Storytime: The Art of Anxiety and Creation

It’s been a while, I know. And I don’t even have an excuse to offer you. I’ve been working only four days a week. I’ve been exercising six days a week (yay, fending off depression!) and generally doing summer-type activities. There are no reasons for why I shouldn’t have posted more frequently, or gone on more dates, or gotten the new tattoo I’ve been thinking of getting, other than my anxiety is still an ever-present companion. Much like herpes… it’s not always obvious, but it’s always lurking under the surface. Thank goodness I’m not contagious.

Nederlands: Public Health Image Library http:/...
Whit: Master Of Disgusting Metaphors and Similes Since 1990

I’ve found myself in the trap that all anxiety-ridden people fall into: the trap of storytelling. Perhaps this trap is the reason why so many great writers also happen to suffer from some form of mental illness, but the stories we tell ourselves are not always the best thing for us.

And this is where Cognitive Behavioral Therapy comes in. Those three words are shrink-speak for “recognizing you’re doing something and then not doing it anymore.” I needed this trick desperately, and never found it until a few years ago when I experienced the most painful month a person can experience. Lots of family drama (including the death of my lovely grandmother), a sexual assault and stalking, and continued verbal harassment from a professor to the point where she almost got fired (The Vice-President of Student Affairs got involved, as well as the Dean of the Thornton School of Music). I attended a workshop about heart, which basically means I went to the place where hippies go to deal with their issues.

English: The crowd at Woodstock fills a natura...
This is either where they go to deal with their issues, or create millions more.

And I learned a phrase. The phrase was, “I make-up that…” and suddenly, I realized that my whole life was filled with fears and stories I’d tell myself. I was a master of the make-up. And acknowledging that I make up a bunch of shit means that I am able to catch myself, acknowledge my anxiety as shit, and move on to non-shittiness.

Poop Drawing
For you 12 year-olds out there, I am not being literal here. #shitmetaphor #hashtagsarestupid #butthey’resomuchfun

I haven’t written anything for so long because I make up that you guys don’t want to read it. Or that it won’t be any good. Or that what I actually want to write about is stupid… the same exact things I did last summer during my depression. But I know that I’m making them up, which is improvement. Though that hasn’t kept me from succumbing to the anxiety so much as realizing I’m being anxious about something dumb and then not being able to convince myself otherwise. I have a lot of self-worth issues that I’m dealing with. I wonder where those originated from.

Cover of "The Fox and the Hound (25th Ann...
Probably from Disney… or Denzel. Whatever.

The more I look back on my life, the more I realized that I was storytelling every normal situation into one where my doom was certain. If I heard the house creak while I was getting ready for bed, I would hide in the nook in the corner of my L-shaped desk and hide under a pile of stuffed animals until I was convinced that I was safe. If a light went out in my bathroom, I was convinced it was because Bloody Mary or that gross naked lady from “The Shining” was trying to lure me into a potty party that ended in my death, and I would only use my parents’ bathroom until the handyman changed the light. If I heard a noise when my mom was in the basement, I assumed a serial killer had broken into the house and was slaughtering each family member one by one. I made up everything that I couldn’t control. And that storytelling created an atmosphere of fear that suffocated me until I found relief in treatment.

So now, what I make up is generally smaller. I make up someone’s anger when they don’t text me back… How did I offend them? What did I do? I make up perceived slights between my friends and I… for instance, Batman and I had a recent text exchange that went something like this:

Batman: Whitney (My thought process: oh, god, there’s no punctuation. I’m in so much trouble.)
Me: Yesssssss?
Batman: I just saw that you wrote Batmannie. Haha.
Me: What? When? (I’m panicking here… Making up that she is angry with me for using that nickname) Ohhhh when I was squealing about San Diego?
Batman: Oh. That’s weird I just got it now πŸ™‚
Me: Weird! Hahaha my phone misses you then… for a second I thought I was in trouble for caling you Batmanni. #anxietydisorderforthewin
Batman: Oh. That’s so sad. I lubber you.

I always assume the worst. The hippies say I shouldn’t expect anything, because then I’ll always be surprised. But if I always expect the worst, then I’m always pleasantly surprised.


Kind of like what I imagine you feel after reading my blog. You start out assuming the worst, and then hopefully I pleasantly surprise you. And not vice versa.


What do you make up?

