I’ve never been comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. Blood rushes to my face, my legs feel shaky, I begin to sweat profusely, and my concentration levels deplete to the point of absurdity.  Responding to the simplest question amounts to an obstacle of insurmountable proportion.  Responses come out as either unintelligible or incomprehensible  

Literally any Person: Carrot, how are you doing?

Carrot:  Probably.

I was 12 years old when I had my first public speaking disaster.  Our Lady Queen of Peace!  In case it’s not obvious, this was a Catholic school.  Not only a Catholic school, this was my Catholic school.  We had to go to Mass on Wednesday mornings.  If you’ve never been to a Catholic Mass on a Wednesday morning, you’re missing out.  For one thing, there are plenty of available seats.  Those who populate the vacant pews consist primarily of Church Ladies, home schoolers, and students who have to go to Mass on Wednesday mornings.

It was seventh grade, and in seventh grade the students at Our Lady Queen of Peace were given the anxiety inducing burden privilege of taking part in weekly Mass.  Each week there were seven students conscripted to partake in either The First Reading, The Second Reading, The Prayer of the Faithful, or The Presentation of Gifts.  I have no idea how the students were selected, but each Friday the sacrificial lambs were designated, giving them the weekend to subdue the dread and prepare.

The first time my name was called I dodged a holy bullet.  

Teacher: Carrot, Marc, Yolivia, Brent, you will be responsible for The Presentation of the Gifts.

Carrot’s Internal Dialogue: WOOT WOOOOT!!!

The Presentation of the Gifts is the best.  No lines to read, you get out of class early, you’re celebrated by the Church Ladies, plus you get to do it with your friends.  This felt like an act of Grace!  Poor Maria though, she just got sequestered to do a reading for the second time.  Ouch!!!

I figured I would be safe from getting designated for the rest of the year!  I was wrong.  A few weeks later during Friday’s Rose Ceremony, Mrs. Wozniak started calling names.  Maria was first (Maria was a great public speaker, but three readings in one semester is brutal). Eric was second (good luck Eric).  

Teacher: And doing The Prayer of the Faithful this week…Carrot.

Oh F&@K!

Wednesday morning rolls around, Maria, Eric, and I are sitting at our designated spots just to the left of the lectern.  Maria is basically a Nun by now.  She kills.  Next is Eric, and in all honesty I’m secretly hoping that he chokes, so I won’t look that bad.  But he gets up there and channels the lord in ways that make him sound like the Deacon of Hagia Sophia.   

Mass is moving along and eventually I’m called up to speak.  If you’ve never heard of The Prayer of the Faithful, it’s essentially a series of intentions or short shout-outs that the congregation works together to boost up to heaven.  For example, the reader may say: ‘for the needs of the church’.  To which the congregation shouts back in unison ‘Lord hear our prayer’.  There are usually about five or six shout-outs.

I walk up, my legs are shaking, my pits are starting to sweat through my light blue uniform shirt, face is beet red, but all I have to do is read five little intentions.  I freeze.  The priest is staring at me, my friends all look frozen in horror, the Church Ladies seem pissed, and my teacher looks full of regret.

Somehow, I made it through.  I stuttered and murmured into that mic for the longest two minutes of my life.  I don’t remember anything except annihilating some poor Polish family’s name as I tried to offer a prayer for their dead father.  I walked back to my seat with my head down.

Most of the people who witnessed this train wreck tried to offer condolences.  “It wasn’t that bad”, “you did fine”, even Maria said it was okay.  I started to feel a little better.  When mass was over and we were getting ready to leave, an old church lady came up to me.  I was kind of afraid of what she was going to say as she pointed at me with a crooked finger.  But she ended up giving me the most helpful little piece of honesty and advice.

Church Lady: That was horrible, but the good news is that no one in here will remember it, so don’t let it get you down.

Never underestimate the wisdom of a Church Lady! 

That advice helped me a bunch. I still get really nervous before I have to talk in front of crowds, or climb a scary route (especially when strangers are watching), I get nervous before every class I teach, and every presentation I give, I get nervous before every podcast I have to host.  Through the years I’ve learned that preparation and the fact that no one is going to remember, go a long way in quelling the fears of the anxious.

