Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lost and Found: Performance Anxiety

I'm still finding parts of myself that went missing after the stroke.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was watching Nova. Some of the program was about test anxiety, and it showed nervous students taking a test. As I watched the show and tried to put myself into the students' shoes, I realized I could barely remember that feeling of performance anxiety. Before the stroke, any of these situations--taking a test, or speaking in public, or even thinking about some students taking a test on a TV show--would have gotten my heart rate up.

It's not that I don't feel anxiety sometimes now. But more often, it feel like I have a switch with two settings: crushing fear, or a strange calmness. In the few times I have had to speak in front of a group since the stroke, I haven't felt much of performance anxiety.

I'm sure there are many reasons why I feel calmer these days. First of all, a disabling stroke can put things into perspective. Or it might be medications. Or that after failing so many tests of language and physical ability, I'm used to failure now. Or it might be because I started out not being able to recite the alphabet or spell my name, so any achievement can make me feel like a wunderkind. But mostly, it feels like parts of my brain are still not hooked up the way they used to be.

Given how much I have struggled with performance anxiety all my life, you would think that I would be happy to leave behind that part of myself now. But I remember some of my discussions with my former piano teacher. I studied with her for many years before the stroke, and she helped me work through my anxiety a lot. She talked how important it is to be meticulously prepared. But she also talked about how anxiety can make a performance more focused: without some anxiety, a performance can loose its edge.

So I keep thinking: do I want this part of myself back? Do I need to regain that anxiety? Do I have a choice?


  1. I've lost that too. I'm hoping to never get it back. I'm soooo relaxed now. I don't think my type A personality would have ever calmed down this much without my stroke. I count this loss in the blessing pile. Some good came out of my stroke, this is near the top of the stress!

  2. Oh that's great! After the stroke, I had WAY more anxiety, the tiniest thing thing could set me off. Not anymore though, I've figured out how to manage it. And you're right, a disabling stroke sure puts things into perspective.

    1. I should make it clear that I have terrible anxiety in some ways--like anxiety about having another stroke :(

  3. Grace,
    Do I want this part of myself back? Do I need to regain that anxiety? Do I have a choice?

    The answer to all questions is NO.Don't worry your anxiety will return at appropriate times of stress. Everyone needs a certain amount to spurs them on, but maybe you have transcended to a point to where the anxiety is perceived differently in your mind. I know it has for me over the years. No, you definitely have no choice in the matter.

  4. I think all of the factors you mentioned come into play. I also say a resounding NO to getting my anxiety back.

  5. A year after my stroke I did a PowerPoint presentation at a conference in front of a large room full of people. Everything went well as long as I kept to my script. When I deviated, and when I answered questions, my mind wasn't as nimble as it had been pre-stroke. Until then, I hadn't realized this was the case. Now at almost two years post-stroke, my mind seems to be back to normal. Some anxiety when in front of a crowd, but manageable.

  6. I think your comment, "...a disabling stroke can put things into perspective" holds an amazing truth in it! My anxiety also declined. I figure life tested me. I passed with flying colors. Anything next is nothing in comparison to what I've already faced.

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