Winter Intensive and song documentary 2017
Over the course of three days participating in the Winter Recovery Intensive, I made more positive changes then I have all month. When you are in the recovery, you seem to become very mindful of your current situation whatever it may be. Personally, I struggle with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. The anxiety has gained the strength to prevent me from attending high school along with occasional social events. Anxiety has altered my life drastically, brought me to rock bottom, and taken power over the majority of my days these past two years. Attending the recovery intensive is like going on a mental vacation where nobody labels me by my anxiety disorder. Instead, I was surrounded by amazing loving friends that have problems just like I do. These experiences (this was my second recovery event) give me the opportunity to refuel and face the reality of my anxiety ridden day-to-day life. After each, I return to the real world ten times stronger and more confident in myself.
Every activity that occurs during these few days has had a different effect on me. Some are quite bizarre yet beautiful and deep. You will discover the feeling of another stranger’s hand, or the way they dance and howl before you get to know their name or struggle. Introductions always come after our first training or leap from a 30 foot high board atop an aerial trapeze, talk about first impressions! Friday night we trained by lantern light followed by writing “Goodbye Letters.” It never ceases to amaze me how a dozen people, all with messy lives and loads of luggage, have the ability to create the most calming and therapeutic environment for one another. We had the whole building to ourselves, only lit by a total of four lanterns. I was so worry free I lost the concept of time. My only focus was breathing to the music and matching my body movements to everybody else’s. It sounds strange but it’s the best therapy I’ve had in my whole life in comparison to sitting on a couch with my muscles tense and ready to bolt out of the room at any second. After the training, we gathered again in the lantern lit space to put some words into writing.
The purpose of my “Goodbye Letter” was to come to terms with the fact that my anxiety and I aren’t ready to part ways yet and that’s okay. Of course I was jealous hearing other strong people actually say goodbye to an issue of theirs. I wanted to be able to do the same but it’s nearly impossible to ditch the main attraction of this show called my life. So I made a compromise with myself. I agreed to let my anxiety float by my side as I work to get better, but it is not allowed to take control anymore. From now on I get to decide my happiness and what I get to do on a day-to-day basis. And for once I got to share that with everybody else in the room without trying to hide it or pretend like I’m perfect. I felt supported and I knew that I didn’t have to cover it with lies because this was a family and a safe space with no judgment. Nobody was going to ask me one hundred questions I can’t answer or laugh at me because I got teary-eyed. I felt good in my own skin, and that’s something I haven’t felt in a while.
My big breakthrough happened when the next day arrived. One of the workshop leaders was Zach Arfa. I first met Zach at the Hilltown Youth Theatre Summer Workshop. He was our music director. We also trained together twice a day in a
weeklong pre-workshop Recovery Intensive. Zach is a warm, loving guy with a crazy head of hair. This winter, he was experimenting with something brand new he was learning about in college. Another summer workshop ensemble member, Franklin Speck, was assisting him. Franklin is a musical genius who, like me, has a little bit of an anxiety situation. During the summer spectacle the two were an unexpected sanctuary for me. We became close friends, which pretty much describe my feelings for all seventy performers who participated in the program. After a very brief explanation of the activity, within seconds our director Jonathan Diamond volunteered me. I panicked. I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared to be the guinea pig for this project. But I took a deep breath and agreed to go along with it. The project we were all working on is called documentary songwriting. The first step is to write a few lines that represent my take on my anxiety. After multiple conversations and stealing some words from my “Goodbye Letter,” Zach helped me capture five or six lines that offered a small glimpse of my story. I felt liberated when I was told to scream the lyrics of my song at the top of my lungs while standing proudly on a tall wooden spool. We followed that with a few singing exercises together and I still felt good. Then we moved onto the next step, which was singing it. Given no tune or rhythm to work with, Zach looked at me and told me to just sing the lyrics on the page. With that one look my heart dropped into my stomach and my hands nearly dropped the laptop in my hands, which I, suddenly, lacked the strength to hold. I knew this moment was coming but once I was forced to face it I wanted to run through the doors and never come back. My anxiety skyrocketed. I am not a singer. In fact, singing is one of my biggest fears. I was sure I’d embarrass myself. I was totally frozen and felt vulnerable as ever. So I did the one thing I knew how to, cry. And not, as another anxiety plagued writer once described, “a genteel twin trickle, but a great heaving, wracking burst, zero to fire hose.” I was experiencing a full-blown panic attack. This shocked both my caregivers. But something was different this time. My body didn’t go into fight or flight mode. And while I thought about it, I didn’t try to run for the hills. I felt safe. Franklin reassured me with many comforting words while Zach just held me. I finally picked myself up and remained stable enough to attempt singing. Gripping my friends for dear life, I got the courage to softly sing the lyrics while only experiencing a slight miniature breakdown between each line. The second time through I only broke down twice, and the third time I made it all the way through without a single tear. That was my biggest accomplishment in six months. It was an emotional rollercoaster. But I don’t regret a second of it.
I later took part in all the other fun and eventful activities we did throughout the day. Before we all leave, the group gathers in an appreciation circle. This is where you are given the chance to say something that you were thankful for. Zach, Franklin and Recovery Theatre co-founder Alyssa all appreciated me for being so brave and pushing myself to achieve my goal even though it was difficult. I’ve never felt so happy after having a panic attack. The typical reaction would be for me to feel ashamed or disappointed about what transpired after exposing my weakness to others and ending up in tears. But this time my story ends differently: I did not run or surrender to the anxiety; I fought. And if I can win the battle just once, that’s a huge step in the right direction.