theon greyjoy

How a 'Game of Thrones' Character Helps Me Cope With Anxiety

6
6
1

There have been two constants in my life: anxiety and a love for fiction. They’ve been among my defining characteristics for as long as I can remember. So, I suppose it’s only fitting that as my anxiety has grown over time, so has the intensity of my connection to books, television and film to the point that the latter has often served as a coping mechanism for the former.

One character in particular has developed into an invaluable (albeit improbable) source of strength: Theon Greyjoy from “A Song of Ice and Fire” (ASOIAF) and “Game of Thrones.”

theon greyjoy
Actor Alfie Allen portraying Theon Greyjoy on “Game of Thrones.”

A little over a year ago, I was struggling to get through my last semester of college. Three and a half years of unprecedented anxiety had deteriorated my mental and physical health, and I was struggling to function. By sheer coincidence, it was during that time that I listened to the latest installment of ASOIAF, “A Dance With Dragons,” on audiobook and binged season 4 of “Game of Thrones.” Theon’s arc stood out to me.

To succinctly summarize several thousand pages and over 60 hours’ worth of character development, Theon Greyjoy was the salty ward/hostage of house Stark who, after making a series of supremely bad decisions, was taken prisoner by the sadist, Ramsay Bolton, and tortured. In both “A Dance With Dragons” and season 4, Theon emerges from the Bolton dungeons as Reek, a docile slave, conditioned though pain to serve his master. The further into Reek’s arc I got, the more I related to him.

To be very clear, I am not conflating anxiety with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) nor am I claiming insight into the experiences of torture victims (though, for what it’s worth, a domestic abuse survivor thanked Theon’s actor, Alfie Allen, for his portrayal of trauma).

The truth is, however, I do identify strongly with Theon Greyjoy, and I’m writing this in the hope that my experiences might prove instructive to someone else. Because for those struggling to cope with reality or feeling disconnected from those around them, fiction can offer much more than just entertainment or escapism.

In my case, Theon offers me a much-needed sense of connection, validation and hope. His desperation to avoid pain and his disproportionate fear of what seem like minor concerns to other characters reflects my own thought process with eerie accuracy and, in the show, Alfie Allen’s stooped posture and uncontrollable shaking resembles my physicality during intense anxiety.

It’s easier for me to describe my mental state or explain anxiety to others by using Theon as a reference i.e “You know how Theon can’t just snap back to his season 1 self? He can’t just press a reset button and function the way he once did? Well, neither can I.”

More importantly, Theon has become an integral part of my mental and emotional fortification, that is, the internal life I draw from to keep functioning in a world I find overwhelming.

When most people around me (with a few blessed exceptions) conflate anxiety with stress and I must earn empathy and understanding through lengthy explanation, it’s comforting to feel validated, to see elements of my own mental state reflected in someone else.

Moreover, Theon’s story has taken a darkly optimistic turn, and the significance of this can’t help but resonate with me. He’s escaped Ramsay Bolton and, in the show, he’s joined forces with his sister. He continues to struggle with the psychological and physical damage he’s sustained, yet he is still functioning. He hasn’t fully recovered (and probably never can), but he hasn’t given up or been “put out of his misery” (as many fans wanted). The narrative is allowing him to remain altered by his mental illness and still move forward.

I realize some may find it strange or childish to fixate on a fictional character so intensely, but the reality is doing so helps me get by. I have stopped myself from crying at work by focusing on this character. I’ve knelt behind shelves (I work in retail) and eased myself through panic attacks by thinking, “It’s OK. You’re Theon. You’re not dying. You’re not weak. You’re Theon.” I’ve resisted the urge to barricade myself in the bathroom by telling myself it’s OK if my shoulders hunch and I shake because … well, that’s how Theon moves.

game of thrones book with locket over it

Fictional characters may not be real, but their impact on those moved by their story is. Theon is a figment of fantasy, but those who created him, author George R.R. Martin, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff and actor Alfie Allen, had to have drawn from some truth within themselves to fully realize him.

My emotional connection to fiction may be inextricably linked to my anxiety, but for the comfort and strength it has offered me, I am grateful for it.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

6
6
1

RELATED VIDEOS

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

In the Mind of a Mom With Anxiety

48
48
0

Sports, I love and hate them. My kids love sports. On game days, I would rather hide out and hope for something, Armageddon, zombie apocalypse or a flat. I get them ready. We are always late. I’m a failure. My anxiety is kicking me square in the teeth, as I desperately search for whichever item I’ve lost this time.

I’m gonna puke. Yep, there it goes. Damn, it’s on my shirt, gotta change.  What a screw up! We don’t have time for this! I’m going to loose it.

I’m screaming, “Get in the car!”

Crap! Why is my voice so mean?

“Guys, please we have to go!”

