I Am Anxious... Ally Malinenko
The middle grade horror author discusses the trauma and anxiety that infuses her work.
Her most recent book This Appearing House (which is currently nominated for a Bram Stoker Award) is about trauma, especially about the elasticity of trauma using a sentient haunted house as a metaphor for the adage "the only way out is through."
How long have you been an anxious person?
Probably since my early teens. Considering I'm currently 45, basically my whole life.
What is your earliest memory of being anxious?
High school. I've always been a bit of an over-achiever, but in high school I really went out of my way to be perfect. It sounds stereotypical, I know, but my family was going through some things I became convinced that if I was the perfect daughter / student / friend / etc then it would somehow be a distraction for everyone I loved.
I truly thought that my being successful in every walk of life would mean my family situation would just vanish. Needless to say it didn't and I was just left me with a sizeable eating disorder.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
I did in college. It was pretty awful. I couldn't breathe or move or talk and my roommate threw me in the shower with my clothes on to get me to calm down.
What are some of your anxiety triggers? What makes you most anxious?
Clutter and being late, but I think my biggest is going somewhere new, like starting a new job or working in a new space. If I can't imagine it in my head, I get very anxious.
How do you feel physically and emotionally when you’re anxious?
It varies - anything from my stomach being upset, to crying, to pacing, to grinding my teeth, to just completely freezing up. I will just lay down and be unable to get back up. Fun times!
What do you do when you feel anxious? How do you take care of yourself in those situations? Do you have any anxiety management tips or tricks?
I have reached a point now where I can recognize when I'm anxious so it's more of being able to step outside of myself and acknowledge that my anxiety is doing this to me and that it always lies and that it will pass. I usually have to talk my way through it too. If I can pinpoint what the cause is - even if I can't change the situation - that often helps. It makes it feel less overwhelming.
How do you feel your anxiety affects your family, friends, and overall social life?
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but when I get anxious about things I often take it out on people in my life. Like I'll be worried about something I'm working on, and suddenly I will get hyper focused on this stupid meaningless thing my husband has done that normally wouldn't bother me but in that moment has become my whole world. I've gotten better at recognizing when I'm doing it and diverting my attention back to the thing that is really bothering me which is good, cause he's a good guy and doesn't deserve that.
When you're not feeling anxious (simply in your day-to-day life), what do you do for self care?
Read. Nothing makes me calmer than getting lost in a book. Usually a horror story. Loads of empathy in those ones.
How do you feel about the portrayal of mental health and anxiety in Pop Culture (books, movies, music, etc)? Do you feel it's accurate?
I don't know if I feel like it could ever say a specific portrayal is accurate simply because anxiety is one of those things that has such a wide variety of experiences. But I do think there are more portrayals of anxiety than there used to be and I think that is a good thing. We need to normalize it. Life is hard. Being an adult is super hard. Being a human is the hardest. We need to talk about that.
What are some of your favorite examples of Pop Culture that gets anxiety and mental health right?
There is a song by Jason Isbell called “Anxiety” and it contains the line, "Anxiety / How do you always get the best of me? / I'm out here living in a fantasy / I can't enjoy a goddamn thing" and that has always really resonated with me. It's funny how even when your dreams come true - even when I became a traditionally published author - my anxiety didn't go away. In fact it got worse. Cause now I get to add imposter syndrome to the pile.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.
Thank you so much to Ally for participating in the I Am Anxious… questionnaire. I absolutely love both of Ally’s novels and highly recommend them for anyone from kids to adults. They may be shelved in the Middle Grade section at the bookstore, but there is so much in there for folks of all ages to enjoy. Truly. Thanks again, Ally!
If you are interested in being a part of the newsletter in the coming weeks and taking the I Am Anxious… questionnaire, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll get you on the list! I’d love to have you. I would love to get to the point where we are sharing so many reader stories that I’m backed up for months.
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.