What I Learned From My Fictional Character About Overcoming Disaster Thinking, a guest post by K. Ibura
Of all of human’s gifts, one that never fails to amaze me is our capacity for worry and anxiety. Give us anything—good, bad, or neutral—and we can construct a disaster out of it. Without any proof, we are certain that our efforts are going to fail, things we love will disappear, people we love will get hurt, strangers will taunt us, no one will like us. I suppose there’s a great creativity to it, but the drift toward the disaster mindset is truly frustrating.
Disaster thinking can happen in the course of a normal day as a fleeting thought. It can happen as a recurring anxiety when you approach a specific activity and you become convinced that nothing will work out and there’s no point in trying. And, for the millions of people across the globe it can be a chronic issue, in which thoughts of disaster take over the body, throwing them into full-blown panic attacks.
My character, Liam, from my debut middle grade novel When the World Turned Upside Down, struggles with chronic anxiety and I think of him often when disaster strikes in my mind. This is the way Liam describes his panic attacks to his friends: “It’s like everything around you is fine, but your body doesn’t know you are safe. Your body thinks you’re in danger and it fills you up with fear.” Even though I have only felt paralyzed by fear, once or twice in my life, I learned that there are commonalities between Liam and me. The kind of “What if….” thinking that sparks a panic attack for Liam is the same type of disaster thinking that I (and most humans) struggle with.
Writing and researching Liam’s character, I learned that anxiety exists on a spectrum. For some of us, it emerges as an anxious moment, for others it presents as an anxious disposition, and for the rest it’s a destabilizing condition they have to battle on a daily basis. For those of us on the lower end of the anxiety spectrum, it can be hard to imagine your whole body going into panic mode because of a thought or a situation. Tapping in to how traumatic chronic anxiety can be helps me value coping strategies—and has made me more compassionate of people struggling with all kinds of mental and emotional challenges.
Liam has a great support system in his mother, his therapist, and his friends—Shayla, Ai and Ben. They all support him in adopting and activating coping tools. From singing when he’s anxious to finding protective gear during the pandemic, Liam proactively seeks out solutions to his mental unrest. The rest of us need coping tools, too! Even if we don’t find ourselves paralyzed by anxiety, we need a tool kit to survive smaller bursts of mental panic that can appear without warning.
My coping strategies are a huge part of my writer’s survival kit (and my adulting toolkit). To succeed as a writer, of course you have to write, but to get to the writing you have to manage all manner of mental obstacles and hurdles. Sometimes managing negative mindsets is the hardest part of the job. So here is what I tell myself when disaster thinking takes over my mind:
- Step 1: Put it in perspective.
Every disaster you are imagining is a future thought. It is not happening in the moment, so there’s nothing you can do about it right now. What is happening in the moment is the work and the work needs focus and attention.
- Step 2: Understand the cost.
If you empower the disaster thinking then you do not proceed with your work. What I put my attention on grows. So, if I give more life to the disaster thinking then I am literally funneling my creative energies into anxiety and negative possibility. I’ve traded in productivity for mental glitches.
- Step 3: Understand the improbability.
No one can avoid disaster, but we can’t predict it either. Bad things will happen to us for sure, but many times it’ll be something we didn’t see coming. Trying to avoid criticism and failure is a fool’s errand. I remind myself that perfection is impossible. There will be pitfalls and bad outcomes, but I can’t predict them. And until they happen, I can’t get myself out of them.
- Step 4: Embrace the necessity of being less than.
There’s a saying I use to keep myself going: “There’s always going to be somebody who is better than you at writing and worse than you at writing. Always.” I apply that to everything in my life. I tell myself this so I don’t obsess about being the best. It’s impossible for me to be better than every human being. It’s also contextual. I may be the best under a specific set of conditions and criteria, and the worst under another. I can be the best me that I can be, and that is more than enough.
When it comes to supporting the people who are important to him, Liam does what he can to manage his anxiety and be a contribution to his family and community. Even though he would prefer to hide from the things that scare him, when his family needs him, he activates his coping strategies. Learning to sit with vulnerability takes strength. It takes guts to say, I’m going to make or do this thing regardless of how challenging it is or how imperfect the outcome.
When I am in mental battles with myself, I cope by telling myself: you don’t have to have the answers, but you do have to keep going. With writing, I acknowledge the potential disasters. Yes, the writing might have typos. It might not get published. It might get published, then bomb. Those are all real possibilities, but they aren’t the only possibilities. After the disaster thinking runs wild, I remind myself, what life is about. Ultimately, it’s not about the writing—or whatever thing you’re obsessing about. Life is about me and you. It’s about our efforts, our expression, and our growth. It’s about investing the time and work into developing our hearts, our health, and our visions. That is what we are here for. And the most powerful thing we can do to support ourselves is to get our brains on board with forward motion as we commit to the being the best version of ourselves and living our lives as fully as we can.
Virtual tour events:
· 1/31 @ 7:30pm ET – Charis Books & More, in conversation with Varian Johnson
· 2/1 @ 5pm MT – Tattered Cover, in conversation with Ibi Zoboi
· 2/2 @ 6pm ET – Source Booksellers, in conversation with Brandy Colbert
Meet the author
K. Ibura was born as the middle child in a family of seven (five kids plus parents!) in New Orleans, Louisiana. When they weren’t disagreeing about everything, K. Ibura and her siblings played competitive rounds of jacks and a card game called Crazy Eights. They also built insane obstacle courses throughout the house involving stacked chairs, sheets, and timers. Her parents were independent thinkers who filled the home with music, culture, and strong principles. Today, she lives in Brooklyn, where she makes art, writes, and does puzzles while her daughter cheers her on. To learn more about K. Ibura and her writing, visit kiburabooks.com.
About When the World Turned Upside Down
What do you do when the world shuts down? A heartwarming story of friendship and overcoming adversity in a time of COVID, When the World Turns Upside Down is about community, giving back, and understanding the world around us through the power of generosity from debut middle grade author K. Ibura.
Nobody expected a tiny little virus to change the whole world in such a big way, especially not Shayla, Liam, Ai, and Ben. But when school closes to keep everyone safe, their lives turn upside down. It is one thing to learn that the outside world isn’t safe, but why does it seem that the virus is causing trouble inside their homes too?
As they each struggle to adjust to life in quarantine, they discover they are not alone: their apartment building is full of people who need their help. Working together, they begin to see that there is power in numbers. When they cooperate, they can ease each other’s challenges and help their neighbors through tough times. It’s a lesson they’ll need when protests explode in the streets. Soon, each friend has to decide what it means to be part of a community—and how much they’re willing to do to make this world safer for everyone.
Set against the onset of COVID, When the World Turned Upside Down navigates issues of race and social justice in a heartwarming story of generosity, friendship, and the power of youth.
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 02/01/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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