My Age of Anxiety


Part One: Step on a Crack

(True story. Wish it wasn’t. Then again…)

There were signs early on, but I was too young to know what they meant. When I was in primary school I heard the phrase, “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” I laughed. Then started avoiding cracks. But I didn’t like how obsessive that felt, so I started stepping on cracks to prove that I wasn’t obsessive. Then I felt guilty about breaking my mother’s back, so I returned to avoiding cracks. This practice continued all the way into my college years.

Nevertheless, I was a fearless high schooler, running for student body president against our hunky heartthrob football quarterback (and nearly winning), starring in school plays, and happily stuffing myself on ego-chow. I told my best friend Marc, “I’ll don’t think I’ll ever be happier than I am now!”

I was right.

My ego took a hit freshman year in college. Jonnie, a bruised reed of a beauty and a fellow theatre major, refused to date me because I was “shallow.” “Oh, you’re fun to hang out with,” she said, “but you’re all jokes and laughs. You need to suffer a little, or you’ll never be deep.”

Jonnie and all of the other non-lesbian theatre girls were hot for Darren, the department’s broody 19 year old Mr. Darcy. Darren told me at a cast party one night, “I don’t care whether I live or die.” And I thought, Catch 22: being depressed would get  me Jonnie, but then I wouldn’t care.

A year after college, my girlfriend dumped me. Then I lost my job. Then my father died. I started listening to blues music and drinking whiskey while typing angry stream-of-consciousness poetry. And I thought bitterly, Jonnie would go out with me now.

I bounced back. For a while.

But the storm that had been brewing ever since I’d avoided that first crack was about to break, and I didn’t see it coming.

After a failed attempt at running a school of the arts in Newport Beach, California (another story), I went back to college. As a theatre major I was expected to perform in plays. One of which was an odd little one-act by some broody Darren-ish European existentialist guy. I was obligated, but my heart was elsewhere.

So I applied this patently stupid solution: I only half-memorized my lines. The result? On opening night, as I plowed into the first of several long abstract monologues, my mind went scrub-hard-drive blank. When my thoughts reemerged from wherever they’d been, I saw an audience of 250 nervously coughing at me.

I couldn’t remember who my character was or even what the play was. It was the classic actor’s nightmare, only it was happening in real time. And then, instead of improvising something, anything, I began to meditate on the absurdity of pretending to be someone I wasn’t for people who’d paid money to sit in the dark and watch me do it.*

I finally laid hold of a tattered strand of memory, barked out some vague approximation of the monologue, and wandered offstage. In a haze of fear, I made my way through the rest of the show with the words “What do I say next? What do I say next?” running around screaming inside my brain.

I guzzled a gallon of whiskey at the cast party, trying to drown the voice in my head, while distractedly dialoguing with a Jonnie-like beauty named Diane.

cfa901365df3dfc54c59e1d01443950dThen I stumbled home to my cave of an apartment and disappeared down the sleep drain.

But at 3 o’clock in the morning, I sat up, instantly sober, my mouth full of cotton wool, and whispered, “What if I go insane?”

The storm had broken.

To read Part Two: Into the Darkness, click here.

⇔ ⇔ ⇔

*I stole my experience and cursed an anxious 14-year old girl with it in my fantasy novel The Wishing Map

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir, Story Power and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to My Age of Anxiety

  1. “I began to meditate on the absurdity of pretending to be someone I wasn’t for people who’d paid money to sit in the dark and watch me do it.”

    You should have improvised THAT. Gone into a monologue about how fake everything was. Like the protagonist’s concession speech in The Adjustment Bureau. They’d have eaten it up.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Will Marler says:

    Your experience on stage is me right now trying to write my next post.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Intrigued to see where you go with this. I like your story telleling.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Laura Jinkins says:

    I can relate to that panicked feeling you describe on stage, but in a completely different way. I had a dream the other night. I was in a house I’d never been in before, but somehow I was selling it and I had to decide what to do with the money from the sale. I had many worthy things to apply it to (paying off debt, repairs for my own home, etc.) but I felt choked by the worry of spending it wisely because when it was gone, it would be gone. There would be no more.