We get to the car and I am making small talk to avoid the fear. The crowd, it’s coming. They’ll all look and see I can’t keep it together. Is that a stain on my sons shirt? Yep, great I can’t even get that right. Oh we are getting close. My chest hurts. Smile. Don’t forget you are supposed to smile.

Did everyone get their medicine? Do we have everything? It’s too late. Oh, there are so many cars. Why are there so many people? It’s so loud. Everyone is so loud! It’s bright, all the freaking lights. Why can’t I get it together? I’m messing my kids up for life.

Oh no! I forgot to bring headache pills, always with the headache. It hurts! Crap, I’m screaming again. They are just kids. They are going to run and touch. Why can’t I let them be little kids? Are my sons OK? One has autism. He doesn’t like crowds either. He is pulling his hair. No!

I can’t be a good mom. I can’t even keep everything stable enough to keep him calm. Oh, the other one is running, and he is down. Oh poor baby! Stop acting out son! I’m going to watch this game. Undivided attention, oh the lady behind me touched me! No, don’t touch me!

My hands are shaking. Everyone knows. They know I’m going to lose it. She is touching me again. I cut my eyes to see. She is pointing at my little one. He is climbing. Babe, go get him please! Oh no I’m alone. Why is everyone staring? Stop. Ugh they see it. They see me edging.

Yes, all these things go through my mind. It’s a quick succession I cannot control. It is awful. I often wish I could spew these words at the people around me. Maybe then they’d understand. They won’t. They can’t. You either have this and get it, or you don’t. Empathy is only a reaction taught with care. You cannot understand, yet maybe you will judge every word I’ve written.

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you a mother with a disability, disease or mental illness? What would you tell a new mother in your position? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

48
48
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What I Do When I’m Consumed by Anxiety

360
360
3

Overthink everything.

Sweat.

Suffocate.

Cry.

Let it take over.

Have a panic attack.

Lie down.

Stand up.

Hold an ice cube till it melts.

Kind of breathe.

Take a walk.

Feel anxious on the walk.

Go back inside.

Write.

Sit and stare at a fixed point.

Call a friend.

Hang up before they answer.

Cry a little more.

Try the walk again.

Walk for longer.

Break into a jog.

Tire after four blocks.

Walk back inside.

Take a shower.

Feel a little better.

Get on with the day.

Wait for it to come back.

This post originally appeared on Medium. You can follow Amanda Rosenberg on Twitter @AmandaRosenberg.

The Mighty is asking the following: Imagine someone Googling how to help you cope with your (or a loved one’s) diagnosis. Write the article you’d want them to find.  Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

360
360
3
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

6 Reminders for My Future Anxious Self, From Your Calm Self

218
218
5

Dear Shelly,

Today I had a panic attack. It was a real rocker. You know the type. I sweated, felt like I would puke, worried I would kill myself, worried I would hurt someone else, worried about work, worried it would never end — all in the span of 20 minutes. It wasn’t fun. It sucked. I know it sucks. I know it’s hard, but I want you to know you do not understand anything right now. Your thoughts are lies anxiety tells you. Even when there is some truth, it is always a catastrophic version of what might be. Sure, the shit might hit the fan, but you cannot predict the future.

I know you’re hurting right now. You might feel like you’re not good enough. You have a lot of fears. I’m sorry you have to go through that. It makes me sad to think of you going through this anxiety, whether it’s for a few minutes or a few months. I love you, though. We’ve done all of this before. I know all the thoughts you have, and I love you! You should know that.

I want to address the things you might be thinking. I know you overthink shit big time. I’m not sure addressing your fears will help, but we try everything else, why not this?

1. The moment you need your meds to get calm, you are going to start thinking you’re an addict. It’s not true, but it’s what you do. Even if you think “I haven’t had them in forever. I don’t crave them,” you will follow it up with, “Yeah, but this could be the time.” Listen honey, this is the thought you have every time. Remember when you couldn’t sleep with your medication near you? You have anxiety about medicine, kid. So what if this is the time? Are you struggling with anxiety right now? Take care of yourself with the tools you have. Let me take care of what’s left of you when you’re done. I can handle it. I swear. I’m way stronger than you think I am.

2. You’re going to think the anxiety is never going away, or at least stick around long enough to mess up your work. The first is impossible. The second is rare, but it could happen. So what? The reputation you think you need — you’re imagining it. Even if all of your clients cut you off because you were out of work for a month, you would bounce back up, but I’m not here to reassure you. I’m here to tell it like it is. This shit will happen to you. You are sick. You’re also fine.

3. You’re going to worry about taking your life because you have intrusive thoughts about it. I’m not going to bother telling you they are just intrusive thoughts. I know what it feels like. You wouldn’t listen to me anyway. I will say this, though. I really want a chance to come back to my life. I would appreciate it if you would take care of us and just endure this until you get back to me, OK? If you have to cling to a book for a month, drinking Ensure and playing video games, do it please. I need you. No pressure, though, eh?

