My performance anxiety began without rhyme or reason, and carries on without the relief of an end date. Whether I am taking a test or running a race or meeting someone I admire, I always fall short.
My knees have buckled on a wooded cross-country trail. My sweaty palms have warped the pages of countless math tests. Hours of practice seem to become irrelevant in an instant, and even the sacred den of practice itself has become obstructed by nerves. With such an anxiety, you begin to pull yourself into a vortex of self-doubt, begin to discount accomplishment. Once articulate and thorough — and hell, even witty — and then poof! All gone. And replaced with what?
For a while the anxiety seemed to align rather nicely with my naive conception of the Creative Other — a figure who is both elusive and somewhat troubled. My logic was this: I want to be a writer, writers are troubled; maybe this anxiety signifies some deeper, more creatively-rewarding intelligence. Maybe, I thought, I could get a decent sentence out of all of this.
Only I didn’t. I just got stuck.
Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of having such an affliction is that our society is very much conducive to keeping things together, even if just in appearance. Everyone else, it seems, is functioning with a composed ease. Feeling unwelcome to reveal any shortcomings, I internalized my anxiety until I considered it an attribute of inconvenient importance to personal identity. It became no different than my crooked pinkies or uneven nostrils — markers of things I’ve really had no choice in having. Only this one less visible.
In that way, anxiety thrives like a bad habit: the combination of a stubborn mind and a closed mouth really only perpetuates an issue. But you and I both know that in order to live a life of fulfillment, we cannot let these sorts of debilitating mind games obviate the passion, intellect and resourcefulness I like to think we possess. And the only way to truly work through a matter is to address it honestly, seeking advice where necessary. So, how do you go about shushing the devil on your shoulder? How do you ensure all of your practice pays off?