I don’t know about you, but I have never needed encouragement to think more or live in my head.
“Dig in…analyze your every thought…value your own opinion more…focus on yourself…” all unnecessary statements. I never forget those. They come easy.
I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to do these less. For awhile, I was succeeding somewhat. I was on my medicine, following through with commitments mostly, anxiety was at a low.
It’s hard to discern whether living in my head is a cause or effect of the anxiety.
(I don’t mean I could reason my way out from under the anxiety, i.e., mind over matter, I just know the two are linked somehow for me).
People have different issues that go along with their anxiety I guess. Mine aren’t very interesting or unique…people-pleaser, overwhelmed easily, food issues, difficulty with communication and conflict, blah blah blahty blah. You’ve heard it all before. Anyway, this is a time when my issues came to a head, and I had to make a hard decision.
As of this year, I’ve been out of stand up comedy longer than I was in it. However, when I began,
I had a mission statement.
(I really did. I also had an expand-a-file for all of the categories of my jokes. I am a wild wild renegade people; I fly fast and loose).
My mission statement was kind of abstract and flowery, but it went something like this:
Everytime I got onstage, I wanted to serve the audience and not them serve me…
to treat them kindly…
tell them something slightly helpful or substantive…
for them to feel welcome in the club and the world…
to realize their deep value and beauty…
feel connected to the people around them in the audience like a little community…
to feel loved…
and to laugh hard.
(Oh, is that all?)
And I needed to do this in 3-5 minutes.
I was so nervous the first months, but I still had that mission as my focus. I would get frustrated with myself because I had this hunch I could do better than I was doing…like I knew I could get close to that mission statement if I could just get comfortable enough to say things in my own voice. I got frustrated with the task, but it wasn’t a self-focused frustration as much as a wanting-to-do-it-right frustration.
But somewhere during the year, I started turning inward. I got stuck in my head. I started focusing on myself…and when I do that, things go dark.
Writing (jokes or any type) lends itself to solitary confinement in some ways. And it puts you in your head a good bit. It can be really healthy. But as a stay-at-home-mom who was already pretty isolated, it was a challenge.
Also, guess what happens when you go on stage:
People look at you.
Like a LOT.
I know. It’s rude, no?
My favorite place to tell jokes is in a class or large group. I mean, I like to yell them from the back of the room or the audience. I guess you could say I’d rather compete to be the center of attention for 10 seconds at a time rather than BE the center of attention.
(So heckle, I guess. Yes, you could say I like to heckle my Sunday school teachers or other comics).
I don’t love being on a stage like some people might.
I became intensely aware of my physical appearance in a way I hadn’t been in years…in a way only a person who has had years of counseling for an eating disorder can become.
All the looking and examining myself just turned me inward more and made things darker. Because guess what: when we start looking at ourselves hard, hardly any of us walks away thinking, “Hmmm…nice. I see nothing to criticize here. Looking good, baby. Carry on in a healthy manner.”
But even aside from my baggy elbows (which I discovered that year), the hardest part was that I KNEW everytime I went on stage, some people would like my words, and some wouldn’t. That’s the nature of the job. And once I started thinking about that too much…
Well, I was stymied.
I could hardly choose anything to say.
And I started dressing monochromatically.
I mentioned in Anxiety 101, that getting dressed and out the door was really hard for me when my anxiety was bad in my 20s…so hard that I often would not make it out the door. Well, one night I was headed to the Idiot Box, and on my way out, Chris said:
“My wife is dressed like Joey Ramone.”
Which was offensive, because he’s not even the prettiest Ramone.
But he was right. I was in all black (again) and combat boots.
When things get hard anxiety-wise, I notice that I wear either the same outfit a LOT, or I go monochromatic, because it’s easy to match. It takes less mental energy. That’s also why I never wear layers. Who can choose EXTRA garments for crying out loud? Or accessories? Am I wizard? Or a male model?
I lost my mission, lost my anchor, and lost my voice.
Because focusing so inward is no anchor.
It just made me feel shaky and indecisive.
And it made me freeze up like a deer in the headlights.
Which isn’t a very functional place to be.
And when I get to that place, about the only thing I’m still good at is losing weight.
So I did that.
I ran and ran my skinny ass off…literally.
And that’s not as good as it sounds.
When you’re 25 and you lose weight, people are like, “Hey girl. Lose some weight? Lookin’ good!”
But when you’re 43 and you lose weight, people are like, “Hey girl. Lose some weight? You’re lookin’…well, pointier around the edges.”
Around this time, I got a job at the public library.
One day, I told my coworker Thomas, “I think I’m going to take a comedy break; I’m starting to feel thin.”
He said, “Like personally…like Bilbo Baggins? Sort of stretched like butter scraped over too much bread?”
I said, “Well that. Plus also my pants are really loose.”
But I did feel thin, physically and spiritually.
I’d looked inward so much, I’d lost perspective. I had a love/hate relationship with myself. I loved myself when I “looked right” and “performed right” on stage, socially, or as a wife and mother, but I hated myself when I didn’t. And my only measuring stick became my own opinions and others.
And those targets move all the time.
I took a break.
I ate meals
It was scary, but I made myself eat every meal.
I wrote things on my wrist like “kept, loved, lovely” because I needed to remember that God thought so. (Yes, I believe in God, and I do mention the presence of God in this piece.)
I carried around index cards that had verses and quotes like:
“Continue quietly on your path; it is a good path.”
And “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks on me.”
And “God binds up the broken-hearted.”
“He will give you a stone with a new name on it.”
And I came out of the dark.
It hasn’t been easy.
But I got that job at the library,
so I go there and see people whom I loved immediately.
And I get to feel the books near me…and that makes me feel good.
And book covers are wonderful, and arty, and creative and remind me that someone sat in their house alone and typed that story in hopes that someone like you and me would see it, read it.
And I wonder if they are depressed or drink, or if maybe their elbows are getting baggy and their pants are feeling loose.
(I hope not. Well, I hope they get to drink a little).
And I think, “Hey. Maybe I could do that next. Maybe I could write a book.”
But not now.
For now I just need to be with the library people, and the loitering hobos, and the books.
And think about my kids and husband.
And listen to them for real…not with glazed eyes like I have been.
And I have to put away all of those damn black clothes for a bit…
They chafe and they’re making me sweaty.
This piece originally appeared on Pam’s personal blog, Yes I Like Paul Stanley, where she writes all kinds of good stuff. Go check it out. -Tara
Featured image (at top) by: Sebastien Alouf via Saatchi Art