in case of looting zombie bears
Hello, my name is Katie. I have anxiety.
If you have anxiety too, you already know what that means. If you don’t have anxiety, you should talk to my husband because he doesn’t either, and he is lost in the deep woods with me sometimes.
This conversation is totally normal in our house:
Me, in front of the computer: Babe, do you think we need an axe?
Me: I mean, in case of emergencies.
Ryan: For what?
Me: I don’t know. Home repairs. Firewood. Zombies. Looters. Bears.
Ryan, genuinely thinking it over, bless his heart: Well, we already have a hatchet. And tools for home repair. And bear spray. And three baseball bats stashed around the house and one in each car. And we don’t have a fireplace.
Me: Good point. You’re right. I think we’re probably good.
Ryan leaves the room. In the silence and space he leaves behind, I sense the specter of a looting zombie bear.
I click “Buy Now.”
The axe comes and I put it next to the emergency water and first aid kit in the garage. When the zombie bears descend upon our home, sniffing out honey and brains, he’ll thank me. I won’t even say I told you so.
Now you WISH you were married to a writer with anxiety!
It’s important that you understand what anxiety does to the ecology of my brain. I am always thinking about the worst thing that could happen at any given moment. I am always planning for some kind of apocalypse: Fire, ice, zombies, tsunamis, war with North Korea, war with Canada, Handmaid’s Tale, a party where I don’t know anybody, asteroid, sun exploding, ice caps melting, an artificial intelligence uprising (oh God, why did we teach them to think), an alien invasion, a declined credit card at Costco during the rush, plague-ridden leeches… SURE, leeches. Why not leeches?
That’s the thing about anxiety. Inside my brain, every outcome is equally possible and catastrophic, and the normal order of things is exactly as likely to happen as the most nightmarish hellscape: this morning I could make cinnamon rolls and spinach smoothies for my kids, pack their lunches, drive them to school, spend a couple of hours writing while I drink coffee, pick them up, and celebrate National Chocolate Cupcake Day.
OR this morning, I could make cinnamon rolls and my house could explode, killing my children and cruelly throwing me clear. OR this morning, I could make cinnamon rolls and spinach smoothies for my kids, pack their lunches, drive them to school, and have a stroke in the middle of a left turn, right in front of a speeding semi.
OR I could buy the cupcakes, give them baths, and put them to bed with kisses in the palms of their hands and “tiger kisses” nuzzled onto their foreheads. I could ease out of the bedroom, close the door with a quiet click, turn around with a smile on my face, and that’s when the zombie bears crash through the sliding-glass doors. You just never fucking know, which is why I’m always thinking about it. Always.
Have you ever watched your children take a bath and imagined an earthquake split the ceiling above the tub until a slab of drywall crashed down on top of your children in the bath so they were being crush-drowned right in front of your eyes? Have you ever felt that such a scenario was so likely that you immediately purchased a compact jack to store under your bathroom sink?
Girl. Stop. You simply do not have the storage space. What are you going to do with the trauma kit, 500-gallon emergency water storage bag, and quick-clot that you had under that bathroom sink?
I hope you’re laughing because I’m laughing, too. Outside of my brain, it’s absurd. How long is the list of things I am trying to prevent through Amazon Prime and prayer? It gets longer every day.
Luckily, I’ve been able to get therapy over the course of my life to help me manage my anxiety, which is chronic but typically manageable without medication. I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned.
Get therapy if you can. My anxiety is manageable with therapy and a mental health regimen… for now. But you just never fucking know what’s going to happen. Someday I may need chemical assistance rebalancing my brain, and so might you, and all of the tips below are things that I’ve found useful with my particular brand of brain sizzle but are no substitute for profesh assistance, which you deserve.
Teach your brain how to slow down. If you have a tinge of mania, as I do, and as is common with many people with anxiety, notice how badly your brain needs a project. Notice how hard it is for you to endure silence. Your brain will. not. have it. Your brain likes to red-line, and if you don’t feed it something to work on, it will FIND SOMETHING TO WORK ON. If you were ever wondering why you already have a spreadsheet for Christmas 2019, it’s because on some level you knew that if you didn’t start spend the afternoon planning for 14 months from now, your brain was going to crack open the file on, “Buster has a bruise on his arm, what if he has cancer,” and ain’t no spreadsheet that can help with that one.
