The Anxiety Monster

By Shannon Boatwright

Mental health disorders have been at the forefront of the social scene lately, creating a social awareness of the fact that they are very real and something that should not be ignored.  I personally have witnessed and experienced the harsh reality that is anxiety.

Over my lifetime, I’ve witnessed those I love, my precious students, and heard of others that suffer with this crippling thing that is anxiety.

Now let me point out – anxiety is a very normal emotion for any individual. And any health professional will tell you that. But, it’s when the anxiety literally disables you, making you irrational and consumed with fear, that it moves into the territory of being a disorder. Anxiety can take hold of some, making them so fearful of something that they become obsessed and can think of nothing but the impending doom they think a certain place, situation or action may hold for them.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “the term “anxiety disorder” refers to specific psychiatric disorders that involve extreme fear or worry, and includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD),  panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.

It’s a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety.

But you may experience anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions – just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.”

Anxiety can be like a monster that grabs hold of you and sets in a fear that overwhelms you, making you feel helpless, with no sense of control. And you have no idea how to battle that monster.

I have known people in which the anxiety makes them immobile and just racked with fear – as if the place they dread, the place that has stirred this monster of anxiety, is like a haunted house waiting to eat them alive. Or cases when one’s own negative thoughts become so uncontrollable and real to them that they literally throw up. I have seen some of my smartest, most talented students become so ravaged with anxiety, not wanting to go to a certain class that they dread, that they literally cry at the thought of having to face going. To think that a feeling can literally make some people shake, become sick and throw up, even go into full on panic attacks, because whatever it is they’re so anxious about has plagued them so severely –  the monster physically takes hold and can wreak havoc on not just a person’s mind but their body as well. It’s almost unbelievable at times. The anxiety monster can take hold of someone’s sanity and make them a victim of its brutality.

So how in this world can we help someone battling the monster of anxiety? First off, NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, say, “Oh you’re fine! Suck it up. Get over it.” Even if you cannot fathom why an individual would be so anxious and upset over something that seems so simple to you, that is the worst way you could ever react. Want to send someone deeper into the pit of despair? Tell them they’re overacting, being silly, being ridiculous and that they need to get over it. You first have to understand that what they’re experiencing is real, serious and crippling. They need to know that they can indeed take control of how they’re feeling and in their moment of despair they need to be assured that it will pass and they will overcome it.  When braving the monster, one must face it, recognize it and then conquer it by replacing the negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It’s almost like a process of training oneself to face the fear and then knock it out with positivity, all the while gaining self-confidence.

I want to scoop up those that suffer with such severe anxiety and beat down that monster that plagues them with my bare hands, diminishing its power forever. But, it’s just not that easy. Defeating that monster is something they have to face and learn how to battle. The best I can do is let them know that I’m here for them, always ready to provide positivity & support, and I believe in their power to overcome and gain relief.

A former student of mine, Jessi, battles the anxiety monster. She’s currently in the 9th grade and is an incredibly talented young lady. You’d never think such a beautiful, talented, seemingly confident student would ever be of the individuals that battle this disorder. She is one of my students who lived for the security, freedom and joy of drama class. One of my stars that actually wanted to come to school, only because she knew she’d get to come to my class. Acting and singing became her comfort zone. It was her savior and what helped her make it through middle school.  Another testament to how amazing, beneficial and powerful the fine arts can be! Well, my dear Jessi moved on to high school – a school that sadly does not provide a drama program. The absence of her outlet of security hit hard. She now attends online school and is pursuing acting classes and performance venues to hone her talents. She is a most precious young lady that I have big hopes for, that not only she achieve her dreams, but also gain the confidence to keep the anxiety monster at bay and eventually take complete control of it, not letting that monster ever bring her down or hinder her pursuits of happiness.

Jessi happens to be a songwriter and wrote a lovely, deep, confessional song about this very topic.  Her precious lyrics expose a reality of anxiety…to say I’m proud of her for baring her soul through her talents is an understatement. And the fact that she is sharing her message, her heart, and her voice through her music, is a priceless gift.  I’ll let her song speak for itself and hope that it helps others, allowing them to recognize the fact that they are not alone and they can indeed conquer their fears, taking control of the anxiety monster.

Jessi’s Song

They say stop acting crazy
But I don’t think they understand the pain
They say stop acting like a baby
If only they could take a look inside my brain
I will try my best to fight this heavy feeling in my chest
But sometimes it’s too strong for me
And sometimes I can barely breathe
And I know, yeah I know that you’re here
Everyday I watch the time go by and I wonder (yeah I wonder)
If one of these days the world under me will just crumble (will just crumble like)
When they call me crazy
When they say I’m acting like a little baby
One day I hope they see that they’re not helping me
When they say stop acting crazy
But now I know they don’t understand the pain
They say stop acting like a baby
If only they could take a look inside my brain

Written and sung by Jessi Powers


A Brilliant Star

By: Shannon Boatwright

It’s a beautiful, fabulous, fascinating thing…

I grew up witnessing and hearing the incredible talents of my mother. For me, it was a common occurrence, “no big thang,” to hear my Mama tear it up on the piano, to watch her teach others, and to witness others being brought to their feet in standing ovations or even brought to tears as a result of her brilliance.

