It's 2009, and it's a brutal, cold, horrible winter on the Eastern seaboard. I'm a wildly insecure but oh-so-hopeful 23-year-old girl creature trying to make it as an ~actress~ in the big, bad city of New York.
I'm young. I'm hungry. And girl, I work f*cking hard.
After a lackluster year, I finally scored a BIG audition. Not just an audition, but a CALLBACK. A callback for a leading role on a major,` highly anticipated TV series on a mega-network. Apparently I'm being "strongly considered" for this coveted part, and baby, I was born to play this role.
The character I'm auditioning for is a cold-hearted bitch with an endless trust fund, and while I might not be either one of those things, I can kill that role on TV. I've got the jet black hair, and the snow white pale skin, and the wicked hazel eyes that just exude e-v-i-l through a camera lens.
I've prepared for this audition. I hired a $100 acting coach. I know my lines so damn well, I'm saying them in my dreams. I haven't smoked, or drank, or engaged in any of my usual sins in weeks, and weeks, and weeks.
Because even though I've recently been diagnosed with "adult" (ha! like any 23-year-old is a f*cking adult) ADHD, I'm laser focused on my CRAFT. I might be unfocused in every other facet of my life, but I'm blessed (cursed?) with tunnel vision when it comes to my career. (That hasn't changed.)
I wake up bright and early in the morning of this potentially life-changing audition with a surprise from the goddess up above. I have my period, and it's awful. I have horrendous cramps -- the kind that make it feel like a war is taking place between your ovaries. The kind that make you want to curl up into the fetal position, throw the comforter over your head and cry inexplicable tears of unwarranted sadness.
And it's heavy. It's the first period I've had in six months (thanks to a wholly unhealthy eating disordered lifestyle), and honey, it's BACK, and it's BACK with a vengeance.
"You want to mess with us, Zara? Oh, you sweet fool. It's payback time, bitch," my ovaries taunt. I'm doubled over in pain.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I submissively whimper back to them.
"It's OK, Zara, that's what Advil is for. It's no big deal," I coach my weak self, attempting to "self-soothe" like my therapist has advised me to do in moments like this.
With heavy limbs and an anxious heart, I make my way into the kitchenette of my little shoebox studio. I open up the medicine cabinet. I can hardly see because my contacts aren't yet in my eyeballs, and I'm a reckless screw-up who always loses her glasses. Blame the ADHD.
With unsteady hands, I unscrew the Advil bottle and pop a pretty little pill into my mouth.
Wait. A. F*cking. Second.
I can instantly tell I haven't taken an Advil. I've always had a heightened awareness of what's happening inside my body, and I'm certain that the pill that just made its way down my throat wasn't Advil. It doesn't have the classic over-the-counter sugary shell. Its texture is chalky, and breakable, and bitter to the tongue.
Suddenly, it hits me like a fist to the face: I had just taken a XANAX. Dr. Feelgood had prescribed me 30 orange pills after my first panic attack I had on the L train just a few weeks back.
So I had taken a few of those panic pills out of their trusty bottle and dropped them into the Advil bottle in case I needed one and wanted to be discreet about it. (This was when I still stigmatized my anxiety disorder.)
It was the wrong day to take the wrong pill. Suddenly, my pressing period pains were the least of my problems. I had just taken a strong benzo right before the most important audition of my life.
I had taken Xanax only twice before, and both times, it made me feel like I had liquid in lieu of bones. Both times it made my brain feel like it was coated in one of those fuzzy sweaters that were all the rage in the mid '90s. Both times it caused me to fall into a too-long, dreamless nap.
None of these feelings were conducive to auditioning.
I was terrified. But if I'd learned one thing from my hard-knock British mother, it was that the show, darling, THE SHOW must always go on.
"You took the wrong pill, puppet? Have a hot cuppa tea, and get on with it," I imagined her saying.
I cranked up the volume on my secondhand laptop, praying to the god I didn't believe in (That's when you know you're screwed.) that the magnetic energy of David Bowie would somehow overpower the lackluster side effects of the Xanax.