The thing about red-lining is that it’s useful as fuck if you’re able to focus that energy on achieving your goals, but when you normalize that rate of activity in your brain and essentially raise the baseline level of intensity, your focus tires before your mental mania. It’s only a matter of time before you’re trying to fall asleep at night and the zombie bears come crashing into your head. Your brain needs to learn how to slow down. The pros call it developing elasticity. I don’t love that expression because it makes me think of my brain as overheated and brittle, like spaghetti pie that’s been in the oven too long. But anywho, that’s what it is.
There are lots of ways to teach your brain to shift more cleanly into another, lower gear, anything that commands your brain to focus on something other than a manic sprint from the zombie bears, whether that focus is breathing (yoga or meditation or running), counting (meditation or sudoku), trees (hiking, walking, nature), moving a pen (coloring, journaling, crosswords), and even, on some level, that Christmas spreadsheet.
Notice what your anxiety is really asking you to do. When the zombie bears start showing up more and more often, that’s when you know it’s time to spend a little bit of time on you. Think of your anxious brain as a sprained ankle. When it’s actively injured, it needs tending. After it heals up, you’ll be able to walk and run on it again, although you’ll need to be mindful of its tendency to roll over on you. But right now, you need to baby it a little. Comfort it a little.
Try to get to sleep earlier. I know that’s not always easy or possible, especially when your anxiety could be keeping you up at night or waking you in the middle of the night. Maybe that’s a whole other post. What it’s like to try to fall asleep with anxiety… anyway, sleep does reset your brain, and you need at least 3 uninterrupted hours per night to ward off psychosis. #ThingsTheyTeachYouWhenYoureANewMom
Pamper yourself with physical comforts. Take a hot shower or bath with a sumptuous bath product. When you shampoo your hair, really massage your scalp with your fingers. That shit is pleasurable. Your brain can’t help but dump happy chemicals when you get a scalp massage. When you get out of the shower or tub, smooth lotion all over your skin. Put on cozy pajamas. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket. Listen to music that makes you happy. Make a cup of hot tea.
Avoid unnecessarily stressful media. You can always tell when I’m anxious because I’m reading a romance novel and re-watching the Great British Baking Show. You won’t have to avoid news and upsetting television dramas forever, but you might need to right now. Remember how your brain is like a sprained ankle? Yeah, stay off your brain until the swelling goes down, okay?
Repeat after me: Everything is okay right now. If the zombie bears are coming, there is not a goddamn thing you can do to stop them. Some things are beyond your control. And let me tell you this: if you’re snuggling in bed with your babies, watching Curious George Halloween Boo Fest, or if you’re tidying up the kitchen and your son is in the other room reading to his little brother, the plans that you make in those moments to fend of looting zombie bears that ARE NOT CURRENTLY ATTACKING? That’s your brain voluntarily giving up concrete happiness to work on imaginary terror, because it’s red-lining and it doesn’t know how to slow down and say, “This is nice.”
You’re not stupid, so you’ll know you’re bullshitting yourself if you say, “Everything is going to be okay.” You know you can’t make those kinds of promises. But is everything okay right now? If it is, then notice that. Say it out loud. Everything is okay right now.
I promise you, when the looting zombie bears come, that day will not be made easier by your satisfaction that you KNEW it was coming and have rehearsed it every day for the past who the fuck knows how long. You have this one life and you deserve to spend its days enjoying shit. When the looting zombie bears come, do you want to have spent your life laughing, snuggling, and playing, or ignoring the people you love while you plunged into a pit of as-yet-hypothetical tragedy?
I know it’s not as simple as making that choice. When I called it imaginary terror up there? It’s not as simple as that. Terror is terror. I know. Me too. Your brain wants to work on looting zombie bears and it’s really fucking hard to change its mind. But just remind yourself, everything is okay right now. You don’t have to stand watch right now. You may have to in an year, or a week. Everything may go to shit in the next 10 minutes. And when it does, whenever that happens, you will be stronger if you remember what’s beautiful all around you, what’s worth the fight.
