I know this very smart woman named Carol. Carol is not her real name. I’m pretty sure you don’t know her, so don’t worry about what her real name is. But imagine that it’s Carol. Carol’s intelligence is amplified in my mind, perhaps arbitrarily, because she has a very old dog. The dog’s name is George.
George is not the dog’s real name.
George’s sagacity and old age is amplified in my mind, perhaps arbitrarily, because he farts constantly. Like, all the freaking time. Because of George’s unself-conscious farting, he seems older and wiser. Consequently, Carol seems older and wiser as well. Which is why the following sentences, when she said them to me, seemed like the smartest thing in the world: “Anxiety is a floating cloud. It attaches itself quickly, completely and indiscriminately to any small trifle it can find. Whatever question or piece of doubt you have hiding in you, however small. It clings to that and it grows and grows until you can’t even recognize it anymore. Until it just seems like who you are. But that’s the trick because then who you are is a lie. Because then who you are is just a floating cloud of anxiety. Nobody is just a floating cloud of anxiety.”
She told me this. And George farted. Carol and I laughed. That’s the ultimate blessing—to have something to break the tension of a life-altering moment and turn it into something complete, lasting, and light-hearted.
For my first two years at Vassar, I struggled with severe anxiety. When it was at its worst, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t pay attention in class. I had to leave class, actually, a few times to go hyperventilate in the bathroom. I didn’t go out that much. I didn’t try things. Didn’t really try to meet people. Mostly, I bummed around my floor in Jewett. I was scared. I was afraid of venturing out of my immediate zone of comfort. It seems like a miracle to me that I even knew what The Limit was, and that I got in. I’m still surprised I got into Vassar College Vassar Improv. I still almost faint before every show. I’m shocked I’ve never thrown up during a show or that no one has seen my knees shaking. I leave every performance thinking about how much I suck. You can tell me the opposite is true but I’ll warn you, I won’t hear you. I won’t listen. I’ll nod or whatever. But deep down, I will not believe you.
Because that’s how anxiety works. It is a voice inside your head that isn’t yours that is telling you fake things so confidently and loudly you can’t hear anyone else, including yourself.
For me, at least. I can’t and shouldn’t pretend to know other people’s experiences with it, but this is the way it’s affected me.
There were a lot of things I didn’t do during those first two years because I was scared. I’d have a hard time telling you now what exactly I was scared of. Rejection? Death? I honestly don’t know because it doesn’t really make sense.
I went to therapy for a long time. I made that voice go away and I exchanged it for a voice that sounded like mine, which told me I was allowed to do things and meet people and…climb…stuff? I didn’t have a third thing. But the thing is, it took me until my senior year. And by that time, it was too late to try a lot of the things I think I would have liked. By that time, I had to play catch-up to try a lot of those things. I packed a lot into a year and it was amazing. I can only imagine what I would have done with four.
So this is what I want you to take away from my ~retrospective~. Never let your brain stop you from doing something you want to do. Say you want to play the digeridoo professionally. You feel pulled towards the digeridoo. But. The digeridoo is an odd instrument. People will probably laugh at you. People will probably doubt you and your concerts will probably be poorly attended. These are things that make you shrink back from the digeridoo and think, “No, that isn’t me. I can’t play the digeridoo. I’m not talented enough to play the digeridoo. I don’t have the lung capacity to play the digeridoo. It is easier to just sit here and watch other people play the digeridoo on YouTube.”
This is stupid. It is also foolish.
You felt pulled to try the digeridoo and, because of anxiety and because of doubt, you convinced yourself not to try it. You shrank back and allowed your mind to lie to you. And no one, including you, will now know how freaking good at the digeridoo you are. Now, there will be no videos of you playing digeridoo on Youtube.
And isn’t that sad?
So my message is: Try. Try everything. Try doing nothing. Try, try, try. Go out of your way to find things to try. Try out people. Try food. Try new TV shows and books you’ve never heard of. Go to parties you think you might hate. Try things you know you’ll hate. Try out for comedy groups. Try out for student theater. Try out for a capella. Try, try, try. And never let any part of you, floating or otherwise, tell you not to. Because if you do, you will be lying to yourself. You will be doing the opposite of what you are here to do, which is to try things. You will not be who you really are because who you will be is a floating cloud and that is stupid and also foolish and also a lie.
I regret not trying more. And the best I can do now is tell you to do the opposite. Try for all four years, not just the one like I did. Try, try, try.
If I farted right now, would you listen to me?