My Cup Runneth Over: Quick Thoughts On Managing Anxiety
Honestly, it’s hard not to, right now. The news is traditionally not a place you go for Good Feelings, but these days you turn on the TV for fifteen seconds or you give one quick scroll through Twitter and it’s a fucking assault, isn’t it? EVERYTHING WAS BAD AND HAS NOW COMPLETED ITS POKEMON-LIKE EVOLUTION TO A FULL-BLOWN NIGHTMARE, the news will have you know. What did Trump do today? you think to yourself, and then the news answers, THE PRESIDENT HAS GUARANTEED A NEW FOOD PROGRAM FOR THE POOR IN WHICH THEY ARE FED THE OTHER POOR WHO DIED IN THE HUNGER GAMES, WHICH IS LITERALLY JUST GAMES WHERE HUNGRY PEOPLE FIGHT OVER FAST FOOD, OH ALSO, KANSAS IS BEING EVACUATED AND IS NOW A MASSIVE BATTLEGROUND STADIUM FOR THE HUNGER GAMES, MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR, BUT THEY WON’T BE, UNLESS YOU’RE RICH
P.S. IN 25 YEARS NEW YORK CITY IS GOING TO BE UNDERWATER
P.P.S. DOGS ARE GOING EXTINCT AND CHOCOLATE IS NOW POISON
P.P.S.S. ELON MUSK HAS TAKEN HIS ANDROID SEX HAREM AND FUCKED OFF TO MARS, AND BY THE WAY, THE MISSILES ARE FALLING AND THAT BOSTON DYNAMICS DOOR-OPENING ROBO-DOG IS GOING TO HUNT YOU THROUGH THE WASTELAND, BLACK MIRROR-STYLE
So, it’s a very good way to feel bad.
In fact, it’s a very good way to trigger one’s anxiety. (For me, anxiety tends to manifest first as a physical sensation — like a feeling of ants somewhere in the space between my heart and my stomach — and then as a kind of pattern of obsessive thinking and hypervigilance. Hypervigilance in this case being a whole lot like tonguing a broken tooth to see if it’s still broken, which only causes it more pain, but yet there you go, keep on poking at it.)
(Poke poke poke. Ow. Poke poke poke. OW.)
And of course, anxiety exists even on good days. It’s not just a thing that happens when the world is bad — it can happen like clear sky turbulence, everything’s going along fine, and then suddenly OH MY GOD I’M DYING OF CANCER or WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EVERYONE FINALLY FIGURES OUT I’M A FRAUD and there you are, alone and shaking like a pee-filled chihuahua on a cold winter’s evening. There’s also anxiety related to my writing career — and I expect that anxiety and depression are common in creative folk, though I also suspect it’s a chicken-and-egg question. We live so completely in our heads, are we more prone to anxiety and depression, or is there some relationship between the two?
Who the hell knows?
Anxiety is a demon. It’s a chattering, vicious monkey. It’s a bag of gut-worms.
But, I deal with it.
And I thought I’d talk a little bit more about how I deal with it, and how I deal with it has a lot to do with how I view it.
Now, the caveat here is, as always, I am not a Certified Mindologist. You should not take anything I say with any kind of medical backing. I am not an expert on this subject; I am merely an expert on the subject of Me (and even there, my expertise is occasionally dubious).
Part of what inspired me to talk about this is this tweet from a friend, Mallory O’Meara —
Anxiety pals, remember – it’s not a switch that turns ON or OFF. It’s a dial that you can learn how to turn down.
— Mallory O’Meara (@malloryomeara) February 7, 2018
I like that metaphor. Metaphors help me think of the world in different ways, and help me come at problems from unexpected directions because, ultimately, metaphors are about making unexpected connections between things.
Here is the metaphor I tend to use regarding anxiety, and to look at that metaphor, it’s first necessary to look at another medical issue:
I’ve got allergies, and one of the ways that allergies have been described to me by doctors is that we all have an imaginary cup, and exposure to allergens fills up that cup, and if the cup is overfull and spills over, you must endure a proper allergic reaction. Now for me, that reaction isn’t life-threatening as it would be for some, but rather, it’s just irritating. I can be around a cat for just so long, and then my cup runneth over — and next thing I know, my eyes itch, my throat feels tight, I sneeze, and the longer I remain, the worse it gets. Eyes go puffy, nose goes full spigot, throat feels like it’s being bitten by tiny bugs, etc.
