To me, he’s like a wombat, long claws, ratty fur, close to the ground and as dense as iron. From a distance he is cuddly, but up close, his nocturnal habits and marsupial face are truly fearsome.
Everyone needs a pet, someone to be with them in the dark times, and he is mine. Because they can’t see him, everyone assumes he is imaginary, but I assure you that to me he is very real, always there in the crepuscular shadows when I need a companion.
He is my Anxiety Imp, able to stir my dread of leaving the burrow with just a whispered call. “Really?” he seems to ask, “Do you really want to face what can happen to you out there?”
When you are taught that the world is a place of failure and pain, that you are doomed to embarrass your family if you show yourself in it, you need to learn how to keep yourself small. Fear and trepidation are your safety forces, reminding you to keep your head down, to avoid facing authority, to stay hidden.
When you never know where the next blow-up is going to be, from parents or peers, anxiety starts to feel like your best friend. At least you and your anxiety can curl up together as he whispers to you how smart you are staying away from the fray, soothing you with the pain and frustration you know rather than risking the possibility of much, much, much worse.
When I feel like I am living in scarcity, which I certainly have been for the past three years and before, my anxiety imp is my only companion. To be with me, though, he demands to be fed, to be given his due. Paying him with my resistance and trepidation, he has gotten almost as fat as I am, nibbling away at whatever scraps of faith, confidence and hope I had left.
Whenever I am facing the need or opportunity to go out, I know the best thing I can do is not think about it. If I do, I know the Imp will smell it, getting very active and agitated. He doesn’t want me to go, I know, doesn’t want me to leave, doesn’t want me to get hurt. Instead, he wants me to feed him with my own growing pool of anxiety, wants to drag me back under the covers, the two of us isolated and alone.
I haven’t taken many drugs in my life, but the few diazepam I have had were blissful. Somehow, they loosened me up enough to break the connection with that feral Anxiety Imp my mother gifted me with so long ago, letting me move beyond agitated doubt into torpid relaxation.
When I have to move beyond the zone of my anxiety, I do it with willpower, using the call of duty to do the right thing rather than the emotional thing.
Duty, though, is satisfying on a political level, not an emotional one. Warmth, happiness, loose flow don’t come from duty, even if there is gratification in doing the right, proper and virtuous thing. Duty is the reward of a human doing rather than a human being.
My emotions and my anxiety are tightly interlocked. They have grown together since I was a very, very young child. I learned not to expect love or even safety in the world, faced a barrage of being demeaned and humiliated whenever I showed part of me that was challenging to authority. Getting hurt and erased was just a fact of life.
Without effective mirroring, without affirmation, the idea of revealing my emotional self became entangle with anxiety. If you are going to live with anxiety, best to become comfortable with it, no matter how repulsive it may be.
Facing exposure stimulates anxiety, and my Anxiety Imp is always around to tell me stories of how exposure can leave me even more exhausted, battered and in pain.
As a “too person,” (2005), I was taught very early that what was inside me was always too much; too intense, too intellectual, too queer, too unclean, too hip, too stupid, too everything. I was taught that I had to be circumspect about letting it out because people would find me sick and broken after I showed myself worthy of ostracism and marginalization.
I now know that much of this learning reflected my mothers response to being Aspergers, her experience of being judged and found broken by others. There was no way, though, that with my big mind, my trans heart and my isolated raising that I was ever going to easily slip by as normative, just one of the gang.
Being an effective woman requires being able to connect emotionally with networks of people. Women who seem to come from their smarts more than their emotion are seen as suspect and dangerous; just ask Hillary Clinton.
I have no interest or capacity to emerge as trans in the world just as an political, intellectual exercise. I need my trans heart and the emotions which have always filled it to be seen, understood and valued rather than being reduced to a guy-in-a-dress. (1998)
Wrapping my expression of emotion with anxiety, letting the anxiety imp — that wombat or warthog or wildebeest — keep me scared and small, reluctant to show myself in the world, unable to trust that my emotions would be seen and respected, well, that just was the only way I had to feel safe from more pain and damage.
Now, my anxiety around revealing myself, around showing my heart, is so seamlessly merged with my emotions themselves that they seem inseparable. How many times do you have to be brutally told that you are too much before the lesson is so internalized that it is welded into you?
I have created a safe space for both thought and emotion inside of me and over the years I have extended that space to others who ask for my help in finding new understanding and choices for themselves (1994).
Finding an outer safe space for my own inner person, though, has been beyond my abilities. I have tried and tried, getting back mirroring which affirmed my anxiety rather than my own tenderness.
My anxiety imp has grown even as there has been a broader understanding and acceptance of trans in the world. Over the decades, my own thoughts and feelings on the subject have gotten more focused and deeper over the years, keeping me away from easy access and acceptance.
I curl up with my pet, the funk of anxiety comforting me as I slump into my own, safe inner world. I don’t even know where to look for a sacred rite which affirms my transcendence rather than just my compliance, which supports my blooming into possibilities rather than just being told that I need to play by the rules & expectations of others, honouring their fears and limits.
Every time I think about trying to get my emotions expressed and mirrored in the world, I feel the anxiety swell in my gorge. The smell of that anxiety brings my Anxiety Imp running, ready to affirm and comfort me in my own tight breathing panic session, helping to play back all the times when I have tried and failed to break though.
Doing my duty is always possible, but even though I continue to seek safe spaces for expression, claiming my inner self in community has never been.
And that leaves me to fall back into the deep and enduring bond my Anxiety Imp and I have shared for so very long.