Mental Health Monday
When I first starting writing my one-woman show, I wanted to show my range as an actor. The performing arts has been a part of my life since I was 16 years old. After I graduated from the William Esper Studio, I auditioned for a number of roles; I even quit my job in order to work for free, doing what I truly loved. I can remember writing in my journal in 2009: I want to create my own opportunities. At that time in my life, I constantly looked for permission and validation to start my creative journey.
I started experiencing mild anxiety symptoms after my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I visited doctor offices and hospitals in search of answers. I spent years focusing on my physical symptoms, not realizing they were part of my anxiety disorder. I neglected to treat my anxiety disorder and when my grandfather passed away, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia.
Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you panic. On several occasions, I had panic attacks in public places. I didn’t leave my house for six months. At the time, I thought my dream of performing was over. I suffered from heart palpations, dizzy spells and racing thoughts, which often led to panic attacks.
I finally decided to see a therapist and regain control over my life. Going to therapy and sticking with a treatment plan allowed me to regain my independence. Having a place to go to feel supported and safe made a tremendous impact on my recovery. I started making progress, and I took a class that changed my life forever. I went to the Go-Solo Workshop with Emmy Award-winning writer and teacher Matt Hoverman. I was then able to write and develop my one-woman show, “I Am Hope.” My teacher at the workshop encouraged me to speak openly about my mental health struggles. I’ve had audience members relate so well with my experiences that, after my performance, they have thanked me for telling their story. I have performed Off-Broadway at the United Solo Festival and at a few more festivals around NYC. I recently performed at Fordham University for Women’s History Month. I believe that storytelling has the power to breakdown stigmas and spark conversations. I plan to tour my show in schools and continue the conversation about mental health.
This is the most rewarding work I have ever done in my acting career. I am no longer cast based on my headshot; I am cast based on my story. Every time I get a chance to tell my story, it’s a reminder that anxiety didn’t win. In order to maintain my wellness, I remain in therapy today.
"I Am Hope is a poignant play filled with brilliantly portrayed scenes that stir emotions and inspires the audience. A funny, yet moving play sheds light on a woman's real life experiences living with an anxiety disorder. Audience members are sure to feel moved and empowered." --Ijeoma Nwaogu, Ph.D., Fordham University