Puzzling out Anxiety

6000 pc puzzle

My life is awesome. Really, truly, amazingly fantastic. And if you could hear me saying these words, you’d hear they’re not words of gratitude (though I am SO grateful). Right now, they’re words ringing with defiance. Because at the moment, nothing feels very awesome or fantastic. I know that it is. And that knowledge is a big part of what keeps me going at times like this.

If you know me well or have been following me online long, you’re probably aware I struggle with mental health from time to time. I’ve already talked about depression a bit on this blog, but I also deal with anxiety. In fact, as of late, anxiety has wrestled its way to the top of the heap when it comes to trying to trick me into thinking everything sucks.

Everything does not suck.

At this very moment, I may be scared of pretty much everything. I might be convinced it’s never going to get any better. I’m in an emotional equivalent of a cavern where there’s light outside, but none of it is shining on me.

But you know what? That cave isn’t a thing. It’s a feeling. And feelings change. I might not be able to bring to mind the joy I felt the last time I won a game of Settlers of Catan*, but I know it was there. I did feel it. I can’t quite call up the overwhelming glee of kicking the ass of almost half a dozen panels (all of which I moderated) at Chicago TARDIS, but I know I was riding really high that weekend. I can’t even remember (in any real way) the warm fuzzy contentedness of snuggling with Steven on the couch a few weeks ago. But I know it was there. I experienced all those things.

And before all those great things, I experienced a buncha other lousy times I thought I’d never get past. But hey! I did! So history and experience tell me this is a passing thing. And passing things pass. That’s why they call them “passing things”. Yes, this may be the worst bout yet,** but that doesn’t mean it automatically gets to win. It might mean it takes a little longer to get out the other side, but I’m not going to start to believe there is no other side. It’s there. I know it in my head, even if I can’t feel it in my heart.

In addition to an amazing support network of friends, family, and twitter peeps, I’ve also got some good coping mechanisms. One is jigsaw puzzles. Few things feel better to my brain than taking a huge*** mess of pieces and putting them together just-so until I’ve created something orderly and beautiful. I have several waiting for me at home, and I’m going to crack into one of them tonight.

Another thing that works like salve to my anxious brain? Doggerel. So I shall leave you with this:

Is bugging me.
It wants to be
In charge of me
Though I’m at sea,
I still can see
I don’t agree.
It’s really me
Who gets to be
In charge of me,
And not anxiety.





*Possibly because I almost never win that game. I should have said Yahtzee. I win at that much more often. <3 dice!

**None of my previous bouts ended me in Urgent Care with tachycardia for most of a day. :/

***I mean HUGE. Anything fewer than 2,000 pieces seems silly. My favorite puzzle (sadly left behind in the States because it was too big to ship for a reasonable sum) is 6,000 pieces. It’s about 3 and a half feet by 5 and a half feet. It’s an old-world map, and it’s GLORIOUS. (Yes, that’s what’s pictured above.)

10 thoughts on “Puzzling out Anxiety

  1. Shelley Lee says:

    Because of Twitter I knew about your recent struggle, but your fighting spirit really comes through in this post.
    I also struggle with anxiety and most don’t understand that the feeling is not logical or controllable. I always understand that my fear and dread are not proportionate to my real life stresses but I still can’t turn it off. I can’t “just stop worrying”. Because of this lack of understanding I often suffer in silence as my brain does a tornado down. I applaud you for being so open and honest here and in other areas. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Erika, I love your courage in posting about your anxiety and all the awesome coping you are doing. Know you aren’t alone.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, it will most certainly help others who think they are the only ones feeling this way.

  4. […] talked about my own struggle with mental health here in the past. Depression and anxiety are no strangers to me. In fact, I’m currently in the midst of one of the most difficult […]

  5. […] Disclaimer: The title… I’ve been watching a lot of Life on Mars lately. Gene Hunt is in my head and I’m totally okay with that. Also I was inspired to actually post this behemoth because of Erika’s amazing blog post on puzzles and anxiety. […]

  6. Enno says:

    Wonderful article, Erika.

    In the final months at my last job, I was struggling with what I later recognized as anxiety, and it’s funny that I have a jigsaw story about that, too: One day somebody brought in a Jackson Pollock jigsaw puzzle they had borrowed from me, and rather than take it home, I started building it on an available desk. Eventually, our entire team would take turns on that, relieving stress. When it was finished, we bought another puzzle, and then another, until we were completing them in less than a week.

    To outsiders it probably looked like we were wasting company time, but it was very calming, and it brought us together as a team. As programmers, taking time off the screen and completely resetting the brain with a task like that jigsaw might actually be useful, too? It often felt that way.

    I thought it was funny to learn how everyone was more comfortable with different strategies, whether they enjoyed mechanically trying every blue piece to finish the sky, or sorting pieces by shape, or hunting individual pieces’ locations based on the box picture. Each puzzle we got played to someone else’s strengths, and everyone had a day eventually where they might not have done great in their job, but they filled in another 100 pieces, so it was still a great day.

  7. […] talked about my struggles with mental health here before. Steven has no such issues. I warned him that living with mental illness, even as an […]

  8. […] been Pinteresting! This is actually the fault of Erika and others talking about how jigsaws are all calming and stuff, and I’m not a jigsaw person, but through whatever leaps of non-logic my brain went from […]

  9. […] mechanisms for dealing with mental health issues: how I remind myself depression lies, how I use jigsaw puzzles to calm my anxious mind, how I focus on the good stuff. One other thing I do is try to harness my mental weirdness and use […]

  10. […] posted before about using puzzles to combat anxiety. I now realize board games are a tool I can use to battle depression. And I’m going to stay […]

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