Thinking vs. Doing When You Have Social Anxiety and Depression
You stare, petrified, at that shoebox full of receipts a day before tax day. Or that mountain of dirty laundry the day before traveling. Or that growing pile of bills that are due tomorrow. And you think, “I can’t even.”
So, you go back to reading that book, or bingeing on Netflix, or head right back to your comfy bed in the middle of the afternoon — hoping to distract yourself. It’s not working. You’re not organizing. You’re not doing laundry or paying bills, and you’re certainly not sleeping. You’re thinking. And all you can hear in the deep, echoing canyon of your racing anxious mind is, “Do it! Do it! Do it!”
“Doing it is easier than thinking about doing it.” This is what I tell my sketch and solo show writing students. They often admit waiting until an hour before class to put their ideas on paper. They want the first attempt to be perfect. Don’t we all? And they think about how no one will care about their ideas. And they think about how impossible it’s going to be to create a perfect first draft instead of just going with the flow and “vomiting out” that first draft. But let’s be real – you don’t have to think too hard to vomit out some ideas.
Full disclosure: I knew I wanted to write a piece about “thinking vs. doing” and I spent a good week thinking about writing it instead of what I am doing right now, which is writing it. I think.
Now, here’s how it relates to my social anxiety disorder. I stare at that invite to a fabulous party and I think about what will happen if I attend that party:
“Will I know anyone? And will I even want to talk to them? What if they’re boring or I have nothing to say?”
“Will I not know anyone and get forced into conversation by an extroverted stranger?”
“Will I show up to the party, realize I made a big mistake and spend half the time in the bathroom thinking of ways to excuse myself from the party?
Then I think about what will happen if I don’t go to the party:
“Will I miss an opportunity to meet a new person who might become a new friend or business associate?”
“Will I miss out on a much-needed good time?”
“Will the person who invited me hate me forever for not attending?”
My anxiety grows. So, I sit and stare at the invite and just think and think and think until I’m back to reading that book, or Netflix bingeing, or just throwing the blankets over my head and turning off the world in the middle of the afternoon.
And then I bite the bullet and I do it. I reply “attending” … and I attend … and … it’s not nearly as awful as I had imagined! Doing it was actually easier (and certainly more fun) than thinking about doing it.
In addition to teaching, I’m also a solo show performer – a natural choice for someone with social anxiety. I’ve had two different solo shows playing across the US and UK pretty consistently over the past 4 years. But last year around this time, I hit a major depression bump. Leaving the house was hard. Writing was impossible, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would be depressed like this for the rest of my life. I had nothing to write. No one would care anyway. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d do next, because the more I don’t do something the more depressed and anxious I get. So I knew I had to do something or else I’d once again be caught up in the really fun cycle of anxiety and self-sabotage I don’t recommend to anyone.
Then I thought, “Wait. I’m an improviser and a storyteller. What if I just forget about writing something, show up at a theater and make a show happen on the spot?” The idea seemed simple and terrifying, so I booked dates a month down the line. Wait, what?! I just did something. Now I was accountable to the theater and myself. Crap! The more I thought about the show, the more I realized I did have to write something. As fun as it might be to just “show up” and make something happen, I knew I had to have at least some pre-written content to work off of.
I opened a blank document one dreary morning and typed, “Show Up.” That was it. Hey, I had a title! Now I had to actually write the darn thing. After about five hours of anxiously thinking about it and not writing it, I came back to the doc, terrified, and wrote a few ideas and jokes. And before I knew it, it was midnight. I’d forgotten to eat dinner and forgotten to make that phone call and forgotten about that trashy reality TV show I planned to watch. But, I had pages and pages of random ideas. I’d improvise a show based on the life experiences of the audience and share my life story in the process of getting their story. The next morning, I had something to look forward to – reading and rewriting what I had written. And it wasn’t too bad, so I wrote and wrote some more. I stopped thinking about it and editing myself and my ideas and I just did it. I put those words on the page. And I didn’t hate it. Doing it proved to be easier than thinking about it. Knowing I had something to do helped me stop thinking. It’s like that party – as long as I showed up and did something at the party like talk to a stranger, help clean up empty cups or stay out of the bathroom, I was fine. Party down!
Cut to now. I’ve performed “Show Up” for the last six months over a dozen times in NYC, gotten great reviews, and submitted it to festivals. In the next four months, I’m doing the show over 40 times in the US and the UK. I’m still showing up and making something happen on the spot, but I’m also boldly and truthfully opening up about my social anxiety and depression. I’m telling other people’s stories. And I’m reaching people who struggle with the same thing. And I’m enlightening people who don’t understand why their friend never goes to their parties. I’m no longer doing it for me, but for them. I feel like I have a mission and a purpose.
Doing it turned out to be much easier than thinking about it. Doing it took my mind off of the anxiety that crippled me from thinking about it. Doing it is doing something for others.
But now I have something else to do — getting people who are anxious about leaving the house to see a show, to actually leave the house to see a show about people who are anxious about leaving the house. But, no use thinking about that right now. I gotta get back to that stack of bills…
For more information about Peter Michael Marino and “Show Up,” please visit www.showuptheshow.com
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Image via Alicia Levy/www.joopashoots.com.