My life, like that of many apparently highly driven people (especially, it seems, those in arts and politics), goes through tediouslessly repetitive cycles. I’ll be working incredibly hard and stressfully for a period, and then go into a period of faintly morbid self-analysis; I’ll be extroverted and excited and passionate for a couple of months, and then spend much of my time reading in bed for a few weeks. For theatre directors, these cycles often coincide with the rhythms of a performance: you have to be incredibly organised and passionate and dedicated to make a theatre run happen, and when it’s done you literally grieve, your life has this huge gap in it. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to plunge straight into the next project; if you’re unlucky, you’ll need to brood for a few weeks.
When these cycles first hit me, I found them difficult and frustrating to deal with: I wanted to be active and exciting all the time, and not have to be anxious and introverted for weeks on end. Now I’ve come to accept them, more or less, as part of the general creative/organisational process (though they’re still pretty painful to be in). Even though it hurts not to have the energy to go and socialise, or to do more than listlessly cross off two or three items from my To Do List a day, I can at least appreciate that this time allows me to do things like catch up on my reading, reflect on my ambitions, get a good night’s sleep &c.
So I’m in one of these down period right now, and one thing I’m reflecting on is exactly what stuff it is that makes me anxious. A lot of my acquaintances and colleagues won’t know that I’m suffering from crippling anxieties for much of my waking life — or maybe they do, because the older I get the more messed up and hurting I realise the general population is for most of the time. When I’m in a down period, the anxieties of course get worse, and I’m compelled more and more to seek out what makes me feel safe. I think it’s interesting as an exercise to try and catalogue both. There are clear dichotomies there, and also some weird things. I’m trying to work out what the common factors are — it’s something to do with expectation, with worrying about what’s expected of me versus what I’m confident in doing — but then that might be a tautological notion. Anyway, my hope is that by looking at it coolly I’ll develop another tool for coping with these inevitable slumps, and hopefully you’ll all be able to see me being much more confident and active again soon.
(This post also serves as a useful moment to “out” my anxiety, and an encouragement to myself and all my anxious friends not to hide it away. When I first started getting crippling anxiety, the most destructive thing was the feeling that I had to cover it up and continue to be the exuberant self I am sometimes, and like to be seen as. But really: everyone else feels as anxious as you.)
Things which make me feel scared
- Organising and planning events and performances
- Spending time in commercial venues, eateries, shops &c.
- The week before a show opens
- Spending time with acquaintances
- Sex (before)
- Forms, bank accounts, bureaucracies, automated telephone services
- Fixing mechanical things / DIY in general
- Making To Do lists
Things which make me feel safe
- Performing (while I’m doing it)
- Spending time in social centres, second hand bookshops, and other warm community spaces
- Working in a rehearsal room
- Conversation with trusted friends
- Scotch. Chocolate. Morning coffee.
- Sex (during and after)
- Editing, proofreading and commenting on friends’ writing
- Tidying up (both rooms and computers)
- Games (board, tabletop and computer)
- Crossing things off my To Do list