But there’s robbers to the east
Clowns to the West
I’d give you my sunshine
Give you my best
But the rain is always gonna come
If you’re standing with me
But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm
If your cascade ocean wave blues come
All these people think love’s for show
But I would die for you in secret
The devil’s in the details
But you got a friend in me
Would it be enough
If I could never give you peace?
-Taylor Swift, Peace
Pretty much all of us who were working or going to school during March are very familiar with an emotional cocktail containing uncertainty, fear, stress, and shock; otherwise known as a Pandemic. I was chugging that emotional cocktail by the gallon the week of March 8th. Disney World had just closed, Universal had just closed, and Broadway was making an announcement later that day. I knew what was coming and I was terrified. I was in a new state, with new friends, a new job, and no support system. Emails started pouring in asking questions about performances. My phone was blowing up with texts from my friends who were working at other theatres. My friends at the office were refreshing news pages every five seconds. The entire staff was wiping down every surface in the building with medical-grade disinfectant. It was overwhelming to say the very least. This was a difficult time for everyone, but for people with anxiety it was paralyzing.
I felt it coming on in the morning, but wanted to be strong and push through, even though I knew I should’ve stopped and taken a break. Then I realized I had made a very simple mistake and it happened: I started to have a panic attack. I’d never had a panic attack at work and I had basically sworn up and down to myself that I never would (even though there’s literally no way to promise that to myself or anyone else). My boss saw it starting to happen and pulled me into her office and told me I should stay there and calm down. I’ll never forget sitting in that office. I felt a wave of guilt and shame wash over me like nothing I had ever felt before. No one put that guilt on me, but I took it on anyway. I sat there and let the word “liability” dance around in my head.
“I couldn’t take the pressure.”
“ I couldn’t take the heat.”
"I was letting everyone down.”
The arts industry demands a lot from people. You need to be creative, intelligent, hardworking, empathetic, and passionate. You also need to be level-headed, reliable, calm under pressure, and thick-skinned. If you see contradictions in these two lists, you’re not the only one. And yet, the entire concept of an arts organization demands something that is a contradiction: organizing art. Taking something that's undefinable, uncontrollable and uncontainable and giving it a name, a process, and a supervisor. Many of us are so dedicated to the art-form we never stop to question these demands or even think about where the plan might go wrong… until it does. Creativity and peace rarely walk hand-in-hand.
If you’ve worked in any high pressure industry, you probably heard people talk smack about former colleagues and say things like, “They couldn’t take the heat” or “They just weren’t cut out for it” or “They didn’t have thick enough skin”. I was diagnosed with anxiety in college and have been finding ways to cope with it ever since. My goal for a very long time was to make sure that everyone I worked with didn’t have any idea I had anxiety. I wanted to fit into the contradictory mold that the industry was looking for. I never wanted anyone to be able to say that I couldn’t take the heat or the pressure or god forbid, that I wasn't cut out for it. I was so afraid that if people found out I had a mental illness, they wouldn't trust me. The truth is, I was so worried, because I hadn't learned to trust myself.
A few weeks ago Taylor Swift dropped a surprise album and the second to last track is called, “Peace”. The song is about a woman pondering if her love and commitment will ever be enough if she cannot give the person she loves peace. When I heard it I felt like someone had finally seen me. I feel like I am capable of bringing so much to the table, personally and professionally, but sometimes I worry that none of my contributions will mean anything if I'm not able to provide people with peace. I’m afraid that if there is a threat of my anxiety taking over in a moment when people need me, then the other thousand times I showed up for them won’t matter. I’m consumed by guilt over the moments where I “couldn’t take the heat".
I have to stop feeling guilty.
We all have to stop feeling guilty.
It’s true that I might not be able to handle every moment of every day with the courage and grace I hope to, and that’s why we need other people. That’s why we create teams that have each other’s backs. That’s why we don’t go it alone. People, particularly in creative industries, deeply need other people. When I had a panic attack back in March, my boss was there to help me see that I needed to take some time before getting back in the game and my coworkers jumped in to fix my mistake and cover for me. When I walked out of that office, feeling like a liability, my team was there to tell me I was an asset.
I bring a lot to the table, but I will not always be able to offer peace, and that’s okay, because someone else will. The key to overcoming the guilt of bringing anxiety to the table is having faith in the people you surround yourself with. It is when you start seeing yourself in collaboration with your team, instead of always feeling like you have something to prove to them, that you see where their strengths will fill in for your flaws and vice-versa. Allowing yourself the freedom to need others: that's where you find peace.