I Quit Theatre School Because I Am An Anxious, Depressed Quitter (Part 1)

At age 18, move to the United States to study acting. I study nothing. All I do is panic.

After a shockingly successful interview, I am admitted into NTS as a playwriting student in 2013. I graduate in 2016.

The journey is, first of all valuable, but also arduous, anxious, actually quite embarrassing and by the time I graduate I cannot believe that I haven’t quit.

I am an anxious quitter.

To remedy my anxiety, I often quit things. It’s an awful habit.

Quitting comes from the more general habit of defensive dreaming.

My first response to an anxious situation is to just live in my daydreams and fantasies and avoid the anxiety. Eventually my denial catches up with me, I realize I am in over my head and I quit. I resign into freedom. I calm down. (Actually To Quit comes from the latin Quietus which means Tranquility. There is an obvious upside to quitting.)

It’s harder to quit things now that I’ve endured my time at NTS. I had to learn a new habit when I was there, the kind of tough-self-love that keeps anxiety in line but previous to that experience, I was a Big Time Quitter.

In 2008 I move to Syracuse, New York so study acting at Syracuse University (SU).

Six months into my degree I quit.

I had to quit theatre school because I was enduring a sincere mental breakdown. 

The trouble started before I even attended school. I purposefully acquired a weight-loss pill addiction, thinking it would give me the competitive advantage of higher energy and better looks.

The pills, combined with my antidepressants that I have steadily been taking for two years, combined again with my anxious need to get out of Toronto and start my life again because I’ve already had one mental breakdown here, I am already a freak loser with a bad attitude and a weird creative side here, the pressure, the pressure, the pressure, becomes volcanic. 

And I have no plan B.

These pills, and I’m not even sure they are on the market, if used with enough of that anxious ambition, are effectively Speed.

I arrive at school addicted to amphetamines, terrified to stop taking the pills because I don’t want to slump. I know dark places. I don’t want to go back.

My first week in Syracuse is a mess. This swamp of manic anxiety becomes the first step on a short journey to resignation.

I arrive and I start making friends right away, in my dorm, at orientations. 

I am excusing myself every three hours to pop five pills and come back READY TO GO.

During the SU drama orientation, the faculty has the freshmen pile into a room, there’s 30 acting students, 30 musical theatre students and I think production and design students.

We are asked to state our name, where we are from and one thing about us that is special.

I am sitting at the back with my friend Kristian who I just met today but I am sure he is my best friend.

The back row is asked to step up first.

We bustle to the front of the room and go one at a time. 

It’s my turn and I scream, “HI I AM RACHEL AND I AM FROM TORONTO AND I AM SPECIAL BECAUSE I AM CANADIAN” and I run away like a coke-headed criminal.

 I have goals here.

I have endured four torturous years of high school, sitting alone day after day, hoping no one sees me because at least if they don’t see me I won’t have to worry about them talking to me because at least if they don’t talk to me I won’t have to hear anything shitty about myself. 

Eventually, in twelfth grade, I acquired some confidence, but that came from knowing that soon I would flee this country and start anew.

I am in Syracuse with goals. ONE: Be everyone’s hot friend. TWO: Find a husband. THREE: Broadway.

After the orientation, initiation starts.

I remember only bits of this process but it includes the freshmen singing and dancing to a parody of Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” and then being assigned to upperclassmen who would act as our “Bigs”.

The students of the department operates via a family-system where new students are assigned as “Littles” to upperclassmen who would become their “Bigs”.

The Bigs are apparently going to be my family. I already have two big brothers and they never talk to me so I really wonder what this mimicry of kinship will be but I’m not that excited.

I am assigned to a household of men, all of whom look like they are thirty despite insisting that they are somewhere around 20.

Cue the anxiety.

Oh, sorry, cue the anxiety on SPEED.

My whole life I have been afraid of men. If they’re around me, I shut down. Nothing violent happened to me as a child, I was just, for some reason, very aware of the potential for embarrassment when I was around boys of all ages. I hid from boys. In my entire childhood, I maybe spoke to a total of ten boys and they were probably all camp counsellors or mentors or people paid to talk to me.

I become brave around my Bigs.

By the time I am introduced to these boys, I have already been at school for three days. It feels like three weeks. I have made friends with everyone. Powered by speed, I have fearlessly introduced myself to everyone and I have become known as a high energy oddity, or at least that’s how I feel. 

I get brave.

