. New levels, new devils. I used to think that once I booked a job at this level, that everything would simply fall into place and I wouldn’t have to work or hustle as hard. I fell for the Instagram highlight reels of so many Broadway actors and performers.

    Let me tell you what no one else will: It just gets harder.

    There is no magic moment. It doesn’t work like that. You may have access to new and better things, but the new obstacles that come with this new level will be even harder to deal with. It’s your responsibility to find your happiness and peace outside of that, so that you can handle what the next level throws at you.

  7. While you’re working, save for when you’re not. Be intentional and take what you feasibly can from each paycheck, so that you’re able to avoid the panic that ensues as soon as you’re (f)unemployed.

Two years later, I returned to audition for that same dream job. Only this time, I was at peace. I actually kept saying to my girlfriend, who was also auditioning, “I’m not sure what’s happening, but I’m somehow not nervous at all. I feel light.” I was able to laugh with the girls that I had worked with before. I was able to be mindful and take a breath. I was able to be aware of the moments I became distracted, aware of what I was allowing to cloud my focus, and to then place it to the side. I was able to mentally compartmentalize everything thrown at me and handle my callback with grace.

I was able to show the team who I actually am as a person, not who I thought they wanted to see.

I left convinced that I had shown them my best, aware that all of that could go extraordinarily well and I could still not return to the job that I loved so much. Somehow, I walked out of the building feeling like I could finally exhale the last two years and set my eyes on whatever is next.

Anxiety does not discriminate and no one is immune to it.

The more we talk about the things that seem perfect but aren’t, the truth behind that perfect Instagram photo, the better off as a society we will be. I hope if you’ve ever worked at a position or received a promotion and have experienced Impostor Syndrome and crippling anxiety that you feel the freedom to speak openly about it, regardless of the opinions of others.

Resources that helped me…

  • Morning Routine. My mornings have become sacred to me. I spend every single morning, seven days a week, for myself. I wake up early with my coffee and spend the earliest, most quiet moments of the day by myself. It’s a small element that makes an unbelievable difference in how I show up for everything all day long.

  • Meditation. I used to roll my eyes at the idea of sitting somewhere with my eyes closed quieting my mind, but the truth is that those ten minutes are the best part of my day. I love to use the Headspace app. It’s a game changer for someone who has no experience meditating (ie. yours truly). Truthfully, the first time I felt a little silly, but the kind British man verbally guided me through it in an extremely human way.

  • Daily Varied Movement. I’ve learned that I have to move for at least thirty minutes 5-6 days per week in order to be at the minimum performance level. This was learned through nothing else other than trial and error. I really love taking a Pure Barre class or a pilates flow with MelissaWoodHealth. I also love taking a 30 minute dance cardio class on Obe Fitness to get my heart rate up.

  • Books. Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis was my aha-moment. I cried multiple times and highlighted almost the entire thing. I always feel like she is speaking directly to my heart and soul. It’s what I go back to when I need a swift kick in the pants. The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz is a fantastic resource for mindfulness, especially when relating to other people. High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard is a great resource for intentionality. It helps to formulate habits in order to function at the highest level. I love the way Brendon writes.

  • Podcasts. Ed Mylett. Rachel Hollis. Gary Vee. Dax Shepard. Oprah. Goop. Emma Guns.