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Yeah, I have anxiety. For years I’ve said that I don’t but within every definition of the condition, it’s evident. I do. Leaving the house is an undeserved chore and I’d rather starve than watch the automatic doors greet me at the grocery. The thought of abandoning the isolated comfort of my cottage paralyzes me.
But I do it. Because what I want in life makes the choice a necessary evil.
I’m getting better at it. I’ve reduced my wardrobe to the pieces that give me comfortable confidence. My flat shoes minimize my height and my anxiety. This particular day, for added confidence, I’ve worn my hair down. It helps me hide. And I accept that. I am who I am. And who I am is presently most importantly represented by the words I choose to portray me, not the pulsating nervousness that begs me to get back in the car.
But I don’t. I imagine the possibilities that exist by walking through the door. I imagine the connections that will bring me joy. Most of all I imagine my husband standing behind me saying, “Just do it.”
Something tells me he should have gone into marketing.
Then I just do it. I swallow hard, get out of my head and heave open whatever door stands between me and my great big dream. And I represent the me that wants it.
As I write this, I don’t just think of words, I wait for them. I concentrate on which words will best define my intent. It’s not what words I put on the page, it’s how I put them on the page. It’s not the words I use, it’s how they use me.
I recall that intent when I enter. And I focus on it with every interaction. I gaze around the room looking for an ally. A familiar face. I yearn for one-on-one exchange. Another woman perhaps. Maybe middle-aged and gawking about the room just like me. Or maybe I wait for someone to spill something and bond over the fact that I wasn’t the first.
For now I ignore the part of this networking event where, for a 60 second limit, we’ll each stand and sell ourselves. That’s the hard part. Not selling myself but standing up and exposing my soft underside to a faceless crowd. Anxiety wants me to die. It wants to own me and it does so very well when it renders me a hermit for days. It’s hard for me to deny what my alienating friend wants me to do but I manage to lock it in the car. At first it’s scary but the fact is I’m more effective when I go it alone.
It’s almost my turn. The person ahead of me is speaking confidently. My hands are shaking and the vibration has resonated to my body. I have seconds to get a grip.
I used to do stand-up comedy. Twenty-four years ago while driving around Amarillo, Texas I saw a sign for a club called Jollys and on a whim, signed up for open mic night. Boy did I suck. But I made some friends who helped me get a grip on the process and I gave it a try.
For over a year, I fulfilled my role as an opener. I warmed up the crowd but didn’t show up the second act. In the latter respect, I was a very good at my job. And I earned a small paycheck. That made me a “professional.”
Hey, I don’t make the rules.
But here’s the tool I devised. While my name was announced at garbled decibels, I shoved myself in a corner out of sight and squeezed my fists as tight as I could. And my body as well. I tensed everything for the entirety of that intro so that when I walked on stage, every muscle was too fatigued to shake. And if I made it through the first bit without relapsing, I was good to go.
Some nights I was more successful than others but with every opportunity to go on stage, I never failed to use my technique. My anxiety was no longer the habit. Reaching into my toolbox was.
Here I am, again reaching in. The guy in front of me made them laugh. Thanks for the added pressure. Now it’s my turn. I’ve been tensing my fists under the table and since all eyes are on him, I squeeze my muscles inconceivably. Now the mic is being handed to me. I swallow hard. I reach out. No shaking. Yet. But man is my throat tight. My heart beats so that I fear I’ll talk to the rhythm of a disco.
This is the hard stuff. Every dream is attainable. But opportunities to attain that dream will be censored by the oddest of bedfellows. Mine just happens to be the dude that cries for the seclusion of solitude.
Is my soul up for the challenge? Do I have soul endurance? If greatness is how I feel about possibility, are the details simply annoyances? How do I trudge through them without getting stuck?
I’m about to speak. This I know is true: the words I choose are crucial. The reality I paint is everything. I can’t start planning that portrait of life that’s controlled by my needy friend, or something like this will come out:
“Hi, I’m Cindy Falteich and wow, am I nervous. You’d think after all these years I’d get over it but I guess not. Anyway, I’m a writer and I wrote a script for a director in Philly that he really likes but we don’t have anyone huge attached yet. But we’re hopeful. And I don’t make much money but I’m passionate about writing and that’s all that really matters, right?”
Just say it — lame. But it is true. It is a reality if I choose to see it that way. If the goal is to be “honest,” this is definitely, even if a 10 of 10 on the scale of lameness, true. But I remember my other tool. I remember why I love words. I remember the great big dream. I want connection. There’s only one way to get it. That’s with the absolute truth.
I passed by the first option like a high speed train and pulled words from the alternate perception that was also true at that moment:
“Hi, I’m Cindy Falteich. I’m a writer. I write novels, screenplays and blogs and I create projects for two reasons: to build relationships and create opportunities. I strive to be different but I’ve been called much worse.”
I walked out with two offers for paid work. Then I sat in my car and reflected on what words had done when used with intent. And I kicked anxiety to the curb. At least for today.
Words are a tool. Along with the clenching of fists, I know I’ll get far because I’ve already cleared massive hurdles. And the more I practice, the more my anxiety is reduced to a pathetic whiner. If it wasn’t, my dreams would dwindle to the reality I don’t want. And then they’re not dreams at all. They’re stories someone else gets to live.
And that someone is anxiety. It wants to live your life.
Send it packing. One word at a time.
Back to blog.
For more of Cindy's writing, read her novel, The Aliquot Sum.