61 thoughts on “Storytime: The Art of Anxiety and Creation

  1. You know from this little oinkers point of view (and I have been in piggy therapy myself lately), you got it. You know what the problem is and you have to do something about it. I know what my problems are and it’s the little evil piggy devil that sits on my shoulder and tells me I ‘CAN’T’ and I tend to believe him. But guess what. YES WE CAN! And you know what, I loved your post! XOXO – Bacon

  2. Ugh! I love it! The “ugh” is not because I’m annoyed that I love it but because I can relate on every last issue (except the hippie camp. I’ve never been to hippie camp). I make up that every human (and possibly even a few animals) I come in contact with is planning my or my children’s kidnap, rape and eventual murder. Actually, in a given day, I probably “make up” more than I don’t.

    Thanks. This was good.
    Ps: #hashtagtilidie

  3. You’re alright in my book, crazy lady.

    I do that sometimes with my wife for no real good reason. If she doesn’t return an email or text right away then I assume she’s mad at me for something even though she’s either busy at work or at home with the kids while I’m at work every single time. Must be some sort of husbandly guilt thing.

  4. I thought this was a great post. Over the years I’ve become more and more Type A. I fool myself into thinking this helps my anxiety, but I think it actually fuels it more.

    Hope to see another post sooner rather than later. πŸ™‚

  5. I too have a tendency for the “worst case scenario thought wanderings.” Fortunately, I’m also extremely stubborn. So when I have negative thoughts, I view banishing them as a challenge. It’s me or you Thoughts! So watch out! Now I walk into a room and immediately decide which object I’d use to vanquish an introducer if the necessity arose. Which may or may not be another neurosis. But at least it’s more constructive. I look forward to your next post, be it tomorrow or weeks from now- depending on what summer activities arise. πŸ™‚

      1. Lol Yes! You definitely should! If I can order dressing on the side, you should be able to order a hammer on the side! πŸ™‚

  6. I completely and totally relate to this post. I make up lots of things, and have since I was a kid. Horrible things, sometimes. Awful things that are terrifying to think about, and yet I go there. Because I always head directly to the worst case scenario. Because I always fear what I can’t control, and since I can’t control it, it must mean something horrible is happening.

    For what it’s worth, I just found you via Le Clown liking a link to this post on FB (thanks, stalker newsfeed!), and you pleasantly surprised me. But, I didn’t expect you to suck in the first place, so don’t make that up πŸ™‚


      dude. Thank you so much for stalking. I appreciate it. I’m glad that I pleasantly surprised you! That makes me feel really good. Please, stick around and read some of the other stuff, and hopefully I’ll keep you on your toes!

  7. I loved this post! It made so much sense to me and they way you tied it all together. Great writing! For some strange reason, I tend to be a “look at the bright side” kind of person. Don’t ask me why or how, but I tend to go there and it calms me. I always think that things could be worse – that helps. It could just be ignorance or denial – but I’ll take it! It’s good that you recognize the making it up part! πŸ™‚

    1. I look on the bright side as well–perpetually optimistic. I used to make up such horrible things, that now when I do it, I take a moment to take stock of what I’m grateful for.

      And things could always be worse. Did you ever read that book as a kid? It was called, simply, “Could Be Worse” and it is absolutely brilliant.

  8. To think I’ve been alone at this party, and there are so many more of us than I imagined! Great Post!!!! Thanks for sharing. I make up that any situation would be better without me in it. I’m working on changing that story around.

    1. Thank YOU for sharing! And I know that feeling. Lately I’ve felt that a lot, as I’ve found myself increasingly isolated, and I have to remind myself how cool I am to get through the days when no one wants to hang out with me. Ha.

  9. Well slap my ass and call me Susan, I feel like this post was written for me. Thank you! Most of my friends think that I am insane for ‘making up stories’… like, when I thought that a man lived in my attic and had drilled a hole in my ceiling so that he could watch me sleep… causing me to act like a sleep-deprived zombie for at least a month.
    I play out twisted scenarios in my head as a means to ‘feel prepared’ for whatever comes my way, but it never leaves me feeling better. Instead, I find myself laying in bed and clinging to consciousness as my eyes play ping pong with the back of my skull. Eventually I come to terms with my demise and negotiate with myself that sleep trumps the fear of death… you know, normal behaviour. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff!

  10. Anxiety….it’s something new for me…that I am trying to deal with. Or was always there but I just didn’t know what it was I was actually feeling? Good luck,

  11. Completely original thought of the day: CBT CHANGED MAH LIFE! (I know, no one’s come up with that little gem of a declaration yet).
    I still have the habit of entertaining horrible things…usually involving my daughter and death…it’s like a bad habit. It IS a bad habit. I wich there was a patch or gum to chew.

