Drawing For My Nerves



I have a tendency to worry. When I’m stressed, I can worry pretty much any time of day, but my brain’s favorite time to worry is in the middle of the night. At 3 a.m., there is no problem that can’t be mulled over, chewed on, and puffed up until it seems like the biggest problem in the world.

Anxiety has been a problem for a lot of people I know lately. First there was the election, which hung over us all, with daily news stories (fake and real) and opinion pieces (anxious and more anxious) and stupid memes (mean and meaner). And now there’s the uncertainty about what this next administration will do.

But at the end of October, I was worrying about something pretty great: a three-week trip to Nepal. And, yeah, I was worrying about it. That’s just a thing my brain does, ok? In the middle of the night before I left, I did one of the things that helps me keep my mind off of things: Drawing. And I went for one of the more challenging subjects, my hand. And then I thought maybe I’d just decorate it with some of my travel-related worries.

drawing a hand, with topics of worry written over it

Writing down your worries is supposed to be one of those things you do to manage them, but I gave it up decades ago, after I noticed it had a tendency to turn into pages and pages of increasingly catastrophic possible outcomes. That’s not helpful. But when I limited those worries to one drawing on one page of a tiny sketchbook, I think it did help. I went to sleep, anyway.

The trip was, of course, great. Nepal is a stunningly beautiful place with nice people and excellent tea. A lot of my worries did come true, and it was fine. There were mosquitoes. A couple even bit me. But I’d already established that malaria was extremely unlikely, and bug repellent worked wonders. I did get sick, but it was temporary. I probably spent too much time on Facebook, but I also amused and comforted my stressed-out friends back home with lots and lots of pictures of goats.

goat and baby goat

After I got back, a friend saw the hand and the worries in my sketchbook and made me review them.

So here it is: The post-travel update.


To summarize: It was fine.

Brain, if you wanted to remember this for next time, that would be great. And if you don’t, I understand. I know you’ve got a lot on your mind. But there’s a chance that most of the things you’re worrying about now are going to be fine, too.

Art: Helen Fields

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6 thoughts on “Drawing For My Nerves

  1. I love this. And all the goats, that were a real and powerful community service. (Also, “what if Abu Dhabi is lame” is the best worry I’ve ever seen.)

  2. Dear Helen,
    I always want to know the worst possible outcome of any plan.
    Then, I think it through, and oddly, am able to go forward with LESS anxiety in the long run. Most of the time, the outcome is not the worst, so my fears are unrealized, but in the odd moment when they do come true I am able to cope because I pretty much planned my response ahead of time.
    Probably what enabled me to be calm in a crisis as stage manager most of my life. That, and a vest full of tools, cough drops & flashlights.
    xoxo Daphne

  3. One of the best pieces of wisdom I ever got was, “Most of the time, things work out fine.” And, it is true, most of the time. And when they go seriously, catastrophically wrong (which, of course, they can), it is usually nothing you could have imagined or had a plan for. Which one could worry about, but most of the time, things work out fine.

    Yeah, and my brain wakes me at 4 am (my “witching hour”) to practice worrying, too.

  4. Hi Helen,
    This is a really great post. Irrational fears gets the best of me too. Over the years, I have just learned to push them aside but next time I will try this so I can push them out. Thank you for writing this.

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