Traditional stories work on a symbolic level. No folktale is going to say "the hero had anxiety" or "the hero had a panic attack." But when you pay attention to old stories, some patterns resonate with your experience - whatever it may be. The whole thing is entirely subjective. Over the course of the past years, I came across some stories I could relate my experience to. So, in the interest of representation (and because storytelling research is my happy place), I decided to share some of these stories and thoughts.
(Especially after losing her once to a very unlikely accident.)
This is a Hungarian thing: a mitmit is a household demon in the form of a black chicken. Called so because it constantly asks mit-mit-mit? (what-what-what?). If you own one, it will bring you anything you want, but the moment it gets bored, it will drive you crazy with the "mit-mit-mit" (or it might even drag your soul to hell). In one story, a woman acquires a mitmit, and not believing her own luck says "bullshit" at the first question - at which point the chicken begins to fill her house with manure.
My brain kinda works like that. It can do incredible amounts of work in a short amount of time, but when I take a day off, there is the constant "what shall we do?" in the back of my mind. And if I don't distract it, it finds something juicy to peck at. Like possible future disasters. And I don't need that bullshit in my house.
(There are ways to get rid of a mitmit, like giving it an impossible task that exhausts it to death. I have not gotten this far in the allegory yet.)
The stone in the cellar
(I think this one is kinda self-explanatory. I would still move the stone, just to be sure.)
The princess in the shroud
One of my favorite fairy tales (I have blogged about it here). I like it for the spook factor, but lately I have been taking a closer look at the symbolism of it too. In the story, the hero has to hide from a zombie princess that crawls out of her coffin every night to devour him. He survives a couple of nights, but only manages to break the curse when he jumps into her coffin, and survives the night inside it. To me, this story feels like a metaphor for dealing with intrusive anxious thoughts: you can hide under a pile of rattling bones, or up in the pulpit, or inside a church bell in the tower to drown out the noise, but in the end, the only real solution is to get inside the thought itself, right to where it comes from, and hold on until the scariness of it goes away.
(All story interpretations are personal, obviously.)
The barber's tale
The one kind of anxiety I don't have is social - I'm an extremely extroverted person. But I do relate to the feeling of not wanting to speak up in an awkward situation, or the nervousness around complaining about basically anything, even if I am justified.
Anxiety tends to make someone hyper-aware of potential danger - even if there is no danger at all. Even when things are going well, an anxious brain can catalog, list, and highlight all the ways they might go wrong any minute. The symbolism of Damocles' sword is a pretty good one for this mental state: Damocles is surrounded by all possible luxuries, but hesitant to reach out for them due to the sword hanging on a single horse hair right above his head, threatening to fall any moment.
The wooden sword
This too shall pass
This one is a classic most people are familiar with. King Solomon looks for a magic ring that can make a desperate man happy, and a happy man humble. A wise man gives him a ring engraved with a phrase: "This too shall pass." Boom. I haven't quite figured it out yet if this is a good thing or not, because anxiety usually only does one half of the job of the damn ring - usually the part where it intrudes on happy moments. The trick is to get to understand that things work the same way with the bad moments too. Half win, right?
Do you have fairy tales or folktales to which you can relate your experiences with anxiety (or other mental issues)? Do you wish there were more? What part do you wish stories would convey better?