I can’t help it. I have knots in my stomach. Anxiety cramps, and occasional waves of nausea. I am not in Grahamstown and have sworn off ever going again, and still, I read reviews and recommendations, mainly on social media, and the panic spreads through my body like PTSD.

I can’t believe it was only three years ago that I was there. It feels like a lifetime since I made the decision never to go again, because I came so close to really dark thoughts then. But it wasn’t only the last time; there were others that were almost as bleak, dangerous and troubling for me. It is not my happy place and it is ok for me to know my own boundaries and limitations. It is ok for me to swear off going, and not to do it to myself. So, what’s my current problem, you are probably wondering? My brain and body haven’t forgotten. I have phantom festival syndrome.

Every review I read that speaks about the 15 audience members a brilliant cast and director played for makes me hysterical. Every show that talks proudly about full houses without a decent word of recommendation in a review gives me cramps. Every bit of painfully carefully worded self-promotion (to which I am no stranger, even this year, with a show I have directed at the festival) makes me read between the lines about how hard it is to get people to see your show. I am almost in tears just thinking about how unfair and horrible it is. Every well deserved Ovation Award that will come too late for those shows to capitalise on, every 1030pm slot, every freezing morning, every ill equipped venue, every heartbreaking brave face, every desperate flyer hand out, every dream deferred, every belief strung out to its furthest, every ache.

Of course, there are those that do brilliantly, and have the best time, and have enough money to eat every meal at the Long Table, and whose pre-sales are brilliant, and who don’t have to worry. And I am so glad for them. I was never one of them. And I can’t wait for this week to be over. I don’t want to feel this.