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I Am Anxious... Jill Baguchinsky
The author discusses her lifelong anxiety, weather-related trauma, and escaping to her happy place.
Born in New York and raised on a barrier island off the coast of Florida, Jill Baguchinsky is an author who specializes in young adult and horror fiction (and sometimes a mix of the two). She is the author of the novels Spookygirl and Mammoth, and grew up reading Stephen King, dodging hurricanes, and worrying about... pretty much everything.
Her upcoming book, So Witches We Became, will be published by Little, Brown and Company in Summer 2024.
“It’s a queer YA horror novel inspired by female rage, toxic bro culture, and hurricanes (specifically my own experience with Hurricane Irma in 2017), and it includes anxiety and PTSD representation.”
When an out-of-control curse traps a group of friends on a barrier island, they must learn to harness the shared power of their traumatic secrets or risk being devoured.
How long have you been an anxious person?
I can't remember ever not being anxious. It's been a part of me since I was self-aware enough to understand what worry was and what it felt like.
What is your earliest memory of being anxious?
I had huge issues adjusting to first grade. I would go into an absolute panic when my mother would drop me off, and I also remember having emotional breakdowns over having to eat lunch in the cafeteria. The odd thing was that I loved school, and I loved my teacher — it's not like I didn't want to be there! Being away from my home and my family for so long each day just really frightened me for some reason. Pretty sure I had a lot of stomachaches that year; I would worry myself sick.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
I've had plenty, and they're terrible. Mine tend to manifest as uncontrollable crying, vertigo, palpitations, and an intense need to hide. They're pretty rare these days thanks to therapy, coping techniques, and meds.
What are some of your anxiety triggers? What makes you most anxious?
Oof. What isn’t a trigger? Heh. Public speaking is a big one. I've developed the ability to mask my anxiety somewhat well in public, which just means most people don't believe I'm as anxious as I am, but trust me — if I'm giving an author talk or whatever, I am shaking like crazy and I won't remember most of it once it's over.
Telephones are another big one — I can handle important/necessary calls, but I prefer to communicate via text or email as much as possible. Something about the disconnect of hearing someone but not seeing their face breaks my brain.
Oh, and hurricanes! Hurricane season is a big trigger for me. I was diagnosed with acute stress disorder after Hurricane Irma, and although I've worked through a lot of that anxiety, it still spikes whenever it looks like a storm might come my way.
I couldn't deal with the threats of storm surge and flooding anymore, so I moved inland, and that's helped quite a bit. A lot of that anxiety made its way into So Witches We Became, which I started drafting the year after Irma.
How do you feel physically and emotionally when you’re anxious?
I get pretty intense episodes of vertigo. I'll usually feel nauseated and shaky; my heart will pound or feel like it's skipping beats, and I'll fixate on thoughts of whatever triggered me.
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?
Remembering to breathe is a big one. Focusing too much on my breathing or doing exercises that include holding my breath tend to make my vertigo worse, so I try to be somewhat mindful of my breathing without paying too much attention, if that makes sense.
My therapist taught me the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise — focusing on senses and listing five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can smell, etc. — and I find that one really useful and grounding. Speaking of my therapist, therapy itself has been a huge help for me. I really don't know where I'd be if I hadn't found my therapist when I did. She's helped me work through so much over the past eight or so years.
I've also been on several head meds over the years — right now I'm good buddies with Prozac. And I have a benzo prescription for panic attacks, but I mostly avoid taking those.
How do you feel your anxiety affects your family, friends, and overall social life?
I feel like I probably frustrated my parents a lot when I was younger. They didn't really understand my anxiety, and I didn't have the ability to vocalize why I was upset or what I needed. More recently, my mom has been absolutely amazing about trying to understand more about anxiety disorders. She's incredibly supportive, and that's been so, so helpful.
Most of my good friends also have anxiety (or depression or other super-fun emotional/mental stuff). They support me and I support them. It's really helpful to be able to talk to others who've had similar experiences. Just about all of my friendships these days are long-distance; this lets me be my homebody-introvert-hermit-goblin self most of the time, and it also gives me reasons to challenge my anxiety boundaries with travel.
When you're not feeling anxious (simply in your day-to-day life), what do you do for self care?
Anxiety is my baseline, LOL, and I don't know what I'd do if I weren't at least a little anxious. Basically, though, I try to keep up with the basics (drink enough water, get enough sleep, etc.) and take mental health time when I need it. I do things that I know let me feel calm and happy, even if they seem silly.
For example, I grew up going to Disney World a lot, and it's still a happy, nostalgic, comforting place for me. Sometimes I'll plan a quick trip just to people-watch at Epcot or jump on the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom. The combination of nostalgia and physical exhaustion (walking 25k steps in the heat? Oof!) really helps me chill 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 think it's gotten better over the years. Accuracy is hard to judge because someone else's anxiety can be completely different from mine, so what feels like accurate representation to me won't necessarily work for them.
I feel like anxiety used to be treated a lot more like a joke — “haha, she's so neurotic!” — and mental health in general was so often villainized. There's more sensitivity and diversity in some modern portrayals (although there's still plenty of cringe out there).
What are some of your favorite examples of Pop Culture that gets anxiety and mental health right?
I'm reading White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson right now, and so far I'm absolutely loving how it handles the main character's anxiety and obsessive thoughts, especially when she's fixating on things like the possibility of bedbugs in her house. It feels really authentic.
"Unwell" by Matchbox 20 has always struck me as a solid mental health song — it talks to the struggle of not wanting to be defined by a mental health issue while also desperately wanting to talk about it and have others understand.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks again for the opportunity, and for providing a platform to talk about anxiety. 😁
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.
Thank you so much, Jill, for sharing so much! I’m really looking forward to reading So Witches We Became when it hits stores Summer 2024! Thanks again!
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Be well and keep talking.
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