​I Took an Improv Class For the Hell of It, and It Was Better Than Therapy​

For more than half my life, Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. were always booked. That's the consequence of split custody. Wednesdays meant going to Dad's house, which I was always emotionally torn about, given the not-so-cordial split-up between my parents and the fact that my mom was pretty sick during my childhood. The two of us were always attached at the hip, and Wednesdays meant having to do emotional gymnastics to ensure that both parents felt like I wanted to be where they were.

A decade later, though, Wednesdays at 6:30 became about me when I signed up for a weekly improv class that met then. The move was totally out of the blue. I'd been overwhelmed with cabin fever, having worked from home nearly every day since the pandemic. I decided that I need a hobby — one that would get me out of the house. So, I searched the internet for "activities near me" and started ruling things out. Sports league? Not coordinated enough. Pottery class? Low on patience. I wanted something noncompetitive and with a low barrier to entry in terms of preexisting skills.

It was the kind of relief that comes with imperfection — that's granted by unscripted dialogue and zero expectation to be anything but present.

I started thinking back to my childhood and the activities I used to do — the kind that made me feel free. I'd already turned one of them into a career (which is how I ended up here, pouring out my internal monologue to the world). But I remembered another that got pushed to the side.

Back in elementary school, a select group of students, myself included, were occasionally bused from our school to a performing arts program, where we would play acting games and do improv. We got to be silly for an hour or so and I didn't have to worry about managing anyone's expectations or emotions but my own. I didn't have to operate with a filter. I didn't have to practice car-ride conversations ahead of time just to avoid mentioning the other parent. I could just say what came to mind; be in the moment. I loved it.

Eventually the enrichment program came to an end. My interest in acting continued for a time. In high school, I did some theater, plays and musicals mostly. But it was all scripted and rehearsed. Unlike my earlier experience, I felt the pressure of always aiming for perfection.

Frankly, I'd kind of forgotten about my early involvement in the performing arts program and the freeing feeling it brought me. Until that Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 10, when I took my first adult improv class. Before it was halfway through, I was reminded of the relief I experienced years ago. It was the kind of relief that comes with imperfection — that's granted by unscripted dialogue and zero expectation to be anything but present.

Every Wednesday for the next six weeks, I went to improv with no agenda. I came happily unprepared to each class, eager to learn a new game and build a new reality with my teammates, all while healing my inner child.

The little girl who used to sit by the door on Wednesday nights, overnight bag in hand and riddled with anxiety, is smiling back at me now. She knows that Wednesdays have become my own again and that they're filled with joy, laughter, and release. For that, I'm forever indebted to improv. And yes, I've already signed up for a second session.

Alexis Jones is the senior health editor at POPSUGAR. Her areas of expertise include women's health, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, diversity in wellness, and chronic conditions. Her other bylines can be found at Women's Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more. Alexis is currently the president of ASME Next, an organization for early-career print and digital journalists.