Bill Hader Used To Hide His Panic Attacks From Saturday Night Live Costars

Live performance is an alternately exhilarating and terrifying experience. You can rehearse a play or a skit or a stand-up act until it's muscle memory, but you are also a human being and sometimes your brain has other ideas. And if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, as I do, there isn't a worse place in the world to be. In a millisecond, you cycle through feelings of shame, fury, inadequacy and profound despair. You're letting down your castmates and colleagues, and, most horrifyingly, you're being exposed as an unwell person.

Panic attacks are harrowing and suffocating in even the most seemingly benign situations, so imagine having one while being beamed live into millions of living rooms via the premiere sketch comedy show on the planet. This happened to Bill Hader frequently throughout his brilliant eight-year run on "Saturday Night Live." If you're thinking none of this bled through to his work, that's fairly typical. In my experience, panic attacks are internal storms that rarely rage on the surface. But they take a devastating emotional toll. It can take days or weeks to fully recover. And even if you have a partner or friend in whom you can confide, there's still a sense of brokenness, as well as a fear that the next episode is lurking around the corner.

For the most part, we suffer in secret. Hader did precisely this at "SNL."

Riding the storm out on the biggest stage imaginable

In an interview with Empire, Hader shares what it felt like to struggle through panic attacks while on a live television show. Per Hader:

"To be honest, I was trying to ignore the anxiety. I wouldn't even label it. I didn't fully know it was anxiety until probably my last two seasons. It was like a secret, because I felt that everyone would just think that I was being really dramatic. So there was this bathroom on the eighth floor, and I would go in there and have these panic attacks. Maggie Carey — my wife at the time — would come down and we would do her [anxiety-relieving] Lamaze breathing in my dressing room. She was incredibly helpful during that time."

I've survived my share of panic attacks in restrooms, but never before I was set to play Stefon on Weekend Update or do a spot-on impersonation of Alan Alda. Still, while I'm in awe of Hader's resolve, it's not surprising to hear that he was miserable at the time he was knocking out one great sketch after another on SNL.

How did he manage to withstand eight years of this? Here's what Hader told Empire:

"It was trying to move through my anxiety to get better at something. For each season, I would give myself a little goal that sometimes only I knew about. They started very modestly, like, 'Be good in other people's sketches.' Then, midway through my era, it was things like getting a good original character on, because I couldn't really get one that connected well."

Barry as a means of coping with anxiety

Hader being so public about his anxiety is hugely important to those of us who, on an inexplicable whim, can find ourselves confined in a mental prison of our brain's making. That he's used his HBO series "Barry" as a vehicle to explore a character who is exceptional at something he loathes is the niftiest of coping methods.

Hader isn't alone in his industry, and it's always encouraging when someone with his talent and fame speaks up about their struggles. Anxiety doesn't discriminate, and no amount of success will make it go away. It is, however, treatable. You can learn to live with it. You can thrive. It will always be a part of you, but it does not define you, and there is no shame in sharing your condition with others. Hader is a living, breathing example of what you can accomplish with your quicksilver brain.