I wanted to talk about anxiety today. It keeps coming up in my newsfeed, people trying to find ways to make people understand what they're going through, and it seems like there are a lot more of us out there than I thought that are struggling with this particular problem. It's odd that there are so many who are, because you don't hear about it very often.
I don't know if that's because people just assume that anxious people are high-strung or have some sort of personality defect, but you don't see it in movies, you don't hear people talk about it out loud, and you constantly feel like you're the only person on the planet who knows what it is to suffer from a brain that constantly thinks it's going to fall off the edge of the world.
But it seems, at least in my writing circles, there are many of us who understand. Who get it.
Here's how it goes for me.
When I was in high school, I wrote a Harry Potter fanfiction that revolved around the Marauders. One of the things that readers have loved the most (and I enjoyed writing the most) was Lupin's wolf. I personified his werewolf affliction by giving him a wolf ghost thing that followed him around, always jeering him on, always reminding him that at the end of the month, he was going to lose it again.
I didn't make the connection at the time, but I was writing about my own experiences in some subliminal way, because every time I go to explain to Alex what it's like to have anxiety, I bring up the wolf in this story.
My anxiety comes in waves. There are "good days," which is such a cliche, but a writer writing a blog about their mental afflictions is also a cliche, so why not go the whole way? On good days, my anxiety sits in the corner and naps. I can hear it breathing, I can feel its presence, but I can also get caught up in a good time or an awesome movie or a great song, and I can forget it exists. On so-so days, I can hear it wake up from time to time, and it shouts out some things like, "Heyo, when's that bill due? Are you sure that bill is due then? By the way, about bills. Your student loans, amirite? We haven't thought about those for a while. They're coming, and you can't get away from them!"
But it's a so-so day, so I turn away from it, and it goes back to sleep, grumbling to itself.
But then there are the bad days. On the bad days, it just keeps going, and I'm too tired or too sick or too overwhelmed to ignore it. "So those student loans. How are you going to pay for them? Like seriously. That is a lot of money. So here's the deal, you write the great American novel and ... oh wait, no you can't, because you suck. You aren't going to write anything, are you? Just like yesterday. Oh wait, the day before you wrote something, but it was absolutely dumb. Who do you think you are? Such-n-Such back in 2007 was right, you're a fraud. Remember how your ex liked Lauren's writing more? He liked her because she was pretty and skinny and talented, and now neither of them talk to you. Because you suck. You suck so much. Hey, so back to those student loans, how are you going to pay for them? Probably by living way under your means and never going on another trip again. You both will be miserable. And you won't be able to have children, will you? How can you afford them? You know that's coming up. You're not nineteen anymore. That is, if you can have children. I mean, there's always that possibility you can't. And remember, you've had a tumor, haven't you? Ha, you're going to die. You're going to die and leave Alex all alone. Worse off, Alex is going to die one day in a car wreck on the way home from work and leave you all alone. And what will you do then, huh? How will you function? You won't be able to function, will you? Because you're pathetic. So very pathe ---"
This goes on for some time. And I curl up in a ball and attempt to function. Attempt not to knock any walls that will agitate a thought from the anxiety. Don't listen to NPR, they'll talk about Bernie Sanders and anxiety just went back to sleeping and it'll hear about Bernie's plan to make education free, and it'll wake up, bright and bushy-tailed. Don't read that book by that author, because it will remind you that the author published her first book when she was younger than you. Don't don't don't. Just sit. Just sit.
Of course, writing doesn't happen when you just sit, does it? I used to curl up, I used to let it get the best of me, but now I know I still need to get on the computer, turn on some music, and do something that doesn't include staring at a wall.
But then there are the really bad days.
Really bad days come about once a month now. They used to come more, they used to come less.
Really bad days mean that no matter what I try to not touch, no matter what I try to not think about, no matter how many things I "take it easy" on, the anxiety will be wide awake, screaming in its corner, rushing at me, until it's pounced right on my skull and has started to gnaw on my ear. These are the days only Alex sees. They are the days I make sure no one else can be near. Because like Remus, I don't trust people to be around.
And if you don't have anxiety, then please don't think that the only symptom is thinking uncomfortable thoughts really fast. It's not. It's the grand scale of those thoughts. All of a sudden, I'm not just thinking about Alex dying in a car crash, I feel like he actually has already died in a car crash that afternoon. I'm not just suggesting that perhaps I may die of cancer someday, but I am very certain that I already have a tumor growing in me, and it's only inevitable until my ignorant healthy world is shattered. Cavities exist where they don't exist. People who don't even remember who I am are actively sitting in their homes and thinking, "Damn, she was awful." The world is bum-rushing my door with a battering ram, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
No one's actually there. But try telling that to someone with anxiety.
But fear not. Because recently, I've discovered one simple truth:
It's not going away. There will never be only good days. And the world expects me to perform just as well on the really bad days. After a really bad day, I can either wake up the next morning with two pages or three pages written, or I can wake up with a crippling guilt that I did nothing.
I do not want to be the person who is paralyzed by my shadow. I do not want to be the one who did not become who she could have been if she hadn't had a mental illness. I do not want to be a victim.
At the end of the fanfiction, Remus Lupin is alone in a cabin his parents left him. His parents are dead. James and Lily are dead. Peter is supposedly dead. And Sirius is locked away for their murders. Remus, for the first time in his life, is actually alone.
The wolf comes out to play.
And Remus turns from it, gets up, and accomplishes a chore of chopping wood. He chops the hell out of that wood, and when he looks back, the wolf is still there, but Lupin smiles all the same as he slices into the last log.
I wrote this when I was fifteen, and I had no idea what this scene meant. I could tell it was significant, but how weird that we write significant things that we as the authors don't even get.
I get it now.
My anxiety is never going to go away. It may never get better. I can't wait until it does. Life is going to walk right on by. Is it fair that I have to sometimes work twice as hard to do what is easy for others? Absolutely not. But other people have other things that bring them down, too. I can either not do it, or I can do it. I can either learn to live with the sleeping dragon in the corner, or I can wait for it to die, and dragons live for a long time.
Now bringing it back around to the duck, my parents are awesome. Because they went to Sturgis.
I am going to go write now.