I watched a TikTok* recently where the artist said their therapist recommended naming their anxiety. Supposedly, giving it a personality would make it easier to combat. I liked the video and moved onto the next video, as is the way of TikTok. That was the last I thought about it until this week when I published my first novel. I thought I would feel proud of achieving a lifetime goal. But as I hit submit, I didn’t have a feeling of pride. I felt overwhelmed as I let a piece of me go out into the world. At first, I sat with these unexpected feelings. Then I tried to fight them because they were growing louder. Fortunately, this TikTok advice came back to me in my moment of need.
Without further ado, let me introduce Chase.
Chase has been with me since I was five years old. I met Chase right after the man at church told me it was my Christian duty to stand behind my friend in line because he was a boy. Chase followed me home that day. He was there when my English teacher told me we would read women authors in class when they write something worth reading. He kept track of all the messages strangers, and loved ones gave me about how I had little worth or value, and he has been parroting them to me ever since.
Chase, on his own, is a simple, uncomplicated man. He thinks Dunning-Kruger is where they work in The Office. Chase has a lot of thoughts that he shares widely between sips of Coors. Chase sits in my backyard and says things like, “Smile,” “women are good for one thing,” and quotes the 1955 Good House Wive’s Guide to me often. Chase and I are not friends, but we have been living together for decades. He rarely leaves the house because Chase doesn’t do anything with or for himself. I’ve become good at ignoring him, I’ve had years of practice.
So, this week I was surprised when Chase’s annoying monologues suddenly became louder and more insistent. I had hoped Chase would split now that he realizes I will never quit. I did a considerable feat in completing my lifelong dream! He should be out of criticism by now. That’s not how inner critics and anxieties have ever worked. Chase reminded me that I have never heard anyone say that they don’t have any fears or anxieties after they achieve a goal. There are always new challenges and plenty of stress to feel.
Chase has added a new verse to a familiar song he sings loudly and off-tune, “no one will like you.” It’s not a unique fear; we have all wanted to belong and feel loved at some point. It’s featured in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Chase knows that I have always tried to be approachable, welcoming, and kind. I have tried to find common interests with every person I meet. I’m the person who (until recently) talked to you in the grocery line about anything at all. But Chase points out something that never occurred to me, I can’t be approachable to most people and be an author. Authors can’t hide the way a writer can.
A book isn’t written for everyone or edited in real-time for every taste; it was written for an audience. Over the next few weeks, my friends and family will discover that I wrote a book that has sex, violence, bad language, and jokes that they may not like. I can’t edit my text, like I do myself, for every person I meet, and that is scary. There are so few people in my life who know me.
Chase has controlled me for so long. He positively has reinforced all the gendered stereotypes I grew up with from school, work, media, etc. By publishing, I have created a radical, vulnerable moment where I am putting a part of my brain out in a very public way. It is a terrifying leap of faith in myself. Do I really deserve to have a voice? Do I get to express ideas that might not be popular or welcomed by my loved ones? In my heart, I believe the answer is yes, but I’m still scared.
I’ve written this blog post for Chase. I think in his own way, he has tried to protect me by reminding me of the advice of others. The thing is that we are all fallible, and sometimes we teach children things to protect them instead of helping them thrive. I am thankful that Chase has been here to warn me and to let me know what some obstacles in life might be, but it is time I heal and find a path for myself. That starts with being the person I want to be in life who is brave and willing to put her ideas out into the world.
I hope Chase is overprotective, and I find an audience for my book. The community of readers will be generous with me. With trepidation, I welcome their feedback, so I can become a better writer, and we can grow a great relationship over the years. I have waited so long to meet you. Maybe Chase will still be here, but his messages will change. I’m hoping for lectures about the dangers of the Northwestern Tree Octopus.
*I could not find the TikTok artist (I’m a serial liker), but I could see lots of examples of this technique online. Here are three if you are interested in this topic:
- I Named My Anxiety in Order to Tame It – Eva Recinos
- 3 Ways to Outsmart Your Inner Critic – Christa Smith Psy.D.
- Stop Fighting Your Inner Critic with One Simple Strategy – Melody Wilding, LMSW