Performance and Anxiety
Last night I read a story for the first time. It isn’t finished but it’s good enough, I think.
Every time I step foot onstage, even with audience-tested pieces, I go through the same cycle. For the roughly six hours before the event, I’ll stress about what I’m reading. I may re-edit it slightly, change a word or two and read it over.
For the three hours before, I’ll visit the bathroom a lot with stomach pains and I’ll eat an entire pack of antacids to settle my stomach.
At the show, I’ll change my mind on the piece I’m reading every five minutes. Sometimes, I’ll stick with the piece I originally intended to read; other times I’ll pick something new.
While I’m up onstage, the major thought going through my head is “they hate this.” While reading, I’ve never felt it’s gone down well. Sometimes this causes a condition called Aphasia to start setting in. It means occasionally, my brain will act like I’ve said the word but my throat hasn’t reacted. I’ve only ever lost the ability to speak at all once but that wasn’t on stage.
When I get offstage, I’ll try and focus on the other acts; usually I’ll think about how much better they are than me. I’ll probably visit the bathroom a few more times.
Finally, at the end of the night, when everyone’s been onstage, I’ll go round and shake hands, say as many nice things I can about people’s work. I usually hear nice things back. Often, I’m not sure if they’re being polite or if they mean it.
The next morning I will feel awful. Getting out of bed will be horrendous, pointless, but I will do it. I may get no work done that day; I may write and hate everything on the page.
So why do I still read live? Why not focus on the audience that’s paying me without seeing my face, the digital masses that fund me? Because I can.
There are those who suffer from anxiety, like me, who will never step foot on that stage. There are others who will suffer far worse side effects than stomach issues and post-performance blues. This means, I can do it. I can share my voice with crowds of people who may normally ignore me, never become aware of me or who will forget me. I can put my ideas into the heads of a patient audience and maybe I’ll make a couple of quid.
I do this so I can get better, because I am damn thankful I can call myself a professional writer. I do this so I can prove to myself I will not let fear stand in my way. I do this to prove that I am as good as I say I am, that I’m not just bragging. I believe I am talented enough to do this and I will fight to get better. I will not let my illness stop my dreams. I will fight this because not everyone can.
© 2016 Connor Sansby
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.