I haven’t written about the mental health stuff in awhile here, and that’s for a few reasons. One is that I’ve been doing pretty decent: I haven’t been crying all that much. I’ve been getting work done. I seem relatively happy. I’m not like super, but I’m great for me. The other thing is more people have started to read this, and I know it’s not like that many people or anything, but it stresses me out knowing my personal shit is all over the internet. Who would have thought?
But my anxiety is still like a major concern, and it seems to have peaked this week. So I thought it would be helpful just to talk a little bit about this, since maybe I don’t know that’s something people want to hear about.
One of the most helpful things a therapist has ever said to me is that the difference between healthy worry and anxiety is that healthy worry means you can do something. If I’m worried I’m going to be late, and I leave early to make it in time, that’s healthy worry. But if I’m in the car stuck in traffic, and I’ve let everyone who needs to know know, and I’m sitting there, drumming my hands on the steering wheel, sweating, imagining how terrible it’s going to be when I walk in late, that’s anxiety. Because at the point, there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome, I’m just getting myself into a state over something I can’t fix.
I find this a really useful gauge. A lot of times anxiety can come out at night, and that’s the perfect time to be like, “Nothing I can do. The only job I have right now is to sleep.”
However, it can also be really difficult to distinguish when there is something you can do but you’re not doing it. Case in point: Right now, I have a revised short story that was due this past Monday for a course I’m taking, and I haven’t even started. I know I’ve got to sit down and revise. But what would be a healthy worry has transformed into an anxiety as I let the assignment get later and later, and now it feels like a three-headed hydra that is waiting to eat me. (Do hydras eat people? They do, right? I feel like that happens in Hercules, my main source of hydra knowledge.) Rather than do the assignment, I think of how I should be doing the assignment, and I check Facebook and my phone.
There’s a really amazing episode of Fraggle Rock called “Believe It Or Not” that is honestly one of the best things I have ever seen in my entire life. In it, Red and Gobo* discover a creature who transforms into whatever you think it is. So Red imagines the creature has pigtails, and all of the sudden the creature has pigtails. She imagines it’s really cute, and it becomes really cute.
The problem arises when the Gorgs (do y’all remember the Gorgs? Seriously Fraggle Rock is one of the greatest shows ever made, I will fight you) hear the creature in their basement and think it’s a monster. It gets bigger and bigger and grows several heads and Red and Gobo I believe end up having to trick the Gorgs into believing it’s just a small cute creature to stop everything from out of control. I could look up an episode synopsis, but I want to prove to myself that I can recall Fraggle Rock episodes from memory. It’s a point of pride, people.
That’s a lot of how anxiety works. I’ll be talking to a friend about how I don’t think I’ll ever have a real job and they’ll be like, “Have you tried applying to x?” “Would you ever consider doing y?” And to everything they say, I will respond, “No no can’t do that impossible,” not because their ideas are so outlandish, but because in the moment of my anxiety being high, it’s impossible to see my problems as things which present specific challenges to overcome. Instead the world outside becomes like the creature in Fraggle Rock: huge, monstrous and completely unbeatable.
So how do you train yourself to see the creature as small and adorable when you have already made it big and terrifying? This is something I struggle with every day, but I think like yoga, you just have to practice. Right now, I am beating the anxiety of my short story course with writing this blog post, because I find writing this blog helps me feel in control and capable. I somehow already feel much better having written it, and even though I can’t tackle the short story thing right at this moment because I have to go to work, I feel in a much better place about it than I did. That said, I think everyone has to find their own way to do that, and it takes a few trials and errors to get there.
There’s a line I really like in Coriolanus where someone says, “Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.” Could I look it up and tell you exactly where it comes from? Yes, but I do not care to. This is just one of many ways we can relate Coriolanus to Fraggle Rock, two works of art about neighboring civilizations in conflict that are less well-remembered than their creators’ other accomplishments.
*Okay when I originally posted this, I was convinced Gobo’s name was Walter, and I was so impressed with myself for remembering I refused to look it up, but then I was like, “Am I 100% on that?” and honestly that was too embarrassing to let stand.