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The Character I Play to Hide My Anxiety

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People always tell me I wear my heart on my sleeve. To some degree, it’s true. If someone tells me something and I’m excited, confused, or uneasy, they can usually tell by my vivid facial expressions. But that’s only the layer they see.

I’m a theater person, so after years of being on stage I’ve learned to wipe my face of emotion. To go “neutral.” To hide what is raging inside of my head. People don’t realize how much I live — as so perfectly described in Broadway’s “Finding Neverland” — in the “circus of my mind.” I live in my fantasy worlds, mostly because they revolve around all the things I am longing for in my life: people listening to me, caring about what I say, understanding and supporting me. It’s like a more intense version of daydreaming. I write my own stories about what I wish my life would be life — almost as my version of a coping mechanism. During times when my anxiety is really bad, I take myself out of reality and go to the happy place of my imagination. Instead of coping, I bury the thoughts I am having.

But when I’m in a state of intense anxiety to the point I have to take myself out, I still appear perfectly calm. My mind races. My heart beats like a drum inside of my chest. My hands are shaking. But nobody can tell. I like to keep it that way. I fear if I tell anyone, they will think I’m “crazy,” just as the people tell J. M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland.” I’m afraid they will tell me “It’s over, I’m leaving you behind to the circus of your mind.”

It creates a spiral — a black hole. I’m afraid of what people will think, so I hide. People wonder why I’m quiet, and I say “I’m fine” and they believe me. I’m afraid they will realize I lied to them, so I continue to hide. In my head, they are all judging me for my weakness. But like a black hole, you can’t see it, only the things it affects.

Every day of my life, I play a character. The person who is happy, carefree, confident, sassy, outgoing, well dressed. Inside? I’m worried. Anxious. Panicking. Doubtful. Sassy, simply to hide how insecure I am. I dress nice so people notice that and not how I’m nervous and shaky. The few people I’ve let my guard down for I don’t get to talk to very often. I hate texting people out of the blue when I’m anxious because I’m sure they have more problems of their own. Maybe someday I’ll take off the mask and stop acting, for once. But for now, I write.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via nicoletaionescu.

Originally published: May 11, 2017
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