This post is Part I of a two-part series on anxiety and depression, which came about as a result of requests for more about my story from listeners of a recent podcast where I described my experiences, and from my audience on Instagram, who requested more details.
When I was four years old, my parents sent me to summer day camp. I loved spending the day messing with finger paints, playing volleyball, singing campfire songs, or simply running around outside–all activities that I found exhilarating as a pre-kindergartner.
About halfway through the season, the counselors planned the Canada Day event (our “July 4th,” for those of you in the US): the idea was to hold a huge pageant with songs and dance numbers, with one keynote speaker chosen to kick off the festivities by marching across the huge stage at the front of the gymnasium, waving the Canadian flag as she regaled the audience with facts and ideas about the importance of patriotism.
That child was me.
Elated to be chosen and determined to do my best and make my favorite counselor, Kathy, proud, I practiced every day for the three weeks leading up to the event on July 1st. I memorized my lines and knew them perfectly. I could hoist the flag upright smoothly and gracefully, holding it aloft so it undulated delicately as I crossed the dais.
I left nothing to chance; I was ready.
On the big day, we prepared ourselves backstage. Five minutes before my debut, Kathy strode toward me with the flag under her arm, smiling broadly as she anticipated my exemplary performance. She proffered the flag pole and, as she pushed it toward me, I blurted out, “I can’t do it.“
I could feel the hot flush of blood first filling, then leaving, my cheeks. I thought I might pass out.
Kathy was puzzled. She knew I’d perfected the performance in rehearsals. She knew the audience would love me.
Before she could ask what was wrong, I continued, “I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t DO IT,” my hands trembling, my face ghostly pallid.
With just a few seconds to spare, Kathy brandished the flag above her own head and marched onto the stage herself.
“I’m afraid our speaker has come down with a sudden case of larygitis,” she said, “So I’ll be delivering our opening speech today.”
I was not only devastated; I was humiliated.
And so began my lifelong affliction with high anxiety and depression, which persisted for almost 5 decades.