This is the story of Fred, the Anxiety Worm.
Hi. I’m Fred.
He came to my friend in a dream, and he has helped her visualize how she experiences anxiety. She has given permission to share this wonderful parable.
To understand the story, one must know a little something of the storyteller. My friend has lived with anxiety most of her life. It has made her work harder than most people I know, which has led to a stellar reputation among co-workers and friends alike, but it has also had negative effects on her life. She reminds me of this famous comic from Natalie Dee:
She called me one day and told me about an amazing dream she had that perfectly captured how anxiety makes her feel. I shared this with another friend of mine and his response was “OH. MY. GOD. …… YES. That’s it exactly.” So here is her dream about Fred:
Imagine you are sitting in a car, listening to music, talking to friends, etc. And you notice a tiny little worm on the floor in the backseat. “No big deal,” you tell yourself. “He’s just a little guy. I’ll put him in the garden later.” You continue on about your way.
But slowly, and then faster and faster, this little worm begins to grow. You think it’s strange, but aren’t really too fussed, until he is evidently growing at an exponential rate. You look around to see your friends’ reactions to this Dahl-like situation, but they can’t see the worm! “What is going on,” you wonder? “How can they NOT notice this guy?”
You try to stay calm, but the car is quickly becoming crowded, and it’s hard to see out the rear-view mirror now. You tell yourself to just breathe, to stay calm, that panicking won’t fix anything. But that’s just not helping at all! You start worrying about a potential accident when the worm eventually outgrows the car (any minute now). You worry that you’re going crazy, hallucinating. And still, you are the only one who notices anything.
Finally, the worm stops growing. He settles in for the ride, and starts swaying and bopping his head to the radio. “Okaaaaaaaaay,” you think. “This is manageable. Weird and uncomfortable, but manageable.” The longer you drive, the more you get used to this guy. Every time you get in your car, there he is, always a different size. If you think about him too much, he grows faster. But he’s chill, you know? You decide he needs a name, so you christen him Fred. He becomes your constant companion.
Finally, one day, you offer to drive a friend home, and this friend actually notices Fred!!! A miracle! But you’ve gotten so used to him, his presence now seems normal. He’s your carpool buddy. He has his own presets on the radio. At this point, your friend is looking at you with concern and apprehension. “Um…..,” they say, “… could we perhaps leave him here? He’s taking up a LOT of room. Also, it’s just… … not healthy to have him around.”
You are astonished! “B-but… but… … it’s FRED! I can’t get rid of Fred! He’s like my spirit animal! I wouldn’t know what to DO without him. Who would I even BE without him? He’s been my constant companion; we’ve been together for years. No. NO. He’s not leaving.” You dig your heels in, cross your arms, and glare.
And, in fact, he isn’t. Fred is stubborn, too. Your friend tries to forcibly throw poor Fred out of the car, but he only gets bigger and heavier. Your friend is exhausted, sweating, and red in the face. “I’m just trying to HELP you” they gasp. Your face softens, and you explain to your friend, “Look, thank you for your concern, but he’s a part of me now. If I don’t feed him too much, or think about him too much, he remains small. If I overfeed him the scraps from my day, or obsess about him, he gets bigger and takes up more space. I’ve learned to live with him.”
That is how my friend conceptualizes her anxiety. She has had to get used to the fact that it will never entirely go away, but there are things she can do that can minimize its effects. She has recognized that it is a part of her, and for a long time, she was reluctant to treat it, because then…. who would she be? Our struggles can become so ingrained in us that we begin to use them to define ourselves. We have to recognize that we are not our disorders, any more than someone with diabetes IS that diagnosis. Treatment and management are available in many different forms. We must prioritize ourselves, and realize that we are important, that we deserve to live better lives.
One day, I hope that my friend accepts more help with drastically minimizing Fred’s presence, but for now, I am super proud that she has found and is committed to using some smaller ways to manage him.
For more on living and coping with anxiety (and depression), please visit these sites below. You are not alone!