#22: Dealing with anxiety

A whole issue dealing with anxiety… once you figure out wth it is.

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Procrastination is not about your character. It’s the manifestation of anxiety.

Jessica Abel

I’ve been re-re-reading (and hoping to actually finish this time) Growing Gills, Jessica Abel’s book on creative productivity that’s really way, way, way more than simply about being productive.

Growing Gills by Jessica Abel

My current read is due to a book club in a great discord server I’m on. I came across the highlighted quote above last week, whereby I proceeded to sit slackjawed in my chair as it sank in further than it did before.

I didn’t know I even had anxiety until a year ago, when I was so bugged out by being outdoors in public in the midst of a pandemic that I couldn’t enjoy an anniversary date. That night I figured out what anxiety felt like – and then I began to notice how often I felt anxious.

It often manifested when going out in public, with the general desire to avoid getting infected by a potentially deadly disease (despite being reasonably healthy, relatively young, and lacking significant comorbidities).

But I felt anxious at home a lot too, seemingly for no reason. Sometimes I’d even wake up feeling anxious.

And then I wondered how often I’d felt like this throughout my life that I hadn’t realized because it was normalized.

Dealing with anxiety when you’re told otherwise

Some experiences of being anxious have always been obvious, like the swimming lessons I dreaded as a kid (and as an adult, when I finally learned to swim at 32). 3 years in a row my parents made me take swimming lessons because ‘I needed to learn how to swim.’ The lessons didn’t change the fact that I was scared shitless of being in deep water; they just made things worse.

(I almost drowned when I was 5, a fact my parents were unaware of until I told them when I was 16 – details will be revealed in my graphic memoir.)

Or the anxiety of waiting to give an oral presentation – and the just as bad anxiety of waiting for it.

But the biggie is that I was a ‘shy’ kid, always feeling self-conscious and whatnot (‘whatnot’ is code for ‘insecure’), and I realize now that was a manifestation of anxiety. ‘Shyness’ back then was always cast as something to overcome with no regard for the root causes – always with the implication that Not Being Shy was better.

(Note 1: I dunno if it’s cultural or what but my experience is deeply Indian in this regard – did any of you all American kids have it different?)

(Note 2: With hindsight being 20/20, I can see a clear through-line between Not Wanting To Be Shy and a penchant for alcohol. I discovered at some point that alcohol dropped my inhibitions. How badly did I not want to be shy? Too much.)

So this quote by Jessica has been a revelation now that I pay attention to how I feel instead of assuming it’s normal (or subsconsciously trying to ignore it). I don’t know how she came to it (I just asked her on Twitter) but it’s helped a bunch of puzzle pieces fall into place.

Knowledge is power, and once you understand something well you can start working on concrete solutions – which is precisely what Growing Gills does (and precisely why I keep getting on my own case for not following through & finishing the book)(and finishing means doing all the exercises and recs, not just reading it all).

She’s spot on. Procrastination is all about anxiety – the anxiety involved with doing the work (both creative and day job stuff).

The best way to reduce anxiety is to DO THE WORK.

Face it & get it done. And this is where I’ve found that making it a habit pays off much more than waiting for inspiration to strike (which is procrastinatory bullshit).

There’s a bit more to it – like figuring out when you’re most creative, juggling the day job, family, etc. But the end result is not only about making progress on your creative goals; it’s feeling good about yourself.

tortoise on rock
This mf has kicked rabbit ass.

Feeling happy.

Feeling self-satisfied.

Even a little progress is better than no progress. When I did a couple of 100 Days of Making Comics challenges, my objective was to simply spend 15 minutes a day making comics (and making meant writing the script, thumbnailing, pencilling, or inking – no ‘research’). It’s true that people overestimate how much they can do in a day and underestimate how much they can accomplish in a month.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Update: Jessica responded

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All of this (probably) explains why my favorite song for the last 27 years has been BASKET CASE.

Dealing with anxiety

Like I said, a LOT of puzzle pieces are falling into place – there’s been a lot of Oh THAT’S why I like that song in the past few of years.

What’s not falling into place is my nephew informing me that Green Day is now considered ‘classic rock’.

(FML)

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What I’ve been working on

Actually … NOTHING.

This whole issue on anxiety has been prompted by my lack of it, because I did no writing or drawing this week – and there was NO resultant anxiety.

Why?

Because we had family visiting this week and I divested my need to be productive knowing that I would not get shit done when we only had 5 days of seeing both my SIL and all of my nephews together for the first time in 5 or 6 years.

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What I’ve been reading

The Montague Twins: The Witch’s Hand

by Nathan Page & Drew Shannon

I read a LOT of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew as a kid (and found it most curious how Chet always had a new hobby that tied in perfectly with the current mystery). This graphic novel feels just like an old school mystery series. It somehow captures that vibe perfectly. I felt transported back in time, feeling like I was holding one of those small blue hardcovers in my hand. I cannot give higher praise than It made me feel like I was 10 years old again (except it’s more mature and modern).

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That’s all folks!

Tell me – do you have anxiety? How do you deal with it?

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