4. You’re going to worry about puking. I’m baffled we’re so scared of being sick, but it happens. So what if you puke? Which brings me to . . .

5. You’re going to worry your meds will stop working. I know why you worry about this. Sometimes, our meds are not as effective as they can be. It’s because sometimes we have really prominent symptoms. A pill may not knock a panic attack on its ass (though one just did). They will help make your anxiety manageable enough so you can knock back an Ensure, read a book and walk until you find me again. It might take time, Shell, but you will find me. I promise. It’s OK to cry and be sad that I’m gone right now.

6. Do what you would have done anyway. If you sit still and cater to the horrible sensations of your anxiety, it is all you will feel. You might as well feel like shit and do something at the same time. You might enjoy the walk less or zone out during family time, but at least you won’t just be sitting there feeling like shit, right? Live your life. When it’s going rough, it’s going to suck whether you lay around or get up and risk puking in the grocery store, which still has yet to happen. I can just imagine us if it ever does. “OMG, I was right!” Ugh. Whatever.

My point is, get through it. Do what you have to do. I promise you that I, your calm self, will be happily waiting for you on the other side. I always am. Even if it’s just for a minute that slowly grows over time to be hours, I am always waiting for anxious me to get to the other side of anxiety. This is not reassurance. This is just a fact. I can’t wait to see you again. It feels so good to be alive. I can’t wait to tell you that.

Love, Shelly

Follow this journey on Living With Intrusive Thoughts.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

218
218
5
TOPICS
, Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How to Stop Avoiding Because of Anxiety: The 24-Hour Challenge

103
103
0

Anxiety is tricky. It likes to lie to us, play games with our heads and most of all finds ways to stick around. So for example, when it’s time to answer a stressful school related email — and oh my gosh thinking about it makes me feel stressed, and now my thoughts are racing. Is it getting warm in here? And ah, I don’t want to look at it, because this is making me feel anxious, so really what I should do is just…

Click. Close the page. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it. Don’t do it. Ah, now don’t I feel better?

Avoiding: one of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder’s most well-mastered tricks. Sure we feel better for a few seconds, maybe even a few minutes if we are lucky, but all too soon the anxiety comes back stronger and we still haven’t done or addressed what is stressing us out. So what do we do to stop avoiding? How do we stop this spiral of continuing to avoid and the anxiety just growing larger?

It’s time for: The 24-Hour Challenge!

What you need: you (a brave person), a stressful thing you are avoiding, and a clock/watch/sundial (some way of knowing what time it is). Have your stressful thing picked out? It can be making a phone call, doing an exposure you discussed with your therapist, taking to that cute boy in class, or for me, answering school related emails.

Now, look at what time it is. Got it memorized? Great. OK — now make a commitment to yourself. Starting right now you have 24 hours to do the stressful thing. And now you have 23 hours, 59 minutes, 30 seconds… (This is a strict deadline!) This is my absolute favorite technique to use when I have been avoiding something. It definitely requires self-discipline (or you can ask someone else to hold you accountable) but for me it almost always works. In fact, just before starting writing this blog post I finally answered a stressful school email because the clock was ticking and it had almost been 24 hours since I committed to answering the email. But it’s done now. I did it and I feel much better!

Here are some final tips for the 24-Hour Challenge:

1. Pick your strategy. There are two ways to go about doing this. You can either just get it over with so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Or, you can keep stalling and feel stressed about it for almost the full 24 hours, finally doing your task toward the end of the deadline. I don’t always succeed at doing this myself, but I highly recommend the first option. Much more pleasant!

2. Give yourself a reward! This can be candy, getting to watch your favorite show, getting to write, etc. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool and provides great incentive to stop avoiding. You are reteaching your brain to stop avoiding, after all.

3. Choose your own time limit. Some tasks work well with 24 hours, but other tasks work well with a 10-minute challenge or a one week challenge. Adjust the time limit to your specific task, but the main idea stays the same.

I hope this has been helpful. I’d love to hear if anyone tries the 24-Hour Challenge and how it goes!

Click here for more information about avoidance.

Follow this journey on My OCD Voice.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

 

103
103
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

What It's Like to Have 'High-Functioning' Anxiety

1m
1m
838

High-functioning anxiety looks like…

Achievement. Busyness. Perfectionism.

When it sneaks out, it transforms into nervous habits. Nail biting. Foot tapping. Running my fingers through my hair.

If you look close enough, you can see it in unanswered text messages. Flakiness. Nervous laughter. The panic that flashes through my eyes when a plan changes. When anything changes.

