A few months ago, I was minding my own business at my usual grocery store, when a ferocious little girl bolted out from behind the salad bar, roaring with anguish. She pounced on my back and shrieked at the top of her tiny powerful lungs that my day would be miserable, that I was a horrible person, and that everyone on the planet despises me.
I managed to gently shake her off. But later that day, she show up at my workplace, tugging on my skirt while I was busy tackling a difficult task. “Jodi,” she said. “Jodi, Jodi, Jodi, Jooooooooodddddiiiii! Hey Jodi, guess what, Jodi?? Guess what?? You fail at everything, are a complete disappointment to your family, and are doomed to die alone!!!” Then she wailed an entire ocean and stole my lunch.
(insert spooky sci-fi music here)
OK, so that didn’t actually happen. No small child is out there terrorizing the good people of America; that’s just what it feels like when anxiety flings itself upon me, terrorizing my mind.
I didn’t dream up this nightmare child all on my own; my therapist suggested that I adopt her. It’s a surprisingly effective method for managing my anxiety disorder: I imagine that my anxious thoughts are being said – or more frequently, screamed – to me by a three-year-old girl. Much like a rambunctious toddler, when my brain is invaded by anxiety, it:
– becomes paralyzed with fear, keeping me from doing things I might enjoy
– imagines agonizing scenarios over and over and over — and unable to recognize how unlikely there are — works itself into a tantrum
– worries about every. little. thing. then worries about its worries
Assigning these thoughts a child’s voice allows me to recognize them for what they are:
– really freakin’ mean
This strategy also allows me to separate myself from my anxiety disorder. It’s not that I’m unreasonable, naive, or mean; the disorder is. It’s loud. It’s obnoxious. It desperately seeks my attention at all hours of the day.
But it’s possible to discipline this child. I can make myself a super nanny, with Anxiety as my charge. I can:
– Tell Anxiety to quiet down; I’m busy now with more important things.
– Comfort Anxiety, assuring her she’s special and kind and worthy of love. I know she’s just too upset at the moment to see it.
– Make Anxiety go to that social event or send that important email. Super nanny knows best; it’ll be good for her.
Has this strategy utterly cured my anxiety? No. I’ll likely be entrusted as her guardian for life. But by taking medication (daily doses of Anxiety’s cool aunt, Aunty Zoloft) and remembering that as super nanny, I can consciously work to guide Anxiety’s behavior, I’m learning to live with her.