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I Am Anxious... Lancali
The author and TikTok sensation talks panic attacks, overstimulation, remembering what is real, and her new novel.
Lancali is a pen name for Lou-Andrea Callewaert. Born in France and raised in the U.S.A, Lou has been a life long reader, writer, and academic. Her debut novel, I Fell in Love with Hope, hit the shelves in June 2023.
The novel follows five friends traversing through the perils of mental and physical illness in a hospital.
How long have you been an anxious person?
My mother recollects that I was a jumpy, often fearful, infant. The anxiety has since then lingered long into my adolescence and young adulthood. I've been anxious for so long that I reckon the anxiety itself is alive, a little monster in my head with a habit of over-inflating my fears. It's sometimes unkind, and oftentimes a hindrance, but I try to remember that this creature thinks itself as a guardian angel. Anxiety is simply an overactive mind attempting to protect its body. I learned to be accepting of this angelic little monster.
What is your earliest memory of being anxious?
I remember being somewhere on the edge of toddlerhood, perhaps 5 or 6. I was in an elevator and thinking about how on earth someone thought that creating a heavy metal box that moved vertically on a very thin system of metal pulleys and packs people like sardines in a can was a good idea. I contemplated my death for the thirty second ride to the seventh floor of my great grandmother's nursing home, although as a five or six year old that anxiety quickly shifted to what we were having for dinner. My great grandmother had many talents but cooking was not one of them.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
More than I care to admit.
What are some of your anxiety triggers? What makes you most anxious?
On the physical side, the common ones — loud noises, large crowds, closed in spaces make me anxious. As for triggers that send me down a spiral, they vary, but most often they stem from my own thoughts. I've been taught to look at my thoughts as separate from myself, not real, tangible facts, but rather my mind's interpretations turned to fabrications. I will think, as I have a slow day at my keyboard, that I am not writing well. I will hold onto that thought, or rather that thought will hold onto me. It will grow and morph and become louder, more present, shapeshifting into little attacks. "I'm not writing well today" turns into an absolute: "I'm not a good writer" which turns into "Writing is all I've ever wanted to do. If I'm not a good writer, then what am I doing?" and all the way down go the turtles.
How do you feel physically and emotionally when you’re anxious?
I feel like I’m chained, like an animal behind iron bars who is not being chased, but has already been caught. An animal whose only defense mechanism left is aggression, separation, and dissociation.
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?
If I'm around many people, I am open with them. I will explain that I am overstimulated or simply too caught up in my own head to interact peacefully with others. I've known myself long enough to know that when the fight or flight response is in control, I am not pleasant to be around. A zebra constantly looking over its shoulder for a lion is not exactly a fun guy to have at a party. Instead, I distance myself. I put my headphones in. I seclude myself because I find that both distraction and solitude bring me back to Earth without taking any victims. If I am alone, I go back to my training. The thoughts aren't real. They do not define me.
How do you feel your anxiety affects your family, friends, and overall social life?
Anxiety can make one irritable. I try to hold myself accountable and not let my symptoms outwardly affect my relationships as well as I can.
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When you're not feeling anxious (simply in your day-to-day life), what do you do for self care?
I read, run, spend time with animals, etc.
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?
The media responds well to public opinion when it is overwhelming and the mental health community has done a good job at responding to poor representation in media. There's work to be done, of course, as there always is, but there is more frequent representation especially in widely consumed books and movies of how anxiety directly affects a person's life. Iron Man comes to mind, the first superhero to have a confirmed anxiety disorder.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
Remember what is real and what isn't. Separate yourself from your own narrative and check the facts.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.
Thank you so much, Lancali, for sharing so openly and honestly. It is great to see someone like yourself, with such a large platform, helping to spread the word about mental health and anxiety. Thank you!
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 am actively looking for more folks to be included, so I’d love to have you!
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.