So I realized I haven’t written a blog post in over a week. I’m not sure how I managed that, but… sorry. I’ve been feeling mildly overwhelmed this past week. Our house has been torn apart by construction workers, which means my dogs have not shut up every time they come to work. Honestly, it’s been fraying my nerves a little.
This has been manifesting itself as anxiety at school. I try to keep my anxiety under wraps, but it’s like a bag filled with water. If you squeeze it down in one spot, it just pops up somewhere else.
During my thesis seminar class, I have been having a very hard time reading my work aloud. Part of the class is that we bring in a chapter/section of our project, read it aloud, and then our classmates give their feedback. My classmates and professor are great, so they aren’t the issues there. It’s just built-up anxiety.
I have been battling stage-fright for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I performed in the talent show and realized I was terrified by being on stage. In middle school and high school, I dreaded being called on to read aloud and being the center of attention was a nightmare. Unfortunately, this has stuck with me through college and graduate school. If I signed up for an MFA reading or to speak at a conference, I’m okay because I chose to speak and have prepared (probably over-prepared) for it. When randomly called upon, I feel my anxiety level jump about three notches.
Last Tuesday after dealing with strange people in our house, dogs barking all day, and trying to scarf down a late lunch at my job, my nerves were frayed by the time I got to my thesis class. I sat there with my classmates’ papers in front of me barely saying more than a few words. It seems as the anxiety level rises, so does my muteness. Everyone seemed ten times as chatty as they normally are and speaking seemed absolutely impossible, so I didn’t bother.
I sat for over an hour listening to everyone else read their work and get their feedback, my chest tightening as I watched the pool of potential readers dwindle until there was only me. In an instant, my spit dried up and no matter how much water I drank, it didn’t get any better.
“Your turn,” my professor said with a smile as she flipped to my chapter.
I drew in a tight breath, opened my mouth to speak, and faltered.
“Dear, you can have someone else read for you.”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just a nervous nelly, I’m fine.”
And so I droned on for five minutes, stumbling over words and apologizing for every screw-up. The one week I got out of reading my work aloud, I was so thankful, but this week, it was impossible. Yes, I could have said, “Please let someone else read my work,” but I can’t. It’s my story, and if I’m in the class, I will do whatever everyone else does even if it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I try to not let my anxiety run my life when it gets bad. Sometimes I fail at it, which of course causes another anxiety spike.
Some of you may be wondering why I bothered telling this story of a young woman who gets heart palpitations when she has to do a task as simple as reading aloud. The thing is, I want people who don’t have anxiety to understand how it all builds up. Yes, the task at hand may be simple, but you don’t know what has happened earlier that day or even earlier that week. Instead of telling the person to suck it up or not to worry (totally useless platitude, by the way), try to be supportive. Give them a moment to collect themselves or try to accommodate things that help lessen their anxiety. For example, I do better when I do my reading earlier because it doesn’t allow the anxiety to build over the course of an hour or two.
I also wrote this to remind those who have anxiety that you aren’t alone. Most of us put on a brave face, and while we’re melting into a puddle of anxiety, we barely show our panic on the outside. Just know, it can be managed and it feels worse than it looks most of the time.
If anyone has any tips for managing anxiety that have worked for you, please pass them on! I’m always looking for new ways to deal with stage fright and all of my other anxieties.