Note: This a guest blog by the truly inspiring Deena Nyer.
I have convinced myself I look good in baseball shirts. The three-quarter sleeved ones that are two-tone. In my head when I wear ‘em, I look like a slender tomboy actress who is trying to not look like she is trying.
In reality, I do not look like this.
Last summer I took a class at Second City in Chicago. The training center there sold one of these shirts. It was grey with black 3/4 sleeves. I loved it. They offered a choice of medium or extra extra large. I intuited the medium would be too small, so I told myself I could wear the Double-x. I bought it and wore it often when I got back to Cleveland. Sure, it fit me like an over-sized nightshirt. Thankfully I promptly and conveniently forgot this fact every time I walked away from a mirror. I loved this shirt -for its memories and over-sized soft fabric – both of which felt comforting to be enveloped within.
I was wearing this shirt one day and a woman said “Second City, huh?”
I smiled and told her, “Yes, I studied there.”
The fact that I have any relationship with Second City is something I am very proud of. Second City made me an improviser. And being an improviser changed me for the better. Many times over. I started at Second City Cleveland ten years ago. When I began studying in Chicago last summer I felt like I had come full circle.
I was proud to tell this woman I’d studied there.
She looked at me, smiled and said: “Oh, how wonderful!” in a very happy, yet somewhat exaggerated tone.
I was crestfallen.
You see what I should probably tell you is this conversation took place between me and a nurse.
A nurse at a psychiatric hospital.
A psychiatric hospital where I was a patient.
When I told the nurse that I’d studied at Second City and she responded in this extra chipper voice, I felt like the very real fact that I am an improviser (and have even taught improvisation) was somehow now being taken away from me. It occurred to me that this nurse might not even believe me. After all, I was a resident (albeit a temporary one) in a place that felt I couldn’t even be trusted with a regular toilet paper dispenser.
The thing is, it is hard to hold on to your identity when you feel like a prisoner – not only within the walls of this space – but of the chemical imbalances in my brain. Although I was voluntarily there, I also was aware of being “locked up” without the basic freedoms my friends and family have (aka: a smart phone).
With all that said, I am so lucky. A year later I am now healthy – and back to improvising again. Thank you medicine. And thank you therapy. I am lucky because unlike so many others I was/am able to get the help I needed from professionals – and from people who care about me. I am lucky because even though I felt at times like a prisoner, I recognized I had the freedom within me to always keep knowing who I am at my core.
It’s interesting. A lot of what improvising is about is learning to be comfortable with uncertainty. This is a huge obstacle for improvisers – to just let the scene happen – and to not rely on taking it to the easy, familiar place. In many ways my training with improv helped me to improv my way through this uncertain time in my life. Now here I am, a year later. I am smiling as I write this. And I am grateful.
Written and shared with love by Deena Nyer. For more of Deena’s wonderful writing and inspiring story click here now!