Zazie Beetz on Anxiety and Crying on the Set of 'Atlanta'

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Glamour magazine asked me to write an essay for them (so flattered!), but I feel quite blocked, to be honest. When I received the email, with a deadline attached, I thought of college and all of the papers that I couldn’t manage to hand in because I felt so overwhelmed by the process and the blank page. But then I thought, Well hell. Maybe this means that I have to do it. Maybe this blur of thoughts and tightening of my throat is indicative of what I need to confess.

Here goes: Despite my career, so much of my life has been dictated by what I’m afraid of: fear that I am not talented. Fear that people will finally realize that I am a boring individual who doesn’t have many ambitions beyond starting a family “at a good time” in life.

So, here I am, in front of my laptop—my daydreaming cat resting her head on my ankles—puzzling together a couple of paragraphs before I lose the nerve. (Don’t all lovely and impressive people chant: For goodness sakes, whatever you do, do what you fear most!?)

“Despite my career, so much of my life has been dictated by what I’m afraid of.”

But this is already the third draft, a week later. I’m in a café sipping some tea, because I can’t get anything intellectually valuable done in my bedroom.

For me, fear manifests itself in snoozing and inactivity. I just become so sleepy, any time of day, when something needs to be done. I sometimes go days without responding to texts or reading books or being able to process much of anything beyond the sun slowly creeping through my living room windows. I have the capacity to do these things, and so much more with life, but I feel like I can’t. So why even genuinely try? All that I can really do is begin focusing on whatever is needed in the moment, have a sip of water, and to just take it slowly. And that has been the most profound lesson: Do what you must do in order to survive first, and don’t put the pressure on yourself to get anything more than that done. Praise yourself for it, and practice gratitude. I mean this literally.

I used to wait tables at a place that was exhausting; I’d work 10 or 11 hours at a time and felt like I couldn’t keep up. During a particu­larly busy shift, I was reprimanded for some­thing I’d done wrong. I left feeling so depleted that I completely lost my shit in the bathroom. The entire time I worked there, I kept thinking, I could leave now and never look back.

That was a few years ago, but sometimes, on set, I have that same feeling: I could just walk away; this is too much. I’ll get so overwhelmed that I find a corner to cry in for five minutes. Then I stand up, brush my tears away, tell myself, “You worked hard to get here,” and get back to it. What I’ve learned is that bailing would mean giving in to anxiety, fear, and the myth that those things have any right to dictate my life. I remind myself that, though there was a time anxiety might have stopped me, today is not that day. And so, by checking in with myself, minute by minute, I push myself through. I recognize the achieve­ment: Maybe I didn’t clean my apartment, but I made it through work. And that’s enough.

Life keeps rapping me on the knuckles when I don’t take care, so it has become this ritual for me: not judging when I need a day to myself, and letting the clock tick by without paying too much mind. We have time.

Zazie Beetz, right, in the second season of Atlanta

This essay has had me in shambles. I’m back in bed now, late in the next day, my little kitty tapping her tail at my side. Despite the itching impulse to leave my laptop far behind, I figured the way to best it was to sit through.

You know, I used to cry on planes. I don’t anymore. It probably took almost a hundred agonizing flights to get there. Now, when I take off, a smile quivers on the corner of my lips. A new adventure is coming. How terrifying. How exhilarating.

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