Anxiety: Is it A Thing?

All I ever wanted to do, from the time I remember, was to sing. I was pretty good at it,too. When I was in 7th grade Girls’ Choir, I auditioned for the Mixed Chorus for the following school year. I made it! I was on Cloud Nine.

When I went to 8th grade Orientation and picked up my schedule, there it was! Period 4, Mixed Chorus (teacher’s signature required). Because it was an “audition only” class, that meant that the teacher had to sign your schedule card. This proved that you really made it, and the nice ladies in the office would put it on your final schedule.

I was practically dancing my way to the choir room when I was literally frozen with fear. I stopped in my tracks and could not go forward. The conversation in my head went something very much like this:
“You’re not good enough. Ms Strassburg won’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes I am, I made the list! My name was right there on the list taped to the door last year!”
“She won’t even remember you. You’re not really the kind to leave an impression.”
“But I made the list!”
“It was a mistake.”
“Do you really think…?”
“It was a mistake. She won’t remember you, and she won’t sign your schedule card.”
“…”
And so I turned around, went to the office and requested that they trade the choir class for Spanish. I had loved Spanish ever since first grade when Mrs. I can’trememberhername read Los Tres Osos (The Three Bears). It’s a beautiful language.

I did love Spanish. I loved it so much that I studied it every year through high school. (I still think it’s the most beautiful language in the world, though I have forgotten much by now.) And every time I saw the choir in  their beautiful dresses and suits, I remembered that conversation in my head. Of course I wanted to beat the crap out of That Voice – hindsight truly is 20/20 – but I didn’t. I couldn’t. That Voice might be right!

Besides, it wasn’t just that voice. My mother had said it, my step-mother had said it: You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are? To be fair, no one criticized my singing. It was the one thing I knew I did well. It was the only thing no one criticized, in fact. But that day, That Voice got the best of me.

This wasn’t the only time. Just yesterday, I went to get my nails done. I called in advance, but still found myself wondering; will they have time for me? Will they want to do what I have in mind? Is it too much to ask, knowing it might take a couple of hours?

Look, I know all the logical stuff. This is their job. I’m paying them  to do it. I’ve been going  there for about three years, they love me, and I love them. The lady who does my eyebrows says I’m her favorite, because I never yell at her when she rips the hair out. Oh, and I’m a good tipper, too. But none of that matters when it’s time to go. I always have to make a last minute run to the bathroom.

I thought I was broken. I thought there was something terribly, terribly wrong with me. And as I said, it didn’t hurt that the women in my life who were supposed to love me the most, sided with my unforgiving mind. My mother even said to me once, after misunderstanding a question I had asked my step-father, “Every time you open your mouth, you hurt somebody’s feelings!” No amount of explanation could help her see that she had misheard the question. The damage had been done, and our relationship was never the same after that.

In those days, while there was a word for anxiety, it was not recognized in the psychiatric world as a “thing”. We were told to “get over it”, “do it anyway”, and “don’t be such a big chicken!” That’s me. The Big Chicken. I hate roller coasters (although I’ve been goaded on to a few, so I can’t say I’ve never tried it), I’ll never go skiing, hate grocery shopping and much prefer time alone or with my family to going to a bar or a club. I love my friends, but I don’t go out much. God forbid they get to know the REAL me.

These are the things that Anxiety does to a person. It grabs hold of you and tries to force you to believe that you’re not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not smart enough. No one is listening to you and, if they are, they’re laughing inside. Can’t you see it in their eyes? And then you DO see it.

Well.

I’m here to tell you that Anxiety is a LIE. It’s a big, fat, ugly, NOT GOOD ENOUGH lie. And it lies to me, and to you, to make itself feel better. Anxiety is everything that it tries to say we are! Let’s start seeing it for what it is.

When I was a junior in high school, they held auditions for Madrigals (the elite choir) for Senior year. I was in Girls’ Chorus again in 9th grade, Mixed Chorus as a sophomore, and auditioned for, and made it into Concert Choir as a junior. I didn’t chicken out this time when I took my schedule card to the choir director. And she didn’t act like I was crazy for expecting her to sign it.

But when auditions for Madrigals- the really good singers – came around, I was right back to that frightened 7th grader.

There were two days of rehearsals and then the audition. The first night of rehearsal, I totally chickened out! Who did I think I was, anyway? I went to my Religion class and hung out with my teacher. I told him all about it. I wanted it so badly! Finally I said “I gotta go”, and headed over to the choir room. They were just wrapping up rehearsal. There’s That Voice: “It’s a sign from God. You’re not supposed to audition. YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH.” Just then, my best friend Michelle walked out of the room. “I got you a copy of the sheet music so you could practice before tomorrow.”

I practiced. I practiced until I nearly lost my voice. I had memorized the words to the song, and – I hoped – the alto harmony.

The next day after school, I headed to the choir room. I was surprised to hear Mrs Swan, the director, say “We’re not going to rehearse today; this is your audition.” Oh…crap!

She lined us all up across the front of the choir room, someone hit a chord on the piano, and we sang. A Capella. The Teacher’s Aide, a music student from the local university, paced up and down in front of us, listening. Whether or not she did  this to anyone else, I didn’t notice, but when she got in front of me, she stopped. Then she leaned in just a little. Then she stood up, looked at the director and nodded. Oh my…

When it came time to audition individually, the guy at the piano hit my starting note, and… I sang the wrong note. That Voice started “I told you…”, but I quickly drowned it out by talking over it. “I’m sorry, can I try that again?” And I sang. Mrs. Swan said there would be a list on the door by the next Friday.

The following Thursday morning, my dad came to my room to wake me up for school. Oh no! Was I late? He only comes down if I sleep through my alarm! As I’m trying to see my alarm clock through my blurry eyes, and just as it registers that it’s not set to go off for another hour, I hear someone shout “HAPPY MADRIGALS!!” It was Mia. The strongest, most beautiful soprano voice on the planet, telling me I had made it! The entire Madrigal choir had rounded up all of the “newbies” in the middle of the night to take us to school in our pajamas as initiation into the group. All I can say is it’s a good thing I slept in the basement! I had to wear long-johns under my nightgown. They took us to breakfast, and then to a grocery store, just to parade us around in an attempt at embarrassment. I was too excited to be embarrassed. Even That Voice was silent. I MADE IT!

My point is, we can beat That Voice. Talk over it. Talk over it until we can’t hear it anymore. Obviously I don’t always remember to do that, but maybe – just maybe – I’ll remember more often now. Let’s give it a try!

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