My anxiety is called Walter

Last updated 11:41 28/03/2017

"Walter is separate from me, so I cannot think badly of myself whenever he appears."

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Last week I decided to call my anxiety Walter.

Who is Walter? Walter is like your best friend at the age of 15. You know the one: the friend who was there when you got drunk on your parents’ bad wine, bunked school simply to buy a double cheeseburger, attempted to smoke on the back field without getting detention. The friend you had sleepovers with where you barely slept, the one you got stoned with, your sidekick when you did stupid things for stupid reasons. 

Walter is the friend you told everything to. The one that knew you inside-out. He’s the friend that knew your trigger points, your vulnerabilities.

He’s also the friend you outgrew and drifted apart from. He’s the friend that stayed the same while you changed.

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Walter’s presence brings mixed feelings. It’s been well over a decade since Walter was around constantly. You are both adults now, and your friendship will never be the same. But he’s still your friend. And he knew the part of you that most people in your life now will never know. So when he occasionally turns up, it would be rude not to say hello.

And if you did decide to ignore him, he would not go away anyway. He would pester you until you let him in. If you shut the gate on him, he would jump the fence and crush the lavender bushes you spent the weekend planting. If you locked the door, he would ring the doorbell, setting the dog off barking, until you let him in. So it’s best not to ignore him. It would only make things worse.

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You also have a soft spot for Walter. There is something so comforting and familiar about him, like a lost sense of your childhood home. Although you know too well that staying too long in your parents' house these days is never a good thing. The emotions he elicits also make you feel sheepish, almost guilty, like a scoffed Toffee Pop the day after telling yourself no biscuits for two weeks. But you can’t stop yourself from feeling that way about him.

My anxiety is this friend. My anxiety is now named Walter.

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I have known Walter for a while now, and while he used to hang around me quite frequently, I rarely see him any more. We were together so much when I was younger it was hard to separate us, hard to tell one from the other. We were hinged at the hip.

When he visits me now, my life changes from its usual mundane monotone. He brings agitation and uneasiness, even a little anticipation. Although familiar, he is also unsettling, and needs to be responded to in a particular way to prevent him from snowballing. I have to be proactive and attend to him immediately, otherwise the consequences of his presence worsen, and he hangs around even longer.

I am seasoned in how to deal with him now, especially because I have changed so much, distancing myself from him and his ways. We are no longer the same. And when he surfaces now his presence is noticeable.

Naming my anxiety Walter separates the anxiety from me.

I am not my anxiety, the anxiety is not me. Distancing myself in this way means Walter is not a reflection of me as a person.

Walter is separate from me, so I cannot think badly of myself when he appears. I cannot hold myself accountable for his appearances, and I cannot blame myself and feel like I should be different because we are not the same thing.

Walter is not me. Walter is just visiting me.

He does that sometimes, it’s just the way things are. And because I have learnt ways of dealing with Walter effectively, I no longer worry when he visits me. I even manage a smile in greeting him, before offering him a calming cup of tea and ushering him out the door.

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