Tuesday, November 8, 2022

High Anxiety by Sandy Manning



LUCY BURDETTE: Before I introduce our guest today, we here at Jungle Red have an important milestone to crow about:  Rhys is celebrating the release of her Fiftieth book—the sixteenth in the Royal Spyness series, called Peril in Paris. We bow to your amazingly prolific career, Rhys--and we're so proud to claim you as a Red! In PERIL IN PARIS, Lady Georgie looks forward to a fun and relaxing time in Paris with husband Darcy and friend Belinda. But a fashion show at Chanel turns deadly and plunges Georgie into intrigue and danger. (There are signed copies at the Poisoned Pen. Plus you can watch her discussion of the new book at the PP bookstore!)


Next, we’re pleased to welcome Sandy Manning, who has written a post that follows our discussion yesterday quite nicely. Welcome Sandy!


SANDY MANNING: It can be something quite small. An article about the dangers of gas stoves. A new covid strain. A random thought about my son. Suddenly, I feel my stomach tightening and a dread spreading over me, a nameless panic that something terrible is about to happen, regardless of the reality. And yet, I write thrillers where terrible things do happen, sometimes to characters I like. Doesn't that make things worse?


Logically, it should. But it doesn't.



I have an anxiety disorder. I always had it, but it was more manageable. It was in the aftermath of my mother's sudden death fourteen years ago that I began to feel a recurring terror. Suddenly I had trouble driving over bridges. Suddenly I saw the life-threatening possibilities in the most mundane of circumstances. (Photo of Sandy's mother at her wedding.)


It's not that I didn't fear heights or worry about foods causing cancer or strangers accosting my children before my mother's death. But it was different. It was concern, but not panic. Despite my tendency to worry, I could remind myself that things would generally come out okay.


I got that from my mother. We had a weird relationship - she was a little crazy in ways that would be difficult to describe in this blog - but she was my mother, and I loved her. And she always repeated the mantra to trust that all would be well. Sometimes she'd spell it. T-R-U-S-T. God, I hated it when she did that; nevertheless, some part of me believed it.


And then, quite suddenly, that changed. My mother went into the hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio on Friday evening for stomach and back pain and she was dead by 6 p.m. on Saturday while I was searching for a plane flight to get to her from New Jersey. I couldn't eat for three days after she died. The dread settled in and continued. When I went to a therapist, I got the official diagnosis. Anxiety disorder.


I'm not alone, either. I've read estimates that between 20 percent and 30 percent of Americans suffered from an anxiety disorder of some kind before the pandemic. During the pandemic, it may have increased to 50 percent, according to one report. 


I'm better than I was, but I still have moments when the anxiety takes over. And it's never completely gone, always simmering just below the surface.


And still, I write thrillers, where good characters sometimes die.  



I write thrillers because it's my favorite genre. I love stories with strong characters and elaborate plots with surprising twists - books that keep me up reading all night, even though I will admit to sometimes sneaking a peak at the ending to ensure that my favorite character doesn't die. I love crafting them even more. But there is a side benefit to writing my books: relieving my anxiety. 


I draw on my own experience with anxiety in crafting my novels, since it is similar to what my main character experiences. My protagonist in Bloody Soil, Kolya Petrov, a Russian Jewish immigrant who works for American intelligence, suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) after the events of my first novel, Trojan Horse. Some of the symptoms of PTSD and severe anxiety are similar: physical effects - racing heart, even trouble breathing; both interfere with sleep and energy; both can generate fear about non-imminent threats; and both can cause intrusive thoughts. PTSD, however, is caused by a triggering and terrifying event, and the intrusive thoughts relate back to that event. (Although my anxiety grew significantly worse after my mother's death, I don't consider myself as having PTSD. My intrusive thoughts tend to be of catastrophic possibilities in everyday events - a good talent for a thriller writer but unpleasant for living. Kolya's thoughts, however, always circle back to the horrific events that he endured.)


While there may be some different treatments for anxiety and PTSD, both disorders can be treated with cognitive behavior therapy, with learning techniques to focus on the here and now. 


Despite on-going symptoms, Kolya manages to perform, using exercises that place him in the moment and not in the past. While writing about Kolya's PTSD, I'm working on my own anxiety disorder. Through my own therapy, I've worked on mindfulness - and writing my novels puts me totally into the moment. It's not the reason that I write my novels, but it does help.



Then there's the issue of control. There are limited aspects of real life that are under our control, and knowing that is part of my problem. But focusing on what I can control does help. (As it helps Kolya in my novels.) And one area where I am in charge is my writing. I decide who dies, who lives, who pays for misdeeds, who escapes. The fates of the people I portray in my novels are all within my power, and that somehow is deeply comforting.   


I may never completely overcome my anxiety disorder, but like Kolya, I have found ways to function.


So how about you? Have you experienced anxiety? What helps you?


In honor of the release of Bloody Soil (and to honor her home state of Vermont), Manning is running a maple syrup giveaway. For more information, check her website www.sleemanning.com. 



