One of the things my anxiety loves to do to me is try and convince me that everything is my fault.
Of course, this only applies to the bad things. When good things happen, anxiety brain likes to remind me that I just got lucky or that this stroke of good fortune can’t possibly last. Good things are a fluke, and bad things are completely and utterly my fault—and if it’s my fault, it must also be my responsibility to fix them or be punished for failing to fix them. Anxiety brain can really get out of hand with what qualifies as “bad” and “my fault.” I’ve had to pull a slew of coping mechanisms out of my tool box to deal with anxiety brain trying to punish me for the actions of the American government barely three days into 2020.
We see those tendencies crop up for Alexis in Chapter 13 of Author x Audience as well, especially in relation to her relationship with her mother and being home again.
This chapter came from a very personal place where I had nearly identical panic attacks, and didn’t have the support systems or coping mechanisms that Alexis is employing here. One of the biggest tools I have at my disposal when I’m panicking is asking for help and reassurance. My spouse has been doing that for me since the new year, especially in regards to the US’s behavior towards Iran. My anxiety has been having a FIELD DAY with that. And, since it’s clearly all of my fault that any of that nonsense is happening, I keep trying to sacrifice self-care and up-keep behaviors that keep me stable in an attempt to punish myself. My anxiety is really just one big god complex on really bad days. Recognizing what I’m doing and asking my partner to help me enforce self-care and up-keep like going to bed on time, exercising, eating, and drinking water is what’s honestly kept me going since the new year. Not to mention all of the work my therapist did with me to help me recognize those self-destructive behaviors when they crop up and to figure out where they’re coming from and how to combat them.
But when my youngest sibling came out as ace and my mother was criticising it as just a phase, I lost my goddamn mind. My mother and I had similar battles over my bisexuality, my youngest sibling’s agender, and even my marriage to my platonic life partner.
The thing that all of these problems have in common is that none of them are wholly mine or Alexis’s to fix. Both she and I can only control ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that other things can change outside of that sphere of influence—especially when your anxiety wants to wrap you up in a chain of blame.
I tried to really show that in this chapter. Alexis’s family shit works itself out. What Terry says about how it wasn’t Alexis’s problem to fix in the first place is a big thing I had to learn for myself. As is that sometimes things get better without any action on your part. My mother, although she still doesn’t understand my marriage, respects me and my partner and wants us to be happy. She respects my sibling’s relationship to gender and their lack of sexual attraction. She’s still not perfect, but she listens when we correct her these days. It’s much more productive than the defensive way she used to get. And it came about because she decided to change—not because of anything I or my sibling said or did.
In this chapter, I wanted to show a parent that got it right for once. I’m exhausted with the trope of parents who freak out and continue to be ignorant and hateful. Plus, it was a convenient way to showcase another aspect of mine and Alexis’s anxiety: freaking out when things are okay.
Joy is a very vulnerable emotion. If you have anxiety, it’s easy to think that when you’re enjoying yourself you’ve simply missed whatever’s going wrong around you. It can lead to panicking when everything is fine. It can lead to self-sabotaging because you can’t trust that everything is alright. Having her relationship with her mother fix itself triggers this within Alexis. She expected all sorts of things to go wrong when she brought Terry home to meet her mother—and then none of them did. Her anxiety starts looking for the catch, looking to dodge the other shoe before it can drop. Terry is what keeps Alexis grounded in this scene. Without his reassurance that these problems were never her fault to begin with, and that she’s not responsible for fixing everything on her own, Alexis would likely spiral into a full blown panic attack.
But thanks to a constant stream of support from Terry and her own internalized coping mechanisms, Alexis and Terry are both able to enjoy a visit with what’s left of Alexis’s family. It’s a very tense chapter due to all of Alexis’s uncertainty, but I hope it brought you some relief as well and helped remind you that you’re not responsible for fixing every problem out there.
In other news, next month will mark a year of serialising this story! For those of you who have been here from the beginning, thank you for all of your love and support! And thank you to those of you showing up now! It’s been such a joy to share this part of myself and my story with you!
See you next month!