Dancers with Anxiety – I see you
Tl;dr: I have a shit load of anxiety and I cry all the time and take a lot of Xanax. If you are a dancer who freaks out a lot too, you can always find refuge with me and I’ll be there with you.
I’m writing this on my airplane back to Dallas from my trip to Virginia for East Coast Classic. It’s been an emotionally tumultuous time, where I’ve ended up more than once feeling simultaneously fulfilled, terrified, and full of dread. As a person who has struggled with intense anxiety for many years, I wanted to crank out a blog post about it while the feelings were still fresh.
Plus, the cunt sitting in front of me on the plane is sleeping with her window shade up and the sun is literally shining directly in my eyes. So, I got nothing else to do for my 5+ hour flight back to the Bible Belt.
I’m 24, and I’ve been teaching and performing professionally for a little over 3 years. Not very long, all things considered. As a ‘baby dancer’ I thought it was my destiny to be a Belly Dance Superstar. We all know how that panned out, so even though the literal tour has ceased, I still had dreams of international stardom and living the life of a jet-setting superstar.
2015 was my first big year to get my feet wet with touring and teaching and traveling regularly. I had recently won ‘tribal pro’ competitions in two different states, and had bagged myself some sweet prizes that sent me traveling to other events where I could perform and teach and whatnot. And I started putting out teacher applications, cold-emailing people with a press kit, anything I could do to start circuiting.
I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go too into detail about everything through this process. Long story short, I learned very quickly that I have very poor control over my anxiety. If this gives you any context, I canceled on events twice in 2016 because my anxiety was so high: Belly Dancer of the Universe competition, and the Tribal Massive.
Yeah, I shelled out $1500+ dollars for the Massive, and the night of my flight, I had an intense panic attack. I couldn’t bear to leave my apartment. Fuck, I couldn’t get off the goddamn floor of my bedroom: I was curled into a ball, crying and shaking and hiccupping, trying to breathe when all I could manage was some pitiful hyperventilating — which, if you’ve ever hyperventilated, you know it just makes the whole panic attack situation worse. I was inconsolable for hours. I felt intense guilt for weeks, months after the event because of how much I missed out on by letting my anxiety crush me into a puddle of quivering, fluffy red hair.
My anxiety has robbed me of so many potentially enriching experiences. I flew to China for a belly dance event and hardly left my hotel room except for workshops — missed out on all the majesty of China because I was so scared that I stayed curled in my hotel room, napping and crying intermittently.
Events that I’ve attended domestically, same story. I teach my workshops, I maybe take one or two. Perform. Before the show ends, I exit the stage, I grab my shit and haul ass to home or my hotel.
After much self-reflection and trial and error, reading, and Xanax, I’ve come to understand a few things about myself.
· I am absolutely codependent. I get scared when I have to travel alone, having no one to bounce off of when I get nervous or lonely or scared. Leaving my husband is the hardest thing I have to do any time I travel. I can barely stand him dropping me off at the airport because I am a blubbering mess the whole way there.
· I have intense sensory anxiety. This manifests in many ways: Misophonia (anxiety over others’ mouth noises; for me, this is gum chewing, eating, sniffling, and heavy breathing). If you see me around with my Bluetooth headphones with the ear buds in, chances are I’m just blocking out the noises of pedestrian activity so I can function. I usually am not listening to anything, unless I’m at an airport. I can still hear you if you want to talk to me.
· I don’t handle change very well. If there is a sudden alteration in plans, I will panic. This Sunday before I taught my Twerkshop, there was an emergency with the hotel room and the bank, and I completely unhinged. 15 minutes before I needed to head into my class and I was popping Xanax, falling apart, crying, hyperventilating, the whole bit. The only way I got through that was knowing that I had to. I HAVE to pull myself together because this class depends on my competence and mental stability right now. I know my face was still red and blotchy as I headed to the ballroom, but I managed to get it together just in time.
· I am terrified to talk to people, especially people I WANT to talk to. Several times this past weekend, people I was completely in love with and admired, I could barely muster a smile. I’m sure I come across as a cunt because I have the RBF, but if I have any amount of anxiety, I lose the ability to connect with strangers. I did end up talking to some people, but only because some friends facilitated it: “Hey, have you met Drake? Drake, have you met whatsherbutt?” (thanks, Kimberly<3). And when I did end up in situations where I was engaged by these people, I say all the weirdest wrong things. Like some stupid comment about how they remind me of my brother (???!! what is actually wrong with me).
There are surely a million more reasons I could get into, but these are the main ones. I have decided that in order to get through my anxiety and learn to live and cope with it, I need to be more candid about it, talk about it. Hating myself for not handling things well has certainly not helped me get better, but confiding in people HAS. I’ve had tons of dancers come forwards and tell me they have similar problems.
So, here is what I want to do.
I’m gonna introduce myself again.
I’m Drake, I’m a dancer and teacher and I have a lot of anxiety. I handle it the best way I can. I want you to know that I am a safe person to confide in if you’re feeling anxious, scared, triggered, etc etc. If we are at the same event and you are triggered, I can hold you. We can breathe together. I will be whatever you need, even if it’s just someone to acknowledge you and validate your feelings.
I wanna make sure this is clear. Even if you don’t know me and we haven’t been formally introduced, I am here with you. You can shoot me a facebook message. You can cry to me. I see you.
I. See. You.
I want to foster a community that acknowledges and validates dancers like me who are so thirsty to be part of this community but struggle mainstreaming into it because it doesn’t come naturally to us. I am tired of feeling left out and isolated because of my anxiety and I know I can’t possibly be the only one who faces this regularly. Socializing and networking and interacting is a major road block for me but I don’t want that to keep me from finding fulfillment and success within the belly dance community.
I’ve argued with myself for years now, trying to decide if this is what I want to do with my life. I love teaching, but I struggle so much with coping with anxiety that I regularly question if this is my path. But after I teach a workshop, I am so full of gratitude and light that I can barely contain myself. In that moment, I know that I am destined to do this by any means necessary. It’s the only thing that makes me feel good about myself. After a class I think, THIS is why I do it. This is the reason. I may never be Aziza, and it’ll be a hot ass minute before I can afford to do dance retreats and certification courses and all that — again, 24 years old, full time college, etc etc. So, I know my technical skill may never reach Super Mastery Level. Affording to circulate to these gatherings has been the biggest challenge, but I’m slowly getting there. But I feel whole when I’m immersed in this community. It hurts that it feels like, very often, it’s not made for people like me.
If you see me at an event with my headphones in, doing my own thing, please feel free to put your hand on my arm and say hello. I’d love to connect with you. I love hugs.
When I teach, I like to crack a lot of jokes and act goofy because having everyone laughing with me makes me feel at ease, and it cancels out my anxiety for awhile. When I take workshops, I like to be in the back and do my own thing unobtrusively. I’m not a show-off. I like to be the center of attention on stage, but I panic when I am singled out in classes. I try not to single people out in my own workshops for the same reason.
In conclusion, I am managing. But I struggle regularly, especially when I’m alone. I can always use a travel buddy, a lunch buddy, a class buddy, etc etc. And I will be that person for you too. We all deserve to enjoy these dance events, even those of us who aren’t naturally extroverted and who don’t thrive on high-sensory social interactions.
I see you.