‘a lifetime of avoiding exposure could not prepare my subconscious’
I’m struggling to breathe in-between my sobs. I’m taking in great gulps of air, but my body won’t cooperate in this crucial moment. The solo performance I’ve spent two years preparing for is due to start right now. Part of my mind is lost to fear, the other part is having an out-of-body experience saying, “It’s ok, you’re just having a panic attack at the most important moment of your creative career.” My sister hugs me and tells me it’s going to be alright. I know there are people waiting outside. I know I’m eating into my allotted performance time, but I cannot get it together. Suddenly, there’s a loud clap in my face.
My friend Emma, a seasoned performer, knows how to snap me out of it. She stops short of slapping my face, but the sound of her hands coming together at the end of my nose does the trick. I regain my composure and take my position centre stage, where the spotlight shines directly on me. I breathe deeply and give the nod to let the audience in. For the next 90 minutes I perform the final showcase for my masters programme assessment. And you know what? All my preparation pays off and, incredibly, I actually enjoy myself.
When the performance is over, even though it went well, I’m upset about my panic attack. I thought I had everything under control. I’d worked hard to overcome my fear of being watched by an audience, but a lifetime of avoiding exposure could not prepare my subconscious for the moment when I, finally, deliberately chose to put myself in the spotlight. In fact, the panic attack should not have been a surprise to me, because the subject of my final showcase was the question of self-limiting beliefs and how to navigate them.