  12. I’ve dealt with these kind of thoughts my whole life as well. (When I was a kid I frequently laid awake in bed all night thinking World War 3 was just around the corner, among other things) Over the years I’ve developed my own way of dealing with these sorts of fears. The paranoia is still there, but I dismiss it, or more importantly, use it for joke material.

  13. Never pleasantly surprised because I’m not surprised I enjoy reading what you have to write!
    I make up whole soap operas around text messages too. I actually get a bit of anxiety when I’m texting potential suitors. I just hate the bs that comes with communication in the early stages of relationships

  14. You are so funny, I wish I were funny like that. If you have to be crazy, you might as well at least be funny! Thanks for keeping things light!
    Guilty of most of the above, and now thanks to you I’ll be thinking about that herpes lurking under there too!

      1. Oh, I am glad you believed me! Today I started making up that you were making up that I was being mean and facetious and didn’t REALLY think you were funny! I really do. . . No, Really!

  15. Dear, dear Whitney, You continually surprise and amaze me and always in pleasant and insightful ways. Having known you for so many years, I would not have suspected your fears and insecurities as you have always appeared so confident and fearless. I knew you were creative and yet you have taken that creativity to another level. You are brave and know yourself well. You are taking advantage of this self-knowledge and using it in a way you know best and hopefully it is helping you. AND, you are also helping others. So many people, myself included, can and will see themselves within your stories. Having the courage to express and reveal yourself gives others permission to do so. You have a gift and I am so glad you are sharing it.

  16. Ooh, I make up all the time and it supports this neurotic image I’ve created for myself. I understand. Especially with the texting! Oh it’s the worst. When you have to decide whether to text again after they take too long to respond, just to make sure you’re still cool. But what you’re really doing is making yourself seem crazy and desperate. Then, after you realize they had a perfectly logical explanation, you feel awkward and regretful and you wonder all over again if they think you’re terrible…

  17. Unlike most of your other readers I have very little anxiety and I don’t think the worst will always happen. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to read about you “making stuff up”. I suppose the only thing I made up lately was that you had taken offense at my “cutie” comment on your About Page – but then I thought, you were probably just busy for a while and hadn’t seen it. I am following you for your writing and I do think you look cute. And here is an emoticon so you know that I am sincere πŸ™‚
    And, thanks for forgiving me!

  18. My trap of writing recently is fear of losing, me vs me. I was so lucky a few days back that one day I saw the traffic to my blog just soar. I got 1/5 of my all time visitors in just one day! It simply sky rocketed when one day somebody posted a link to my blog into I was soooo happy on that day. But it paralised me the next day. How am I ever going to be that good again? What if I write more and I will never get the results even 10% of what I got on that day???

    1. That’s what happened to me when I got Freshly Pressed. I am jealous of your feature on Reddit! That’s pretty freaking awesome.

      I was freshly pressed my second week into blogging. I’ve been at this blog for over a year now. Dealing with reality vs. expectation is something I’ve learned to do as a writer hahaha

  19. I can’t really comment on the creaking noises and lights going off by themselves (though I imagine if there were really a serial killer in the house, all those random noises and flashing lights will most certainly scare him away). But you can be sure that people are reading your blog. I know I am.

  20. Wow, this is the first I’ve heard of the “I make up…” concept. Nearly a year of anxiety therapy, and I’m still working on dealing with the stuff that makes me anxious that is certainly real. Or am I just making up that it’s real? Or does it matter? Perhaps a person does not like me or perhaps I’m making up that this person does not like me, but if I learn to not give a shit either way, does that still work?
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Well, unless you know for sure that the person doesn’t like you (ie. they say it to your face), then you are still making it up! And not giving a shit either way is a healthy response, also.

      Thank you for sharing!

  21. I make up stories all the time like if I hear random noises I assume someone is in the house trying to kill me , so I grab a knife and repare for the worst this is something that
    happens way to often

  22. As a performer, I make up why the audience won’t like me tonight … And ditto on my wife. If she’s too silent for too long, I imagine that she’s trying to come up with a way to ask me to leave.
    Thanks, Whit.

  23. I never had anxiety. Ever. Well, hardly ever–just for normal stuff. Until I had the old uterus removed. 23 days ago and a good portion of them spent panicking and breathless and kinda miserable. Apparently the uterus is responsible for the whole hormonal Prozac production. My point, eventually, is that before I didn’t understand. Now, I do, and I think you are a trooper and stuff. Totally.

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