The year I was cast as Puck in A Midsummer’s Night Dream was supposed to be the highlight of my high school experience. Contrary to popular belief, people who lean to overcontrol (of which I am one) often excel in activities that involve audiences. This can include public speaking, teaching, and positions of leadership. As therapists, we can sometimes be fooled into thinking our young clients lean to an undercontrolled temperament because they are involved with band, drama, the debate club – activities that require some element of “heat on.” We can also make erroneous assumptions based on tattoos, piercings or style of dress that fall outside the mainstream. After all, if you don’t like the limelight, why would you bring it on? Yet, the dialectic (at least for me) is that thrusting oneself into the limelight is often a pre-emptive strike to avoid being discovered for who you really are. As many of my clients tell me, life feels like a continuous thespian gig, and have offered analogies of wearing masks or disguises to suit the context. It also involves a whole lot of energy convincing people they are extroverted despite feeling painfully lonely, unlovable or deserving of connection.
Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to drama club in high school. I don’t think it would be an understatement that it saved my life. My friend James is convinced I have amnesia when it comes to high school; he discusses people I barely remember and events I can’t recall. I was so worried about this memory lapse that I contacted my high school English teacher who was a bit of a guardian angel and he said: “best not to remember painful things.” But that’s the catch. I DO remember painful things but not much that was positive. Sure, failing math and chemistry was brutal and likely why I am not delivering babies like was the original plan, but the worst thing that happened was stepping on Oberon’s cape. Like many people who lean to OC, I can remember such transgressions in beautiful and painful detail. It was a matinee for another school and Oberon and Puck are plotting their shenanigans:
Oberon (in his handmade blue cape) says:
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.
And I say as Puck:
I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.
At this point, my stage instruction is to run around Oberon in my whacky Puck outfit complete with a scratchy head wreath from Zellers (the Canadian equivalent of Target) that makes indents in my forehead. Only in my swirling around Oberon, I tripped on his bedsheet-slash-frugal-cape. For those of you who are familiar with the play, this scene is quite early. I could hear stifled laughter from the visiting school. My face was so hot it was melting my stage make up. And I did not recover from my tripping and a consequence was that Puck essentially pouted the rest of the play which is decidedly counter active to his mischievous character. And oh boy, was I called out after:
Drama teacher: Under no circumstances can you bail on the cast! If you make a mistake you must find a way to recover!
So, while I cannot remember Oberon’s real name, recall the cast party, the periodic table or how to do long division, I can remember this exact scene down to colours, sounds, smell and touch. I told this story to Dr. Thomas Lynch in our recent training in Chicago, my first intensive teaching. In true OC style, I prepped like crazy. My dining room table was a mountain of cue cards, neighbours, friends and family and stuffed bears were all audience members for rehearsing my slides and I broke the spine on my newly autographed RO DBT book. And guess what happened in Chicago? I “tripped” on Oberon’s cape. Of course, Dr. Lynch does not wear a cape when he is teaching (but heck, you never know what he might do!), but I had made a small error that was imperceptible to the audience and I froze. This time, however, I recovered. Cause guess what? RO DBT teaches us that we can’t fall apart, or in other words, the show must go on.
Now for many people who lean to OC, “the show must go on” is not a new mantra. OC folks will work when sick, put off getting a medical professional to assess complaints, and bear pain (see Hope Arnold’s blog about pain tolerance). However, RO DBT teaches us that the show must go on without being a martyr about the show. RO DBT assumes that we can learn to take responsibility for our edges in a manner that is pro-social. In my high school example, I let down the tribe by pouting and ruminating. In the Chicago example, I lifted my tribe by outing myself and re-committing. There is a huge difference here, namely being vulnerable. In my coveted role of Puck I would not let others know I was embarrassed or concerned about my performance. In Chicago, I let Dr. Lynch know of my perceived transgression and he had my back – with the expectation I would do the work necessary to carry on for the sake of the tribe.
So for me, the mantra of the show must go on has a new spin. It is not gritting one’s teeth and bearing it, but seeking tribe to transcend it. The difference has been life changing.
About the author: J. Nicole Little, Ph.D., R.C.C.
Nicole is a therapist specializing in eating disorders and other conditions of overcontrol in Victoria, B.C., Canada. She has also taught for 13 years at Universities and colleges. Her passions are RO DBT and animal assisted therapy.