The Mythical Anxiety Dragon

There are many preconceived notions about dragons no matter where you are in the world, but in the West, we tend to picture dragons as fire-breathing monsters that want to eat our families and have to be slain by heroes.

In reality, they’re the worst, but they get points for being badass.

Stories about dragons have permeated our consciousness for generations. However, many (not all) cultures stopped depicting them as real creatures that we could stumble upon in the wild a very long time ago.

I’m here to tell you that dragons aren’t gone. There is one type that, with absolute certainty, we can say has survived to this day. And, unfortunately, this type of dragon isn’t good at all.

They’re very much like the fire-breathing stories from European lore. Only, instead of living in caves and hunting from the sky–they’ve adapted to survive alongside the everyday lives of humans, often without us even realizing it.

They’re called Anxiety Dragons.

The Common Anxiety Dragon, captured in a rare moment of separation from its human host.
Photo by David Floyd, via Pexels

Habitat: The human mind; they often live undetected on shoulders as well.

Diet: Happiness, confidence, opportunity (and more).

Behaviour: Masked as a voice of reason, anxiety dragons are the little voices in the backs of our minds–or the figure sitting on our shoulder and whispering into our ears–telling us that we’re not good enough. They tell us that our dreams are impossible, that everything we do is wrong, that we should give up or do something easier.

When they successfully convince us to give up on something important to us, or to pass up on an opportunity because we don’t believe we’re qualified, they devour a feast made up of the remnants of our dreams and aspirations. They snicker whenever they push our desires just out of reach and chew on our confidence when we fail as a result.

And, without a doubt, they will always be there to convince us that the failure of not trying will hurt less than putting effort into our dreams and never reaching them.

Types of Anxiety Dragons: There are multiple types of anxiety dragons, but two are most prevalent, Minor and Major. Minor ones come and go and have less visible symptoms, but Major ones tend to take up permanent residence with symptoms that increase over time.

(Please note that I am not a professional psychologist, and nothing I say should be taken as medical advice. This email is only meant to share some of my experiences with you.)

***

This may sound familiar to you. It’s okay. Like I said, anxiety dragons are quite common, and some of us have them on our shoulders without even realizing.

I have an anxiety dragon.

There, I said it.

(No, don’t run–anxiety dragons are easily startled.)

I first heard of the existence & theory of anxiety dragons in the summer of 2020 while listening to Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing Show–specifically, episode 199 with Sarah Painter where she talks about the anxiety that writers face while creating.

Although geared toward the writing life, there’s value in what she has to say for all kinds of creatives, so her interview is worth a listen even if you’re not strictly a writer.

Anyway, this interview made me realize that I, too, have an anxiety dragon. Although a lot of anxiety dragons are temporary, moving from host to host whenever suits them (and you)–or can be slain when you find it in yourself to become the hero of your own story–my anxiety dragon has lived with me for most of my life.

I endearingly call my anxiety dragon Cleo. Cleo is one of the children of my lifelong mental health struggle, and though sometimes she is a brat (eating my confidence when I need it) and is happy to dig a ditch for me when I want to hide from the world, we have, for the most part, achieved a symbiotic relationship.

While Cleo likes to gently tip things off the coffee table and watch chaos ensue, much like a cat, she also has a troublesome twin brother named Theo. The Depression Dragon Theo likes to burn things, especially things carefully cultivated to keep Cleo at bay.

We won’t talk any more about Cleo & Theo today, but needless to say, I am not much of a dragonslayer. I am not at the point in my epic quest where I’m ready to face my dragons head-on, nor am I at the point where I’ve visited the mythical blacksmith in a far-off land and obtained the only magical sword that could slay such powerful beasts.

I have attempted that journey several times, with varying degrees of success and failure. I am not a natural dragonslayer, nor am I the Chosen One with abilities beyond my comprehension.

I am just a woman. A woman who has had to go back to the dojo for both mental and physical training before she’s ready to take the next step in her quest.

And that’s okay. We can’t all be heroes, and most heroes aren’t made over night.

(Maybe that’s why I write about them instead. 😉)

What I have found, however, are two things that have helped me face the reality of this poorly plotted personal epic quest of mine. Maybe they will help you, too, if they haven’t been already.

