Anxiety Raccoons

I’ve been eating a lot of anxiety lately. Family members are in hospice. A friend is having some troubles. My child is getting ready for a big audition. The news says that the people in charge would like me to sit down and shut up and do what I’m told, and that compassion and empathy are character flaws in weak, elitist snowflakes like me.

canstockphoto2260275Anxiety, like guilt, is one of those garbage emotions if not quickly followed by action. Sometimes that action is a mental one, like carrying your fears to the peak of possibility, playing the “what if” game. What if my daughter, despite all her efforts, doesn’t get into the orchestra? What if my friend’s family is ripped apart by a careless system? What if my country continues to drift further and further away from the things I value? What if religion is the law of the land, guns are diplomacy, and women are forced to be baby factories?

Sure, it sounds irrational, but that’s the point of playing what if. All that is required is an imagination and to be surrounded by blaring media outlets that suggest we are on the brink of civil war with our neighbors, literally and geopolitically. Anxiety is exhausting and demoralizing and sometimes we don’t even know how much of it we have until events resolve themselves.

I went to bed anxious about that raccoon climbing a building in St. Paul. The news, this morning, that she’d made it to the roof made me start crying. I’ve realized that I’ve been clenching my jaw all week, that I’ve been carrying this tension in my neck and shoulders.

canstockphoto417532I wrote a post about suicide over the weekend and it weighed on me to have it out there. I write freely these days, mostly unashamed and not embarrassed about my vulnerabilities and failings. But I wrote about my parents and that worried me. It’s hard to tell my story without revealing theirs. My mother eschews all technology and will likely never read most of what I write. She’s always been forthcoming about her own flaws – maybe that is where I learned it from.

It also made me think about how mercenary I am about my life these days. Have I reached the point where nothing is sacred, nothing is private? Have I relied on my weird little life to make me this kind of memoir-ish writer that will never be anything else?

At some point, when the cacophony of anxieties reaches an overwhelming level, I yell at myself enough already! I sit down and make a list of everything that worries me, from the monumental to the petty. There are pointless, irrational things like what if I die before I get published (um, I’ll be dead, it won’t matter) to big things like what will retirement look like? (the same, just me, a lot older).

canstockphoto36537604Writing is all about giving the world some organization. I’m great at organization. Labels on boxes (though not on people) make me happy. When I write things down, I am emperor, strategic commander, philosopher, and tactician. Ephemeral ideas become these manageable, concrete things in ink. Anxieties become what they are – silly or issues on which I need to take action.

I am persistent about facing things now. I haven’t always been. Like a lot of people, I can use compulsive activities as bandage on the rawness of anxiety. At my age, though, and in my circumstances, they feel like tired reactions, done with an eye roll and a laugh of regret. Those few moments of relief after stuffing my face or making a compulsive purchase disappeared a few years back. Now it’s just reaction, habit, another problem to be fixed.

When I thought of being older, I imagined that I’d be this calm, wise, centered person who let things roll off her back – that my persistence and tortoise-like thought processes would serve me well. And yet here I am, preparing to make another list of things that keep me awake at night. I am still dealing with some of the same anxieties that I felt when I was 15 years old. 4,037 lists later.

canstockphoto52534727.jpgThere’s no great lesson in this, I suppose, except to say that there is value in persistence and that you use the skills at your disposal to make life manageable. The trick is to know what those skills are, when to rest, and when the only way forward is up.

This was a lazy stroll into “raccoon as metaphor” land. You’re welcome.

37 Comments on “Anxiety Raccoons

  1. I’m going to try that list-making strategy. I’ve had considerable anxiety lately over similar family-related topics (among them, one parent in hospital, another one following shortly thereafter, and the brother taking care of them making the hospital trifecta). I’ve thought about writing these moments but they don’t fall into what I “do” as a writer. Maybe I should just write it out for me.
    I find we direct our anxieties strangely. Tomorrow’s post is about Canadians’ reaction to Trump dissing our PM. That umbrage is that concrete something we can hold onto, though it’s not only pointless but distracting from the bigger picture. It’s a racoon.
    Thanks for being here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to hear that you have a lot on your list right now, Ross. This is perhaps an advantage we have as writers – we are able to enunciate all our anxieties, no matter how silly or serious.

      Sometimes when I write out all my anxieties, I do an exercise where I cross out everything that I can’t control. It’s all part of the Serenity Prayer – sorting out what I do or do not have control over. Then I can focus on thinking about the small actions I can take to reduce the others. There is something about the act of writing that reduces the hold anxieties have on me. It turns it from this amorphous chaos in my head into a piece of paper. I hope it helps you as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think people, like me, who have never had to deal with anxiety are feeling anxious these days. There’s a crisis a minute — everywhere.

