Anxiety was a major player in my life until I began to see it as something I had to work with, rather than something that was working within me. A yarn about the questions to ask when getting to know your frustrations and a worksheet to get you started. 

Many years ago Michelle and I worked in a Northern Queensland Public Service Department supporting people through and out of their unemployment. Michelle shit me. She was everything I wasn’t, and nothing that I wanted to be. She spoke down to me, scoffed at my pink fringe and had an opinion about everybody. She refused to accept responsibility for any problem, would not budge on processes and rolled her eyes whenever I suggested a change. 

Of course, work relationships, particularly toxic ones, do not go unnoticed. Our boss tired quickly of nudging us towards friendship or at least a workable compromise and one day, dragged us in to her office, kicking and screaming. She did not care about our differences, our personal opinions or both of our requests to be moved on to another department. There was work to do and we had to find a way to get it done .. together. 

When pushed for a fix, she said, “I don’t know, pretend you’ve met at a party and get to know each other! What are your hopes and dreams? What do you want to do with your life? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? You know, ask each other all the regular things that break down the walls between two people.”

The method in getting to know a problem, is the same as getting to know a person. Ask questions, lots and lots and lots of questions. When I first started to understand the Anxiety in my life, I treated it like someone I knew, not necessarily someone I like, but someone I needed to get more personal with. 

By thinking of Anxiety as a seperate person, rather than a part of me, I could start asking questions and use the answers to unpack the discomfort, learn about its history and figure out how it was linked to some of my behaviours and assumptions. From this, I gained an understanding of how I and others were recruited into an idea that I was an anxious person .. that I was a problem. 

So how did I interview? research? get to know? Anxiety. By using the same lines that Michelle and I were urged to try all those years ago.  What are your hopes and dreams? What do you want to do with your life? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? Here’s how some it went … 

Me: What makes you happy? 
Anxiety: When you are safe and sound, at home, with no danger or distractions around

Me: What do you mean by distractions?
Anxiety: Oh you know, anything you can't do perfectly, anything new, anything where someone might laugh at you

Me: But I have to learn new things, otherwise what's the point of being?
Anxiety: Look i've been doing this for billions of years. I know what's best for humans. Got to warn you if danger is coming, got to keep you away from the uncomfortable places.

Me: Oh, so really you're just a feeling, a flag, a raised hand trying to grab my attention
Anxiety: Well, yes i'm not pain or fever but i've been doing my job so well, that when you do feel me, you think pain is coming.

The full conversation was very long, over a period a months. It lead to my understanding that Anxiety was actually doing its job, it just had a confused idea about what dangerous was and was not. In a Narrative Practice session, I might take that journey in helping someone find out how they learned what was dangerous and what wasn’t. 

Download the worksheet and have a go. There’s two groups of questions to start off your “conversation” with the current influence in your life. One set is to use with Gaba [something good or something you want to increase in your life] and the other is for Gagil [something not so good or something you would like to reduce in your life]. Of course, you can use any name or label you like. For more information on Narrative Practice or bookings, click the FAQs or send me a message.

What became of Michelle and I? Neither of us tried any of the suggested questions and around three months later, Michelle took on a lower paid role under the guise of ‘more responsibility’ in another department. Her replacement was impossible to work with. Years later, I look back and realise that I saw everyone as impossible to work with. I had limited ability back then to talk about what I could do, couldn’t do and what I needed help with. I would have been impossible to work with too. 

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