Psychology or Chemistry? Hacking stage fright....
July 16, 2017 6:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm an actor who sometimes forgets my lines. I'm trying to approach things from a kind of biohacking standpoint rather than, say, CBT...because that's just where I'm at these days. Is there a way to better understand this problem and fix it?

Some background:

I'll preface this by saying that I have NO doubts that there is definitely an emotional/psychological element to this problem. When I was a kid, I was bullied in middle school and I had several embarrassing moments where I was called on to preform or read something in school.
Nothing outrageous by most peoples standards though. I would classify them as pretty garden variety adolescent/childhood upsets. But somehow each and every one is seared into my memory and made huge inroads into my brain. More on this later. I'd always wanted to be an actor but all the way up to by early/mid twenties, I couldn't overcome my anxieties. But then a crazy thing happened: I had always had chronic health issues but a formal diagnosis eluded me. But finally I found a doctor I could work with and she diagnosed me with Lyme disease and treated me with IV antibiotics twice a day for six months. She also identified a lot of co-morbid issues that seemed to explain my lifelong state of poor health, both physically and emotionally. After six months in the clinic, my fear went away. Completely. Along with all of my visible health issues. For two or three years, I auditioned for things, gave strong performances and felt like I belonged to the tribe. It was great.Then my health started to dip and surprise, surprise, the anxiety came back. Since then my physical and mental health has continued to deteriorate and it's been a problem ever since.

When I'm onstage, I get a very specific kind of stage fright that I thought was rooted in a deep mistrust of self....but now I'm beginning think that that's a bunch on hooey and it's just about chemical imbalances.

I forget my lines. Not all of them or even lots of them. But it's bad enough to scare me and sometimes my fellow actors. Before a show I don't get giddy nervous, butterflies, any of the fun stuff. Instead I am absolutely terrified. My chest turns into a white hot ball of barbed wire.
I can rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. I great memory IRL. I can know the lines like the back of the hand. But inevitably, at some point in the show it's like a trap door opens under my brain and I just....lose....whatever's in there. Which wasn't much to begin with ;)

It's scary to feel so out of control.

Why does this happen to me? That's what I want to know. Is it just a question of lacking mental toughness? I can tell you, from a psychiatric standpoint, that I've tried everything. And I've also tried a lot of woo woo stuff too.
Anti anxiety meds? Check. Acting coach and relaxation exercises? Check. Hypnosis? Check. Binaural beats, Rescue Remedy, deep breathing, therapy, neurofeedback, eating before a show, not eating before a show, exercising beforehand, EFT tapping, cutting out caffeine, lighting candles, praying, memorizing obsessively, being very relaxed and laissez-faire with the memorizing, etc.

It makes no difference. I always get breakthrough anxiety and end up dropping or scrambling lines.
If I get through a show word perfect, it's just a happy accident.

The idea of exposure therapy is big joke because the more trouble I have with a show, the worse things get and the more fearful I feel.

I never just get to relax and ACT because I spend all my time in this exhausting state of hypervigilance and anticipation. But I have to be fair to myself. I'm doing a show right now (I have one of the smallest parts) and I am doing a good job. It's my first show in years. We're doing Shakespeare outdoors to audiences of around 450 people a night.

I've decided to adopt more of a locus of control mentality. I now accept that this happens to me, that for whatever reason, I cannot seem to control it like other actors can but what I CAN control is how I *react* to it. I've decided to
JUST KEEP GOING, no matter what. I have also done a deep dive with my health and self care (I've gone gluten free, working hard on on eradicating inflammation, healing my gut dysbiosis, etc) and the results are pretty good. It's still happening but it doesn't stop me. I keep going, I paraphrase, I find my way back to the other actor any way I can. And you know what? If you stay cool, the audience really can't tell. The trick is to keep calm and carry on.

But sometimes there's a reversal. Last Sunday I had NO anxiety and was word perfect. I was able to relax and focus on my performance instead of just existing in fight/flight. It was bliss. That particular day, I was doing an experiment and had been supplementing with zinc sulfate and bioavailable B6 (in the form of sunflower seeds). I had been reading about a condition called pyroluria and I thought I had FINALLY figured it out. But yesterday, I was drinking my zinc spiked water and although the majority of the show was strong, I garbled an important few lines and was stressed the whole show. I have so many legitimate medical issues and I'm starting to wonder if bizarrely, this is one as well.
Or rather stems from one. I feel like I've totally exhausted the psych model and it just doesn't make sense to me any more. I like the people in this show. Everyone is supportive and it's also a tiny, low pressure part. I'm happy. It STILL happens. I've watched everyone else in the cast go from strength to strength, their characterizations and confidence deepening. That's what is supposed to happen with practice and repetition right?

But my results are consistently inconsistent and I don't seem to build on my successes. It's like my brain doesn't register them and I'm back to square one the next day.

I've worked really really hard on this issue. Now I think I need to work smart. How do I undo this Gordian knot that has taken up residence in my brain? Could this just be case of imbalanced neurotransmitters? Too much glutamate and not enough GABA? Some vitamin/mineral deficiencies? Residual Lyme? I did test positive for Epstein Barr recently....

P.S- I know there are some of you thinking that constitutionally I may just not be cut out for this and that might be the simple answer. But before I give up, I just want to make sure I've exhausted every avenue. EMDR? Zen archery? Lobotomy? I'm open to suggestions...

And also, when I'm not sh*tting myself with fear, I'm actually pretty good ;)

P.S.S- I am sorry this is so long. Really. I suck at short posts. Will work on this.

P.S.S.S- If you're a total glutton for punishment and want to delve further into this subject matter, here is a neat Malcolm Gladwell article on panicking vs choking. According to Gladwell's definitions, I would be choker. Doesn't seem to supply too many answers for the latter though.
posted by ChickenBear to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
On the biohacking front: Do the anxiolytic meds you've tried include beta blockers?
posted by supercres at 6:24 AM on July 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

You say that in the past after being successfully treated for chronic health issues, you had strong performances, until some more recent dips in your health. Have you been back to the doctor for a thorough check-up?
posted by bunderful at 7:32 AM on July 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I came in to say beta blockers. My drug of choice is propranelol.
posted by janey47 at 10:03 AM on July 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

But sometimes there's a reversal. Last Sunday I had NO anxiety and was word perfect. I was able to relax and focus on my performance instead of just existing in fight/flight. It was bliss. That particular day, I was doing an experiment and had been supplementing with zinc sulfate and bioavailable B6 (in the form of sunflower seeds

Here, you are ceding your internal locus of control. You had a great night, and you're crediting it to external things. What would happen if you gave yourself credit for good as well as bad performances? That's generally how our brains start to learn what works and how we gain confidence in ourselves.
posted by lazuli at 1:01 PM on July 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

alexander technique
posted by j_curiouser at 12:25 AM on July 17, 2017

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