Young Robin

My whole life, from this woman’s womb to the present, I have enjoyed listening to her create beautiful music at a piano, organ or keyboard. Growing up, it was pretty much a weekly event to attend performances, whether at a church, theater, studio, or another setting, where I could watch my mother grace others with her talent. As a child, I also witnessed her teaching and inspiring others every week. I would come home from school and have specific responsibilities because my Mama was busy teaching piano from our home in the afternoons and sometimes into the evenings. She always had a studio space of some sort, no matter where we lived, to teach others the amazing art of music. I was consistently exposed to teaching, learning and music. And when my mother was not creating or teaching music herself, the music of other greats always filled our home.

Teen Robin

It was inevitable that I became a lover of music. And I guess it’s no surprise that I’m a teacher of the Arts and have such a passion and appreciation for the Arts.

I have to admit, I’m ashamed to say that I do not play the piano. I could’ve. I should’ve. I did for a bit in my youth. I had the knack, it was there in my fingers, in my blood in a sense…but, to be brutally honest, I knew there was no way I could ever be as good as my mother. And that deterred me, which is a total shame. People used to say, “I bet you play as well as your Mother!” The pressure was fierce. People assumed that just because I was her offspring, that meant that I could bring magic to the keys like my mother did. Not so. Possibly could’ve been so. When I was a pre-teen, I actually got good enough to play duets with my mother and it felt amazing. I was proud of my work and the difficult piano pieces I was able to help bring to life. But the more I played, the more people made comments that made me feel the immense pressure to be as good as my mother. Most unfortunately, that resulted in me quitting the piano.

Young Me & Mama

My focus became anything and everything BUT the piano. And my precious mother never forced me. She even paid for piano lessons for me with a different teacher. (Which I very quickly realized was a waste of money, because no one was as good a teacher as my Mama.) As I got older and realized even more that there was indeed a talent within me, I asked her, “Why didn’t you just MAKE me take lessons from you!!!?? I could be so great now!” Her lovely response was that she didn’t want me to resent her and turn my back on music.

Flash forward to the present day and I can say I certainly did not turn my back on music. In fact, music has been and is an enormous inspiration in everything that I do. I went through almost EVERY musical instrument and my defensive response to people eventually became, “Oh, I don’t play piano. I’m a dancer, a singer, an actress!” My strengths in the performing arts grew and I’m very thankful for all the experiences that my talents have led me to thus far.

Me & My Mama

I grew up with one of the greatest mentors I could ask for and I didn’t even know it. I love to see entertainment come to life and bring joy to others. I have a producers’ heart, a passion for directing and producing that is equal to performing. I owe that passion to witnessing my mother always hard at work, not only creating beautiful music, but creating beautiful events and performances, entertaining and inspiring both audiences and students.

My mother is not only a performer, but has taught music for over 40 years. And I had the honor of growing up witnessing her in action on every level, from one-on-one lessons, to group workshops, to producing and directing full-scale productions. A teacher’s heart was born in me as I watched my mother in action. As I witnessed her own proud heart swell at the accomplishments of her students, as I watched student after student reach levels of success due to her unique teaching skills and range of talents. It seems it was a natural step for me to add teacher to my resume. After watching her over all these years, I developed a love for teaching and inspiring others. And what a blessing that has been!

My mother is not just an accompanist. She is a force. She is a brilliant star that shines with many talents, and she never ceases to amaze me. The video here is from just a few weeks ago at the close of 2015. If you take the time to watch the whole video, you’ll experience a small taste of one of the many talents my precious mother possesses. This particular performance brought people to their feet in a standing ovation. It brought tears to my eyes and filled my heart in ways that I cannot express with words.

Robin Vaughan Parler

There is a quote that says, “music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.” I truly believe that music ignites the heart, gives wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. And my mother’s performance did just that for me. It was a beautiful reminder of the power of such a gift and the importance of sharing it with others.

My mother is drawn to the piano like a moth to a flame, but her dedication is awe-inspiring. She is the ultimate professional. Her talent really is a priceless gift; a gift that she earns with hours upon hours of hard work practicing, perfecting, and giving her all so that she can inspire and bring joy to others. For that, I am ever-grateful, ever-proud, ever-thankful. In my adulthood, I recognize, celebrate, honor and share my mother’s passions. In my eyes, she will forever be a brilliant star.