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Home » How I Live With High Functioning Anxiety: Jordan Raskopoulos (Transcript)

How I Live With High Functioning Anxiety: Jordan Raskopoulos (Transcript)

Jordan Raskopoulos

Jordan Raskopoulos – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Wooh! Come on yes! Yes! Rock and roll! Come on Sidney, let’s make some noise!

(Audience cheering)

Awesome, yeah! All right, yes! Now, make some noise if you love TEDx!

(Audience cheering)

Make some noise if you hate public speaking.

(Audience cheering)

Make some noise if you suffer from stage fright!

(Audience cheering)

Make some noise if the idea of giving a talk in front of thousands of people is your nightmare!

(Audience cheering)

Yes, it’s not for me. No, I love this. I love this. This is my home. I know how this works, I know all the rules here. I know how this works, I can drop my voice a little bit, get more conversational, talk to someone in the front row, “Hey, how you doing? TEDx, am I right?” Yeah! Rock and roll!

And then when I look up, we all feel like we know each other a little bit better, yeah. I know that I can walk over here and say something silly, like “fart.” Fart! And you probably laugh… Maybe not, it’s a pretty conservative audience. It was a risk.

I know that I can raise my voice to a crescendo and let silence hang for three seconds. And then speak quietly, purposefully and softly, and I have your full attention.

I do not get stage fright. So people find it really odd when I tell them that I have an anxiety disorder. How on earth could you have a problem with anxiety, Jordan, when you are so confident on stage? See, problem is I am only confident on stage. If you meet me afterwards or in the street, you will see me as a timid mumbling wreck who’s probably lost for words.

See the nuances of mental health are often lost on people. When people hear mentally ill, they think “crazy”. When people think depressed, they think “sad”. When people hear anxiety, they think “very, very scared all the time”. and for some people it is true, but not for me.

No, I am very very scared in particular situations, scenarios, with particular processes with particular people. And I’m surprisingly confident in other situations which would be terrible for people, like this.

When people describe the sensation of stage fright. they often say things like “I’m nervous”, “I might be lost for words”, “I might forget what to say”, “people are looking at me”, “people are judging me”, “I think I talk too much, everything is racing in my head and I feel like I’m going to freeze.” I know those feelings, I just don’t get them on stage. I get them when I’m talking to someone and I don’t know what their name is.

I get them if I go to a party and I turn up too early or too late, or overdressed or underdressed, or if I don’t see anybody I know.

I get them in most conversations, particularly with people I don’t know very well. I get terrified when I have a chatty taxi driver, or hairdresser.. or plumber. I get terrified, like I said, in most conversations. I’m terrified of checking my e-mail, and I’m absolutely petrified about talking on the telephone. Yeah, yeah… I don’t get stage fright. I get life fright.

Sometimes I try to challenge myself, think like I go out for the weekend, and make people have a good time, you know. So I get all dressed up, put on a nice frack, do my make up, get an Uber, cross my fingers he doesn’t want to chat.

And I get to an event, probably a bit early and notice that nobody is there, yet. Rather than being the first one to go in, I think I’ll stand outside a little bit and pace back and forth. Then I think “Maybe people are watching me pacing back and forth and that’s really not a really good thing to be doing, I’ll walk around the block a couple of times.

After I’ve done that for a little while I think “maybe people are noticing me walk around the block, I better go in.” I go in, I notice that I don’t know anyone, so I go to the toilet, for a good 20-25 minutes.

Then I think there’s probably people waiting for the toilet, and they are standing out going like: What is up with this woman in the toilet? Why is she taking so long, what is wrong with her bowel? I really need to go!” And so I leave the toilet, I notice that there is a bit of a cue, and I notice that they are watching me, and they are judging me, and my thoughts are racing. I don’t know what to do, and I freeze.

Like I say: life fright. It has only been in the last couple of years that I have spoken to people who have a similar relationship with anxiety as I do. It’s quite common amongst performers actually, and I have one friend who describes herself as “shy-loud”. and I quite like the phrase: “shy-loud”, it’s perfect.

And it was only in the last year that I actually became acquainted with the ideas of situational anxiety, social anxiety and high functioning anxiety. Now, the thing is when somebody’s anxiety is high functioning, that means that they work in society. In fact, we work really well as shy-louds we have such a heightened sense of worry and such a fear of failure, that we are often very high achieving and perfectionists.

The problem is that our level of worry is so high, that even simple tasks require a huge amount of mental energy, and completing multiple tasks at the same time is very difficult. Which is why situations where there’s a lot of stimulation, like a party, can overwhelm us and make us shut down. When I was asked to come on board and give a TED Talk, I was told that the organizers like to be very involved with the talks. Mmm yes.