One: Furry friends! (Or scaled, feathered, spiked–whatever is your preference)

In my teenage years, I had several cockatiels who I loved very much. Without a doubt, playing with them (even cuddling because, yes, birds can do that!) always made me feel at least a little better about whatever was bothering me.

Now, I have three cats (I know, quite the switch, though I will get birds again one day) who are furry menaces. Meet Taeres and Mab.

Taeres (grey, on the left), being disturbed by her sister Mab (black, on the right), who vies for the prime real estate of the On Top of the Dresser Napping Box (with a cozy blanket).

They are always a source of joy for me, but that’s true for a lot of people and their pets, too. Research shows that animals are a great source of relief from anxiety, depression, and stress for many humans. Animals often love to receive our attention, and we love to give it.

There’s also the newest addition to my fuzzy family, Mithrandir, lovingly named after Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Our Mithrandir is not quite as wise or noble, but he is cute enough that we forgive his shortcomings.

Dogs, especially, can be very empathetic toward their humans, which is why many breeds are trained as emotional support animals for people with various mental health issues. Not only that, but some programs at universities (such as mine, before I graduated) bring trained support dogs to visit students during the most stressful times of the school year. I believe there are similar programs with long-term care facilities and the like.

Needless to say, animals are awesome and can be a great source of emotional support.

Two: Honesty

When it comes to expressing my feelings, especially when it’s something negative, I tend to be very closed-door. However, being dishonest about my true feelings to other people often leads to me subsequently being dishonest with myself.

I suppose, in my mind, if I can’t be honest with other people = it’s easier to pretend that there’s no problem at all. (Can you hear Cleo talking?)

Honesty is hard. There’s no doubt about it.

I can’t say for anyone else for certain, but I find it easier to be honest about other people than with myself. Of course, that’s partially because it’s easy to point out someone else’s flaws when observing from the outside. It’s a lot harder to look inside and figure out where we went wrong (that’s far more painful).

So if being honest about other people is easier, can’t it also be easier to be honest to other people?

In essence, what I discovered is that being honest about my struggles to other people forces me to acknowledge and think deeper about whatever I’m trying to avoid or ignore in the first place. (Whatever worries that Cleo is feeding on.)

This realization is what fuelled my decision to be more open about my mental health. Being a degree more open unlocks more doors internally for me to explore the root of those feelings (through journaling, meditation, etc).

What truths am I hiding from myself (and is Cleo helping me do it)?

What is instigating this anxiety and uncertainty?

And similar such questions.

With a lot of soul searching, I’ve found that a big source of anxiety that Cleo has been feeding off of is my current position as an author. I love writing, telling stories, making things up, and retelling things in different ways. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the life of an author, especially one who is relatively new like I am.

Like a lot of authors, it’s my dream to, one day, write my own stories full-time.

With a bit more digging, I found the true culprit of that anxiety: the knowledge that I’m currently nowhere near that goal. (And thus the fear that Cleo feeds off is that I will never reach that point.)

Honesty has forced me to acknowledge this fear, but honesty has also “woken me up” in a sense–I’m not content to sit by and let Cleo sap away the energy I have toward achieving that dream one day.

So I’ve begun devising a plan. One that will, hopefully, start patching up some of the issues I’ve been having and steer me back onto the right path.

Like most things worth accomplishing in life, there’s no easy path ahead. But I’m sure not going to stop until I’m happy with where I am in life, and with what I’ve accomplished as an author and human being.

Thank you for being here, reading my blog posts (and possibly my books). It means the world to me.

And to Taeres, who has taken to hiding in my desk drawers (and behind them) when I become a grumpy writer and she thinks I need to pay more attention to her.

Taeres thinking that I ought to put a cozy blanket in this drawer for her to claim as another Napping Place.

Whether you have an anxiety dragon or not, times are tough right now.

Do you have a fuzzy (or feathered, scaled, spiky… you know me, I don’t judge) companion that’s helped you through the last couple of months, or is maybe a new addition to your family?

I’d love for you to tell me all about them. Pictures of doggos, kitties, birbs, and all nature of animals are welcome here!

—Erynn

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