Guest Post: Lindsay H. Metcalf on Anxiety, Creativity & the Pandemic

Albert Whitman & Company

By Lindsay H. Metcalf

I came here to talk about science, advocacy, and truth—themes in my first three picture books, releasing this fall.

My picture books focus on empowering kids with foundations of:

  1. science (Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman, Sept. 1, 20200),
  2. advocacy (No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, edited by Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley, (Charlesbridge, Sept. 22, 2020)) and
  3. the truth (Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices, (Calkins Creek, Nov. 10, 2020)) — all of which have been under attack in this country.

Throw in uncertainty surrounding my kids’ school situation, a family member undergoing chemo, and a deadly airborne virus, it’s enough to knock a person to the bottom rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In the name of science, advocacy, and the uncomfortable truth, I’m going to unmask my Beast:


Calkins Creek

Many of you likely, battle it, too, if the Cynsations readership reflects the 5,400 people surveyed at the end of June by the Centers for Disease Control. More than 40 percent said they suffered from anxiety, depression, or other mental health concern.

Writers rely on clear minds to build worlds in which readers can immerse themselves. I’ve heard of people who can write in the cracks of their day — five minutes here, twelve minutes there. I’m not one of them. I need time and space and quiet to find that kind of clarity.

With the Beast ramming in on the mundane moments, I’m not writing much these days.

What’s a creative to do? How does one carve out time to nurture the next brilliant work when their jerk amygdala, the brain’s reactive center for emotional memory—insists on butting in? Getting out of bed should not be a flee-this-sucker, hyperventilate-before-breakfast situation.

Meanwhile, there are commitments for marketing, books under contract, and back-to-school forms…

How do I meet deadlines when all mental and physical energy must be summoned to will my lungs to breathe?

Don’t worry, I am breathing fine for the moment, as evidenced by my ability to form sentences. I have sat down to write this piece—to break through the pandemic brain fog—no fewer than six times. What I have come up with is that we must advocate for one another to survive this trying time.

We need to see each other, hear each other, whether in person, socially distanced and masked, or online in our networks of creative friends. Check in on your critique partners. Mental health check-ins have been one of the most valuable and soul-filling benefits of my debut group, the Soaring ‘20s.

One of my recent anxiety-drawings.

Science says that if we talk about mental illness, we can begin to heal.

“Just calm down” is not a real solution when the brain perceives a threat like my dog defends against nighttime shadows. I learned a couple years ago that repetitive, soothing motions help to trick the amygdala into ceding control to the higher-functioning prefrontal cortex.

My son calms down by pulling out his Rubik’s cube and doing a few solves.

Me? It turns out I’m creative even when the words won’t come. A free drawing app on my phone, along with the Neil Young channel on Pandora, help bring me back to center. My drawings aren’t great, but it’s the process that matters, not the result.

One of my recent anxiety-drawings.

Circumstances brought on by the pandemic have allowed my anxiety and panic disorder to resurface from a long dormancy.

So today I’m advocating for everyone to see the truth of mental illness.

Understand that mental health relies on a balance of chemicals — not some kind of steel will. People in your circle may be fighting demons you don’t understand. See them and support them. And if this is you, I promise you’re not broken.

I hope you still see your beautiful self, too, and know that when you’re ready, the work will flow once again.

Cynsational Notes

Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist and author of nonfiction picture books.

Beatrix Potter, Scientist, illustrated by Junyi Wu is a picture-book biography about the author’s early passion for scientific illustration and mycology.

No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, is a poetry anthology spotlighting contemporary young activists such as Marley Dias (#1000BlackGirlBooks), Zach Wahls (Scouts for Equality), Jazz Jennings, and Mari Copeny (“Little Miss Flint”) co-edited by Lindsay, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Bradley.

Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices chronicles the American Agriculture Movement’s 1970s and 1980s tractor protests in Washington, DC.

Lindsay lives in north-central Kansas, not far from the farm where she grew up, with her husband, two sons, and a variety of pets. You can reach her at @lindsayhmetcalf on Twitter and Instagram.