Take This Anxiety!

Or what actually happened

Posted on June 26, 2016

In my blog from Friday evening, I mulled over what my dancing future would be given three dance-related experiences this week. The one that was looming large is now behind me: The performance. I want to share my perspective now as it is instructive for understanding how the mind works.

I performed last night, as planned, with two other Urban Flowers. At the beginning of our piece, I had trouble smiling because, well, I wasn’t enjoying it plus my lips were quivering more when I smiled. I was more anxious than I had been during my first performance. So, I forced a smile. A part of me watched as that smile slowly turned into a real one. The music has a slow introduction to which we dance with veils. Once we throw the veils to the side, the music picks up – and the audience clapped! There actually was an audience that could clap – and they were enjoying it. It was fun to share the dance that fit that music!

When I was done, the gloom returned. I only felt relief. It was done.

On my way home, I was reading in The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, a wonderful book about Stoicism, Buddhism, and the path to happiness that doesn’t involve positive thinking. The sections I read were about the self – and how there really isn’t a permanent self. We’re just a collection of parts with nothing solid at its core. When I walked from the train station home, I decided to try to do a walking meditation (try because I wanted to walk fast as it was late and cold). Quickly this question arose: Why am I feeling so miserable about the performance? As I walked, I noticed how I was making myself unhappy by beating myself up over being anxious!

The almost subliminal self-talk went something like this:

You’re not a real performer because you get anxious! You don’t belong on stage! The others were annoyed with you because you can’t control your anxiety! You’re pathetic! What’s wrong with you!

Ouch. Although what was even more painful – and hence the categorization of subliminal – was how hidden that voice had been throughout. It had felt completely true that I just don’t enjoy performing. I still think that I prefer more social outlets but performance will be part of the mix – both watching and doing as I also enjoyed watching many of the performance. My anxiety had completely overshadowed my ability to evaluate what was going on (in fairness to myself, I want to add that there was a part that noted that as I was writing my last post, warning me that things might be different post-performance. I decided to write the post anyways to share this process…). Plus, there was an additional layer: I was anxious about my anxiety because I was telling myself that being anxious is shameful!

Now, the day after, I am starting to feel proud: I did not let my anxiety stop me. And there is a lot of gratitude: I am tremendously grateful to my fellow Urban Flowers for their support: They accepted my anxious me, held her, nudged her, so I actually made it onto the stage! Without their support, I am guessing that I would have decided not to dance! I am glad I did!



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Take This Anxiety! — 2 Comments

  1. I read “The Antidote” last year and found it very helpful. In fact, I just might read it again!

    One chapter mentions that while the “self” doesn’t actually exist, it *is* an important construct. This helped me make sense of the some “self-less” philosophies because I just can’t embrace the idea of no self at all. However, seeing the self an important fiction helps me put things into perspective without letting go of that old anchor.

    Also, many performers – no matter what their level of experience – admit they get at least a little nervous before a show. And a little anxiety isn’t a bad thing. It can be what encourages you to perform well. It’s only a problem when you let it stop you from performing, and you didn’t! You have every reason to feel proud of the that!

    • Thanks, Amber! You’re right a lot of performers get nervous, though I think there’s a difference between the anxiety and nervousness. The anxiety seems more consuming…

      It was actually the chapter on the “self” that I was reading! To me, the reminder to check in and see all the selves – or the various aspects that I clobber together as a self – that was helpful. That how I noticed that there was a quiet voice shaming me for my anxiety… I am pretty sure I’ll read “The Antidote” again. There are so many important ideas in it!

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