I Am Anxious... Clay McLeod Chapman
The acclaimed horror author discusses his fears and anxieties.
Clay McLeod Chapman writes books, comic books, children's books and for film and television. His latest book Ghost Eaters: A Novel was named on of Vulture’s Best Horror Novels of 2022. You may also know him from Quiet Part Loud, a 12-part horror podcast series from Jordan Peele and Monkeypaw Productions, written by Chapman and Mac Rogers, which debuted exclusively on Spotify in November 2022.
Chapman’s highly anticipated next novel What Kind of Mother hits shelves on September 12, 2023. The author says: “It's a book about how families evolve in strange ways, more often not in ways we can ever truly expect... and it kinda talks about how parents screw up their kids, no matter how hard they try to the contrary.”
How long have you been an anxious person?
As an only child of a single mother, as a boy who had a little too much time on their hands growing up, as someone who always had an overactive imagination... anxiousness has always been a part of my life. I think I can say six or seven was when I became self aware of my own self anxiousness.
What is your earliest memory of being anxious?
My anxiousness might be intermingled with my own sense of fear, but I do have distinct memories of trying to navigate the shadows in our hallway in order to go to the bathroom late at night. There was a process of shadow-hopping, in hopes of stepping in and falling through the floor.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
I had night terrors as a child, which is different, but they were the most debilitating experiences I've ever had. As an adult, I have mental landlock moments, where stress tends to reach its peak and I just... freeze. Kinda deer in the headlight moments, but the high beams are in my mind.
What are some of your anxiety triggers? What makes you most anxious?
Multitude moments. Juggling too much. If I heap one more thing onto my plate and it's just one serving too many, I start to feel it mount.
How do you feel physically and emotionally when you’re anxious?
It starts in my shoulders. That tension. That strain. That's where my stress begins. I can have my shoulders hunched up at my ears and simply not realize it. I'm a teeth grinder as well. I carry stress in my jaw. My molars are pulverized.
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?
Things just suddenly feel insurmountable. Like there's a mountain ahead, usually of my own manifesting, and it's just simply impossible to scale. The trick is to step back. Gain some perspective. If I can just focus on one particular step, the first incline, I can take it one step at a time. And breathe. Sweet Jesus, just breathe.
How do you feel your anxiety affects your family, friends, and overall social life?
As the father of two sons, I always fear that my anxiety will carry over to my kids. I see how my reaction to stress has been 'inherited' by them. They react to things the way I react to them, and I see my way of freaking out reflected in the way they freak out, and suddenly I'm all like, "Oh no, that's no good." It actually has prompted me to figure out how to handle my own stress better in order to ensure it doesn't affect others inadvertently. Baby steps.
[Editor’s Note: This answer really hit home. I feel this in my bones.]
When you're not feeling anxious (simply in your day-to-day life), what do you do for self care?
It's a good question. I tend to exhaust myself. I'm in a bit of a swimming kick. I exercise my tension out.
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've tried to navigate these waters in my own work, and I'm not sure how I'm doing it... If I'm doing it well or not. I think it's an ongoing conversation (with my myself) about how to portray a character that is grappling with their own mental health. Particularly in horror. I grew up with Norman Bates. Poe. The pop psychology of monsters. It's a challenge because I'm trying to equal parts build suspense and tell a spooky story, usually from the perspective of unhinged characters... but to ground them emotionally so that they feel real.
What are some of your favorite examples of Pop Culture that gets anxiety and mental health right?
What is the best advice you've ever received?
Make friends. Talk to people. Open up. Be honest with yourself. Simple stuff, really, but it's amazing how easy it is to forget.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I make mistakes all the time, but I'm always trying to learn from them.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.
Thank you so much to Clay for participating in the I Am Anxious… questionnaire. I have a signed copy of his 2003 novel miss corpus on my bookshelf and would never part with it, so this was an absolute honor to have him talk so openly about his fears and anxieties. Thank you, Clay!
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.