Diary: Asthma, Acting, and Anxiety

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I am hoping to write my way into being able to breathe again. For these last few nights my asthma has been so bad, that, come evening, only by lying stretched out on the floor on my side, can I breathe with enough ease not to send myself into a panic.

Needless to say, this posture is rather limiting as to the kind of activities it permits; I can easily fall asleep, or visualize worlds sprouting out of the carpet; I can drink, and feel my hyper-active thoughts blur into a softness – a sort of lounge of comfortable discomfort, where all the visitants are too intoxicated to realize they are reclining languidly on devices of torture, reading the complete works of Oscar Wilde with their heads impaled on spikes.

Then my emotions and fancies flow freer because they are not attached to PANIC’s maniacal reigns. I reflect on all the sensations I want to experience –all the things I want to pursue, and be pursued by – not to look on the escarpments of pine forests on the side of the Blorenge as piddling flicks from God’s artistic wrist, but as something I can actively encounter and be soothed by.

But, at the moment, soothing things are hard to come by. Locked into an agoraphobic paralysis, one of the few places I feel actively safe is upon my bedroom floor. Whenever I feel PANIC push her needling, catecholaminic fingers into me, I comfort myself by thinking – “So long as I can get home, I’ll be fine – so long as I can lie down on my floor, without worrying about maintaining my composure for the sake of professionalism, all will be well”

To a man accustomed to being fearless, this has all been very debilitating. The idea of going anywhere unaccompanied distresses me, and yet, I long to be able to wander freely again with equal depth.

These panic attacks began three week’s ago – the week before I was due to go onstage in ‘Hello Dolly.’ I ended up being incapacitated for a whole rehearsal, and a friend had to comfort me as I was tazered by the universe, convulsing and writhing on the floor, before explosively sobbing from sheer nervous exhaustion.

Come the week of the show, performing was the last thing I felt like doing. My confidence was completely undermined – I was terrified that I would stop breathing, or collapse from panic on the stage, and the whole show would have to be cancelled due to my debility. Almost every night, prior to my actual appearance on stage, I felt certain I wouldn’t be able to go on, and that I would have to live forever with the humiliation of having ruined a show everyone had put so much effort into.

I was so desperate, that I tried to make a deal with my personal spirits, praying fervently to whatever gods or goddesses would listen: “Please – I don’t care what you do to me once the show is over – ruin me – destroy me if you like – kill me even – but please let me get through the show – please let me do a good performance, so I don’t let anybody down.”

This is not the first time I have uttered such a prayer. Three years ago, cast to play Fagin in Oliver!, I developed asthma. I was so terrified at feeling my ability to breathe had been wrested from me, that I was every day convinced I was going to die. And likewise, I prayed “I don’t care if I die – just let me live until after the show, and I will die a happy man.”

It’s amazing to think just how important these shows are to me; that I would be willing to die for them – that they are milestones of danger in the tapestry of my mortality – when to all others they are just transient pieces of entertainment.

But to me, they are more than just pieces of entertainment: they represent my strength and endurance – my willingness to sacrifice myself totally for the good of the world, even if it be but a trifling thing. Many bombs of happiness have been detonated by things that to others would seem but trifles – the lingering of a kiss – the touch of a hand when one needs it most.

And in the hope that I will be able to do many more such shows, I pray that I will be able to go on breathing. And for those who enjoy said shows as well, I hope you will pray for me too!

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