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I Am Anxious... Lillian Stone
The author, humor writer, and reporter talks OCD, going Limp Noodle Mode, her new book, and the brilliant way she uses her phone to help manage anxiety.
Lillian Stone is a humor writer and reporter living in Chicago. Her first book, Everybody’s Favorite: Tales from the World’s Worst Perfectionist is now available.
“The book tackles all of my little mental health monsters — people-pleasing, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder — through a humorous essay lens, which feels so special and freeing. It feels awesome to write an entire book to the tune of, ‘Hey, I'm embarrassing and confused, and you probably are, too — but we're in it together!’”
How long have you been an anxious person?
I think I catapulted out of the womb as an anxious person. I didn't recognize it as such until I hit puberty; before then, I thought I was just a preternaturally twitchy crybaby. But around the age of 12, I saw my first therapist and started the long trudge toward proper treatment.
What is your earliest memory of being anxious?
I have a very clear memory of being in sixth grade math class and convincing myself that my parents were going to die unless I completed a complex series of toe-taps on the tile floor. I completed the taps, but then convinced myself I had done so incorrectly, and my parents were probably already goners.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
Yes! This is actually funny story. I've had a few panic attacks, but the first one happened when I was 15 or 16 at a haunted corn maze with my friends. (If you're unfamiliar with a haunted corn maze, it's like a Halloween haunted house attraction, but in a cornfield. It's very Midwestern.) I was already nervous about the concept of the haunted corn maze — what if one of the hired scarers was actually an axe murderer? — and ended up having a full panic attack inside the maze. I didn't know it was a panic attack at the time, and I convinced myself I was having an allergic reaction to the corn. My mom came to pick me up and drive me to the ER, and she was so pissed when my breathing slowed and it wasn't an allergic reaction after all. (The corn maze was, like, 45 minutes out of town, and my mom does not like to be disturbed.)
What are some of your anxiety triggers? What makes you most anxious?
I'm a complete mess in situations where I'm physically out of control. Airplanes, roller coasters, bus rides, boats, even riding in the passenger seat of a friend's car. I'm the absolute worst backseat driver; if I see you going over the speed limit or glancing at your phone, I turn into such a nightmare. Last year, my boyfriend's brother was driving us over some icy roads, and he was doing a perfectly fine job, but I was in heart-racing, eye-twitching panic mode for the entire half-hour car ride.
I also struggle with loud, repetitive noises, which is a problem because I have a beagle. I tend to get overwhelmed and shut down pretty quickly in the face of a siren, a crying baby, or my dad's godforsaken ring tone, which I swear is the loudest sound currently accessible to the human ear.
How do you feel physically and emotionally when you’re anxious?
Physically, I describe it as "going Limp Noodle Mode." My limbs feel all floppy, and it feels like taking a step or lifting my head is almost impossible. This happens when I'm depressed, too, but the anxiety-induced limpness is almost more disquieting. What if I ever need to spring into action in the case of a genuinely anxiety-inducing event, like an alien invasion? I'll just have to melt into the sofa and hope someone carries me away.
Emotionally, I tend to catastrophize immediately. If my beagle has been howling for a minute straight (this happens often), I'm immediately like, "I'm going to be taking care of this insane dog for the rest of my life and my youth will be wasted." If a friend seems out of sorts, I assume they hate me and want me dead. So I guess you could say I'm crushing it!
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?
Getting outside is my number one cure-all.
Leaving the house or changing my situation, even if it's a 20-minute walk, tends to help immensely.
I also have a few panic-management tactics for scenarios when I can't get up and leave — being on a plane, for example. One of my favorites is deleting old or unwanted photos out of my phone camera roll. I'm a meme hoarder, and it's very soothing to go through and delete unwanted content to make room for new treasures.
How do you feel your anxiety affects your family, friends, and overall social life?
I'm a humor writer, and I'm surrounded by other humor writers, which is great because we're all anxious little critters. So I feel very supported and understood in my immediate community. It's a little harder with my family — both sides have severe mental illness, but there's a lot of bootstrapping and sweeping under the rug with my parents and my extended family. My siblings and I are sort of left to our own devices as we try to figure out how to manage the family curse, so to speak.
Socially, the biggest impact stems from people-pleasing. In my early twenties, I allowed my anxiety to determine a lot of my self-worth; I decided that I was unworthy of friendship unless I had something to offer in exchange, so I did a lot of bending over backward for people I honestly didn't like that much. That's gotten a lot better, although I do occasionally struggle when I'm getting to know a new friend. My brain tends to jump immediately to MUST PROVE WORTH, which is exhausting.
When you're not feeling anxious (simply in your day-to-day life), what do you do for self care?
I'm a runner, which keeps my brain functioning in a way that is honestly disgusting. Like, really? It's 2023 and I still have to plod down the street in little shorts to maintain my sanity? I also see my therapist every three weeks, keep up with my medication regimen, and try to keep my space very clean and tidy. Not in a worrisome way — I just rely very heavily on my space as a tool to decompress and feel safe in my body.
I'm also trying to become a morning person — I think a little morning routine would be huge for me — but I am so, so sleepy. Send thoughts and prayers.
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 one thing I've never seen represented super accurately is my particular flavor of OCD. I write about this in my book, but I have motor tics that peaked in high school (lol), and I've never seen those represented in media beyond trope-y jokes about Tourette's Syndrome. OCD in general is wildly misunderstood; on one hand, it's great that we have younger people out here making TikToks about what OCD really looks like (intrusive thoughts, etc.); on the other, I get frustrated when I see infographics that are like: "Signs you might have OCD: You can't stop thinking about your crush!" I'm like, tell that to my perpetually twitching right shoulder and near-constant thoughts of mortal peril, please.
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What are some of your favorite examples of Pop Culture that gets anxiety and mental health right?
Jason Adam Katzenstein's Everything Is an Emergency: An OCD Story in Words & Pictures is a really tremendous graphic novel that made me feel so seen and understood. It's heartfelt, but it's also really funny in parts and drives home the weird negotiations that people with OCD and anxiety make every day. Highly recommend! I also love Bob's Burgers because, while Gene is not explicitly a king with OCD, I feel that he is, in a spiritual sense.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
I wish I had a very deep, soulful answer to this, but it's probably my mom's favorite refrain: "If they can see that, they're lookin' too close." I think it was originally in reference to panty lines (???) but I apply it to everything now. It helps me remember that I'm probably not being scrutinized in the way my brain assumes — and, if someone actually is scrutinizing me that closely, that's on them for being a weirdo.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just want to say I love Anxious Dude and I'm so happy to get a chance to be featured! Thanks, Scott!
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited slightly for length and clarity.
Thank you for the kind words, Lillian, and for being so honest about your mental health journey!
I’ve had a chance to read Everybody’s Favorite already, and really enjoyed it. Highly recommended!
Thanks again, Lillian!
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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.