I hate speaking in public. I really hate it. If you’ve ever been to one of my readings, you know that I’m usually three or four Ketal One and soda’s in before I can even approach the stage. This is because it terrifies me to climb up there and have everyone looking back at me, expectant when there’s so much room for error. I could die, for example, and piss my pants in front of everyone. The story could fall flat, or in the case of a storytelling event, I could completely black out and forget the story. But, at the same time, I like sharing things that I write in front of people because you get instant feedback on the story. If the audience is supposed to laugh but doesn’t, something needs to be fixed. If they laugh when you wanted to, it’s worth like a decade of validation. You see the conundrum (and how desperate I am for approval. Thanks, dad!).
So, for 2018, I decided that this year would be the year of doing things that scare the shit out of me. My therapist thinks it’s a good idea, too. In our last session, she said something about “cognitive behavioral therapy” and “exposure therapy” and then she called me brave. I smiled and stared at her, wondering what it would be like to curl up in the fetal position on her lap.
Then, things got weird. I went to see the newest Star Wars and out of nowhere, I got super inspired. I mean, I like Star Wars A LOT but I’m not crazy about it. But for some reason, be it the storyline, that badass female character, the cinematography, the acting, something made the hair on my arms stand up. I felt this strange motivation inside of me to just do bigger things. And the next day, I signed up for an acting class at the university. I figured if I can make an ass out of myself in front of strangers on the regular, I can probably get up on stage and tell a story without dying. So far, I’m on week three and every class is terrifying and I get really grossly sweaty just walking in, but I am getting less afraid, week by week, a little bit at a time. Almost everyone in the class is 18 years old. And I was expecting something really terrible, but it turns out that kids nowadays are so much cooler than when I was growing up. They don’t make eyes at each other or tease other kids. They say things like, “as a privileged white woman, I feel that the scene is like this.” And I’m just floored by how smart and aware they all seem to be. You guys, we don’t have anything to worry about. The next generation is going to fix everything.
Also, on January 22, I told a story at a Moth Slam in Park City during Sundance. I spent the week before memorizing my five-minute story obsessively. I must have read it 100 times, but regardless, I couldn’t get it right. The morning of, I saw my therapist and she gave me great advice. She said, “your goal should not be to be perfect, or even good. Your goal is just to show up. That’s it. Anything you do on top of that is a bonus.” On the night of the slam, my husband took me up to Park City and I shook the entire time. My palms were ice cold and I felt like I might shiver out of my own skin. My jaw hurt from being clenched so unbearably tight. We arrived early so we had a drink at Wasatch Brewery, next to Sundance T.V. where the Moth event would be held. That helped slightly. F, my husband, kept trying to talk to me but I couldn’t talk. I concentrated on sipping my wine and holding myself together. We went to the Moth event and I got another glass of wine. And for a minute, I thought, I don’t need to put my name in the hat to tell my story. I showed up. That’s enough. But then I finished most of my glass and thought, fuck it. If I get up there and freeze, I’ll just shrug, go “nope,” and walk off stage. I can laugh about it later. This eased the tension a little. I put my name in the hat and sat down, waiting for the show to start.
The next 10 minutes were a blur:
- The host of the show took the stage.
- She pulled out a name. It was me.
- I stared into lalaland in total disbelief with my mouth wide open for a solid 30 seconds.
- I somehow made my way to the stage.
- “Oh, shit, you guys,” was the first thing I said into the Mic.
- I took a deep breath and started, “I was 13 years old and it was two weeks away from my 14th birthday…” I told my story and shockingly, I told it exactly as I’d gone over it in my head. I didn’t black out. I didn’t vomit. Somehow, my brain showed up for me which felt almost magical considering what an asshole it’s been for the past year.
- After, I found my way to my seat with adrenaline pumping through my veins which made me feel capable of anything. F gave me a big hug and said, “you did it! And you didn’t die!” And I was glad that neither of us had set the bar very high.
I watched the rest of the show and felt inspired by the other storytellers. The slam was two weeks ago, but my body is still recovering. The day after the slam I felt elated, on cloud nine. But, as the days progressed I started to think about it a lot. Did I do well? I felt increasingly anxious. I got a full-body massage that took the anxiety down a few notches, took a few baths, and that made it even better. I couldn’t figure out why I’d have anxiety after the fact, especially since the whole thing went better than I expected. But I just learned that post-event rumination is a thing and it causes post-event what-the-fuckery.
After a week of talking to myself like a crazy person, the anxiety is mostly gone and I’m just feeling slightly more stressed than usual.
And? Totally worth it. However, next time I’ll be prepared for the weird things my brain might do even after a perfectly fine event so I can minimize the recovery time. Hopefully, I can scare myself often enough that at some point I’ll just be completely immune to all the terrible things.
Here’s to facing fears.