Thanks to that old Church Lady, I’m probably a better teacher, a better speaker, and a better climber than I otherwise would be!

So, to the old ladies in the back and to the anxious on the stage…

Lord hear our prayer!


36 Replies to “Anxiety”

  1. Great read! I feel for those who fear public speaking. I’m one who is energized by it. I did lots of teaching and lecturing over the course of my nursing career, so this no doubt helped. The church lady gave you good advice about that particular situation. I have heard speakers who were so good that I can, many years later, recall their entire lecture almost word for word. These were people who successfully used either humour or passion (or both) while doing their presentations.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you! I sang and did prayers in church from age 12 on no problem. But stress and some traumas have left me rattled lately. Every post I write is effort. Every poem I write is crap (it’s not). Sharing gives panic attacks up to several weeks later, especially if told they’re good. It’s irritating. Reading the list of things you do even though … I needed to hear it. 😊

    Liked by 5 people

      1. I’ve never spoken in public in a church. I ho in the church when it’s empty, without anyone, because I like the silence of God 😆

        Liked by 3 people

  3. I love this!! So wise and real! And I love the nickname you gave, “Deacon of Hagia Sophia.” Made me laugh out loud. Seems hard to believe that you’d be nervous about anything with all your talent!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. When I was 12 (and as tall and nearly as, uh, developed) as I am now, I was asked to give the invocation in my church. My mom bought me a dress — the kind that would look cute on a 5 year old (talk about denial) so I entered the morning feeling stupid looking. I’d written my five line prayer on an index card (thanks for the good advice, dad) The moment came. I walked down the aisle in my absurd dress, anklets (huh?), black shoes. I turned to face the congregation (350 people, women in fancy hats and gloves [it was 1964] men in suits and ties). As soon as I saw this crowd I passed out, fell on the floor, my dress godnose where on my corporeal self. At some point I came too. Some deacons helped me up, my mom looked a combination of angry and worried. My dad, like any authentic agnostic, was home with the funny papers. That was how I learned I was terrified of speaking in public. SO…I totally and completely identify with little Carrot and feel your pain.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. This is an example of tragedy and comedy coming together! That was so vivid, and I feel so sad for little Martha! Funny how we both ended up in higher ed. Picking up tools along the way make that young version of me seem like a totally different person.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yep. I had problems with this until a particularly magical moment with a university wide presentation about public speaking and a meeting with a terrified grad student who — as had I — realized she couldn’t live her life if she didn’t overcome this. Maybe I’ll write about that day sometime.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Haha…sometimes I have a great idea for a post, and someone else on the team reminds me we’ve already done it. Things blend together after you’ve written enough of them.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Loved your descriptions of your experience with public speaking anxiety. I can relate to all of it. When I was young I hated having to get up before a school class and give a report. I got over some of my anxiety when I was in my forties and active in my Unitarian church. The first times I would get up before our small congregation I could feel my face turn red and that only added to my anxiety (“They can all see my face turning red!”). Eventually, after a few years of getting up in front of people and making announcements and reading my own words as a lay leader, I began to almost enjoy it. Don’t know if anyone remembers my words or not….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Not sure if they remember the words, but I bet they are inspired by your confidence! The face turning red does add so much to the overall disaster of nervousness!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I always go for props to help. Even used some rubbish from the bin once. Props are my friend when it comes to speaking to a crowd. I hate questions though. That’s when I might be prepared, but do NOT feel it.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Oh, but I am feeling you. Our school janitor gave me sage advice when he confided that he suffered from fear of speaking before assembled beings too, until he discovered this little tip: “Look above the audience’s head. They’ll think you’re looking at them.” It worked every time. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Great post. I feel your pain especially as a (ex) Catholic boy who had to go through the same malarkey – don’t even ask me about the day I dropped the big bible ‘thingy’ that sat on the alter, and then watched the priest spend 5 minutes putting all the markers back in place.
    In front of a packed church 🙄

    Liked by 3 people

  9. And yet you are the one who insure people who were not even present will remember! Although, actually I think I was there. The priest had to get up, come over and show me what I was supposed to read when I was in the wrong place.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the honesty of the “church lady” white lies aren’t truly the best for consoling someone. You knew it was bad but you didn’t need to feel ashamed love it!

    Liked by 1 person

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