    Real life: my sister and I inherited our childhood home. (You may have seen some of the photos I’ve posted on my blog ( We have a buyer, we are closing on March 27. And I am so afraid that I will not use my share of the profits wisely. I am asking God for wisdom to use the money in the best ways possible (paying off debt, paying my daughter’s spring college tuition balance, etc.) — but I keep worrying that I’ll wake up the morning after I’ve spent the last bit and think, “Oh, NO! I should have done this!”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. ekurie says:

    Somehow my instant thought upon reading “The storm had broken”? I’m not a dinosaur… I’m a dinosaur egg!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I can so relate! I’ve struggled with OCD and anxiety for most of my life, and like you turned to alcohol which only made it come back 10 fold the next day, so of course the solution was always to drink more. Vicious cycle. When you told the story about stepping and not stepping on the cracks as a child, I was like “Wow, so I wasn’t the only one!” And ditto for the fear of going crazy without a drink. A fear I lived with for a very long time. Almost 2 years ago, God delivered me from that obsession with alcohol. I don’t know how I’m sober now except to say it’s been a true miracle in my life. I’ve also been a 20 + year cigarette smoker and today is actually my quit date. I find myself with the same fear of “What’ll I do without a cigarette?” I guess this is where some heavy duty prayer comes in. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Wayne Boyd says:

    Mitch, you write so well, and your story is compelling. Thank you for your honest revelations.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Mitch, I very much enjoy your sincerity and tone. Your description of waking up at 3am is what grabbed me most – hell we all have our reasons. Look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Ouch! I’m glad you were able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Otherwise, you might have married Jonnie and never started this blog. Where would we be then? 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. alslaff says:

    Mitch, excellent. Sorry? How can that be as you wrote this in the great “leave them hanging” style! Studied at AADA in my youth; memorizing lines and language study dialogs still are on the top of my OMG list. See ya Monday.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. alslaff says:

    …or oi-vey list, depending on how Jewish or Christian I feel at the moment….

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I had unstoppable trembling for solo sing the first few times. Good thing I got the songs memorized – that part, I did okay.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Loved it, it brought me back to my own childhood, and my college theatre career, and all that entailed. From totally going off script during my senior project performance, to always being passed over by one particular professor/director who,claimed it was because my “accent was too thick” ( um, I was born and raised in Miami and don’t have an accent, he was just a pompous prejudiced prick, but I didn’t realize that at the time). Wow, talk about going right back there!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Jennie says:

    Great story, Mitch, although this must have been hard to tell. You are a terrific writer.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Paula says:

    Mitch, there are so many times I read your posts and think, “We could spend about three hours over lunch gabbing about ‘stuff’ we have in common and still need to reschedule for more such meetings.”
    When I take the risk to be honest about some of my struggles, what I find is that people relate through the stories and that’s ultimately why storytelling is so powerful. At least, that’s what I’ve learned. I’m looking forward to the next installment. Blessings to you.
    p.s. I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness decades ago. Anxiety, OCD, occasional paranoia, an inability to focus on tasks, and a few psychotic episodes have become what I call “hangers-on.” Praise God; He walks with me through it all. And He continues to bless me with enough ‘sane’ moments to contribute to the Kingdom.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Mike Cullen says:

    WTH Mitch !! …………okay,i will wait until Monday ………… thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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  21. Your struggles with OCD and anxiety just remind me so much of myself. As a young girl I just did not understand what I was going through. Thank you for sharing this vulnerable side of you- it’s very comforting for me.

    Liked by 2 people

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  26. Truth be known, I’m not much of a reader, but Part One grabbed me so deeply that I had to read all the way through Part Four! So wish there was a “LOVE” icon!!

    Hope you don’t mind this more personals note (edit, if you wish): I never realized why you and Martha broke up, always thought is must have been her…but this explains a lot. As a much younger, starry-eyed drama student, I only saw ‘the Mitch’ performing on stage and in the band, more talented than anyone else I knew.

    I don’t believe I’d ever read your ‘whole’ story before…quite the winding, obstacle-ridden journey, as it was with me (and others, no doubt). Though Jesus surely left the 99 to seek me out, I too came to the end of myself and, in my case, with nothing more than a broken life and many regrets to offer Him. Out of His great mercy and grace, He picked me up and put the pieces of my life together again (it took time, still in process until eternity), and truly changed the entire course of my life. And I am eternally grateful. It’s amazing what HE can do with our broken pieces when we put them into His all-capable hands. 🙂

    Thank you for this ENGAGING account of ‘your story,’ Mitch! And also, I want to glean from your writing style…the kind that makes a person ‘want’ to keep reading (even this not-to-much-of-a-reader).😄 May the Lord continue to bless your journey and use you mightily for His Kingdom!

    Liked by 1 person

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  28. Sandi Staton says:

    This is an awesome real-life story of the Potter and the clay. Love it, Mitch! I can so relate! Thank you for being so transparent. Gives the rest of us out here hope.


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