Saturday, 21 November 2015

I Didn't Learn How to Breathe Until I Was Sixteen

I have an anxiety problem. To some people that might not mean a lot, others might understand. Everyone has anxiety, that is just a fact. Anxiety keeps us from walking into busy streets. It pushes us to prepare for the future and protect ourselves. In nature, anxiety is what keeps prey animals from being eaten. The deer hears a rustle in the bushes and lifts its head slowly. Its heart pounds faster and faster, ready to sprint away in a burst of panicked uncertainty. We were once prey animals, that impulse stuck.

It is so hard to describe a feeling. Like describing a colour to a blind man, feelings transcend our language. John Green once said, "I think the reason humans first invented metaphors is to describe our pain. It's the only way we possibly can." I will try my best.

There are really two kinds of anxiety, at least in my experience. The first kind lives in the body. In the chest. In the throat. Pinpricks behind the eyes. Pounding through a beating heart. Seeping through veins until it inhabits every inch of your being. It is the white hot creeping feeling that festers inside the lungs, reaching its greedy hands around your neck. Tighter and tighter. This kind of anxiety is manageable. The second kind lives in the mind.

I wrote this post for a reason. Not to explain these feelings, or to cling to some shred of empathy. I know that life is hard for everyone and we all face character-defining problems. Attention is not the point, I would rather just keep this to myself. The reason I wrote this post is to explain the most misunderstood part of my identity: Drama.

"Matthew Beard, that try-hard drama kid. He's always so into everything, like sometimes he just needs to relax. Dude this is a high school drama class, honestly just stop. He's so stuck-up in his own little world, sooo pretentious. What a drama nerd."

The truth is, drama is the most therapeutic thing in the world for me. It dulls the pain. It lets me stop thinking for a few moments. My brain stops latching on for dear life and just lets go. One moment in the drama room is worth a year of anxiety therapy. It is more effective than all of the deep breathing, calming exercises. More relaxing than meditation, or mindfulness, or any other "coping strategy". Imagine if you found a place that made your most crippling problems go away. Wouldn't you cling to it?

Improvisation taught me to get out of my head. It gives me permission to turn off anxiety and live in the moment. For some people that is an expression. I mean it literally. My brain has an really hard time existing in the present, grounded moment. Character work taught me that everyone is guided by something. Everyone has their own story, the reasons that they became the person they are today. I found humility in my problems and understanding of others. Clown taught me how to experience the world like brand new. I could exist without any judgement, insecurity or ego. Those are the most peaceful moments of my life.

To anyone else who suffers from anxiety problems, I hope you find your place of peace. It will get better, even if it doesn't seem like it now.


  1. I'm just gonna throw this out there: that italicized section also comes from a place of anxiety. The reality is that most people probably don't think of anyone that way, let alone you. People tend to look up to and admire those who are passionate about something - or at the very least, aren't such buttholes that they actively talk smack. Of course, even being aware of this reality doesn't mean it's internalized haha.
    An interesting post though.

    1. Thanks for the insightful feedback. It's something to think about.