The lights were dim and I could smell the dust from the spotlights swirling around in the darkness. I strode across the stage to the small chopping block where I had to deliver to my first line. I was supposed to slice mushrooms as I did this. But for some reason, the bench was bare. No mushrooms. How was I supposed to do a 15-minute long mushroom chopping scene without mushrooms? My stomach dropped to my knees and my mouth kept rambling as my hands frantically search for something to do. Anything to do.
I fumbled under the tiny bench top, desperately searching for anything I could pretend to chop. My trembling hands couldn’t find the knob on the drawer that held the rest of my props. Where the fuck was the fucking knob? I stole a quick glance at the drawer and realised the whole chopping block was facing the wrong way, my drawers and cupboards of salvation facing the audience, completely out of my reach and totally useless. Every single prop for the entire play might as well have been on mars at that point. I was fucked.
I calmly placed my redundant knife on the bench, walked off stage and out to the carpark where I cried for the next half an hour. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have dealt with this situation in a calmer manner but I had to learn 20 pages of repetitive dialogue in 10 days so I was already at the very edge of my sanity. I had no room left to deal with missing mushrooms.
That was a really bad day. The next day was worse though. I had to fight every fiery hot demon in my head to get myself back on stage. What if there are no mushrooms again? What if I forget all my lines? What if I murder someone in the audience? What if I suck?
If you’re already a touch on the anxious side, it doesn’t take much to totally tip you over the edge. I’m very risk-adverse and I feel like something bad is going to happen most of the time. I’ve come to live in harmony with this little quirk of mine and I can function quite highly with this constant worse case scenario reel playing in my head, but it means that I’m on the edge of a freak out pretty much indefinitely. These are a few things I do to talk myself down off the ledge if I’m in danger of losing it.
1. Remind yourself that the thing you’re really freaked out about is the unknown
If you’re choked up with nerves before an interview, you’re not nervous about the interview. There’s nothing objectively scary about an interview. What’s scary is that you don’t know what’s going to happen in that interview. You could swear, fart or fall over. You could tell the interviewer how much you hate Delta Goodrem only to discover that she’s the interviewer’s niece. You might see your ex-lover who you weren’t very nice to. The interviewer could be your ex-lover who you weren’t very nice to. It’s unlikely that anything of these things will happen but it’s the possibility that’s messing with your head. The unknown is what you’re afraid so stop filling that void with made up stuff that most likely won’t happen.
2. Think about how insignificant your last freak out seems now
What was the last thing you had a full on, balls out episode about? Is the thing you were freaking out about even remotely on your radar now? Chances are, you won’t even remember what you were freaking out about. I can remember consoling a girlfriend years ago when she thought her boyfriend was going to break up with her. She was so stressed about it that she couldn’t eat. Her prediction was correct – he broke up with her that afternoon. She now lives in Bali with her husband designing jewellery for a living and barely even thinks about her ex-boyfriend. Freakouts feel horrible when you’re in them but remember that it will end eventually (and inevitably) can bring a little bit of comfort in a time of crises.
3. Get yourself an awesome freak out buddy
Preferably one who speaks your language of crazy. Mr Smaggle is an excellent freak out buddy because he sees the freak out coming and can usually stop it before it gets out of control. I’m pretty good at doing the same thing for him. Try to avoid freak out buddies that encourage destructive behaviour. A good freak out buddy will suggest you hop in the bath with a good book. A bad freak out buddy will take you drunk shopping.
As for my last massive freak out: I did go out on stage the next day and I got through it. I can’t say it was the best performance of my life, mainly because I don’t remember it. I lost a lot of sleep that weekend and I honestly felt like my world was ending. My chest hurt constantly and I was the edge of tears for days. Now? I look back on that time as a mild embarrassment and a lesson I learnt to always check that the stage manager has set the stage correctly.