It is 9:26am. I have been awake since 1:55am.
In about 6 hours, I have an orthopedist appointment to take a look at a pretty nasty shoulder injury. For me, high amounts or prolonged periods of pain are almost guaranteed to cause some level of anxiety, and this appointment will force me to focus on it. I’m no stranger to the orthopedist’s office. I know the routine. Unfortunately, that’s the thing with anxiety. The more you try to negotiate with your own head, the worse the vice grip gets.
These nights with next to no sleep are draining, yes, but they’re also great for writing. In its own twisted way, anxiety is a blessing. In many instances, the activities people turn to for help easing the racing heart rate, the spiraling thoughts, evolve into real passions, maybe even talents they never knew they had.
Anxiety taught me to check my “What if?”
“What if” has to be, hands down, the most annoying question people ask, and I ask myself. Dwelling on figurative situations doesn’t further any real situation and has a tendency to teeter on the edge of a drastic, cataclysmic scenario-that is extremely unlikely to actually happen.
Refined, however, “what if” is the core of my outlining process. When I start playing with an idea, I usually already have a character in mind. I spend a little while getting to know them, learning what makes them tick, and then the questions start.
Every step of writing an outline involves either “what if” or “what would lead to that?” Sometimes my answers aren’t altogether rational, and I filter those out. Sometimes the answers I have don’t quite work for a given situation. Those get filtered out, too. Working with a whiteboard and drawing timelines translates to a moment of sheer panic if only because I can stop an outlandish thought in its tracks.
In that way, I’ve harnessed the most limiting piece of an anxiety attack and made it serve me instead of making me be its slave.
Anxiety taught me to control and manipulate my emotions
Self-soothing is neither easy nor natural to most people, and it’s especially difficult for people with an anxiety disorder. When the physical symptoms are almost out of control, the mind is racing, it’s a challenge to find a center. Finding that center, however, was the first step in learning to ground myself.
When I was still in elementary school, my cousin sat me down and taught me ways to focus on my body instead of my mind. Little things like tightening every muscle in one leg, then the other started teaching me to be aware of my body. Other times I would imagine an eraser starting at my toes, paying close attention to every single structure it would have to rub away.
As I got older and started working with horses, I became more aware of my heartbeat and breathing. Even in moments I was shaking in my knee-high boots, my breathing would be rock-steady. Horses pick up on fear, and the last thing I needed was to be in a perpetual one-up with my mare.
Now, I use those skills to place myself in a character’s shoes. Letting the physical feelings grasp me for just a moment translates to the page in a much more believable way than just saying “He was scared.” Okay, but how scared? Did he jump a little, like he would if a spider appeared inches in front of him, or is he breaking out in cold sweats, feeling his heart tattooing an imprint of itself on the front of his rib cage? Awareness teaches these.
Am I looking forward to this appointment? Absolutely not. Am I likely to get any more rest? No. But I do feel I have a decent grasp on myself and I know I’m being productive. Frankly, I can’t ask any more of myself. Always start at the beginning and see what comes.