On Stage and Afraid This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By , Palm Coast, FL
Dread. The sensation of every blood cell in my body exploding all at once. I am in a box. One of the big plastic tubs labeled “Winter Clothes” hidden in your garage. It is dark and I can't see my hands in front of me. I press on the lid with all my might, but it won't budge. I try to scream, but nothing comes out. No one can hear me. No one can save me. My heart pounds in my ears as I kick and slam on the walls of my plastic coffin, trapped under water and running out of air. Just let it end. Let it be quick.

Three years ago I was diagnosed with a panic disorder after experiencing a particularly bad attack before a rehearsal. I have especially struggled with this problem because of my involvement in the performing arts. As a dancer, actress, and cellist I am forced to be in front of large groups of people, in confined spaces, and in various other stressful situations that can trigger an attack. But what sets me off the most is feeling out of control.

“You're up next.” The scrawny stagehand doesn't even look up as he gestures toward the door to the stage. I can feel my heart pounding in my ears as I wait in the dark for my cue. Tonight is my first performance as a cellist. It's only the dress rehearsal, but I'm nervous regardless. I've played for an audience before, but this is the first time as a soloist.

This occasion is different; I can feel it in my bones and in the way my hands are sticky and my legs feel weak. I close my eyes and count to ten. Count my breaths. Inhale, one. Exhale, two. Inhale …

Suddenly a hand clasps my shoulder, breaking my concentration. I jump, a little “eep” escaping my lips. “We're moving you to the next opening,” the stagehand says.

“What?”

“We're moving your solo back. Someone else is going before you.”

Normally, this wouldn't bother me, but something keeps picking at me as I listen to the hypnotizing notes of the prelude from Bach's “Cello Suite No. 1” bellow from the stage. My mind is racing. This isn't what it's supposed to be. This isn't good.

I clasp the silver Comedy and Tragedy necklace that lies on my collarbone, my lucky charm. I rub it between my finger and my thumb and then press them together so hard I can see the indents in my skin. My entire body is shaking – an earthquake inside me. I need to sit down. So I do. I lean my back against the wall and slide down until I'm seated with my knees drawn up to my chest. Suddenly my senses are heightened and I can hear the stagehand's breathing and the sound of the other performer keeping the beat with her foot. My hands are being stabbed all over by a myriad of little, invisible needles. The ghost is sitting on my chest, its weight crushing my lungs.

“You're up.” The stagehand doesn't even realize the state I'm in. I stand and walk to center stage, where my cello lies next to my seat. A single spotlight. The house is empty except for my teacher, Jacob. He makes eye contact with me and smiles. That's when it happens. I can feel my legs buckle, and the edges of my vision go blurry. The black is leaking in. I'm drowning in it.

I wake up on my back. My head is aching and there is an unrelenting ringing in my ears. Jacob and two others are standing over me. Sitting up a little too fast, I feel the world spin.

“Are you okay?” Jacob hands me a cup of water. I nod. My hands are still tingling. Someone is on the phone with my mother; I can hear them trying to calm her down.

Before I realize what is happening, Jacob is leading me off the stage. He sits me down and crouches in front of me. He speaks in a hushed tone that reminds me of my father when he tucked me into bed when I was sick as a child.

My cello is still on stage. I spilled water on the floor and no one is cleaning it up. I hope no one slips in it.

“You don't have to, but do you still want to perform tonight?” he asks.

Of course I do.

“Can I?” I ask. I feel like a little kid asking to watch fifteen more minutes of TV. Jacob smiles and makes the call to my mother.

I have yet to let my anxiety prevent me from doing what I enjoy, although at times it can make situations seem unbearable. That night I played my heart out. I think it was my best performance to this day.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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