What the Bear in Your Bed Might Be Telling You: Managing Anxiety

What the Bear in Your Bed Might Be Telling You: Managing Anxiety

I don’t suffer from anxiety a lot, but in the past week, I’ve found myself on several nights wrestling with a bear. Here is what the bear was telling me.

  • You are going to run out of money
  • Creative pursuits are fine as long as they don’t get in the way of your day job
  • It might be time to cut bait and get that day job
  • You’ve been here before, everything feels fine and then boom
  • The holidays are coming and the holidays are tough
  • Things will be hard again, now that you’re alone

All of these things are somewhat true. But all of them are also just anxiety. Fears kicking in regarding my financial situation, my current burn rate, and my estimated (imagined) runway. In my unstructured fear-based consciousness I am afraid of running out of money, of becoming despondently depressed, and losing all the wonderful feelings I have in my life. My anxiety may be trying to tell me something of value if I can take the time to parse the fear-encoded message.

In my distant past, I had a year of prosperity. I was married for the first time to another artist, we were living the high life. I was hyper-creative and starting an independent small press to publish poetry and prose. I was writing and playing music. I was in love. I thought I had everything going my way. Many of the things I thought I was sure of turned out to be false.

  • I was in love, but the relationship was not healthy at all
  • I did have some money, but there was no way to know what was going to happen with the income stream
  • I was enormously creative, but I wasn’t really sure what my goals were. I had aspirations, but I was also all over the map.

Then a few things happened. My father’s estate (he died when I was 21) stopped paying any dividends. My marriage headed into major dysfunction. And my creativity began to dry up as the stress levels started peaking. The bear showed up, this time for real, and it was too late to avert the ensuing disaster. I crashed. My marriage dissolved with a bit of bad drama. And I ground down into a major depression that took a good portion of my late 20’s away.

The echoes of this crushing fall are still inside me, in my muscle memory, in my emotional body, in my afraid-brain. And over the last few nights, an unfriendly bear has shown up in my bed.

This time, however, the bear may be bringing a different message. He may not be the harbinger of doom. He might be some kind of internal reset mechanism. A “hold on, let’s reevaluate this reality for a minute.” The bear might simply be a check-in from my old past hurts. Here’s what I think he has to teach me.

  • Be mindful of your money and how it comes in and goes out
  • Are their financial goals around some of your creative projects?
  • Is everything okay at this moment – just take a breath and ask your body
  • Do you need to readjust your plans to take into account energy, goals, and current realities?
  • The holidays are often hard, let’s keep an eye on your emotional tenor as October moves along

All of these are helpful check-ins. Perhaps as Reshad Feild says, “There is no time to slay the dragon. The dragon is your friend.”

What I am learning in my recovery from depression and anxiety is that my feelings are never the complete answer. And often, my feelings just are. If I can separate from them just a bit (see: Going Meta) I can see myself as safe and healthy, even as my bear-feelings are shrieking, “Holy crap, you know what happens when things start feeling this good!”

The bear might be showing up in my life as a talisman. As a spirit animal. Tonight, I slow everything down and listen to him, befriend him, and give him some much-needed rest.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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