Getting Into Getting Out

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Emily Dickinson

I used to suffer from mild panic attacks. This isn’t that. I don’t feel panicked, exactly. But there has been a flutter in my heart. A feeling of having swallowed a bunch of stones. A tickle in the back of my head like you get when you feel someone is staring at you.

Like feathers.

I’m no stranger to ambivalence about things that I love. My best example? Community theatre. I’ve been on the stage since the womb, thanks to my mother’s love for the art which she kindly passed along to me through the umbilical cord, and I have enjoyed every minute of it … and also have been completely horrified by it. Some people jump out of airplanes in order to get that sweet, powerful rush of feeling more alive than alive; all I have to do is pretend to be someone else in front of a crowd.

In order to do this, however, I’ve had to drop a few tricks into my bag of holding. Deep breathing. Running through all my lines at a breakneck pace 30 minutes before curtain. Listening to that perfect song that I’ve been listening to prior to every rehearsal, that puts me into the headspace of my character. Creating that textbook “moment before” and focusing on that singular thought. All of these things move my stage fright needle an inch or two.

But the best trick I’ve ever been taught, to deal with this unwanted brain-guest otherwise known as anxiety, is to focus on the hope. Which isn’t that hard, because excitement (hope) and fear actually come from the same area of emotion, and I am legitimately excited about being on stage. Sure, the reality is that both feelings are happening, but with practice, I’ve gotten better at choosing which one to focus on. By choosing the more positive, “excited” and “hopeful” interpretation, I’ve been able to hone in on a more fun part of my emotional life and give a backseat to the dread.

So I’ve starting going out, because I love it, the way I love being on the boards. And these days it’s more similar than ever to that going-live-in-front-of-an-audience feeling. And all the love-hate that comes with it

But I’ve been doing it. I’ve re-entered society, a little bit, going here and there. To outdoor concerts, half empty restaurants, and the biggest undertaking (but perhaps most rewarding) of them all: sat in a chair in the salon for 3 hours for a full court press color and cut. I even attended a small wedding.

And when I feel the flutter of fear, I push my mask a little tighter against my cheeks, and think of Emily and her little bird.

Now that we’re struggling with vicious variants and mixed messages and the daily drama of the pathetically political, I still find myself reaching for those feathers, like a modern day Dumbo.

Because that darned little creature refuses to stop singing

True to Emily’s word, it never stops, at all.

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