Protect what you love, even from your own brain’s desire to taint it.
Protect yourself. Do you have plans to meet up with your family to celebrate a creepy uncle’s birthday this weekend and it’s giving you tummy troubles and heart thumps? Call in sick to that shit!
Anxiety isn’t always trustworthy, as when it comes to undead grizzlies, but sometimes you’re anxious for good reason. Sometimes your brain is letting you know that you’re going somewhere that isn’t safe. Sometimes your heightened reflexes and sizzling gray matter are your body’s way of reminding you, “We’ve done this before and it sucked. Can we not, please?”
But how do you tell the difference between zombie bears and trustworthy red flags? First, you have to say the thing you’re scared of out loud so you know what it is you’re actually dreading. Then, I use a couple of critera:
Has this situation actually hurt me in the past? Am I imagining a terrible thing that could happen, or has a terrible thing previously happened?
Do I know anyone that the thing I’m dreading has actually happened to? # of people I know who have been attacked by zombie bears: 0. # of people I know who have been hurt by creepy, predatory, or abusive family members: untold thousands.
Your brain controls your body… and vice versa. When you think about something scary, you can feel your body respond to it. Your breath gets shorter and faster. Your heart speeds up. Sometimes your fingers might tingle. When my anxiety is really bad, my legs go numb. Your body is getting ready to fight, run, hide, suffer, and die and the hands, or rather, paws, of looting zombie bears.
When that happens, the intuitive thing to do is to address the cause of the physical response: the thought itself. You tell yourself, “There have been no reports of zombie bears in the vicinity.” You tell yourself, “I know where the bear spray is. I have three bats. The doors are locked. I’m ready. I’m ready.” You can tell yourself all kinds of things, but to an anxious brain that believes all outcomes are equally likely, and now that it thinks about it, that zombie bear thing is actually MORE LIKELY than anything else because #2018 amIrite, none of those thoughts crack through.
And the more you try to convince yourself that it’s crazy to worry about looting zombie bears, the more your brain stands firm in its belief that looting zombie bears are a clear and present danger, and your brains confidence scares you deeply, and your own fluttering arguments sound like the pathetic lines spoken by the character who’s definitely dying first when the zombie bears come, and the very act of arguing with yourself about looting zombie bears is MORE TIME YOU HAVE SPENT THINKING ABOUT THE BEAR ZOMBIES and that shit is not relaxing.
Next time, try reverse-engineering that shit. Your brain controls your body, but your body also controls your brain. When you feel that anxiety in your body, go lie down somewhere safe. Slow down your breathing. Stretch. Put your hand on your belly and feel it get round when you inhale. Wiggle your toes. Deeper breaths. There you go. You can manage the psychological intensity of anxiety by focusing on the nuts and bolts of your physical stress. It’s kind of a hack, tbh.
Go for a walk and find something pretty. Anxiety wants you to think that everything is awful. Go find something beautiful. There are beautiful things all around you, and check out this goddamn universal truth: there are even beautiful things inside you. Go find them, friend. You’ll feel better.
Sing and dance. YEP. Sing in your car and dance in your kitchen. Music is incredibly powerful medicine. The type of medicine depends on the type of music, obvs. Find what you need: an upper? A downer? A popper? A zinger? A zapper? I don’t know drug nicknames. But if you need a cathertic ballad, belt it out, and if you need a sexy club jam, grind on that kitchen chair, girl. Love your body’s ability to express its shit. It’s fucking remarkable. You’re fucking remarkable.
There are so many other ways that people live with anxiety. If you have a hot tip to share, please feel free to comment below; we can all use more tools in our anxiety toolbox.
Today I’m wearing my softest pajamas. I’m having coffee in bed while I finish this post. Then I’m going for a walk outside to find something beautiful. Like a breakfast burrito.
Mmmmmm…. breakfast burrito…
Take care, loves.