With healthy tension, I opened the classroom door. Bang! I saw a bunch of noisy people in a small room. 28 Eyes looking at me. Anxiety hits me!
Within a fraction of a second I became stressed out. I quickly gazed down, and made myself smaller. Uncomfortable as a schoolboy I wriggled with my briefcase: unobtrusively I tried to get my stuff out while sweat was pouring from my back. I wanted to be invisible. Rather run away. But there I was, being a little loser.
“Take control!” I thought. “Act, now! Not privy but firm, with strength “, it shouted through my head. “Oh, this will go wrong,” said the critic, “you can’t do it.” At this point I really started to panic. “Did you not learn anything from all those years of therapy?” I wondered. “It’s alright’’ said the merciful, “it will be fine.” I took a deep breath.
And then it happened: I made a decision. I straightened my back, straightened my head and looked around the classroom. I consciously took possession of the space. I took the time to watch everyone. With eye contact I said ‘good evening, I’m the teacher’. Super scary, but it felt good too. I felt proud and with this, my confidence strengthened. ‘’I always find it a bit scary, the first lesson’’ I stated. People nodded confirming with understanding. The ice broke and I got into my role. In my thoughts, I thanked my drama therapist.
Plagued by fear
That used to be different: I used to be plagued by fear. I used to run away and crawl under a rock. It took a lot of time before I dared to try again. I have had a lot of therapy, including cognitive therapy. That was a good way to become aware of the distorted way I apparently looked at the world, to others and to myself. My social fear came from such a wrong way of thinking. The fear, in turn, reinforced this distorted way. Thus, I was stuck in this vicious circle. Cognitive therapy definitely reduced my extreme fears, but it all remained, well, very cognitive, too rational. And I was already living too much in my head. I was like a head on two feet that had an anxious body hanging down.
Introduction to drama therapy
So, I came to drama therapy. What a difference it was. There was a lot of attention to the physical aspect of my social anxiety. Here I learned to be in concrete existence, to be socially present with all my being: soul and body – to state it a bit zen. But drama therapy was not vague at all: it was super concrete instead. Social situations were elaborated and practised. At first I thought that it would be oh so dramatic and theatrical. Yes, sometimes there were a lot of tears, hard words, intense emotions. Of course, the events discussed were real painful events, from my own experiences and the group’s own experiences.
But we also did games often. Yes games! As children do in the playground. Super scary if you have a social phobia. Fooling around, making strange sounds, or chair dancing, playing hints, and more socially visible activities – exposure! My traumas were triggered, but those games often led to hilarious moments too. So, I learned to recognize the playful child in my mind and let it go free. Something I have never learned to make room for in my life.
Drama therapy was already very confrontational, socially visible and emotional. But above all, it was very instructive and helpful to me. I learned to use my body, to get used to live in my body. Practice time and again with presence, visibility and experience what you feel about a situation, how your body responds, was very helpful and healing. After two years I personally changed, both in my thinking and in my body. My body and mind are again one – to say it in a wishy washy way.
“Fantastic!” You would say. Pfff, unfortunately no. It is not so sunny all the time. Fear will always be a part of my life. That remains a bitter pill to swallow. However, as soon as I experience panic feelings in social situations, I can give it a place in my body. I can trust that I can stand and that I will remain. And if I accidentally stumble, fall into fear and tremble, I’ll straighten my back, lift my head, look straight into the room around me and breathe deeply. I dare to come and enter rooms again.