alt=person playing Hamlet on stage in front of an audience suddenly looks stressed and sweaty, experiencing performance anxiety

To Poo or Not to Poo?

Performance anxiety is my strongest IBS trigger. I’m not saying that raw dairy, warm cheeses, aggressive chili, and coffee, and everything sugar-free don’t put my a** into the garbage can, but I’ve found that stress can make or break me in a single moment.

More often than not, the anticipation of a particularly confrontational moment is enough to turn my mellow guts into a queasy nightmare. On most days, like dealing with relationship drama, or preparing for an interview with a technology firm that I am hysterically underqualified for, I have the time and opportunity to relieve myself before the event takes place. I mean preparation is key, especially when I’m entirely focusing on myself. When I have to go on stage and be somebody else, working on lines and prepping to walk on stage, is another story entirely.

Acting and pooping don’t mix

As an actor, one of the most important things I’ve come to understand is that being in the scene, in the moment, is key. It’s where your character thrives. Where your decisions are based on living circumstances, not hypothetical feelings you’ve been rehearsing and practicing with, weeks prior. So, as you can imagine, wet diarrhea right behind your butthole tends to break that focus.

Playing Hamlet has been one of the greatest and most defining learning achievements of my life. I hadn’t been the lead of a show before, so getting this role, and thus the spotlight, was a little anxiety-inducing. Oh but Sawyer, you’re an actor, you should love this attention and it should never bring you to poop!

Most times, the thrill of the show and the adrenaline of being on stage surpass my digestion. That fight or flight instinct kicks in and my body works overtime; living and breathing theatre. Until one night, my body decided to throw a bit of a curveball. Fun fact; Hamlet is on stage for almost the entire show, so any time off stage is priceless. I was pacing around the halls, underneath the theatre, going over my lines as I had dozens of times before. So, naturally, that’s when the urge hit me. My stomach dropped so did my pants, as I rushed to a single private bathroom. I then purged, what water I did, while listening to my co-actor deliver his lines. Making sure to squeeze, with gusto, in only a few minutes there were before my return to the stage.

Why do I do this to myself?

Why would someone who suffers from performance anxiety and IBS try and pursue a life of acting? Because I flipping heckin' love it!

I feel like it's an opportunity to tell a story and imagine a world unlike any other. Being able to paint a tapestry of emotion; sharing human stories in front of hundreds of people is beautiful. It also makes me anxious and stressed, but I’ve found it to be worth it all the same. Maybe I'm playing with fire. Just waiting for the one traumatic experience that makes me put up the towel. But, until then, I want to fight as long as I can. It might not last forever; heck it's not going to. I've accepted that, but I need to at least try. To know I gave my all and didn't let my hindrances completely stop me. Yes, I’ve had to take extra preventative measures to be able to do this, whether it’s limit my food intake, or drink tons of water with breathing techniques, but it’s been worth it to do what I love. Even if it scares the sh*t out of me!

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