...(but I have fun doing so).
I'm in an outpatient program for early intervention psychosis. As part of my recovery, I've had to address my crippling social anxiety that has been causing other problems such as substance abuse, depression and isolation. Fear and I are are well acquainted, but I usually avoid situations where we might encounter one another. My therapist pointed out to me that the key to beating this unpleasant frenemy is not to avoid it, but to spend as much time as possible with it, really trying to understand who it is and what it thrives on.
I've been throwing social challenges at myself for months now. I started out calling people on the phone and have gradually worked my way up to organizing a community group. Recently, I've been taking improv classes.
I must state for the record that I officially suck at all forms of improvisation. People who know me know that I'm not spontaneous or silly. I plan everything I can, if not on paper than in my head. I am quiet, shy, and painfully slow. To me, it seems as though improv would be fear's secret lair, where he locks his victims up to die.
What I didn't realize, was that my relationship with fear had been building throughout my entire life. When I was a child and blissfully unaware of how fragile and mediocre I was, I enjoyed playing creative games. I didn't second guess every thought, I wasn't afraid to be different, and I certainly didn't think anyone was judging me. Overtime, fear squeezed his way into my life and changed the way I did everything.
Going to improv now is like stepping into a time machine that takes me back into my childhood, when I played House and watched "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". In that hour and a half block of time, I get to take on behaviours that are strangely foreign but somehow familiar, like a best friend I haven't seen in years. I get to be a kid again, and I love it.
The first thing I do after improv is go for a walk to unwind and process the night. Usually, I end up texting my pal Willis. Here are some of the Monday night improv-fueled texts I've sent thus far:
"man. Had improv again tonight. So fuckin fun. I know your busy but just putting the offer out there youre welcome to come."
"I just cant say enough about it. I cant imagine ever getting bored of this. Truly love it. Maybe one day ill be good."
"ive been looking for something to fall in love with and I found him. He is improv. I am consumed man. It is going very well"
"Theres just so much energy in the room because everyone's engaged and out of their comfort zone. People are super nice."
"Improv is eternal. It will always be in style."
Even though I love improv, the feeling wears off after a few days and I forget how much I enjoy it. Then the fear creeps up, and I start dreading the next class because anything could happen and that's terrifying. The anxiety peaks on Monday night as I'm driving down the mountain to go to class. I have a noise I make to myself when I'm nervous, like a prolonged groan. I twist my hands together and repeat a manta, "This will be fun". The moment I'm on stage, I'm committed; I have no choice but to relax and leave the hesitation at the door.
When we gather in a circle on stage I can feel the energy in the room. Everyone is excited. Everyone is paying attention. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen. I find that in this world, where technology is everywhere and everyone is stuck in a personal bubble, it is rare to find yourself in a situation where you are forced to work with a team and be attentive and energetic. It is also rare when a group of adult strangers meet up to play games and act silly.
One of the most exciting aspects of improv is that you never know who is going to show up. I've been to three classes and there's been at least one new person every week. People who go to improv are willing to make an effort, they're interesting. Everyone is walking the same highwire, helping each other to make it to the other side and holding a net when they fall. That bonds you. I could see myself being friends with any of the people in my improv class. I already know everyone's names.
Not everyone is a beginner, though. One of the teachers likes to be a student when he's not teaching class, so I've gotten to do a few scenes with him. When else are going to get the opportunity to interact with a trained performer? You never know if the next student is going to be an improv star. Maybe they'll go on to work for Conan.
Ontop of it all, I'm becoming more comfortable with this group of students, which makes the time leading up to improv less anxiety-ridden. People are beginning to associate me with Conan. I've gone to three improv classes so far, and I've managed to mention Conan at least once in every class. At the last class, other people started mentioning him. (...Phase two is complete.)
Listening to: Stove
Reading: Russel Peters' memoir
Watching: Saturday Night Live
Playing: improv games
Eating: turkey sandwich
Drinking: mint chocolate tea