How not to help anxiety: An anti-list


  • Use unfamiliar tools
  • Forget the world
  • Forget patience
  • Work as hard as you can


What do these have in common?

If you were looking to silence, enable, or disempower a person with anxiety, this list would be the roadmap. It shows all the places not to go. The places best not seen. What not to do. It’s an anti-recommendation list. Well, actually, that’s a lie: one of these feels wrong but will always be worth it.

Another thing this list has in common is that all these points surfaced in a tarot reading I did for myself recently. Like any good mirror, the reading showed me what was out of place.

Sometimes a tarot reading is a padded room we need to thrash in.

Especially when we are seething or desperate, the only thing that will do is a space to make and bake mud pies made of our burdens and then break them on our inner walls, like so much ugly pottery.

Of course, this doesn’t sound like much fun. It doesn’t sound very enlightened or, for some, even doable. And for that reason, it can be easy to miss the chance to hear what we need to hear and see what we need to see inside ourselves.

When I was very young, I had a fascination with a certain mirror at my grandmother’s house. She would watch me watch myself in the vintage glass for hours. Years later she asked in her thick southern accent,  “Who are you speaking to? What do you see?” At that age, I still remembered that though I was often alone, I always felt connected. Spirits, other worlds, regardless of with what, I was always making contact.

We. All.
Have this.

We can do this alone or with people. With the right kind of connection, we reflect one another and all of reality. Those relationships remind us of the truth underneath – we are never quite alone. We can do this with tarot too, reflect. This is why my site is named for a mirror.

We are all reflections of each other. Whether as shadows or mirrors, we are and receive the echo. Should we ever forget, all the world, with its interpersonal tension and strife, serves to remind us. The reminders are occasionally the compassionate nudge or blessing. But more often, it’s a gloriously gritty trigger, digging into our ribs. I’ve been triggered a lot the last few months.

A couple of weeks ago I read an article about how to help your anxious partner.

With the National Institute of Mental Health naming anxiety as the number one mental health issue in North America, affecting the lives of one in three people nationwide, the information is relevant to many.

For me, it’s personally relevant. Even if I’m impossible to diagnose and infamously “calm-seeming” I am also certifiably anxious. I wanted to see what advice this writer would give my lovers given a chance.

The article was infuriating.

It contained a list of “helpful actions” as unhelpful as the list at the start of this article and yet more frightening. The author listed their graduate psychology work in their bio. This is a person who will eventually, no doubt, be in a position of authority as a mental healthcare provider. We are meant to trust them.

And yet, their words echoed only the smallest versions of both a well-meaning supportive person and whoever they mean to support. It suggested that a supportive partner get on the kid gloves and get ready to caretake.

It left out consideration for the agency of those less able than them. It left out the part where you invite your partner to speak for themselves, and they tell you what they need (and the supportive partner listens).

We are all different, and maybe this is what some of us need.

I remember a time when I didn’t believe I was able to speak for myself and ask for the support I needed. I’d pray to be saved. I’d pray not to need to ask. I’d want everyone to use the kid gloves. I didn’t yet know the value of space to bake and break the mud pies…

Still, after reading this article, I wanted to tell the author that even among us, the anxious, there is a spectrum of experience as diverse as humans are and that their list was the opposite of what many people need. 

I met my shadow reading this post.

I had every intention of dissecting it, responding to it, setting it right. Before I got the chance, I called in my shadow once more. A person on which to project my anxiety and a trigger through which to see myself more clearly.

It led first to a mud pie – a gritty trigger.
And then, to compassion.
It led to an impossible reading.

I used a simple card pull.

Not even really a spread. Something quick and dirty by Rachel Pollack from a book of spreads that I like. It’s an ongoing card pull that indulges every question in quick succession, building on the first.

What do I need to know about this challenging situation? – XVIII The Moon

The crab in the Moon sits at the bottom of things, like the amygdala in the brain or parasites in the belly. Both of these the seat and source of emotions, whether we know it or not. Acknowledge the unknown and the fear that comes with it.

What do I need to know about this fear? – XXI The World

It’s bigger than you. Bigger than blame cast at someone. Bigger than the world. 764 times bigger. Like Saturn. Or dark matter. Big like Karma. The issue connects to how you view, and do, everything and requires a lifetime of learning.

Don’t forget the world.

What do I need to do to learn the karmic lesson? – The Knight of Pentacles

The Marseille knight of pentacles is transfixed by, and immersed in, the microcosm. They remember the world. Present. Patient. Patently slow. You cannot rush this.

Don’t forget patience.

Alright, so what slow and steady action is needed? – XXI The World

Wait, what?  At this fourth card the reading breaks down:

Shock. Disbelief. Chaos. Dopamine. Adrenaline. Triggers and mud pies. All the keys to transformation.

People pay for a glimpse into these windows. A new way of speaking, a new habit, a surprise with an unfamiliar deck. This is why it pays to use tools that we don’t know well. It feels wrong but will always be worth it

Use the unfamiliar tools.

Even though I had a hunch as to how two World cards could make their way into the reading – something to do with “supplemental” cards in this new-to-me deck – it didn’t lessen the effect. I was rattled. Confusion meant I got to surrender and dig deeper.

I didn’t immediately recognize the two of pentacles.

If you’ve ever worked with the Marseille, French tarot decks, you’ve undoubtedly pulled a small/minor card at some point and wondered what it was. It happened here for me. Perhaps I was still shaken up by the two World cards. Because this card contains the name of the deck, I didn’t immediately recognize it as the two of pentacles. Sometimes there’ll be a title card with the deck name and author that gets mistakenly left in the deck.

I read it anyway.

I saw it as a two-headed snail.

A being that both ingests and excretes flowers – luscious earth symbols. At the same time, this snail carries the name of the deck.  It might as well be the heart of it. More than balance, it’s the embodiment of an echo or mirror – my personal symbol for interpersonal connection.

Let the process move through you from beginning to end. Embody infinite patience.

Don’t forget patience.

The last card is a warning – 10 of wands

A roadmap for where not to go, what not to do. We create busy-ness when we forget that we’re not alone. When we forget our connections and refuse to reach for the unfamiliar tools. We overwork when past trauma has taught us that it’s safest.

We become the crab in the Moon card, growing all the legs we need to shoulder the burden alone or to scurry away from the chaos within. We expend extra energy running from the unknowable.

We get out kid gloves and fix everything and everyone around us. Without asking. We act on the world without its consent. We pervert the echo, losing track of where our anxiety ends, and others’ begins. We avoid the discomfort of watching someone bake their burdens into something breakable. We want to unhear the sounds.

Don’t work as hard as you can.

Instead, trust the process.

What might you want if you were desperate or thrashing? Maybe you wouldn’t know. And if it ever happens:

May you be surrounded by people that hear, know, and trust you. People that have taken the time to learn about your experience from you and to learn what it might be like from other sources. 

May you be surrounded by people brave enough to be the spaces where chaos is OK. May they trust that it will pass and that there’s room for both of you.

May you have the courage to claim chaos like the orphan that it is. It might need to come home to you and be seen. Only then might you shed the extra legs. Only then might you be ready to allow support as you shoulder your burden.

Don’t forget the world.
Don’t forget patience.
Don’t work as hard as you can.
Use unfamiliar tools.

Keep in touch.

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Featured deck: Tarot de Marseille Noblet Restoration by Peterson 2016

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  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much, this was a beautiful and powerful read. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and your process.

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