Imagination – Part 1 – Anxiety

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety,” – Deepak Chopra.

I have always been an imaginative person. I have also always been a person prone to anxiety. Do these two things go hand in hand? Is it possible to have one without the other? Or does my imagination mean that when my brain tends towards panic, it has more capacity to picture all the worst scenarios and disasters that could result? Does my anxiety force me to consider all the possibilities, and so, in the process, open up new worlds and outcomes?  Is it possible to separate the overthinking hyper-vigilant part of me from the opportunity-seeing, world-creating and story-telling parts?

When I was little, I had two imaginary friends. They lived in the linen cupboard in the hallway. They would sit there obligingly, until I wanted to get them out and use them in my imaginative games. Sometimes they would stay happily in their cupboard-home for months at a time. But inevitably, when times of stress or sadness in my childhood world came along, out would come my imaginary friends, and I would disappear into the make believe world and stories they came with.

From my teenage years, I have a small collection on a hard-drive of half finished creative projects and stories and worlds I would create in an attempt to escape the difficulties I faced in my ‘real life.’ Inspired in a burst of creativity when I was struggling, the motivation to create and imagine would always fade as my mental health stabilized or I made peace with whatever hardship I was facing at the time.

My blogging started in the midst of a season of doubt and questioning. From this season came the urge to write, to overthink, over-analyse and overshare. This blog was then born as a safe space to process and write out my thoughts. My blog’s tone is constantly changing and evolving, which reflects my constantly changing and evolving creative desires and needs – never able to settle to anything for long, always finding a new thing to think and write about.

Recently I also realized I was using social media to escape. That I was scrolling through my Instagram feed looking for distractions and browsing Facebook to avoid thinking about the difficult things happening in my life. This was leading to an addiction to my phone that was making me unfocused in situations where I wanted to be present. So I quit some social media sites and drastically changed how I used others. I took apps off my phone and gave myself boundaries and limits.

I needed to do this, because social media had become another shiny make believe world I could go to when I wanted to distract myself from reality. My imagination was making it easy to lose myself in the things I saw on my feed. I used the outrage cycle of the internet to inspire my own writings and creative outputs. But it came at a cost – I was anxious, distracted, constantly reloading and rechecking all the various apps. When there was nothing new to distract me, I would feel a sense of panic at being left alone with my thoughts.

This constant link between my anxiety and my creative abilities scares me at times. Does my anxiety open up these creative worlds and give me inspiration? Am I reliant on my anxiety to be passionate and excited about creating things? Or is my imagination a safe place to fall back on when the real world gets too scary? Do I escape into make believe worlds when I can’t handle reality? Obviously neither answer is particularly encouraging for me. Either I’m dependent on anxiety to propel me or I’m hiding from reality.

But despite the anxiety and catastrophe-creating abilities that come with an over-active imagination, I am thankful for the creative inspiration it gives me. It’s nice that there’s an upside to my brain being prone to stress and panic, considering all the other not fun side effects. I’m trying to be more aware of my imagination as a useful coping strategy, without relying on it to escape all the time. I’m trying to be more deliberate in my creativity, planning ahead for my writing projects. So I’m trying to blog regularly, rather than overflowing with constant ideas and new posts for two weeks and then writing nothing for a month.

It’s important to harness your imagination and use it, as the good gift it is, without letting it control you. So I am taking back control over my imagination. With that, comes a small measure of control over my anxiety as well. If I’m less in the habit of giving my brain free rein, even in the good things, then it’s easier to be disciplined when I want to spiral into panic.

I’ve been given both an imagination and anxiety. I’d like to have one without the other, but I’ve learnt that just not the way it works. So I’ll take the good I can get without letting the bad over run me.

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