I’m not often nervous. When I search my memory banks, the few times that I have been gut-wrenchingly anxious have been when I had to tell someone something really important. To be more specific, every time I’ve known that I was about to have a talk about my feelings with a girl, my heart has pounded in my chest like there’s a fist banging against my ribcage. But even then I can put sentences together and I don’t shake uncontrollably. I once had a problem with that.
Back in 2005, I was a finalist for the concerto competition at my school. I practiced my butt off to have that honor, and I was very proud of myself. However, for some reason when I would get in front of the studio for a practice run of my piece, I would get so nervous that I would start to shake all over. Now when you play a brass instrument, you want to have a bit of vibrato in your sustained notes to make them sound pretty. Give it that little something extra. My nervous shakes were assisting me with that, but it became so bad that I was not able to play correctly. My tuba would try and vibrate off my face. In these situations, when you try to intentionally relax, you actually make it worse by focusing on the problem. I was worried I would sabotage my own performance. The mystery of this situation was I had no idea where this feeling was coming from. To me there was no difference between doing karaoke in front of the entire church camp and playing my tuba with orchestra accompaniment in front of an audience of musicians and my parents. Now that I think about it, that was the biggest show I’d ever played. The secret I discovered that conquered my nervousness was pretty simple, though. I just had to keep performing in front of people and focus on the music instead of my body. I had to simply ignore my body’s impulse to run away from the potential failure of getting any notes wrong and play the show. It turned out to be a huge success.
Contrarily, to show just how weird my brain is, when I was robbed at gun point on a pizza delivery three years ago, I was not nervous at all. I simply gave all my money to my assailants and they left. My heart was not beating in my chest during or even after the event. My voice was not hysterical, and I did not beg either of them not to hurt me. My response was to simply end the “exchange”, for lack of a better word, as quickly as possible. Then I slowly walked to the nearest business, strangely enough a rival pizza business, and called the police. I didn’t actually lose my cool until three days later when I arrived at my parents house. I grabbed my dad and bawled my eyes out. Does that make any sense? I suppose it does, because my family’s house was the place I felt most safe. But to whom do I owe my calm demeanor in such a high stress situation? Possibly it was a trait I inherited from my father and his father before him. Pickle men stay pretty cool. Plus, in my mind, I totally karated those dudes before they had a chance to even ask me for my money. So . . . win win.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fight or Flight.”