About Sandy: A reformed lawyer, S. Lee Manning is the award-winning author of international thrillers, featuring a Russian-Jewish immigrant to the United States working for American intelligence. When not writing thrillers, she occasionally performs stand-up comedy. Manning lives with her husband and fellow author, J.B. Manning, and their cat Xiao in Vermont. 

 

About the book: In BLOODY SOIL, pub. date November 9, 2022, a mysterious American calling himself “Michael Hall" arrives in Berlin to join Germany Now, a far-right group and must prove himself by shooting a prominent Jewish anti-Nazi activist or face certain death. Michael, though, has attracted the deadly attention of an unexpected enemy. Lisette who infiltrated the group to avenge the assassination of her father years earlier, is eliminating killers in Germany Now one by one and targets Michael as her next victim. But is Michael who she believes him to be?

37 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the new book, Sandy! I'm not an anxious person, but the world out there is a scary hot mess for so many reasons. Like you, I can (mostly) control my characters and what happens to them, and that has brought me so much comfort and respite in the last few years.

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  2. Thanks, Edith. And I love that you "mostly" control your characters. I will admit that my characters also sometimes dig their heels in and refuse to do what I think they should. Sometimes I listen to them.

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  3. SANDY: Congratulations on your new book! Despite the grim news that seems to bombard us, I am not an anxious person. Maybe it's because I am an optimist about most things?

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    1. Thanks. I'm thrilled about the book, and I have to admit envying you the lack anxiety.

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  4. Welcome again Sandy! I tend to be an anxious person, and the last few years hasn't helped, has it?? But my writing goes in the other direction--lighter instead of darker and that seems to help! I know readers are different too, some are comforted by cozies and others love to be scared...

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    1. When I'm having a bad attack, I do prefer lighter reading, but somehow writing what I do helps. Can't explain it.

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  5. Hi, Sandy! We have a lot of Facebook friends in common, it seems. Congratulations on the new book! Did you grow up in Cincinnati, or had your mother moved here? Just curious. What a traumatic event that must have been.

    My husband used to have something called a "floating anxiety", but I could almost always lift him out of it with my incurable optimism. That has changed, and we've practically switched positions. A family member who was a state trooper for 15 years has severe PTSD, and has had to learn to deal with it over time. A weighted blanket seems to help suppress the nightmares.

    I'm really praying that the massive early voting means something positive for our poor, beleaguered country.

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    1. Hi Karen. So I am Cincinnati born and bred, went to UC, moved to New York to become a writer, became a lawyer, and now I'm again a writer. We lived in North Avondale and then Roselawn. I like the idea of a weighted blanket by the way. Might try that. And praying with you that things will be more positive.

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    2. I grew up in Hamilton, but have lived in Cincinnati since I was 19. Bet we have some friends in common!

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    3. Possible. But I've been out of Cincinnati for a long time. Lost track of most of my friends. Still love Skyline Chili, though it's not good for me, and Graeters (same problem).

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  6. Sandy, welcome. Congratulations on your new book which sounds terrific as does your series. Is it set in the present day?

    It's ironic that you are a guest here on election day, talking about anxiety and panic, when in a sense, the fate of the whole world, certainly the one I have known, hangs in the balance. How can so very many people be fooled? Choose the "alternate reality?" Since the 2016 election, I have almost completely stopped watching TV. These days, reading is my main entertainment.

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    1. Yes, my book is set in present day, based on some real incidents that happened in Germany, and using Germany as a stand-in for America. I agree on the irony of this post coming out today - when my anxiety is hitting the roof. It is also pretty eerie that my book about the rise of neo-Nazis and their presence inside government and attempting to take it over is coming out in this atmosphere. I can't watch television either, right now. I see the parallels to the 1930s, and it terrifies me.

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  7. Okay, the plot summary has enough twists in it to make me grab my seat and hang on for dear life! Congratulations, Sandy, for your newest thriller! And for finding the resources to manage your anxiety--that takes strength and courage. I do experience anxiety and panic at times. What helps me is that I know I can come through to the other side, because I've done it before. So hang on for the ride, grit my teeth, and count the seconds until it's over (like driving across a bridge).

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    1. I count on bridges, too. Anytime it gets really bad, I start counting. Tip of the hat to you for managing so well.

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  8. I do think the kind of anxiety you describe is first cousin to PTSD. And in a way you're doing what your mother encouraged you to do by writing thrillers. There are certain things I'll never put into a plot because they're too scary for me personally. You sound pretty brave to me.

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    1. I agree that my kind of anxiety is first cousin to PTSD. I think that's why I gave it to my protagonist. Working through it with my character helps me as well.

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  9. Congratulations Rhys and congratulations Sandy! The plot sounds very exciting and intriguing. I have had anxiety as long as I can remember, but I come by it honestly. My dad was a very anxious person. Because I was hospitalized as a child (very traumatic, separated from my twin) my anxiety tends to focus on health issues--so the pandemic was hard! I use mindfulness techniques and am part of a peer counseling group. I exercise every day and try to stay in the moment and it's definitely manageable. Being part of this little JRW community is helpful too.

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    1. Thank you. And I do mindfulness techniques as well - and exercise. They all help.

