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Lights, Camera...HIVES?

Learning to share the spotlight with urticaria 

I wait in the hallway with about 50 other people. Some are sitting down, others are leaning casually against the wall – and the rest of us are nervously pacing. I silently practice my lines in my head, but I keep forgetting the words that I could normally recite in my sleep. I’m sweating despite the air conditioning, and as they call my name to go up to the stage, I wonder if I’m going to slide right out of my shoes and fall flat on my face in front of the entire casting panel. “Please don’t breakout,” I repeat to myself, knowing that stress can sometimes affect my urticaria.

Anyone who has auditioned for a role – a play, sport or musical performance – can tell you how terrifying it can be…and multiply that by infinity if you live with urticaria. You are voluntarily putting yourself at the mercy of people whose job is to critique you. Even those who have performed their entire lives can still get nervous before an audition. There are few things I find as frightening as the first time standing before a casting director, trying to give them my best performance, while fighting back the nerves that threaten to make a fool out of me.

In some ways, this fear is like living with urticaria. When I have visible wheals, it often feels like I am on a stage, exposed under the bright lights with everyone staring at me. I am always consciously aware of every visible inch of skin, every move I make and how I am being perceived by others.

There is a similar fear of the unknown as well. Worrying about what the next moment will bring, the next hour, or even the day. This is where urticaria becomes far scarier than any audition. While an audition may have me shaking in my shoes for a few hours, I have no idea how long my urticaria flare-up will affect me. There is a certain degree of terror in not knowing how long this disease will stick around for, and that can be extremely frustrating.

When I completely fail at an audition, I can go home, shake it off and recuperate. When I have a flare-up, I never know how bad it will be, or how long it will take me to get back to normal. The unpredictability of a disease like urticaria is a scary reality for me.

Where fear ends…

Journalist Dorothy Thompson once said, “only when we are no longer afraid, do we begin to live.” This is the approach I’ve chosen to embrace as both an actress and someone living with urticaria. Just as I cannot let the fear of failure keep me from getting back up on the stage each time, it would do me no good to let the fear of urticaria keep me from living my life. I firmly believe in asking for more in life and not letting this disease bring me down.

I may never know when urticaria will rear its ugly head again, but I will not sit around limiting myself while waiting for it to happen. I can’t let the fear of the future take the joy out of the present. No matter how scary it can get, I know that I will always come out stronger on the other side and will be ready for my next scene.

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