Light Bulb Moment - How an Anxiety Attack Became an App
It was my 8th time in for Finding Neverland. Not 8th time like, "Oh good. Now they have to pay me if they want to see me again" eighth time. Eighth time as in the fifth time was the same as the sixth time but the fifth time was for the Broadway production, and on the same day - conveniently across the street at Pearl 519 - was the audition for the tour, which was looking for an immediate replacement and also "future roles," so I was put "on file" after Mia Michaels instagrammed my audition.
The seventh time was for the Broadway company, but it had just received its closing notice (I hate when shows close). So now I was in the predicament of "Is this a required ECC that has awkward timing? Or is this one of those possible one-week Broadway debuts but hey you get the credit anyway, right?" moments.
This was the eighth time. I was frustrated, I was tired, and quite honestly I was pompous. If at this point they didn't have what they needed to hire me, then what the hell was I coming in for? They had me on tape dancing and singing more times than even my mother would care to watch, and there was nothing more I could do for them!
oh. Intentional lowercased one-word sentence... oh.
This was the eighth time, and at this point there was nothing more I could do for them. So it was me. The common denominator was me. I wasn't enough. And no matter what I did I wouldn't be enough. I had already given them more than what I knew I was capable of, channelling my PULSE TOUR 2008 extensions mixed in with some Andy Blankenbuehler vibes and some serious Wicked angst meets first-trip-to-Disney joy. I had worked harder than ever on my voice, and perfected my RP British accent with a dear friend native to the region. I had been doing the non-equity game for 9 years, and it was MY TURN DAMMIT. And yet, none of it was enough. The only thing that made sense was that I was not enough.
So, inevitably, I began to feel the onset of an anxiety attack. The tightness in your chest - not like an asthma-attack tightness, no those I can handle. A puff of an inhaler or a caffeine boost with some brief, practiced breathing exercises and I'm ready for the next go around. No, this was a tightness that makes your lungs feel hollow and infinite. As if no matter how much oxygen you take in, the molecules will never find their way to your bronchial system. You're nauseous, but you don't want to throw up, you just want to sit down, but you are sitting and now suddenly that's making it worse and your muscles all start to clench and your ears start to ring.
As many of us would at this point, I reach for my Xanax. I don't take it often, but a quick 30-second consultation with myself in my head says this is a good time to use one of the few pills I had. I had asked my doctor for the industry-recommended beta blockers, but being that one of the side effects is shortness of breath, he figured Xanax would be a healthier option for my mild-to-moderate self-diagnosed anxiety with a side of asthma.
And sometimes they worked!
That is... they worked when my body decided to digest the chemicals at just the right time depending on when I took them. Other factors included how much I had eaten that day, and how fast or slow my blood was pumping at that point in time. I even got to a place where I would bring my backpack into the audition room, and if I felt good about how I had danced, I would time out the remaining groups to be about 30 minutes before the presumed time at which we would be asked to sing, knowing that I had only had coffee that morning and two slices of bacon. Then I would take a pill. That way if I wasn't cut I would be "ready" to sing my 16-32 bars. And if I was cut, I wouldn't be quite as affected.
This system actually worked. Once. The first time I took the pill. In hindsight I think the concept of having a crutch was actually the success of the pill the first time. After that though...
It didn't help with my very first HAMILTON audition - definitely bombed that in the crucial round.
It didn't help with the rehearsal I was leading, though under-prepared and overwhelmed.
It definitely didn't help with a bumpy flight.
So why was I reaching for it now anyway? Because it felt like a fix that didn't rely on my responsibility.
Well, long story longer, my Xanax wasn't there. I had switched bags a few times that week and the prescription bottle didn't find its way to my current backpack choice. Shit. Now what? I thought through my options, trying to just focus my body on breathing so that my muscles would relax and my lungs would feel satiated.
Just breathe. Just breathe. Just...
Breathe! Meditation! I have so many apps I hardly ever use, but let's see if it helps - why not, I'm desperate and only four subway stops, 2 blocks, and 3 floors away from my dreaded destination. Fine, let's do it. I thumbed through a few apps and categories and finally landed on a public speaking meditation. Close enough, let's zen this shit.
Halfway through it my eyes leap open. The 13-minute meditation was about trusting the work that you've put in. About recognizing that you are here because you deserve to have this opportunity and are capable of all that it requires of you. That the receivers of your information have the honor to accept a gift from you - one that you've put a lot of thought and energy into. The meditation went on to talk about sharing your gift, and focusing on the joy that you feel when you give someone something special even though you aren't expecting anything in return.
At this point my heart rate has slowed down. My lungs feel satiated and full. My ears are listening only to the sound of the meditation, with the soft buzz of the subway train as background ambience. I am calm, I am humble, I am confident, I am present. I've used my imagination to take the meditation guide's words and reshape them into roughly the sentiments that I need in the very niche moment.
This is where the light bulb moment happened. This is where LALUZ was gifted to me in thought in the midst of an anxiety attack.
I realized that we as performers have constantly and consistently skipped a few steps between who we are and what we do. That the self-medication and the self-deprecation are one in the same all too often. And that the chemicals we use to "fix it" are just bandaids that feel good in the moment and leave us dealing with side effects and addiction.
Some people truly need the medication. Many of us don't. But taking pills is easier than accepting other options that take practice and commitment in a world full of easy-fixes and on-demand lifestyles. The truth is meditation is a healer, a cheer-leader, a companion, a support system, a survival guide, and a set of wings. All of which sound like pretty good assets to the crazy lives we lead.
The thing is, nothing is ours as performers. Even our audition studios get rented out too far in advance, leaving us holding room-less in fishnets and bra tops for a final callback. We use hiking backpacks to carry a car trunk's worth of crap we need all day - not including our lunches, which we will have to buy on the go for the 4th time this week. Even our rehearsal clothes are re-marketed fitness wear.
So LALUZ is for me. It's for us. It's something we can claim as our own and not have to play pretend in the midst of a breakdown. It's community-driven because we often aren't. It's flexible, as we are asked to be. It's our link to our strength within. At the end of the day, it's my light.
I hope it helps you find yours.