The self motivational post-it notes I tacked onto the wall curl up at the edges: my radiators are on full blast and I’m in my bedroom fortress. I am shaking all over- as if picking up wavelengths from another planet. This has probably been ongoing all day, but I’m only aware now because I am alone.
Today I’ve dragged my sleep-deprived zombie limbs to class, words have spilled out of my mouth about Miss Lonelyhearts and I’ve successfully immersed myself in the critiquing of scripts and planning my next essay. I ate with friends and even engaged in some medium-heated banter. So, by all means, today in a lot of respects has lived up to the routine of normality. Nobody batted an eyelid. The world carried on spinning.
However, beneath the surface, anxiety has had its way with me. Behind every courteous smile and every seemingly engaged conversation, there has been a ‘vacant’ sign behind my eyes for I have been elsewhere. With propanolol casings popped under the table, frequent bathroom breaks and a “I’m not so hungry today” avoidance of my first love, carbohydrates, I have artfully dodged scrutiny. But that doesn’t mean all is well.
I haven’t slept in weeks and, when I do, I have vivid nightmares of falling endlessly with no contingency nets to catch me, before waking mid-panic attack with cold, sweated-through bed sheets. My mouth is perpetually dry, which is interesting because I feel like I’m on the verge of throwing up most of the time. My hands have tremored since the moment I woke up, much to the amusement of my friends, who have come to consider it an intrinsic part of who I am: “the nervous one”.
The truth is, the cause is clear: I will be singing live tomorrow night. Whenever I remember this, I get a weird fluttering in my chest, which usually progresses into an aggressive pounding. All it takes is a small reminder: like noticing somebody’s posted another promotional photo on Facebook and tagged me, hyping up what is expected to be a fun night of losing inhibitions and supporting friends on stage. Sometimes it’s me: running through my plans for the week, ticking off my to-do list and reaching Friday, having my gut lurch and the realisation hitting me afresh. I find my mouth flooded in waves of spit, the feeling of sick rising from the depths of my abdomen. and will probably continue until the adrenaline dissolves hours after the gig.
When I got back to the flat after university, I tried to distract myself and for a while it worked. I cleaned my room, tried to cleanse myself of the jitters in the shower and even did some work on a screenplay, but then I hit The Wall. The Wall, where focus begins to blur and in the gaps remaining, physiological and mental symptoms of anxiety dwell. Even as I sit here, writing in an attempt to dissect the very roots of my nervousness, my mind is solely focused on the fact that there are only twenty-four hours until people will arrive at the venue. Twenty-four hours before I’m gripping a microphone with sweaty palms and looking for faces of comfort in the crowd.
Anxiety is crippling. It’s not something you can take off like a cape or sweep under the rug like the crumbs left over from lunch. It creeps and it lurks and it buries itself under your skin so that even the simplest things are warped into being the biggest, concrete obstacles. I feel like I have little to no control, which is ironic, as the anxiety itself is a product of me.
Many would ask why I choose to perform at all if this is the routine I find myself reliving over and over again. Indeed, it’s a good question as to why somebody would willfully submit themselves to a self-imposed torture such as this. Sacrificing sleep, bodily co-ordination and sanity up to a week before showdown is neither productive or healthy. It’s exhausting. Constantly overthinking what usually turns out to be a cathartic experience as some sort of public crucifixion is a form of self-harm. No matter how many times I make it, and by that I mean finish a set without vomiting on anyone or dropping the mic from shaking so much, I still find myself back at square one.
But something draws me back and keeps me going: I love what I do. I live for band practice every Wednesday. I live to be a part of something much bigger than myself, to be connected with strangers over a mutual respect and appreciation for music, for expression. There are fleeting moments of determination, when I’m listening to hype music on the bus or when we’re all silently stunned after a great revision to an older song idea or when I’m talking to people about how lucky I am, that I find myself buzzing with excitement and pride for the fact there are upcoming gigs and recording opportunities. That’s what I treasure, the feeling of wholeness, so to lose sleep overthinking seems an entirely pointless exercise. To constantly doubt my abilities as a performer is a chronic waste of the time I’d much rather spend finishing that Arundhati Roy novel or watching the new Bradley Cooper film. This whole rut is so pointless.
It’s a constant tug of war between emotion and logic. My body is suspended in fight or flight mode but in actuality, the logistics of the situation are that I’m going to be okay. There’s time. I’ve done this before. We’ve practiced. I have definitely overcome a series of major obstacles in twenty-one years and this definitely does not have to be one of them.
There’s propanolol to prevent me hyperventilating until there’s stars in my eyes, there’s amazing friends to grab me by the shoulders and guide my breathing but, to some degree, my most effective treatment is mind over matter.
And it’s working- getting this far in my diary entry has seen the shakes return only to my hands as opposed to my whole body. I’m angry at the idea I’m a slave to my body and I know that in some way, I can change this.
So, I want to try and reinstate control. At least to balance the scales somewhat. I type furiously in a bid to keep myself focused on something and it’s really working. I want to remind myself and others as to why I sing and why I ought to calm down a little before I have a full blown panic attack.
I should worry less about the gig tomorrow because:
- I have incredible friends who supported me when I felt trapped in a world without music and they support me now. I’ll get to see their beautiful faces tomorrow and hopefully boogie with them.
- I have worked very, very hard to get here. ‘Here’ is a spectacular place where I’m in a band that pushes me to experiment with instruments and vocal techniques. A band that constantly supports me as a singer and a lyricist, encouraging even the tiny budding leaves of confidence I have to grow. A band that can’t ‘be serious’ and not smile when being photographed.
- I should remember the slightly younger version of me frustrated to be without one of her greatest loves and I should definitely sing a little louder for her.
- Mistakes are normal, mistakes are life. If something messes up tomorrow, that’s okay. I’m sure we/I can work on it for next time so that it doesn’t happen again. We have altered things last minute, after all!
- The haters will hate irregardless of whether I care or not. And caring would mean expending energy that I could be directing elsewhere, somewhere more positive… So, I’ll leave the cynics and the kinds of people that thrive from negativity to do their dementor-things whilst I carry on drunkenly debating David Cameron being an asshole with the people that matter.
- I love singing. I love being able to transport myself to a place, feeling and time with music, I love being able to sing about the things I’m passionate about. I love having the freedom to belt or cry depending on how I’m feeling and to bring the crowd along on my journey is the most satisfying purpose of all.
- There is always wine at the end of the tunnel.