Some thoughts about anxiety...

So after attending two rather large events within a very short space of time, both Dublin Worldcon 2019 and the Festival of Writing in York, I wondered about writing up the usual, here’s what I did and who I met etc. But actually, some of the most interesting conversations I had, weren’t about these events at all - but rather casual conversations had with friends and colleagues in the bar or over breakfast. About the nature of anxiety and how many writers and people working in publishing seem to suffer with it at one level or another…

I don’t think it’s any secret now that I suffer from anxiety. Not on any major scale, but enough to give me insomnia for a week in the lead-up to any big social situations or change of routine, such as Worldcon and the Festival of Writing. Enough to make me constantly seek out a familiar face in a room full of strangers so I don’t head back to my room and sanctuary. And enough that I’ve learned to hide it, really well, in front of strangers - covering any unease with rabid small talk and joking to try to sound ‘normal’. So it’s ironic, despite having been told myself so often ‘but I thought you were so confident’, that I hadn’t really considered how many other colleagues, friends and associates, do exactly the same.

Even those I thought of as super-confident admitted to feeling Imposter Syndrome, constantly questioning whether they 'fit', whether what they were doing was 'good enough', always trying to do better. And it made me think that this wonderful world of creatives in which we exist, is a world of introverts. We LOVE books. Our very natures are designed to be insular, curious, sensitive and questioning. We enjoy listening rather than speaking, creating without having to brag about it, we constantly strive to do better, to move forwards. And because of that we think about the past, the present and the future all at once, always analysing, looking at ways to make things work. Our minds are in constant hyperdrive.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t until trying to find techniques to help my daughter, who also suffers, that I recognised what it was we were both dealing with. So I’ve read a LOT of books about how to build resilience, how to build confidence, how to quell the anxieties. But it wasn’t until reading Susan Cain’s fabulous book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking that I realised that there’s actually nothing wrong with being an introvert.

It’s not us that’s the issue - but the way that society treats us. Children are told to contribute, speak-up in class, we’re expected to shout about our achievements, concentrate on the here and now, don’t overthink things, told not to worry!!

But we’re a natural at worrying. Our species’ very survival has depended on a good sense of flight or fight. And in today’s society - when there’s so much noise. Movement. Fear mongering. When our world is so crowded, our lives so busy. Is it any wonder that those with a good sense of this, constantly get that knot in our stomach, that sickness and feeling of displacement, when we’re put into situations that are out of our comfort zone?

So yes, we can find routines and strategies that help us cope. We don’t have to let the fear rule us. Or the overthinking of negative thoughts grind us down. As I tell my seven year old - put it on the train. You don’t have to deal with it all at once. Get back into the green zone and then look at it with that amazingly analytical brain and decide if there’s something to be concerned about.

I guess what I’m trying to say is - we’re all unique. Every one of us has fears, foibles and concerns that can overwhelm us. But we’re not alone. And in the welcoming world of writing/reading/books - where we all have at least one shared passion - that connection will hopefully be enough to enable more open discussions about how we’re feeling/dealing/coping. Because there will always be someone who feels just like you do.