It's been a stellar week of sharing with awesome posts from Amber Dawn, Catherine, Shannon, Adrianna, Samantha and Jessica. Thank you to everyone who has been reading the Life is Sweet series and taking the time to share the content with others. To round out the week we've got a post from Shaun to talk about his first panic attack and subsequent battle with anxiety.
My first full-on holy shit panic attack took place when I was onstage in a university production of The Tempest. Luckily, I was portraying the twisted man-creature Caliban, so clutching my chest and speaking in a strangled voice seemed rather fitting. I made it to the end of the scene, but seconds after I got offstage I was tearing off my elaborate costume and then immediately attempting to get the stage manager INTO it (sorry Tony). I was not going back out there.
In the end, I did make it back onstage thanks to some encouraging words from the director and my girlfriend, combined with "the show must go on" mentality. I even survived two more full performances, but my acting was weak because I was petrified. It's hard to portray a character when inside you head you are quite certain that you are dying.
Much to my distress, I discovered that this wasn't just acute stage fright, but full bore anxiety disorder. Curtailing my acting was heartbreaking, but that alone would not solve the problem. I became anxious if I spent any length of time outside of my home. Even riding the subway put the fear of god into me. Simple tasks became impossible. I became isolated and very bitter. I didn't lose any friends, but my condition confused the heck out of all of them. They couldn't understand how ill I was, because externally I looked totally healthy.
My parents were wonderfully understanding and supportive, and with the help of a great psychologist, I got my life back. It took years, but it's incredible to look back at that time of great distress and recall how sad and frustrated and shattered I used to be. Hard to believe it was the same lifetime. I remember being so sure that I was never going to get better, and that feeling of hopelessness was one of the hardest things to get past.
But it did get better. I even took some Second City courses and performed for audiences again. Anxiety attacks haven't been entirely banished from my life (the look on my face when taking my first airplane flight since 1988 would illustrate this), but at least now they are exceedingly rare occurrences, and I know what they are and how to react to them, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Shaun Sayer lives in Toronto where he fights the endless battle between aged cheddar and the elliptical machine.