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    • There is always a fine line, I think, when writing about mental health issues. Most important is to assume that what works for one person may not work for another and to approach the topic in first person, rather than treating one’s truth as a universal one. But reading and hearing a wide range of experiences does make a difference in how mental health is approached. One hopes that it is useful.

      Thanks for the re-blog.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Personally, I think it’s great that your share your anxieties and your “dark side.” I have those aspects to my personality as well and it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one struggling with some of these issues.

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    • I hope that it is reassuring. My bigger concern is that when I write about mental health, I add to the conversation in terms of constructive ideas or approaches that might be useful to someone and don’t just moan about things. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That little guy gave us all something to fret, and then cheer over! Thank goodness he made it!
    Like him, we have to persevere, and hope we get to the top of whatever mountain we’re climbing!

    Writing things down helps get me there too!

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    • I’m so grateful she (it turns out it was a two year old female) made it as well. Too many people, including kids, were paying attention to the story and live feeds.

      And you see now, the very lazy metaphor I was getting to!

      I imagine that the reason that many writers do what they do is because it does put a sort of order and sense to things in a world that can be quite chaotic.

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  5. I worry about writing about the difficult patches and people in my family relationships, even though none of them have shown much interest in my writing, and only one has ever asked to read it. she wondered about my writing the children’s storiesthe children

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    • Ooops ! I hit a wrong key somewhere in the above comment. She wondered if I should be showing the children the poems about them, but then decided they were positive about them. However I would be wary of writing of any hard times with anyone else

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      • Much of my history and that of my family’s, is in the distant past, so often it feels like this passive story. I have to be careful about that. I have a right to tell my story, but maybe not theirs. It’s just hard to disentangle oneself from all those ties that bind. Part of me feels a sense of obligation to write specifically about mental health issues – because I am able to enunciate those issues in a way that people who want to, can’t. When so much of the conversation about mental health is vague and unhelpful, the personal becomes useful. But you’re right, a degree of wariness is important.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Michelle, I have always felt that your writing has proper boundaries and does not devolve into whining or getting overly personal. What I did not realize is that there is actually a genre of writing out there that is profoundly personal and confessional and pretty shocking in the form of essays/memoirs. I stumbled on some stuff one day and really struggled with people writing such deeply personal stuff. It was like sitting in on their therapy sessions. Some of what I read was early blog posts by a woman whose story became a major motion picture. It was stunningly personal. I could not go that deep and dark publicly. I’m not sure anyone should, but maybe I’m just out of step with what is happening in social media.
    I think it’s important as writers to share from personal experience and hope that it is instructive to our readers. I understand your discomfort with sharing some of your families history, and it’s healthy that you aren’t TOO comfortable doing so. It’s an indication of your respect for privacy, and you really didn’t divulge a lot of personal details so I hope you’re not overly concerned about it. It was a really important post.

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    • When I first started blogging and reading blogs, I found a disturbing amount of real-time confessional writing. People were airing unresolved, current grievances – in the middle of divorces, toxic relationships, etc. It was discomfiting. I’ve never seen this as a place to do that and for me, the key words are always “circumspection” and “viewpoint”. I never want to write about anything without a perspective, lesson, some takeaway that is satisfying to both me and hopefully, the reader. Sometimes I don’t discover what that is until I’ve written it, but I try not to hit that Publish button until I hit upon it. It’s a specific choice that we make as writers.

      The suicide post is about as bare bones as I can manage in public. I never wanted to be a memoir writer, but I do have an eclectic personal and family history (as do we all, if we dig a little) which I feel compelled to write about on occasion. And there is a question of audience. My family has never taken much of an interest in reading my writing and I’m okay with that, but it does make it a little easier to be indiscreet, so I appreciate your feedback about what I reveal.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It didn’t seem that lazy to me and anyway I enjoyed it and there was something compelling about that raccoon. What was it thinking of? Good luck with all the things you mention in the post.

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    • Perhaps “lazy” is the wrong word – maybe easy. This was a very easy metaphor to use. There was something a little haunting about that racoon, finding itself trapped, going with its instinct that up was the only way she could go. So relieved that she was okay.
      Thanks for the well wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I do the list thing – all the stories the mind is making up to scare me. Like you they’re mostly irrational. Only I don’t write them down, I say them out loud – put them on external speaker. I think this is the same as writing them down. Anyway they seem to lose traction when I speak them. As I get older and odder I’ll be talking to myself more and more 🙂
    Alison

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    • I don’t know if I learned it in therapy, or with a life coach, but I’ve learned to take my anxieties to their absurd conclusions. Inevitably it ends up at “we’re all going to die”. Once you hit that wall, being anxious about whether or not a bill got paid on time or your kid has too much screen time seems manageable.

