I make my living as an on-air talent and voiceover artist. My primary job is Traffic Reporter, Monday through Friday, both a.m. and p.m. drive times. It is a shift I have worked for most of the 17 years I have been in Broadcasting. It has proved to be the best thing for my architect husband and me, as he is primarily a 9-5er, and we have five dogs that we hate to have to leave alone for long periods of time. Working a split shift — although I refer to it as “my 6-hour lunch break” — is not a problem, as I live within 10 minutes of my job.
One morning as I was sitting at my computer in the KIFM studio, ready to do a live traffic report, the jock tossed to me (“…and now, let’s check the roads, with Kelly Danek…”), and I opened my mouth to speak and nothing came out. Within a second or two I was able to regain my composure and deliver the report, but I knew something was “off.”
After my report, I said to the jock, “That was weird,” and I told him what had happened. We made light of it, but then 15 minutes later, when he tossed to me for traffic, it happened again. One or two seconds may not seem long, but in Radio it is dead air and it can seem like minutes.
I report traffic for two other stations, but they are recorded from another studio; but even in my delivery in these recorded reports, I was feeling somewhat tongue-tied, and had to stop and start a few times.
I noticed my hands were a bit tingly, and when the same thing happened at the beginning of my next report, I decided to mention it to one of the managers, J.R.
J.R., a Manager/Engineer, said right off the bat, ”Do you suppose you might be having a minor stroke?”
“I thought about that, but I have never had one, so….,” my voice trailed off.
“It might be a good idea to go to Emergency,” he suggested. “I can drive you there.”
“Let me call my husband, and I will se if he can come and get me.”
The next 5-10 minutes were like a whirlwind, with alerting the producer and morning jocks from all three of my stations that I needed to leave. I didn’t have a report for another 20-or-so minutes, from that point, so within that time they were able to bring in a sub — Scott, the asst. producer from KSON, who was one of my traffic fill-ins.
Tammy, one of the morning show hosts, came in and took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, it’s better to be safe, than sorry. Just go to Emergency.”
“Tammy,” I whimpered, “I lose my voice, and I lose my whole livelihood.”
“That’s why we need to just get you checked out. We’ve got you covered here, so just go. We love you.”
The weird thing about it all was that, except for my speech, I felt fine. Chuck did come for me, but instead of driving me, he followed me the short drive home on surface streets.
We lived in a neighborhood surrounded by hospitals, so we walked the two blocks to Scripps-Mercy and spoke with the Triage nurse in the Emergency room. I explained to her my symptoms and exactly what had happened, and I repeated to her what I had told Tammy, I lose my voice, I lose my whole livelihood.”
I looked up at Chuck at that moment and his eyes were welling up a bit.
Long story short, they put me in a hospital gown, ran some tests, including MRI. I told Chuck he would be fine to go back to work (which was a mile away). They brought in a Stroke Specialist who ran me through some eye and reflex exercises; I bantered with the staff, some of who knew me from the airwaves.
After all the tests, it was determined that I had not had a stroke; I had had an anxiety attack. “Really? Is that a common thing?”
“You bet,” was the doctor’s response. And you are in a high-profile profession that comes with its share of stress.”
“That’s so weird,” I said, shaking my head. ”This is the best job I have ever had; it has its share of stress, but I have had much worse.”
“Well, a lot of people in the media have similar symptoms.” She said. “That, and you are in your mid-fifties now.”
I have always been aware that anxiety has run in my family, especially on my mom’s side. I, myself, experience bouts of mild anxiety sometimes when it comes to toxic people, parking problems and running late. But anxiety attacks? This was an area quite foreign to me.
So, I was given a Xanax, along with a couple more to keep on hand. I was also instructed to keep myself out of Anxiety’s way as best I could. How to do that, in my profession?
When I returned to work the next day I had numerous people check on me, and a handful admitted that they, too, had had similar attacks. “It’s the nature of the business, “ said one jock, whom you would never guess would have had any issues whatsoever.
I now record all of my reports. I can go “live” if necessary, but for the most part, I sit in my own little studio for both a.m., and p.m., shifts and record my traffic reports into a program called NexGen.
I won’t go into detail about what was making me anxious (going “live”) in the KIFM studio, but I will say that the new arrangement has proven to be beneficial for all. I have a TV in my studio where I can watch the news (we had it on in the KIFM studio as well, but always on mute, and with my back to it), throw my head back and laugh out loud at certain features and commercials, and in general, just get more accomplished.
There is something about a medical diagnosis that makes you want to protect yourself, to keep certain situations and people at arm’s length. It is like a ticket to pick and choose. I’m not saying it’s my trump card that I cast out with abandon simply to avoid discomfort. Like it or not, we encounter anxious situations daily. I wouldn’t be able to drive my brand new car if I chose to take the path of least resistance. I wouldn’t be able to be in the same room with certain toxic people if I chose to play the Anxiety card; in fact, doing so could prove to be debilitating and self-sabotaging.
I confessed to one of my managers that I didn’t want to be seen as a liability to the company. She quickly assuaged my concerns, adding that I was a great employee, and that sometimes, you have to make certain adjustments to do your best at your job.
I didn’t intend to go into so much detail here; I originally set out to make this a relatively short piece. But with anxiety — as with other disorders — it is hard to place it all in a nutshell.
Anxious moments have peppered my lifetime — most of the time the anxiety has been unwarranted. But that morning at work was a turning point. It was clearly time to start taking care of myself in that capacity. I am deserving of that. I think we all are.