When I signed up I was bombarded with a whole series of e-mails, many phone calls and a schedule on when I was going to have a coffee and a meeting, and when they were going to expect a plan, and a first draft and a second draft. when we are going to have a rehearsal and a dinner, another coffee, and a chat. All reasonable things, right? Have some social occasions to make people less nervous, and break down the task into manageable chunks.

Complete the first task, then the second task and so on until the whole job is done without anyone getting stressed out. Makes sense. Not for me. When I see a list of seven things I then get worried about seven things. And because I don’t ever get a little bit worried I am a lot worried about seven things. And I find it very difficult to do any of them and so I worry and I procrastinate and I do nothing at all. I would do much better if someone said: “You have to do a TED talk, see you at the TED talk.”

The cool thing that I found out though is with the type of work I do, my worry is actually me doing the work. Whilst I’m sitting here procrastinating not actually doing anything I am doing it, just in the back of my head. When it comes time to write the thing it just comes out, pretty well formed.

For example, this talk was prepared at 5 o’clock in the morning on the day of the first rehearsal. It will all work out right. I just need to leave everything to the last minute and it will be fine! Which is an absolute terrible way to work. It’s not sustainable, it doesn’t work in every scenario; it’s not very good for my well being and when I talk about it like that I sound very very arrogant. And that is the paradox of the shyloud.

People see me on stage and they presume I am confident and outgoing and fun and wellspoken and when they meet me in person, they notice that I don’t own uphold conversation. I really start conversations. I have trouble making eye-contact. I ask very few questions and I often make excuses to leave. So, they look at me and determine from these two sets of behaviors that I am rude, and I am aloof and I am arrogant.

When people work with me, they see that my work is generally of a high quality but they also see that I don’t answer the emails, I don’t answer the phone, I struggle with deadlines, so they determine once again that yes I am talented, and yes I am smart but I am lazy. and I am unreliable. The truth is I’m not rude, I am very nice. I’m also very very shy. I’m not aloof, I actually care about the thoughts, opinions and feelings of people so much that I am often standing to silence, I don’t know what to say.

I’m not arrogant, maybe a little bit. I actually have a low opinion of myself. And I’m not lazy: I actually think about the work that I’m doing so much that I just can’t do it. I never get to relax, I never stop. I’m never relaxing, even when I’m procrastinating. I did prepare the talk at 5 am on the day of the rehearsal. but I was actually rehearsing it for a good two months beforehand in the back of my head! I never relax, unless I’m here. In this spaces, in these times I get to share with an audience because when I’m in this space, I only need to focus on one thing. Fart!

Yeah, I said “fart” at TED talk. There is something very freeing about finding out that you have a mental health issue. Oh, there is nothing wrong with me. There is just something wrong with me. Maybe I can do something about that. And I have! Talking helps, talking about it helps. So this, right now, is helping. Which is really good, because you don’t get paid for doing a TED talk! You might as well get some therapy out of it.

Genuine therapy is really really good too and If you can find someone who can help take you out of yourself and analyze your own behavior in moments of crisis and calm yourself down that is really great. I’m not a psychologist so I won’t go into the mechanics of cognitive behavior therapy but I will say that it is very good for these sorts of things.

I also found that I am most anxious when I am idle. I found it hard to relax when I’ve got nothing to do. So I have a lot of hobbies and in particular, I have hobbies that engage my brain and require a lot of concentration. I paint, I play games of strategy, and I also do roller derby. Because it requires a lot of brainpower to stay on wheel and not get hit. Also, my rollerderby name is Judge Booty.

Controlling your environment is really important too. If I found that I am in a situation where I can’t cope, I’ll find a way to take myself out but I also take control of the environment that I occupy. Different parts of my apartment are devoted to different parts of my life. If I am writing I write by the desk near the window. If I am painting, I paint at the red desk near my kitchen. If I am playing games, I’ll play on the desk in my bedroom. Basically, if you have anxiety all you need to do: lots of desks.

I also have allies. I have friends. I make sure that I don’t go to social occasions alone. If they see me struggling in the conversation they would introduce themselves to share the load often starting by asking the person’s name just to make sure that I have got it. They also know to recognize when I need to evacuate and help me get out.

The other thing that I have noticed is the strength I have because of my anxiety. I deal with such a high level of stress and worry that I am often very very good in situations when people are typically stressed and worried. I’m very good on stage, quite good at public speaking, I’m a very good improviser, I’m quick witted but I’m also really really good at taking charge in a moment of crisis.

Like I said, when I can focus on one thing I thrive. When I first thought that I might have a problem with anxiety, I spoke with my doctor and my doctor said: “Yes, it sounds like you might have a problem with anxiety, you would benefit from speaking to an expert”. Then she handed me a piece of paper with a phone number on it. And I thought about ringing that number for a long time. I’m just too bloody scared of phones. And yet, I have no issue talking about it to 4000 people tonight. Fart!

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