Hills and Valleys: An Accidental Hiatus

I accidentally took a month off from performing, rehearsing, auditioning, writing, and trying to get involved.  I still perform at work, of course (If you remember, I work at the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum. Have you visited me yet?), but I haven’t been actively trying to get out into the world for a few weeks. I’m not really sure why that happened, but I’m pretty sure I needed it.

I would like to preface this entry with a few things, just so we’re all on the same page:

  • I have a mild case of what I think might be clinical depression. I was diagnosed with it as a child, but then nothing came of it, so I generally refer to it as “undiagnosed,” and therefore I don’t bring it up a lot. No one likes to hear someone ramble about an illness they may or may not have, right?
  • I take responsibility for my thoughts, emotions, and actions, though I don’t claim to have any control of the former two.
  • I don’t blame any of the projects I was working on, nor any of the people I was working with, for this accidental vacation. It seems to have been like something out of a Steinbeck novel. Something That Happened.

I guess the easiest way to describe it is to say that I was tired. That’s certainly one of the factors. When I was performing, I was busy all day, every day, with very little time to rest. As anyone in performance, or really any kind of endeavor that requires a go-getter attitude, will tell you, that’s just the way it is and will always be. I know that, and I’m ok with that, and I’ve always known that that is what my life would entail forever and ever, amen. But sometimes, the mind is willing but the body is squishy and weak. I needed some time where I could mentally decompress, spend time with my friends and family, and generally just get enough sleep and make my own food. When I was multitasking, I just didn’t have the wherewithal.

Another factor is the rejection. Again, anyone will tell you that theater is 98% rejection and you have to be ready for it. I like to think that by now I have a Master’s degree in rejection. It’s a pretty solid part of my life, and anyone who knows me well knows that when I fall down, I get back up again. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes you get rejected 6 times in one day. Sometimes you get rejected for a sure thing while you’re in the middle of an argument with your boyfriend. Sometimes you sign up for Boston Casting and get 50 background work notifications and don’t book a single one of them. Sometimes all your friends are headlining and you still haven’t actually played a character with a name and a partner scene. Sometimes everyone you admire tells you that you should have chosen tech instead. Sometimes, all that rejection gets to be too much of a mental burden and it actually interferes with your ability to function as a human being.

That last part isn’t an exaggeration, though it does sound a bit hyperbolic. I would apologize for that, except that it’s true. I have been doing a bit of self-observation and I have identified two different kinds of energy I exist in. Other people might call them “mania” and “depression” but I don’t actually understand what those two words mean in that context. I refer to them as “hills” and “valleys.”

A hill is when I wake up feeling good, not as sore as usual, mentally prepared to take on my day. For me, that usually manifests itself in the desire to work on a project, like practicing guitar/finally tackling the project of learning how to edit video so I can record myself playing through the justinguitar.com Beginner Songbook (which can be found here, if you’re interested in watching), working on my patchwork cloak project, going out and doing errands, and all that stuff. I just generally feel pretty good about myself and the world I live in, and I just want to go out there and get a piece of it.

But then there are valleys. A valley is when I feel so sore that moving often feels extraordinarily difficult and I wake up feeling like I can’t possibly get through this day. Valleys are difficult to explain. It depends on the severity, I suppose, but they all usually have the same core elements in common: I feel like no one likes me or wants me around. I don’t particularly want to do anything, and I am often heard saying “sure, whatever,” “if you like,” “whatever you want,” “I don’t care,” and other noncommittal platitudes. I either lose my appetite altogether, or I develop an appetite only for sweets, and therefore usually supplement the valley with a further sugar crash. I lose interest in habit-forming, so I can’t convince myself to practice a skill, exercise, do my chores, do my hair or makeup, etc. I sometimes consider risky behavior, which may or may not include disappearing mysteriously, picking fights with loved ones, and, on a particularly drastic low, suicide.

Valleys are not pretty, is the point I’m getting at here. I don’t know why, but they often last much longer than hills. A hill might last a day, two if I’m lucky, and a valley might follow and last for a week. Patrick, my boyfriend, says that my hills have been getting longer, but I don’t believe him. I started measuring them and it turns out I was right. Not that I want to be right about this particular thing. After my last performance, which was on May 10th, I decided to take just a short break. Just long enough to clear my head and get some rest. I could feel myself entering a valley and I wanted to give myself some space to deal with it. It ended up taking a whole month. That’s the longest one to date. I hope it’s the longest I’ll ever have.

But there is also one other reason, which I have been hesitating to say. I don’t think I could finish this entry in good conscience without it. I don’t think I’m becoming any more professional, no matter how hard I try. For the last few shows I have been working on, I had a tardiness problem. In my book, wasting other people’s time is one of the worst sins a person can commit. I’ve always had a tardiness/absence problem, ever since I was a little kid in school. I’ve spent my whole life working on it and I’ve got it, for the most part, under control. But it’s been drilled into the back of my head that I’m always late, it’s my default setting, and if I’m late, even once, I’ve failed. If you look at it objectively, though (and I’m a weirdo who has actually charted it out), I’m only late an average of once per rehearsal period. In other words, once per 6 weeks, give or take. Ideally, I wouldn’t be late at all ever, and in fact would show up 10 minutes early. As my old Master Sergeant used to say:

“If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re early, you’re on time.”

The real meat of the matter, I suppose, is feeling like I don’t deserve to work if I can’t be a professional. During the last two shows I performed in (both belly dance shows), I was having a hell of a time getting to where I needed to be, both literally and figuratively. I know this doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things, but I really did try my hardest to get to everything I was scheduled to do, but I made the mistake of overscheduling myself and being a human. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to work with some outspoken people who would tell me directly when my action were affecting them, and I have had some incredible discussion with other working performers about professionalism and what it means, so I have definitely come away from the experience with something. I think the most important thing I learned is that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you’re honest about them, and work to make sure it’s the exception and not the rule. Letting go of my mistakes is not really how I’m hard-wired, which means I’m going to have to work extra hard on that one.

You can see why maybe I had some reservations toward publishing this on my professional website. I think you’ll find as you get to know me, though, that I am nothing if not an open book. And since I feel not only comfortable but actually better being open, honest, and public about my situation, I thought it only fitting to explain to my fans and friends exactly where I have been all this time.

As for what I’m up to now, I got picked up to do some rehearsal assistance for Unreliable Narrator‘s next show, Human Contact. They are a great group. I’ve worked with them in the past and I’m stoked to have been asked to work with them again. After that, I have a few auditions lined up, so hopefully something will come of them, I’m looking into going back to a few classes, and I’ve finally got started working on my play library, which is something I’ve been dying to get started for years now. I’ve also got a very big, very special show in the works, but that’s for another entry…

Thanks for listening. I hope you’re day is going well.

Vi ringrazio dal profondo dal cuore,

JW