When Panic Becomes Dangerous

CW self harm

In theory, fear and anxiety are there to keep us safe. For the person who has been traumatised, this can lead to jumping at shadows, hypervigilism and flashbacks in ways that can really mess with your daily life. But still, the theory is good, the fear is learned, rational, reasonable and your brain is dealing appropriately with the threat level it is alert to. 

My panic does not exist to protect me. My panic exists to protect other people from me. It’s not a mystery how I got here – my ex did a very good job of persuading me that I was an awful person – cruel, manipulative, aggressive, unreasonable, ungrateful and causing him constant pain and difficulty. His words stay with me, and when I make mistakes, they loom large. It doesn’t help that this wasn’t my only experience of me being a terrible person, and it’s all there waiting for me any time I get anything wrong.

So instead of trying to protect myself, my panic has me hurting myself. Including having a lot of trouble eating or drinking. If I’m weak I am less of a threat to others. If I hurt myself, I’m not hurting someone else. At the worst extremes it leads to the idea that everyone would be better off if I didn’t exist.

It’s taken me a long time to understand this as a process. It’s not easy to think about the mechanics while it’s happening, and almost impossible to make any sense of it afterwards. But, I’ve had about a month now of intense panic, and that’s given me a lot of opportunities to notice things about the mechanics.

I’ve got a practical intervention in place – if I get the urge to hurt myself, I use resistance bands. At least that way the pain I inflict is helping me build stronger muscles, which I need anyway. Moving with them helps calm me, and I’ve managed to use them through really bad episodes where I felt that I did not deserve any kind of comfort or ease. This is one of the worst periods I’ve ever had for panic, but it’s also been the best managed around self harm and I feel encouraged by that.

I didn’t get here on my own. Not this episode, not this issue. I think this is often the way of it with emotional and psychological damage. The wounds come from outside. We don’t expect people to put their own broken arms into plasters or to sew up the gashes in their bodies. 

Make mediocre things because that’s awesome

There is a famous Neil Gaiman talk in which he says that whatever happens, you should make good art. I am here to argue. The idea of ‘good art’ can be pretty intimidating, especially when it feels like everything is on fire. When you and/or the rest of the world is in crisis, making good art can feel like a lot of pressure. 

It is good to make things. Make the things that cheer and comfort you. That might not be art at all – it might be lunch. It might be rubbishy comfort food lunch, it might be awesome legendary lunch, it’s all good. Make the lunch you need right now.

Make a pillow fort. Make a bigger pile of cats. Make a mess. Make something so that you know you are alive and real and able to change the world around you. 

If you want to make art, then make art, but don’t put yourself under pressure to make good art. Do what you can. You might not have the skills and experience yet to be able to make good art, and some of us need to spend years making shit art first, and that’s fine. Make what you want to make, for the joy of it, not to meet some imagined standard. Maybe you’ll develop the skills to make really good stuff and maybe you won’t but either way it’s fine.

There’s a particular magic around making bad art, and being able to enjoy that and share it. I’ve had some wonderful bad poetry sessions in my time. I delight in bad taxidermy, and terrible paintings of animals by historical people who had clearly not seen horses from the side, or lions… There can be utter joy in the cheerful sharing of rubbish things. There’s release and relief in not having to be good. How much sweeter and gentler life is when you don’t have to be brilliant, when it is safe to laugh at yourself and you can enjoy offering up your crapness for other people to laugh along with you.

What I tell people at the start of bad poetry workshops, is that everyone can write bad poetry. It’s totally accessible. The more awful the poem, the better. If you accidentally write a good one it’s not a disaster, no one will think less of you for that. Then we get in there, and write deliberately terrible things, and laugh a lot, and relish the rubbishness. There’s joy in it, and freedom. 

One of the easiest ways to write a really bad poem is to be self important, grandiose, overblown – like someone trying too hard to make good art. There are in fact no guarantees that trying really hard to make good art will lead to something good – you might just end up with something awkwardly self conscious and pretentious instead. There’s no point focusing on the intention to make good art. It’s a lot better to focus on the pleasure of the process and the scope to do something interesting or enjoyable.

Gorgeous Things

A shoutout for a few folk I know who have been doing cool stuff recently.

Haven Jean has made an album. It is a splendid thing and you can listen over here –

https://havenandben.bandcamp.com/album/fragile-spark

It’s not overtly Druid content, but there’s a lot of powerful stuff shared, and humour, and charm and that’s all good Bard stuff.

There is background info for the album on Haven’s blog –

River has posted two beautiful poems on The River Crow blog –

Intense and lovely and powerful poems from Meredith Debonnaire