Anxiety Spirals

There are a couple of things in Chapter Three that are very real.

First, I did indeed spend time in Japan studying abroad because I wanted to become a manga editor. Alexis’s experience there was probably better than mine, because mine ended halfway through the year I intended to stay when my anxiety and depression got to be too much for me.

Second, I did indeed keep a food blog while I was there. I took a year off last year because I didn’t have anything new to say about food or anything new or nice to say about media I consumed last year (I try to keep it positive over there), but you can check out a lot of my past posts, and hopefully some new ones coming soon, here.

Third, I will absolutely swoon over anyone who tells me they want to hear more about what I think—especially if that is in reference to stories.

Also, yes, spoof titles are going to be a thing for media and people I want you to recognize in Author X Audience. Aside from wanting to avoid real person fanfiction, the spoof stuff really adds to the humorous moments in the story. Makes it feel like kind of a crazy AU of real life, which I think suits the energy of the story well.

But let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s going on in this chapter. Chapter Three is about getting the romance ball going in a way that feels both natural and exciting, even though things are happening fast. There are a lot of little touches, and there’s some serious emotional connection. You’ll notice also that Alexis and Terry have moved past a lot of their awkwardness from the night before. Going through that script really helped them bond, and now we get to see them be a little more relaxed and silly around one another. Alexis’s anxiety does flare up a couple times, but there’s a reason for that too.

Back when I was in college doing my undergraduate degree at Western Washington University (honestly, don’t waste your money on an English degree, kids. Get an internship instead and join a writing group, you’ll learn so much more and dodge the student loan debt) I was seeing a therapist because my family had just suffered a series of losses. We’ll talk about that more later, but the way my family treated me during that time was part of what prompted my anxiety to develop. While I was dealing with these feelings, I fell in love with my first girlfriend. Suddenly, I was happy—and that terrified me. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was so scared. I felt like I was missing something. That if I was happy, I must be unaware of some problem right behind me, creeping up to pull the rug out from under me and ruin my day. I was looking for danger because there was none, and that couldn’t be right.

When I told my therapist about this, she told me, “Happiness is a very vulnerable feeling.” She went on to explain that my condition (which I didn’t realize was anxiety at the time, and hid easily behind the diagnosis of grief) had left me feeling like I need to keep my guard up constantly. Now that I had something to be happy about, I was letting my guard down. Realizing that my guard was down was what was so scary. It meant I wasn’t paying attention and could be hurt. It meant problems could creep up on me, or things that weren’t problems yet could boil over due to my lack of vigilance. It meant I could have more things taken from me—and I’d already had so much taken away.

It was a big exercise in trust for me to let those worries pass over me and wave as they went by. My anxiety wanted me on edge, feeling like I had to deal with everything and it was my fault for being too weak or lax in judgment if something did go wrong. I got through a lot of my days by listening to Ingrid Michelson’s Parachute, because it helped me feel like I didn’t have to be strong all on my own—I could trust my friends and my lover to catch me if I fell.

But Alexis isn’t where I was then. Instead, she’s on a precipice. Jumping off is letting herself trust Terry, but staying put is a known misery. She knows how to operate in not being taken seriously and being ignored by the professional environments she wants to break into. But being taken seriously and talked to like another story telling professional makes her want to leap anyway. Anxiety tries to keep us safe by making us avoid situations in which we might get hurt. Taking this jump and putting her trust in someone could wind up with Alexis getting hurt, so we see her battle with her anxiety a few times through the chapter. At the end of the chapter, however, she does finally take the leap—and we see her joy overtake her, literally sending her running with glee.

I’ve often found release from the mental spirals my anxiety sends me on through physical activity. If I want to break a spiral, I do yoga, I dance, I do push-ups, I sing really loudly. I do something that requires me to be in my body and to use it somehow. Aside from giving me a welcome burst of endorphins and helping me stay in shape, doing those things makes me feel capable.

That’s what Alexis is doing when she takes off running. Her brain can’t compute that this is actually working out, so she’s not letting it take the chance to get into a spiral. Instead, she’s being big, fast, and impulsive. It’s one of the most impulsive things we’ve seen Alexis do so far. Everything else she’s agonized over. But in this moment, she’s too happy to let her anxiety ruin this for her, and she moves with that happiness.

Now, exercise won’t always fix an anxiety spiral, and it’s never really helped me deal with a panic attack—but it is one of the ways your doctor will prescribe to help deal with mental illness in general. Since it’s currently March while I’m writing this and March is Bi Health Month, I think it’s important that we take note of exercise as a healthy tool in our arsenal of coping mechanisms. You don’t have to do it every day, and it doesn’t have to be hard core exercise. My doctor told me that when I told her I was worried that maybe my yoga wasn’t good enough to do the job. She told me the important part was to do things that I enjoyed so that I would continue to do them. Dancing makes me feel artistic, and gives me human contact if I’m doing partner dancing. Yoga helps me breathe and re-center myself. Running (even though I can really only do short fast bursts) makes me feel powerful. And, again, everything that makes me use my body for something makes me feel competent.

What I want you to get out of Alexis running at the end of the chapter is that she feels powerful—and that she feels happy.

More than anything, one of the plotlines I’m covering in Author X Audience is a recovery story. Alexis has been through some hard things. She’s skittish about trusting people. Seeing her do it here and watching that choice pay off in chapters to come is something that I hope will help everyone who’s ever been in her place. It’s okay to trust people. It’s not okay for people to betray that trust. But I understand trusting people after being betrayed being scary. You can go through learning to trust again right alongside Alexis. No easy fixes thanks to plot, just real experiences from an author who had to go through the same hard thing and learned to carry it.

If you’re having trouble carrying your condition by yourself, it’s never a bad idea to ask for help. Therapy has helped me learn to carry not only trauma I’ve suffered in my own life, but my anxiety as well. I function as well as I do because of all of the help I’ve received and the coping mechanisms my therapists taught me. The support of my friends and family helped too.

Just like Terry’s support of Alexis will help her.

See you in the next chapter!

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