Toastmasters has enabled me to talk about one facet of my life I have kept locked in a closet. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how important it is for me to use my voice to put a face on anxiety.
In Toastmasters, the first assignment we get is to work through the Competent Communicator manual. This book has ten speeches meant to teach the new speaker varying ways in which we communicate with audiences. This includes Organizing Your Thoughts (#2), Vocal Variety (#6) and Visual Aids (#8). The tenth and final speech of the manual is the Creme de la Creme. It pulls together the nine previous learning lessons.
In short, it is a powerful speech meant to move others.
For my number 10 speech, I started my speech by allowing myself to have a panic attack in front of the audience. Instead of doing my positive mental imagery, deep breathing and tension reducing exercises before stepping on stage, I let my fellow Toastmasters see what anxiety means to me.
I told a story about my husband and I. We had been living together for three years and married for six months when he asked me to travel with him on a business trip to our hometown of Portland.
Ten minutes before we needed to catch the bus to the ferry, I unzipped my luggage and dumped the contents onto the floor of my bedroom. Tears streaming down my face and hiccuping, I told him that I wasn’t stepping foot outside of this house with him. I let him leave the house, board the ferry and head to YVR thinking he did something wrong. That I was mad at him. It was easier than telling him the truth.
The lesson of my tenth speech stressed the importance of talking about what ails us. From mental health to menstruation issues, we learn, grow and support each other when we communicate honestly.
How important this lesson and speech was didn’t become clear until a year later.
I was recently talking to a fellow Toastmaster about my attendance at an upcoming all day Toastmaster meeting.
“Well, I can’t commit until closer to the date. It’s hard for me to judge my energy level. An all day event tends to drain me, especially the networking events like Toastmasters,” I said. There was a note of apology in my voice. I was talking to a former pilot who made a career of remaining calm under pressure.
“You know what Weegee,” he said. “You once told a story about emptying your suitcase before catching a plane due to anxiety. I wasn’t sure how much of your story was an exaggeration.
“I eventually did ask your husband if it happened. And when he told me that it did and that if anything you probably understated the event, I realized how hard life can be for you. It gave me a better understanding of where you are coming from.
“So, last-minute is okay.”
His understanding and empathy for anxiety brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.
That is why I talk about anxiety. That’s why I don’t mind putting a face to anxiety.