There were actual beads of sweat on my palms, my stomach was in knots and I wanted to run to the bathroom and throw up. But instead, I hesitantly slipped into my public speaking class.
I didn’t even have to give a speech that day. Our teacher was only going to announce the dates that each of us would be making our first speech.
Even that was enough to make my head spin and my heart beat so hard and so fast that I was sure everyone in the room could hear it.
As soon as my date was announced, I made the decision to drop the class.
Fuck this, I thought. There’s no way I can do this.
I know that a lot of people don’t like public speaking, but for me it was an allergic reaction. The thought of it made me physically sick and when I did get up in front of people and actually do it, I would have an experience that I can only describe as out of body, and I would nearly pass out.
It wasn’t bad; it was my personal hell.
To think I was going to have to do it over and over again all quarter long was enough to make me hurl and then go directly to my advisor and see about dropping the class.
To my horror, I found out that public speaking was a requirement for the art program that I was in.
I was pissed and scared and I thought seriously about dropping out of school altogether.
I thought about it so much that I actually picked up the phone and called my parents to break the news. They didn’t answer.
Sometimes parents just know when not to pick up the phone.
After a couple of long and sleepless nights, I made the decision to stop being a pussy, stay in school and get through my nightmare class the best that I could.
Worse case scenario, I forget my speech, I fart while trying to remember it and then I trip while walking away from the podium. Even if all of this happened, I would still be alive.
The week leading up to my first speech (AKA doomsday) was tough.
I felt like there was an actual semi parked on my shoulders, and every time I thought about getting up in front of all those eyeballs, chills went directly up my spine, my feet felt funny, my fingers would tingle, my palms would bust out with sweat and I felt like upchucking.
And I couldn’t control this shit, it just happened.
The closer to doomsday I got, the more I regretted not dropping out of school.
It was the night before my first speech and I soaked in the bathtub for over an hour, praying that the next morning, school would be cancelled or I had magically taken part in time travel and the quarter would be over.
When I woke up the next morning everything seemed normal. I was still in the year 2000, and school was very much in session. But get this. When I opened my mouth to bitch about my speech, I couldn’t talk.
I kid you not, I had lost my voice.
It wasn’t raspy with a cold, it wasn’t hoarse from praying so long the night before, it was gone. Vanished. I couldn’t speak a word even if I wanted to.
I had manifested putting off my speech one more week.
The next week rolled around and I faced the inevitable and somehow got through it. I don’t know how, but I painfully made it through the rest of the quarter.
I’ve heard that paralyzing fears like this stem from a childhood event. I know the exact event that screwed me up.
It was the fucking dictionary game.
I was 9 or 10 years old and my Montessori teacher had my entire class sit cross legged in a circle on the floor. He handed out dictionaries to each student and explained how the game worked.
He would tell us a word and then we would look that word up as quickly as we could and raise our hand when we found it. The person who found it first won that round.
He asked if we had any questions.
Boy did I!
I raised my hand, and as soon as he called on me, I confidently asked “How can we look up a word if we don’t know how to spell it?”.
At that moment, there was a crescendo of fourth grade laughter, paired with a circle of fingers pointing at me and even a “You’re retarded!” here and there, like only 10 year olds can painfully deliver.
I felt my face get hot, my eyes well up with tears, and all I wanted to do was to run directly into my mom’s arms.
From that moment, using my voice in front of people equated embarrassment, ridicule and shame. So I kept quiet.
It’s been 15 years since my public speaking class and up until last week I managed to avoid speaking in front of a group for all 15 of those years.
A couple months back, I was invited by a rad company called Eats, Shoots & Roots to participate in an event when I was in Malaysia. I would be cooking a meal for 15-20 people and speaking to the group for 20 minutes before they ate.
I said yes because I knew it was time for me to conquer my fear and get the hell over it already.
So I did.
The event was on March 21st and there was so much interest that they had to add a second session. So not only did I have an opportunity to crush my fear, I had two.
It sounds crazy even to me but the entire week leading up to the event I kept waiting for that nervous stomach ache to kick in, for sleepless nights to happen, for my palms to start sweating and my fingers to start tingling.
But it never happened.
I felt excited, happy and calm and I never once got nervous about it. And this is coming from the girl who used to have out of body experiences when speaking in front of people.
Here’s how I kept cool as an ice cream kiss.
I had a loving and much needed conversation with myself. I explained that I was ready and excited to shed my fear. That this was a fear that wasn’t relevant to my life anymore, a fear that I had outgrown a long time ago, and a fear that wasn’t serving me or my life’s work.
I accepted and acknowledged where the fear stemmed from and I reminded myself that it would be mad to make decisions based on what happened to us when we were 10.
Anytime a negative thought came up around the event and / or my speech, I consciously stopped myself in my tracks, replaced it with love and reminded myself that this was an old fear and that it did not belong to me anymore.
So often we equate who we are in the world with who we used to be, without taking the time to Spring clean that shit out and reevaluate.
As humans we are constantly changing, growing, learning, failing, winning and soaking up life. It all affects us, and before we know it, our old fears, thoughts and beliefs don’t match the person we are anymore.
We clean our house on a weekly basis, we make sure our cars are tidy, we clean out our fridge and cupboards and toss out old food. We clean out our closets and get rid of clothes that no longer fit us, we clean out our bodies with healthy food, we even clean up our desktops and our phone apps.
But we never sit down and clean out the fears and beliefs that lay stagnant in our psyche, doing nothing but holding us down and collecting dust.
If there’s an area in your life that brings you anxiety, frustration or some dark clouds, it could be a simple matter of reevaluating who you are right now, circa 2015 and letting go of the thoughts, triggers, tastes, habits, associations, beliefs and fears that you’ve outgrown without even noticing.
If I can talk in front of a group of people for 20 minutes without getting nervous, anything is possible for you.
Sometimes it’s the littlest things that make the biggest impact in our life.
Today’s recipe might seem boring and mousy, but it’s anything but.
Make it. You’ll see.
Creamy Asparagus Leek Soup
2 leeks, sliced into thin rounds (use bottom white part only)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 bunch of asparagus (Cut an inch off from the bottom and toss out and then cut the rest of the asparagus into thirds)
3 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a soup pot over medium heat and add the leeks, garlic and lemon zest.
- Sauté for 4 minutes and add a splash of water or broth if things start sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the asparagus and water and simmer for 15 minutes with the lid at a tilt (you might think the asparagus isn’t cooked enough, but It will be the perfect texture to blend after the next step).
- Turn off the heat and let the soup cool without a lid for about 20 minutes.
- Blend in batches (or with an immersion blender) until creamy and smooth.
I hope you have a lovely week. May it be filled with questioning yourself in the most loving, patient, and kind way possible.