If you follow this column, you know that I have anxiety. It’s not a constant in my life, but when the intrusive thoughts of OCD do decide to visit me, I can often have a series of wildly sucky months. That happened in October, and they were still overstaying their welcome in January. Finally, I gave in, stopped exploring the idea of microdosing, and tried befriending Big Pharma as I had, briefly, 20 years ago.
I may be particularly suggestible, but the SSRI I had been prescribed started working immediately. I had a gloriously “normal” (whatever the eff that is) week, until I decided to go to the Speechless show at the Siren Theater. If you haven’t been yet, Speechless is an improvised competition where contestants spin a virtual wheel and land on a type of speech to perform—wedding toast, new product launch, HR seminar, etc. They then have to give a PowerPoint presentation based on five completely random slides (created by show producer Shelley McLendon) that they’ve never seen before, like pie charts with labels like “cute” and “not cute” and photos of dogs dressed as alligators. When a performer is good at it, it can contain some of those moments you feel lucky to be there for.
Prior to the show, I was having drinks with McLendon (who’s a friend), and she indicated that a performer had just backed out and she needed a replacement.
“Can you do it?” she said.
And that’s where the dumb thing came out: I forgot I’d had exactly one week where I wasn’t constantly feeling as if a truck was barreling toward me on a snowy road and the word “sure” somehow escaped my mouth.
As we continued talking, my hands and forearms started tingling and Dick, my inner anxious asshole, started talking to me. If you’ve ever had a panic attack onstage, you know you often get something called “anticipatory dread,” which isn’t the panic attack itself, but panic about the panic your brain is positive you will ultimately get. Those were the waves of dread I was suddenly surfing after a week of glassy mental seas.
I had dinner with my boyfriend, who thought we were going to a show to watch other people perform and probably had to fight the urge to flinch when I told him what I’d done.
I took an Ativan-and-a-half and drank a vodka soda while we ate pizza. I do NOT recommend doing this—alcohol doesn’t play well with either SSRIs or benzodiazepines, but I felt like this combination was the only possible Hoover Dam for the Niagara Falls of adrenaline rushing through my system. I would recommend the pizza, though. Pizza fixes everything.
But then I did something a lot more powerful than booze or benzos: I took myself off the hook. I made a simple goal for myself: Don’t bomb. Just don’t be the person people talk about in the car on the way home in sympathetic tones. (“That poor woman. Do you think she had a stroke onstage or something?”) There were four performers, and my goal was to come in third.
I may have hit on my panic panacea.
My performance was fine. I landed on “Award Acceptance Speech.” Erin O’Regan, the show’s almost pathologically affable host, asked the audience where I should be. Someone yelled out “Westminster Dog Show.” (Should I have been offended? Ativan makes me immune to insults. And good choices.)
So I took on the persona of a British corgi who just won Best in Show, giving her fellow dogs advice on how they might follow in her... pawsteps. I got a spreadsheet slide and discussed the proper ear-height-to-leg-height ratio (ears should be 10.75 times the height of the legs). I discussed whether I’d slept my way to the top and how good golden retrievers were in the sack, despite their lack of brains. I think I may have disparaged poodles, but don’t recall due to my Jackson Maine-like prep technique. (You know... from A Star is Born? Don’t you go to movies?)
The point is, my goal had been to not fail colossally, and I discovered that giving myself permission to fail a little was probably the one ingredient in my fucked-up, Sid-and-Nancy cocktail of a plan that allowed me to succeed. So remember—drugs and alcohol: bad. Allowing yourself the latitude to suck a little: BRILLIANT.
Now if only I could go back and teach that to Jackson Maine before he tried to sing with Lady Gaga, which made him recognize his own mediocrity and spoiler alert kill himself.