Cowan Palace: Hi, I Have Anxiety

This week Ashley attempts to wrestle the bear that is anxiety.

Remember that alphabet letter word name association game? The one your summer camp counselors/RAs made you play? You know, you have to say your name and something you’d bring to a picnic starting with the letter of your name? Like I’d say, “Hi, my name is Ashley and I’m bringing “apples” to the picnic!” Well, secretly I’d think, “Hi, my name is Ashley and I’m bringing anxiety to the picnic and I’m worried we won’t have enough food or blankets and that people will hate it… but I’m also glad you guys are bringing some snacks.”

See, I’ve been battling anxiety in its many shapes and sizes my whole life. Since before I even knew what the word meant. And at times it has been difficult to manage. The familiar, heavy pit in my stomach, the racing heart, and the restless nights have become a daily reality. I’ve learned to hide it most of the time and often my only tell is the unfortunate red hives that make themselves at home on my chest when I’m feeling that good ole anxious feeling. I’ve stayed away from medicating myself because my tolerance for things seems to ride both extremes (you should see what one Tylenol PM can do to me and what heavy prescription muscle relaxers can not do to me!) so I’ve had to try and come up with creative solutions to keep those anxiety waves at bay.

Acting proved to be a most effective tool. Getting the chance to escape and focus on the one thing that I was most passionate about helped my balance. When I hated my job or something in my personal life and it was causing me a lot of useless stress, I depended on whatever show I was involved in at the time to be the light at the end of my dark tunnel. Unfortunately, due to other life stuff, I haven’t really been able to use that technique in almost two years. And, there were certainly times it may have helped! But it also made me develop other coping skills and strategies. So, in case you find yourself struggling with some unease, perhaps this can help:

Walk Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

Along with often being anxious, I can also be secretly super competitive. And getting one of those bracelets to track my steps has been awesome. The walking helps me to relax and think things through. I also tend to be more willing to create possible solutions when I’m moving rather than letting myself collapse in bed weeping in despair (though, sometimes that happens and it’s okay). Plus, I love trying to constantly beat yesterday’s personal goal and having a tiny, wearable device assist in that challenge can be pretty fun.

Sing Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

I sing every day. It simply makes me happier. When I feel super overwhelmed and can make myself sing along to something, I instantly feel better. Plus, I don’t need a stage or an audience but can still manage to feel as theatrical as I need to feel.

Pic One

Go Back In Time

Okay, this is a weird one. But try to stay with me. Whenever I can remember to do it, I think of a time in the past where I was really struggling with something and letting my anxiety get the best of me. I then try and send past Ashley some words of encouragement. Now, when I’m feeling emotional, I imagine what future Ashley is saying to me and try to step back. It’s always amusing that something that feels like the world one day can often result in a forgettable issue with a little time. Getting some perspective helps.

Watch Netflix Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

That’s pretty self explanatory. It may seem like a bad escape but sometimes you gotta allow yourself to zone out and just binge watch the crap out of some show. The trick is to not feel guilty about it. Then go do something completely different. Like a walk or something.

Make A Schedule And Actually Stick To It

Structuring my day helps me to feel like I have control over it. The more I can pack into my planner, the better. It’s often my idle, free time that allows my mind to wander to anxious places. Even if it’s simply writing a few things to do with a basic timeline, it can improve my week.

Pic Two

Tell One Person. Or Just Everyone

This isn’t an invitation to write some vague, passive aggressive Facebook post but if you feel better after sharing your feelings, I support it. Sometimes formulating your concerns and voicing it to the right audience can help you move forward. Maybe try honestly opening up to one person before seeking social media guidance or write a Theater Pub blog about it.

Collapse Onto A Messy Bed Like Your Anxiety Depends On It

Some days, I just have to own my feelings in a big way. And sometimes my coping mechanisms just aren’t enough. So if that means weeping for an hour to get them out, I go for it. Truly, I think identifying what you’re feeling is half the battle, taking responsibility for it is the other.

And so I leave you with those seven thoughts. That, and a request to be kind and patient with each other. Like, bring that to the name game picnic and then go have an actual picnic. Until next time!

Cowan Palace: Hey Assholes, Ready for a Fight?

Ashley Cowan balances hugs and cuddles with blades and waves.

I’ve never been much of a pot stirrer. I’m either seasoning that pot into a delicious savory dish or I’m burning my mouth to devour what’s inside it because I’m starving. But making a point to cause a heated commotion? Eh, it’s not exactly my thing.

Growing up, I always valued kindness above everything else. I believed that nice guys finished last only because the best things are saved for the end. Even now, I’m the kind of person who can’t sleep because I’m worried I forgot send someone a happy birthday greeting on Facebook.

But I realize “being nice” isn’t exactly an ideal trait to possess in a creative circle known to praise voices who are outspoken, artistic, and bold. And often I find that because I’m not speaking out of anger, my voice tends to go unheard.

Except in RENT, where I got a microphone.

Except in RENT, where I got a microphone.

Maybe my blog and my general lifestyle don’t scream in raging profanities. Sure, I watch a whole lot of terrible reality television and endless videos of adorable animals doing adorable things. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a valuable member of this community too. And it doesn’t mean my voice deserves to be talked over just because someone else is speaking louder.

It’s been an unfortunate understanding to realize that often people assume because I’m nice, I’m also stupid. Not like a moron, just sweetly stupid and naive. Ignorance is bliss, you know what I mean? And sometimes that sucks for me. Just because I’m kind it doesn’t mean that I care any less about making this community stronger and better than what it is right now. Yes, I’m aware it’s far from perfect, but I often chose to view it with optimism instead of getting drunk and yelling about it. I want to thoughtfully problem solve. I want to be a part of the conversation. I want to make positive changes.

Plus, why do I have to be angry all the time to make this a better theater scene? If we’re aiming to have more honest conversations, why does honesty need to equate anger? I appreciate those of you who get fired up and burn to encourage change, I do. But if we all go around starting fires everywhere we step, pretty soon every theater will be made of ash and we won’t have a place to play.

See those fences? They guard the ashes.

See those fences? They guard the ashes.

And, I want to work again! Preferably here. If I trash talk everything, who is going to want to work with me? Besides, the real truth is, I’m not exactly in a position where I can get away with always speaking truthfully about every poor production I’ve been a part of or every performance I haven’t really cared for, especially in such a public forum. I’ve learned when to hold my tongue and when to inquire its service in helping me to address a concern.

But to all those pot stirrers out there looking to pick a fight, I just ask that you think about what you’re fighting for. Does every conversation we have about the current status of Bay Area theater need to end in an online and/or offline shouting match in order to make a statement? I’m fighting but my war tactics differ. And I’m going to keep on my kindness train because it’s what I do. In any case, I’d like to think we’re still all on the same side and I hope this is a fight we can win together.

Ashley can cheer too.

Ashley can cheer too.