Anxiety Penguins

This is how anxiety works, when healthfully managed:  the panic rises and there are knee-jerk reactions with more panic and the breaking tide of helplessness and fear and eventually despair tumbles over you and you drown in the dread-colored waters.  If you are working on healthy ways through this, you find your partner and explain in strained and halting sentences that you are having a little bit of anxiety, and it is becoming hard to deal and stay calm … If you can still explain things.  If you can’t, you say “I’m afraid” and that’s it.  If you can, you try to make your partner understand.  “There’s not … enough air.  Too much noise.  My shoes are tight — I’m sorry.”

That last bit is where it goes off the tracks.  Now there’s guilt with the fear, and that combination leads to conviction that you are a weight on others and everyone will leave you and the world won’t end it will go on forever and you never get to die but have to live past the heat death of the universe run out of love.

If you don’t explain, but just react, you feel like you are behaving irrationally and are afraid of others reactions to that.

If you do explain, it becomes clear in your words that you are an inconvenience and you feel afraid that others, now that it is explained so clearly to them, will leave you.

So.  That’s the menu of choices.  Last weekend, Shannon suggested something different, and we tried it.  It does stunning things to the formula.




Yep.  You read that correctly.  Tallish birds, nice dispositions, not dangerous to anything but small squid and the occasional herring.

Here’s what Shannon actually said.  I was having the tide rise, pulse throbbing through the swells, and was utterly failing to eloquently voice my needs.  She guessed my issues, got my agreement that she’d nailed it, and helped me through that.

After, she said, “We should make a code-word so that when this happens to you, you don’t have to try to communicate the whole thing.  You just say, like, ‘Penguins’, and I know what’s up.”  I tried it on.

“So, if sounds are too loud, I tell you the penguins are really noisy.”

“Or if a room is too crowded for you, that there are too many penguins in here.”

“Or, if I’m just convinced things are about to go all bad, that (even though I can’t see it) there is a penguin following me.  I can hear its flapping steps, smell it’s breath, it’s getting worse and I can feel the penguin humping my ankle.”

We thought that one over and decided not to expand the theme further.  We did try the concept out, though, later on.

“I’m okay, but I think some of the people here have penguins in their pockets.  I’m just sort of hanging out in the corner, for now.”

And that was it.

No stumbling through an explanation that, inevitaby, ends with laying claim to some horrific shortcoming for which everyone would rightfully scorn me.  Instead, just a mildly comic (if cryptic or even paranoid) statement that leaves the in-the-know parties fully understanding what was going on.

I didn’t have anything to apologize over.


That, right there, was world changing for me.  *gets ready to explain at length, pulls up short*. Like this:  when I apologize, I can tell the penguins gather to listen.

I commend this practice to my friends who experience panic.  Penguins.  It’s gonna be big.

5 thoughts on “Anxiety Penguins”

    1. It seems to be working pretty well. Like spoons for chronic pain sufferers, but oriented toward those suffering anxiety disability.

      I’ll be interested to know if it helps anyone else…

  1. My panic attacks are much too brief for anything like that to work. Like when I realize I’m going to lose the rear tire of my bike on that patch of black ice I didn’t see until too late because I was going too fast…. At least I usually have time to jump right to resignation. I’m quick at that jump.

    1. You’re quick at most things.

      I’m not sure that qualifies as a panic attack. I think that might be “rational response to changing conditions”.

  2. Personally, the timing is all messed up. It only takes one slight change in my world to go from OK to a huge anxiety attack in about .001 seconds. There isn’t any time for a penguin. I would like to get to a place where I can confidently, consciously, and with awareness state, “Omaha, Omaha, Omaha.” That would prevent those inevitable situations of not even being able to talk clearly. I shall continue to strive for a penguin, though mimicking an ostrich works well at times.

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