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How Stephen King's 'IT' Helps Me Explain My Anxiety

By now, I’m sure almost everyone has seen or read Stephen King’s “IT.” As someone with anxiety, I try to avoid horror movies. Although the demons on the screen can’t come close to comparing with those who live in my head, they can definitely encourage them and give them new ideas for haunting me. “IT,” however, has become a useful tool for explaining anxiety to those who have never experienced it.

For those who don’t know, “IT” is about an evil creature that takes the form of a clown, Pennywise, to lure kids into the sewers where it lives. This creature, however, is also capable of shapeshifting into the thing these kids fear the most — making it harder for them to get away. After watching this movie, it’s only natural to wonder: what shape would Pennywise take for me? What would he be for you?

I want you to do something for me: close your eyes and think of your worst fear. I don’t mean spiders or heights or public speaking. I mean your real worst fear. The one that physically hurts to think about. The one you’ve never told anyone and maybe never truly admitted to yourself.

The fears you shake off and don’t allow yourself to think about for more than a second, because if you do, you’ll make yourself crazy. Those are the ones I want you to focus on. Do you have yours? Good. Now, let it play out in your mind, as real and graphic as you can make it. How do you feel? Scared? Sick? Hopeless?

Welcome to anxiety.

For me, anxiety is like living with Pennywise in my head. He shows me my worst fears over and over and I can’t escape him. Those horrible, sickening thoughts you shake off and refuse to think about play on repeat in my mind. He can ruin any situation with one small question… “What if?” That’s how he always starts. What if you didn’t lock the door? What if you left the stove on? What if  they were too tired to drive? After that, my mind is his playground. He’ll choose the worst possible answer to those questions and run with it.

I’ll admit, sometimes I feel hopeless against him. How can you defeat a monster that lives in your thoughts and feeds on your fears? Unlike Pennywise, anxiety can’t be defeated by facing your fears and working as a team. It can be defeated though. I have to believe that it can.

If someone you know struggles with anxiety, I want you to imagine your Pennywise before offering them advice. Remember what it feels like to watch your worst fear come alive in your mind and remind yourself that, unlike you, they can’t turn theirs off. When it gets too real, too scary or simply unbearable, you may have the ability to stop thinking about it. Anxiety robs people struggling with it of that ability and forces them to watch every last second as if they were really living it. Be there for them. Love them. Listen to them, knowing that you can’t “fix” it. And most importantly, remind them they are safe.

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Screenshot via “IT” Facebook video

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