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
  • Writing
  • Spending time in commercial venues, eateries, shops &c.
  • The week before a show opens
  • Parties
  • 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)
  • Reading
  • Spending time in social centres, second hand bookshops, and other warm community spaces
  • Cuddling
  • 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

9 thoughts on “Scared/Safe

  1. thank you for sharing this. i can’t really think of adequate words to say how much it meant to read someone else’s experiences of anxiety, this line most of all:
    “A lot of my acquaintances and colleagues won’t know that I’m suffering from crippling anxieties for much of my waking life”

  2. Nice one Harry,
    Thanks for being honest, interesting, encouraging and insightful.
    Just wanted to say I understand and I wrote a little bit about it here

    It takes great courage to write and perform despite your feelings so well done for pushing through. I think people often assume if you get up in front of people it must be easy for you, not so, I know I find it really hard!

    All the best,

  3. Hi Harry,

    Just wanted to express my admiration for your post. It’s so strange the way we go through these experiences, and yet at the same time we go about our daily lives trying to deny them, to present our best possible selves to the world. I fought through depression a number of years ago, but social anxiety is something that seems to have stuck. Even now I feel ludicrous if I stand at a till, for some reason, or stand in a queue (I’ve attempted to collect together these traits and pass them off as quirks to people, with uncertain success).

    I have been a much a full-time carer for my mother, who is disabled, since I was a teenager, and even though I have not begrudged helping for a second, there’s no denying to myself that it does get difficult. My grandfather has recently passed away, which seems to have split apart my family, and the stress of it all is making my mother incredibly ill. At times like this you just wonder if it’s possible for life to get any more cruel, you want it to just give you a break for a moment.

    The main point I wanted to express was how, through this difficult time, it has been writing and poetry that have pretty much kept me going. I believe creativity is a wonderful gift. Whenever I’m crafting some new poems or stories, it really helps me to cope with what’s going on in the rest of my life.

    Apologies if this got very personal; I guess your post prompted a kind of out-pouring from me. As others have said, thank you for sharing,


  4. Thanks to those who’ve commented, and also to those who’ve followed up with connected posts of their own, and also just to those who’ve read and thought things to themselves! I wasn’t quite sure why I was writing this or why I hit the “publish” button, but now I definitely am.

  5. Harry
    As some people know I have been a ‘depressive’ most of my life . I ‘came out’ with my Depression many years ago and it was a relief.
    I also realise that there are many people who don’t know and I choose not to tell them as I find that is doesn’t help my particular form of depression to make them aware of it.
    I respect your integrity and honesty in going ‘public’ with this but I must say that general awareness of this condition is woeful even in the creative community.and I’m not sure that when I ‘came out’ people understood or even believed me.
    To a lot of people I am over confident or appear to be very secure (which is ok for my general purpose) but the comedy in my life and poetry is one side of a coin that finds me tormented, insecure and incapable of communicating on the most basic level.on its flip side. So for those who already know this, sorry for restating it and for those who see me as I want them to. Please understand I do not need to talk about it when I am not ‘depressed’ and I cannot talk about it when I am. I wouldn’t dare to write a list of the things that scare me (so bravo to you all) and the things that make me feel safe are often few and far between. But please all of you who are out there with what we choose to call depression despite its inadequacy as an explanation, just know you are not alone and some of us do completely understand and there are far more of us than is acknowledged in public. In poetry there are so many of us that i sometimes think of it as a pre-requisite for writing it. Anyway my friend, more power to you on the light and the shadowed side.
    Kevin Cadwallender

  6. Hello.

    I don’t comment here very often (in fact, this may be my first comment), but I always read your posts.

    This one really struck a chord with me. I’ve suffered from depression on and off since my teens — I was first diagnosed after suffering a full breakdown at the age of 16, and I had another diagnosis last year, when I was also diagnosed with social anxiety. People are always absolutely shocked to hear that I’m a sufferer of such things. Apparently I’m one of those people of whom “you’d never think it,” so busy and positive I seem to be.

    Your list of scary things had me nodding furiously. The whole post, in fact. I guess I just wanted to say yes, this is exactly what it’s like. And thanks for sharing.


  7. Lovely of you to be so honest about your feelings Harry. I do believe that if more people were we would be able to deal with the negatives ones when they come along – we don’t really live in a society which encourages emotional literacy. You may be interested in this post I wrote on Writers and Depression

    I’m glad you are working through this, and I am sure you will find your own ways to do so, but I and other friends have found cultivating mindfulness (lots on the internet about this) a very useful practice, and one that can be done in many creative forms.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s