I over-introduce myself. Too much enthusiasm. Too loud. There is such a thing as “too much enthusiasm” and “too loud” and it can usually be mastered by an anxious bi polar aspiring actress on Speed.

There are three other Littles with me, assigned to this house full of boys. Two of those other Littles are girls. I’m not alone.

I get driven somewhere. Some lookout point. They have blindfolds on us. 

Where am I, who are these people, I am going to die, bye mom, bye dad, bye forever bye bye bye bye. 

They tell us to open our mouths. They shoot vodka into our mouths with water pistols. I am in America.

They take our blindfolds off, everyone is laughing and I decide that everything is fun.

I feel empowered by my sudden decision that everything is fun but that decision is unsustainable. I am here under the influence of drugs and I am a puppet of those drugs and soon I will be scared again and soon I will want to go home again and then soon after that maybe I’ll lose my virginity to a plastic weapon I DON’T KNOW this is America and I am on speed.

We go to a party, I don’t know how to get back to my dorm, I don’t even know how to recognize the White men who are supposed to be taking care of me. I don’t know anything. I am captive.

I am in a dark room and I have been walking from one dark room to the next, wandering around, alone. People look at me and then look away, people who know each other, everyone is touching, I hate it here, I can’t breathe, I need to go outside, I don’t 

know how to get outside, I need to go home, I need to go to Canada, just for a second, just for a little break.

My roommate, Arielle, is also an acting student. She is also at this party. She finds me.

Her Bigs are nice people, not scary at all. They walk us back to the dorm. We sleep and in the morning we have to be in class by 8 AM.

We walk down the hill, sunglasses and scarves, green tea, speed pills, Wellbutrin, I am a helicopter.

I get to class. They split the room into four groups: A B C D.

A and B go one way. C and D go another way. I am with my friends Kristian and Jacob. I met them two days ago. Arielle, is somewhere else. 

We sit in a dance studio. Thirty kids, I think. 

The teacher, David Lowenstein, a movement teacher, tells us that normally we’d be having a sweaty movement class but today we are just going to introduce ourselves. He wants to know who we are. I am buzzing. My pulse is trying to leap out of my mouth. I cannot tell this room of  people who I am. I don’t like who I am. That’s why I came to a different country, to get away from who I am. 

But, what did I expect? I don’t even know what a movement class is.

David asks us to state Who we are, Where we come from and Why we are here.

My head starts yelling at me: You were never supposed to be here, you were never supposed to be here, I don’t measure up to American kids, they’re all so prepared, they’re all so confident, I want to take a shit and throw it out the window and then jump through a separate closed window and land in a pile of glass and shit. I don’t want to do this.

We are moving around the classroom, one kid to the next. Everyone has an answer, they’re here because They Have To Be Here, something insistent, something confident.

I am one of the last people to speak and I am sweating, shaking, numb mouth, totally incapable of dictation.

My words shake as I start to cry, somehow sharing that, “My name is Rachel Ganz, I am from Toronto and I just want to I just want to I just want to BE ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS.”

People don’t know what to do. Jacob and Kristian are laughing but also telling me it’s ok.

I leave the classroom without looking anyone in the eye. I run upstairs.

We were given staff advisors and my bigs told me that if I need anything I should talk to my staff advisor especially because my advisor is Craig and apparently he’s really reliable.

I hunt for his office, running through the halls and asking people where it is.

Craig is in his office. He looks at me like I’m covered in blood.

I recognize him. He auditioned me. I loved my audition. It was fun. It made me feel fun. Craig made me feel capable.

“Are you Craig?”

“Yes.”

“Hi, you’re my staff advisor.” I show him the paper that says he’s my staff advisor.

“Ok, who are you?”

“Rachel Ganz. I’m, sorry. I’m Rachel Ganz and I’m from Canada and I don’t think I should be here, I don’t think I should be here, I really just don’t think I should be here.”

I am weeping in Craig’s office and I have never met him before.

He tells me I can’t quit yet because I haven’t even tried.

He tells me to take it one day at a time.

He tells me that if I stay in the program I’ll learn new things about myself and I might even find that I can do this.

He tells me that he can see that I have a lot inside me and he hate for me to leave so early.

I say ok. I say the word “OK” over and over again, staring at the floor, crying like I need my mother, like I need nourishment from someone who won’t judge me, like I need real help.

I thank him twice while nodding my head. I run out of his office.

I run, really running, all the way to my dorm.

I have three bottles of pills empty into a large freezer bag.

I take the bag, I hide it under my sweater and I throw it in the dumpster.

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