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Breaking Character

November 26, 2016

Photography by Dani Van Winkle featuring Ava Wittkop for Mad Sounds Issue 18 - Modern Muse

 

What do you do when the thing you’re most passionate about is the thing you’re most afraid of? There isn’t really a clear cut answer, unfortunately for me. Because that’s what I’ve dealt with every single day for the past two years.

 

I’ve grown up with the knowledge that mental illness runs in my family. Some of my relatives suffer extremes such as personality disorders to the less dramatized versions including bouts of depression. It’s hard to watch the people you love struggle to notice the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s harder to realize that you’re becoming that person.

 

A little over three years ago, at the beginning of my high school experience, a storm of depression rolled into my life. Everyone experiences mental illness differently, and for me it was as if I could only view the world through a grey lense. Nothing made me happy, nothing satisfied or motivated me, despite the fact that I was surrounded by so many people who loved me. So many people who loved me, but didn’t understand. This was a battle I had to fight on my own, and a year and a half later, I had won. I was starting to find the little rays of light that my life had to offer, and made I myself appreciate the heck out of them.

 

Sophomore Kylie thought that would be the hardest thing she had to deal with, but Sophomore Kylie didn’t take time to step back and realize she had the rest of her life ahead of her. So after a two month break from battling my inner demons, I was back, sitting on the same table where learned I had depression, this time hearing that I had panic disorder. My first instinct lasted a long time. Like, two weeks a long time. I was ashamed, I was embarrassed, and I was so disappointed that I had become yet another label. I was given no way to deal with it, nothing other than a diagnosis.

 

The more I agonized over my anxiety, the more my anxiety agonized me. I had so many aspirations for myself that felt 100 times more out of reach than they did the second before I stepped into that doctor’s office. I wanted to be a writer, to travel, and more than anything else, I wanted to perform. At this point in my life, being on stage was nothing more than a daydream. Something in me decided that there was no freakin’ way I would be able to step foot into a theater and actually do something. So, of course, at the push of my more than persistent friends, I was on a stage, in a theater, auditioning. Doing something.

 

And it was mortifying.

 

I wish I could claim that the moment I started acting, I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life. It was quite the opposite. Every day was a challenge, dragging my feet to the school’s performing arts center. I was the poster child for a sore thumb. I was awkward and shy, surrounded by dozens of people who were exuberant and outspoken.  I had no idea what I was doing. Which one is stage right and which one is stage left? What’s blocking? And don’t get me started on how to do a jazz step.

 

As rehearsals blew by, I could see myself turning into a different person. A happy, confident person. The theatre kids took me by the hand and walked me through everything from how to do stage makeup to how to not throw up on opening night. Suddenly it wasn’t them and me, it was us. I had found myself a family full of people who shaped me into a better person, a home on the stage and a path for the rest of my life. The invisible anxiety monster disappeared off of my back. I stood up straighter and kicked my disorder in the face every day.

 

There is something so unique and special about theatre. The experience of telling a story on stage is inimitable. You will not meet people with the same capacity of passion anywhere else. The dedication is insane, and the need I have to be apart of this industry is incomprehensible. However, two years later as a senior, the battle I fight with myself to get on stage is just as real as the day I was diagnosed. I win with the knowledge that this is something I can do, I have done, and I am good at. Nothing will change that.

What do you do when the thing you’re most passionate about is the thing you’re most afraid of?

You throw yourself into it. Full force.

 

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