High-functioning anxiety feels like…

A snake slithering up my back, clamping its jaws shut where my shoulders meet my neck. Punch-in-the-gut stomach aches, like my body is confusing answering an email with being attacked by a lion.

High-functioning anxiety sounds like…

You’re not good enough. You’re a bad friend. You’re not good at your job. You’re wasting time. You’re a waste of time. Your boyfriend doesn’t love you. You’re so needy. What are you doing with yourself? Why would you say that? What if they hate it? Why can’t you have your shit together? You’re going to get anxious and because you’re going to get anxious, you’re going to mess everything up. You’re a fraud. Just good at faking it. You’re letting everybody down. No one here likes you.

All the while, it appears perfectly calm.

It’s always looking for the next outlet, something to channel the never-ending energy. Writing. Running. List-making. Mindless tasks (whatever keeps you busy). Doing jumping jacks in the kitchen. Dancing in the living room, pretending it’s for fun, when really it’s a choreographed routine of desperation, trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in your head. 

It’s silent anxiety attacks, hidden by smiles.

It’s always being busy but also always avoiding, so important things don’t get done. It’s letting things pile up rather than admitting you’re overwhelmed or in need of help.

It’s that sharp pang of saying the wrong thing, the one that starts the cycles of thoughts. Because you said too much, and nobody cares, and it makes you never want to speak up again.

It’s going back and forth between everyone else has it together but you, and so many people have it tougher than you.

Get your act together.

Suck it up.

You’re not OK, you’re messing everything up.

You’re totally OK, stop being such a baby.

It’s waking up in the middle of the night sobbing because the worst-case-scenario that just went through your head at high speed seems so real, so vivid, that even when it’s proven to be untrue, it takes hours for your heart to slow down, to feel calm again.

Because how “OK” are you when a day without a plan is enough to make you crumble? When empty spaces make you spiral at the very anticipation of being alone with your thoughts? When you need to make a list to get through a Sunday: watch a show, clean your kitchen, exercise, answer five emails, read 10 pages, watch a show… ?

It’s feeling unqualified to write this piece because I’m getting by. It’s when you’re social enough to get invited to things, but so often find yourself standing in a room where it feels like no one knows you. It’s being good at conversation and bad at making close friends because you only show up when you feel “well” enough. Only text back when you feel ready. Because you’re afraid they’d hate you if they really knew you. That the energy would overwhelm them, and you’d lose them.

So you learn to rein it in. Channel it. Even though sometimes you do everything right (exercise, sleep, one TV show, five emails, 10 pages…) and you’re still left with racing thoughts, the panic. The not good enoughs.

When will it be enough?

Having anxiety means constantly managing motion that can be productive or self-destructive, depending on how much sleep you got. Depending on the day. Depending on the Earth’s alignment with Mars. Depending on…

It’s when “living with it” means learning how to sit with it. Practicing staying in bed a little longer. Challenging the mean, unrelenting voices that say you’re only worth what you produced that day.

It means learning how to say, “I need help.” Trying to take care of yourself without the guilt. It means every once in a while, confiding in a friend. It means sometimes showing up even when you’re scared.

It’s when answering a text impulsively and thoughtlessly is an act of bravery.

It’s fighting against your own need to constantly prove your right to exist in this world.

It’s learning how to validate your own feelings. That even though you don’t feel like you’re enough, and you’ll never be enough, it’s knowing you’re at least anxious enough to benefit from help. That admitting you need it doesn’t confirm voices’ lies. That taking a break doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

It’s finding your own humanity in the anxiety, in your weaknesses. It’s trying to let the energy inspire you, instead of bring you down. It’s forgiving yourself when it wins.

It’s a way to live, with this constant companion. Your bullying twin. Collapsible luggage you can bury away at a moment’s notice. Shove it under the bed. Pretend it’s not there until you can’t fit anymore. Until you can no longer ignore it. Until you have to face it.

A first good step is staring at it straight on and calling it by its name.

High anxiety can be a natural consequence of a busy lifestyle, but its existence is akin to the chicken and the egg. Which came first, the anxiety or the busyness? Am I always moving because I’m anxious or am I anxious because I’m always moving?

Either way, it’s not a noble way to suffer. It’s not a “better” way to be anxious. Just because you’re “functioning” doesn’t always mean you’re happy. And just because you’re functioning doesn’t mean you shouldn’t slow down, breathe and take one damn second to be happy the way things are.

In this very moment.

This quiet, short moment.

To remember the peace you found in that second of silence, until the electricity starts again, and you’re forced to move.

We hope our stories help you. Get more like this one by following our topics.

The Mighty is asking the following: Coin a term to describe a symptom, characteristic, aspect, etc., of your diagnosis. Then, explain what that experience feels like for you. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

What It's Like To Have High Functioning Anxiety


1m
1m
838
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.