I used to be a relatively confident person. Not perfectly so, of course – but I wasn’t quiet. My reaction to being targeted by bullies was to be louder and more overt in my self, so you could hardly have called me shy – but that confidence was a performance. It wasn’t really me.
When I got sick, I then got quieter. I started to feel that my loudness was wrong, that I had no right to be seen or heard, that no one wanted to see or hear me. But I still had part of me that longed to be seen. To be back on a stage and remembering that, once, people used to say ‘we just can’t look anywhere else when you’re on the stage’.
I rediscovered that confidence slowly, over the past ten years, and it came from an unexpected place. At university I met many people who were as nerdy and geeky and wonderful as me – in fact, more so. They introduced me to roleplaying, and it genuinely changed my life.
Because I didn’t have the capacity to be confident in myself. I’m still getting there with that confidence now, to be honest. But something I can be confident in? Is being someone else. Because that other person is valuable. That other person is worthy of others’ time.
No, this isn’t the best way to think about it. I am valuable and loved and worthy. But at that point, I just wasn’t capable of seeing myself as that. Becoming someone else was the only way I had to learn to do things I’d never managed to learn.
Tabletop roleplaying was great, but it was live roleplaying (LRP or LARP) that really changed things. With a costume and makeup on I really wasn’t me anymore. I was an elf made of sunlight, a gentle noblewoman, a loud bard with a cheeky grin.
And when I was them, I learned to be confident. I learned how to make friends, how to interact with people – honestly, the only reason I’m able to make eye contact with people now is that my characters could. So I did it, in a way that was safe for me, and after a while I realised that I’d learned that confidence from them.
This past weekend I went to play a character who, this year, has given me back something I thought I’d lost: the ability to stand on a stage. I spent my entire childhood in musicals and plays and concerts. There was not a day that I wasn’t in some kind of rehearsal. It was my entire life.
And when I had my breakdown, and got to university, my depression and anxiety stole it from me. A few more bad incidents over the years did too. I tried to perform again and lost it again and tried again and lost it, until I just couldn’t anymore.
But I had this safe space. So I went back, early this year, and said – okay. I’ll try this again.
Something magical happened.
I went all-in. I spent weeks learning and practising things that I had thought I would never be able to sing. All my experience is in classical singing – I learned opera instead. I studied masterclasses from Joyce DiDonato and watched dozens of performances and learned alone, until I had a voice that I – astonishingly – actually believed was good.
Then I went to the event, and I sang, and I was shaking so much with the first aria that I had to clasp my hands together to disguise it. I got to the end of the first piece and I knew I didn’t care what people thought, because I knew I had done so well, and that that, for once, was enough.
It’s never been enough before. And to make that even more meaningful – people loved it. People came up to me afterwards astonished that I’d been hiding this thing I could do. Most of them had heard me sing before, but not like this, and not with dozens of hours of practice and learning behind me.
So I went back and did it again. And again. And this past weekend? I performed a piece that I’ve spent six months learning. It’s an aria by Berlioz, and when performed normally it’s 8 minutes long – I was singing it a cappella, so it was only about 6. But that’s a long time to be singing to an audience without accompaniment.
It was perfect. Not literally – I cracked a single note slightly, and didn’t get the light and shadow of the piece as controlled or distinct as I would have liked. But I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better, and I don’t know when I lost that perfectionism that haunted me for years, but I’m certain this character is what gave me that blessing.
It was perfect for me, because my voice was strong and I hit all the notes and I even managed to relax enough to move and tell the story with more than just my voice. I had been so scared of letting go enough to do that.
I ended up full of adrenaline for a solid half hour after it. People were lovely in reacting, but I barely even noticed it – it feels to me in retrospect like their reaction was underwhelming, but I think that’s just because I was so overwhelmed with joy. I still am.
This is why I have never, not for a second, thought of this hobby as silly. Because honestly, it’s done as much for me as any therapy I’ve ever had (though I have to say it’s not a substitute! Proper therapy is important!). It has given me confidence and happiness, incredible friends that I love more than almost anything, and so many wonderful memories.
I can’t wait to see what more it gives me in the next ten years.
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