      I’m already at the muttering and talking to myself out loud stage. It doesn’t bode well for my “golden years”. Are you still on your grand solo adventure? You’re such an inspiration!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks Michelle. I’m back home in Vancouver now. It was a grand adventure, but I’m glad to be home.
        I also do the thing of taking an anxiety to the worst possible scenario (when I remember to do it!). If I can come to terms with the worst then then smaller stuff seems to have little traction.

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        • I hope you had a wonderful trip and I’ll keep an eye out for more posts.

          The worst possible scenario exercise tends to add humor to whatever situation I am in and humor is a wonderful palliative/curative.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I feel exactly the same – its so overwhelming – I haven’t tried writing down everything that worries me …. i don’t think I would do anything else – its absolutely terrifying. Terrrrriffffyyyyying…….. I have also started blogging on this – so at least getting some thoughts down…. and hopefully some insights.

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    • Writing has always worked for me, but for some people, it’s exercise, or spending time with friends or whatever pulls you out of your own head and loosens anxiety’s grip. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this and I hope you find some relief soon.

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      • Hi Michelle yep thats what I do – exercise is my real goto! Anxiety is an odd best – sometimes I feel great and sometimes it debilitating- the very nature of its variability is also what makes it so difficult to deal with. Thanks for the comment and checking in.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. There‘s a lot here and I wish I had time to respond to more of it. This sentence struck me hardest, though:“Have I reached the point where nothing is sacred, nothing is private?“ Why would those two be the same, or even necessarily related? I ask because I‘ve struggled with that dilemma too. My mother has had serious mental health issues, anxiety and depression, most of her life and it was only in my 30s that I started to understand what that meant for her, for me, for our relationship. It was only then that I even realized that’s what it was, and only then that I started to have accurate words for it. I wrote about it a lot then, perhaps less now because I‘m just tired of the topic and would like to write about something else. But I think that the writing about it was healing, essential even. It may have saved my life. In contrast, „privacy“ seems like such an ill-defined and slippery term, especially these days. It may be true that sacredness and privacy have a relationship to each other, but when I look closer I don’t find much there there.

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    • I’ve been turning over your comment in my brain and all I can come up with are two things. One, the couplet questions are, for me, a common rhetorical device that I seem to use for rhythm and pacing. Secondly, in my own mind the sacred and the private share something – a need for silence. I was thinking about the fact that we’ve become this reflexively tell-all society and if that, more than my need to express things, has simply become habitual.

      I think it’s important to question why we write what we do publicly – and if it serves a purpose. I don’t want to be a blabber out of habit. I don’t want to become so mercenary about my writing, that I bleed my life dry of meaning. And this is only my perspective. While writing can be palliative, it also gives something away – I feel hollowed out and have to wait days or weeks to feel full again. I just try to be mindful of that.

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      • I do see in popular culture, in literature and especially on television, people telling me things that I don’t want to hear, or even that I need *not* to hear at this time and place in my life, or perhaps ever. But I’ve also found that it’s my option and indeed my responsibility to tune it out if it’s not for me. My personal experience has been that there is in general too much silence–the silence that in the words of Simon and Garfunkel “like a cancer grows”– and not enough sunlight. And in my family, it has been those cancerous silences that feed unhealthy anxiety and mental illness.

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  11. Two thoughts – 1 – You are so much braver than I am. I have yet to tackle the mama drama I carry within me. I love my parents but I have tales to tell and yet they stay locking within. I doubt that they would read them, but my mind goes into endless “what if…” scenarios and I chicken out every time. 2 – If you even need more raccoons in your world, don’t hesitate to call. I have two that keep ransacking my bird feeders. Adorable from a distance. Major stinkers who owe me significant seed money up close. 😉
    Beautiful post. ❤️ Jo

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    • Thanks, Jo. I find myself getting less protective of my personal history, but only because of the distance. Yet, when I visited family last week, I felt some of the same stories were still in play. We can only do what we’re comfortable with and hope that internally, we’re able to reconcile/rehabilitate to a healthy place.
      Our raccoons leave the feeders alone, but they’re all over the grape vines. Sometimes they’ll clamber up on the deck and set off our security lights. I got to see a mom and three babies last year!

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      • Ok I would have been ecstatic to see three baby bandits. You would have heard the squeals (mine – not the baby raccoons) from thousands of miles away. And i hear you on family. It’s so funny / wild / crazy how our old dynamics float right to the surface even when it’s so many years down the road.

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