Being allergic to something is nobody’s fault, really. It’s just a thing that happens.
Anxiety is the same way.
And anxiety is, to me, like being allergic to, y’know —
*gesticulates toward the entire world*
All of that.
*taps middle of forehead*
All of this too.
Meaning, you have an emotionally inflammatory response to — well, all kinds of things. It can be everything. It might only be some things. We all have triggers, and some of those triggers are expected, some of them are unexpected.
And, just like with allergies, we have a cup.
I like to suspect that this is true for everyone — everyone has this kind of emotional, psychological cup available to them, and the normal events of a normal day fill that cup up little by little. Traffic in the morning, add some to the cup. Doctor’s appointment, add more to the cup. Some good news at work, maybe pour a little back out of the cup. Some people are fortunate, I believe, to have buckets instead of cups: they were born with larger reservoirs of fortitude, or perhaps trained themselves to that point.
Others have smaller cups.
Cups that fill easily and spill over more often.
I like to think those people are people with anxiety.
So, for me, anxiety becomes less a thing to conquer and more a thing to mitigate — you find the things that fill the cup quickly, and you make effort to avoid those things. You also find the things that can help you pour some back out, and you make the effort to do those things, too. Like, okay, looking at the news is probably a thing that fills up the cup — honestly, I have to expect it fills up the cup for everybody, not just anxiety-sufferers — so, you either need to stop looking at it, or, if you’re going to (“I looked at the trap, Ray”), you need to countermand it with ways of emptying that cup, too. Balance it out with nice things. Funny stuff or doing some art or some meditation or hunting your enemies through the woods with an axe — every solution should be tailored to you, not to me, you have to find what works. What empties your cup?
(And by the way, you have to really attune yourself to this. “A thing I like to do” is not automagically synonymous with “a thing that empties the cup.” Certain video games and or media consumption can fill the cup rather than emptying it, even though I technically feel good about the thing I’m doing. Going out and taking photos is meditative for me, so I try to do it to empty the cup. I like coffee a whole lot, and it helps me write, but both coffee and writing do not empty the cup, really. You have to be astute, aware, and constantly measure and re-measure how you feel after Doing A Thing to see what effect it has on the Cup of Anxiety inside your heart.)
This isn’t an exhortation to JUST GO OUT INTO NATURE BECAUSE IT’S THE BEST MEDICINE, either — maybe the best medicine for you is actual medicine. Anxiety meds? No shame. You do what you gotta. Therapy? Also good in whatever form that takes for you. I’m not your boss. At least, not in this timeline. In Timeline 47199-B, I am your boss, however, and I’ll have you know that I know you stole my hole-punch, you motherfucker.
Point is, this is normal, you’re not alone, and if you treat this like it’s an average run-of-the-mill problem, I think you gain some power over it instead of letting it be this mythic thing, this monstrous wave, this all-consuming identity. It’s not that, it’s just a disorder, like allergies, that can be managed up or down. You don’t control it, precisely, but it also doesn’t control you — you can balance the scales and file down the monster’s teeth.
Know what fills the cup.
Know what empties the cup.
Practice self-care accordingly.
Have a nice day.
* * *
THE RAPTOR & THE WREN: Miriam Black, Book Five
Miriam Black, in lockstep with death, continues on her quest to control her own fate!
Having been desperate to rid herself of her psychic powers, Miriam now finds herself armed with the solution — a seemingly impossible one. But Miriam’s past is catching up to her, just as she’s trying to leave it behind. A copy-cat killer has caught the public’s attention. An old nemesis is back from the dead. And Louis, the ex she still loves, will commit an unforgivable act if she doesn’t change the future.
Miriam knows that only a great sacrifice is enough to counter fate. Can she save Louis, stop the killer, and survive?
Hunted and haunted, Miriam is coming to a crossroads, and nothing is going to stand in her way, not even the Trespasser.