Some say that exposure helps dissipate the stress for people with performance anxiety—that old adage which claims the more you do the one thing that provokes fear in you, the easier it gets to manage it. It’s battleground language, emphasising success or failure in the individual. Are you strong enough? Confront and conquer your demon and your demon goes away. For some of us, for me, this idea isn’t true. I wish it were true. For years, in different ways, I’ve had several public engagements—exposures—and have found no relief. Sorry to say. But we anxious types do learn to develop crutches where and as we can, the classic healthy and unhealthy ones.
I’ve tried them all. Meditation and breathing exercises don’t work for me. Imagining the audience naked doesn’t work. No creative visualization works. Naturopathic sublingual tablets don’t work. Acupuncture doesn’t work. Positive self-talk doesn’t work. Before my first ever reading, for Bywords at a Chapters boxstore in downtown Ottawa, two close friends and I went to the Naval Club to drink. Group therapy? I guzzled six bottles of Keith’s and then swallowed two Valium before arriving for a three-minute-long reading—two very short poems. I would’ve ingested almost anything that might have tamed my gone feral synapses. Don’t worry though. I don’t recommend any of this. I do realize that self-medication as a strategy for coping often leads to substance abuse. We can only drink so much. And the drinking also presents its problems at the time. But, we do what we have to do to get through.
My mother survived a major heart attack in 1997. One of the many medications she was prescribed was a beta-blocker. Over fifteen years later, she still takes 50 mg/day. When I finally (grudgingly, embarrassingly) described my anxiety to my GP, she brought up the notion of me taking a beta-blocker as treatment for short-term panic—only 10 mg, as needed, an hour or two before a public event. She said that several stringed instrument musicians playing with the National Arts Centre orchestra were also taking beta-blockers, from time to time, to help address anxiety-induced shaky hands and other uncontrollable physical manifestations, which would interfere with their playing. I’m no physician, but I understand that beta-blockers block the adrenalin/noradrenalin surge associated with short-term panic. They work to help keep the body in its normal state: regular heart rate, regular blood pressure, regular breathing, no shakes, no sweats, no panic, no heart attack.
Considering so many coping strategies don’t work for me and are unhealthy—god knows I’ve felt horrible for days after events for what I said and did, having tried to manage my fear on my own with what I had readily available—I write this post with the intention and in hope that someone might find commiseration and a new potential for relief. I realize I’m preaching for a prescription. Still. If you are trying to find a healthier way to deal with this kind of anxiety, asking your family physician about beta-blockers might be worth your while.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Sandra Ridley’s first full-length collection of poetry, Fallout, won the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for publishing, the Alfred G. Bailey prize, and was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award. Her second book, Post-Apothecary, was short-listed for the 2012 ReLit and Archibald Lampman Awards. Also in 2012, Ridley won the international festival Of Authors’ Battle of the Bards and was featured in The University of Toronto’s Influency Salon. Twice a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, Ridley is the author of two chapbooks: Rest Cure, and Lift, for which she was co-recipient of the bpNichol Chapbook Award. Her latest book is The Counting House (BookThug 2013). She lives in Ottawa.