What do Beyonce and my anxiety have in common?
When the grainy footage of the Carter/Knowles elevator biffo broke the internet this week, like the rest of the free world, I was drawn into the scandal. Why? WHY? Why would Solange, the lesser known Knowles, unload on Jay Z so furiously, and why did Beyonce appear to do nothing?
Online speculation was imaginative, and probably completely fabricated. We will never know if Solange is a bad drunk or Jay a philanderer. I prefer to think they were battling over the last raspberry macaroon on the dessert buffet, but truly, what business is it of ours?
While the maddening crowd has been occupied with sensationalised gossip, I’ve been fascinated by something else. The image of Beyonce as she left what they mistakenly assumed was the privacy of that lift, and faced the ever-present cameras. Talk about Game Face.
Solange looks stormy and sad. Jay is abashed. But Bey? Remarkably, the consummate performer is almost smiling. And not a frozen, forced smile, like you’d see on your mum when she was furious with you in public. A soft, almost serene smile, which, as she stepped into the sanctuary of her waiting car, broadened into her signature warm, friendly grin, directed straight down the camera, almost like she was daring the world to see anything but happy tranquillity.
Bravo Mrs Carter, bravo. That’s Oscar winning, right there.
I know a little about Game Face. Or at least Game Voice.
At the end of last year, I finished a decade of Breakfast Radio. A decade of getting out of bed at 3.30am, and being positive, cheerful and, hopefully, funny as soon as the mic was on, even when, sometimes, I was feeling nothing of those things.
I never stood in a lift passively watching my sister beat the shit out of my husband, but like Beyonce, during that ten years I had hard times that, if captured on a security camera, would have surprised my audience. Times when my marriage was strained, or when my baby was in intensive care, or when my mental health was on the edge.
But throughout all that, regardless, my mic went on at 6am every morning, and I made it my business to keep my own darkness from our audience. Because my job, a job I loved and expressed deep gratitude for every day, was to be a little bit of happy in what may have been for our listener, a bleak morning.
I don’t know if we had that impact on our audience, I can only hope we did. But I do know that putting on the Game Voice, “faking it till you feel it” as I called it, was a double edged sword for me.
Like a spell, turning on the mics gave me the same lift I was hoping to impart. The faking became real very quickly and for our 3-hour shift I felt great. Every time.
But then, as the mics were switched off, the return to reality hit hard. It was as though putting on the Game Face somehow made the moments alone harder. It always felt like the brighter the stage lights, the darker the shadows in the wings.
Looking at those photos of Beyonce, smiling peacefully at the world as though that elevator ride had been happier than a Von Trapp reunion, I can’t help but imagine her deep, exhausted collapse as her limo pulled away from the flashing cameras.
But here’s the interesting thing. I don’t do full time breakfast radio any more, and so recently, when I was having a bit of a rough time of it, I had no need for Game Face. Instead, I gave myself permission to be still and present with my sadness, and it was so much better.
Now, by rough time, there wasn’t one event to bring it all on. A dose of self-doubt here, some sad news there, a spattering of rejection and a liberal injection of negative self-talk and, like a tide coming in, suddenly I looked down and realised the anxiety was creeping up my calves, and I was struggling to even get dressed in a day.
I’m not trying to start a pity party here. In fact, the objective me can see the funny in the situation. When you’re bursting into tears in the middle of a discount supermarket because you’ve never been able to grow veggies, you have to laugh at yourself.
But in my stillness, while I was sad, I felt far more in control. There was no wallowing. I forced myself to be active. I exercised, I meditated, I saw my therapist. Most importantly though, I wasn’t expected to be Little Miss Happy all the time, I was able to be honest with myself and those around me.
The problem is, of course, that almost no one on the planet has the luxury to do this. There’s working a million hours a week and school drop offs and pick ups and Saturday sport and grocery shopping and friends’ birthdays and kinder working bees and just, well, life. And at every juncture, the expectation that you’ll just keep on keeping it together even though sometimes you’re falling apart.
And so we all master our Game Faces, but I feel like now, that isn’t helpful at all. I think the path to wellness consists of two simple things: permission to feel shit, and compassion. A universal compassion, for anyone we see in crisis, be it me still in my pyjamas at 3 in the afternoon, or a very famous family exploding in a New York elevator.
Let’s be willing to acknowledge the hurt. Be kind and patient, take an interest, offer help. Let’s not be awkward or freak out or criticise or laugh at or patronise or gossip about or ignore or alienate. And let’s definitely not sell personal moments for the world to cruelly dissect. Because no one needs to see me in my dressing gown.