"The show must go on," I repeated to myself as I dutifully dabbed concealer over the small smattering of pimples on my chin.
"The show must go on," I repeated to myself in the taxi ride from Chelsea to Midtown. I could tell the Xanax was starting to kick in because I was beginning to find the whole charade sort of funny. Just 45 minutes ago, it had been tragic. Oh, the power of pills!
"The show must go on," I slurred to myself as I wrote my name, struggling to keep my signature in between the fine little lines of the sign-in sheet.
I was in one of the most important casting offices on the East Coast. I looked around me. I was in a sea of pretty brunettes with perfectly ironed hair and unblemished skin. Their shaky fingers clutched their sweaty scripts. I could see all of their freshly glossed lips silently reciting lines.
Normally I am one with the anxious brunettes. My nerves are so severe that casting directors notice. I know this because my agents always give me feedback from auditions. It's usually something like this:
She hits all the emotional beats. She's prepared. She's intense. But she holds too much physical tension and needs to relax.
On this fine day, I'm not an anxious brunette for once. I'm a ~chill~ blonde girl in brunette drag.
"You know, maybe this is a blessing in disguise," I dreamily purr to myself, as I gaze at the ceiling. So. Many. Cracks. My bones are starting to feel liquid-y, but I kind of dig it.
"Zara Barrie," I hear a no-nonsense voice announce. I see a harried-looking assistant flailing her arms. She's probably my age and probably very abused in her job. I have to fight a bizarre urge to giggle. Everything dark is suddenly blanketed under a soft comforter of humor.
I feel my legs waltz into the audition. I'm smiling, I can feel myself drifting, but I'm determined to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. And I do something I've never done: I shake the casting directors' hands. Which is a strict industry NO. You do not touch the casting directors. Ever.
However, today, I don't even think about it. I just strut over and shake. They seem charmed by my relaxed nature. I feel like a breath of fresh air.
I begin to act out the scene. I still know my lines verbatim, despite it all. I'm feeling as free as a bird. I feel like the scene is a tennis match, and I'm just a ball bouncing effortlessly off the reader.
I leave feeling like a million dollars.
"You killed it, girl," I smugly think to myself. The Xanax is starting to wear off, but I have a feeling this was the best audition of my life.
"This is why they have MEDS," I think to myself. "I LOVE XANAX," I think to myself.
The following Monday, I get a call from my agent. For once I don't feel like I'm going to vomit all over the carpeted floor when he calls. He has feedback. I'm ready, baby. Bring it.
"Well, they had interesting feedback," Mr. Agent says.
"What's that?" I press, anxiety once again snaking its creepy, uninvited arm around my waist.
"They said you were very free. But they didn't think you could go deep enough."
I hung up the phone, lay down in bed and stared at the ceiling. So. Many. Cracks.
Depth is the one thing I've always had. I might have physical tension, I might have too many zits, my hair might not be perfect enough, my legs might not be long enough, but sh*t, I run deep.
It was in that unmedicated, stone-cold sober moment that I learned a pivotal life lesson: Maybe having anxiety isn't the curse I've thought it was for so many years. Maybe all those intense feelings that I carry with me aren't so terrible. Maybe it's the wealth of feelings that make me a good actress. Maybe they are what make me a kind, empathetic force to all of my friends. Maybe they are precisely what fuels me with this insatiable desire to dig deep and unearth the truths of human behavior.
Maybe numbing the feels isn't the answer. Maybe learning how to channel them is.
I've realized I don't need to be the "chill" girl. I've realized I don't want to be the "chill" girl. I'm not a "chill" girl. No, I'm one with the anxious brunettes chewing their finger nails at the auditions. And I'm grateful for that. Because here is the beautiful part of being a big feeler: Yes we feel the pain, the hurt, the all-consuming panic with an intense ferocity. But we also have the ability to see beauty where other people don't. We also feel the highs, the joy and the f*cking love, more fiercely than any "chill" girl ever could.
I've said it before, and I will say it again: I'm happy to taste the pavement after the fall; it meant I was able to see the beautiful view on top.