Embracing your passion can be a way through anxiety.
Earlier this week, my wife and I had to take our seven year old and fourteen year old daughters to the dentist for their first check-ups in what seems like a decade. This would normally have been occasion enough for me to be anxious prior to the appointment, but the fact that it had been so long - listen, folks, we’ve been dealing with a global pandemic for over three years now, okay? - triggered an additional dose parental guilt for not getting them there sooner.
Parental guilt plus anticipatory anxiety plus dental anxiety plus the kids’ anxieties equals one very anxious dad. Suffice to say that I’d been rolling this trip over and over in my head (and stomach) for days, feeling every sharp edge of it bounce off my quivering insides.
Anxious or not, I knew I was going. There was no way around it. Years ago, I might have made up an excuse or lied about not feeling well, but it had been a long, long time since I’d done that. I’m a different person now; one who’s learned that lying is a never ending loop that only creates more anxiety. Being honest about my anxiety has made a huge difference in managing my anxiety.
So when the day arrived for the kids’ appointments, I white-knuckled my way through the morning, breathed my way through the afternoon, and packed my trusty sling bag (Need just about any medication you can think of? I’ve got it in there! Need a charging cable? I have that too! Masks? Sanitizer? Nail clippers? Tweezer? Check, check, check, and check!) in anticipation.
The most important thing I had with me for the short trip to the dentist, however, may have been my camera. Yes, just like you and nearly everyone else, I carry a smartphone with a fantastic camera built right in, but that iPhone can also sometimes be a handheld, beeping anxiety box. My Fuji X100V, however, is a purpose-driven tool that only does one thing extremely well - it makes photos.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with photography. As an anxious person who easily hyper-fixates on the next interesting thing, there are only two creative pursuits that have stood the test of time for me - writing and photography.
Writing is something I’ve done practically my whole life, but I put far too much pressure on myself while doing it for me to find comfort and anxiety relief from the practice. If I’m feeling anxious in the moment while out, writing alone won’t usually pull me out of the depths long enough to take a gulp of air.
Photography, however, has the ability to grab my anxiety, squeeze it into a tiny ball, and stuff it in my pocket. This is one of the reasons I carry my camera with me practically everywhere I go. The simple act of looking through the viewfinder to find the right scene, the right angle, the right lighting, is enough to almost completely transport me from anxiety island to focused on the task at hand. It doesn’t feel at all like distraction, but rather complete concentration and drive at making the very best photos I can.
Do I get weird looks from the kids sometimes? Yep. Do I have to hear “Another picture, Dad?” every once in a while? Totally. Does my wife pick on me for wearing cargo shorts with pockets big enough to fit my camera even in the winter time? Absolutely. Will any of that stop me from pocketing my camera every time I leave the house, its lens hood rubbing against my leg while I walk like a little (very expensive) safety blanket? Not a chance.
I have numerous tools at my disposal when it comes to managing my anxiety - breathing exercises, mantras, coping statements, and much more - but the tool that feels most natural and effective to me is often the simple act of pulling my camera out of my pocket, raising it to my eye, and making photos. Capturing the moment forever while also pulling me out of the depths of my lizard brain, photography has saved me so many times.
What’s your passion and how has it saved you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
What I’m Writing
We had a great, in-depth conversation about grief and loss and figuring out how to move forward, but most of all I just really enjoyed spending time chatting with such an interesting, caring, and gifted person.
I highly recommend this book and I hope you’ll check out the interview.
Oh, and she also has an adorable dog named Peggy who hung out with us during the entire interview.
What I’m Reading
If you didn’t already know, April is National Poetry Month! That means I’m spending a lot of time reading amazing poems by some of my favorite writers. Folks like Clint Smith, Maggie Smith, José Olivarez, Frederick Joseph, Jose Hernandez Diaz, and Kate Baer, just to name a few. I urge you to check out their work and share it wide and far, especially this month.
What poetry are you reading this week? Drop a comment below and let me know. I’d love to see some writers that maybe I’m not already aware of.
What I’m Watching
If you haven’t seen it yet, please understand that the new teaser trailer for the upcoming Barbie movie is just so bonkers that it has me absolutely on board.
I’m also about midway through my annual rewatch of The Waltons from beginning to end. You’ll likely see a dedicated newsletter issue about this show, but it is pure comfort TV for me and jumping in during almost any episode sends me over the transom to some comfy, cozy place in my brain where nothing bad happens and there are nothing but (mostly) happy endings. In other words, it’s the perfect remedy for an anxious brain.
Be well and keep talking.
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DISCLAIMER: I am, by no means, a medical profession. If you need help, please seek qualified medical attention. This newsletter, while informative and fun, is no substitute for the real thing.