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  10. Congratulations to both Rhys and Sandy!

    Sandy, my daughter and my son (although he talks about it less) both had anxiety issues. My daughter still does, but she's learned to manage it.

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    1. My son and daughter have anxiety issues too. Not one of the things I pass on to them. Glad your kids are doing well with it.

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  11. I think there's definitely a genetic component to mood disorders - my mother, sister and I all have dealt with depression, and my husband and both my daughters were diagnosed with anxiety disorders. My oldest, in particular, found it so crippling, she used alcohol to deal with it - fortunately, as many here know, she's been sober for over four years now. Therapy, and in particular, the right medication, made a big difference. She's still a worrier - she'd the one who has a plan for every emergency - but, as she says, her brain can now tell the difference between things that are reasonable to be concerned about, and things that are irrational.

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    1. Agree on the genetic component to anxiety. Both my kids have it. My mother probably did - and hid it well.

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    2. Julia, huge props to your sober daughter. Sending virtual support to you and all who live with anxiety. ~Lynda

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  12. Sandy, I'm fascinated by the fact that you do stand up comedy, while I can't imagine anything more terrifying! But I suppose in a way you're in control, as you are in your writing. It's so interesting how we all have different thresholds, isn't it? My mother was a chronic worrier and I've spent my adulthood trying not to emulate her, but I'm aware that it bubbles along under the surface. I think this is one reason why I love (and write) traditional detective novels, where (at least most of the time) the crime will be solved and justice done.

    Congratulations on Bloody Soil!!

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    1. The funny thing about stand-up, though, is that while I'm nervous, I'm so focus on what I'm about to do that I don't have the ability to focus on my other fears. It's a kind of mindfulness.

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  13. Sandy, your book sounds wonderful. There's nothing as satisfying as a twisty thriller! When I was a kid I worried about everything. My mother got very impatient with my being a worrywart. Nowadays I can be mad or disgusted but I refuse to worry about the general state of things. As I told my husband, things go in cycles. We just happen to be in the crap portion of the cycle right now.

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    1. I really like that you have the force of will to refuse to worry. You are absolutely right that we're in the middle of the crap portion of the cycle right now.

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  14. I’m going to the library this afternoon, Sandy, and I’m going to look for your books.They’re exactly the kind of thing I like to read!

    I’ve suffered from anxiety(my siblings and our dad have also had anxiety) but with medication and therapy, I feel like the anxiety was a fire that was extinguished. I consider myself to be an optimistic, positive person. When I occasionally sense that there might be embers of anxiety on the verge of igniting, I pull out a book of humorous essays, or go for a walk, or text a friend or relative just to say “hi”. I’m amazed at the things that no longer make me anxious! I do worry about the normal things that people worry about, but it doesn’t rule my life.

    I voted mid morning. There was hardly anyone at the polling place. I hope this means people voted by absentee ballot or voted before work, or will be voting this evening.

    DebRo

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    1. I like your idea of pulling out a humorous book or taking a walk. And fingers crossed for the election.

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  15. Rhys, I am so happy to have another Lady Georgie to read. I have it looking at me now. Congratulations on 50 books! 50 Books!!! I am in awe of your talent and productivity.

    Sandy, I've been on medication for depression for some time, but I was unprepared for the anxiety that hit me a couple of years ago (I'm sure it was partly pandemic related, but not entirely). Both depression and anxiety have similarities in how they affect one's ability to function normally (?), and people often suffer from both, but I hadn't had the full effect of anxiety before. Thee breathing problems along with the overwhelming dread and inability to focus (my reading was way off). And trying to figure out what's causing your anxiety is futile. It doesn't have to have a reason. I am so lucky to have a great doctor, who takes these things very seriously and knew just the medication that would help me. Anyway, I'm in a good place now. But, as you said, anxiety still lurks in the background.

    Happy Book Birthday, Sandy. Bloody Soil sounds really fascinating, and I'll be checking it out.

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    1. Kathy, I'm so glad that you found a great doctor who helped. I had a great therapist during the worst of it. It does flare up, but I have techniques now. And thanks for checking out my book.

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  16. So good to see you here, Sandy. It's fascinating that your anxiety diminishes while you work to raise the anxiety level of your readers. I'm looking forward to reading the new one. Congratulations!.

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  17. Oops. The latest Anonymous is me, Gay Yellen.

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    1. Hi Gay, Thanks. The biggest disappointment with my anxiety is that I can't bring myself to put a leg over Jim's motorcycle. I used to love riding with him. But no longer. Just can't. I thought you'd appreciate that particular angle. (Hope to see you at Killer or Thriller next year).

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    2. The risk/reward at our house ratio has changed since those free-wheeling days, Sandy. And yes, I hope we meet again soon.

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  18. Congratulations Rhys (50!!) and Sandy!! Such wonderful accomplishments.

    I'm with those of you who deal with anxiety, mine being exacerbated by also having PTSD. The onset of my disorder was in the late 80s when 11 people in my family died in five years. That triggered a suicidal depression which lasted three years. Over time, with help, I began to heal, and was doing well until five years ago when I fell down a flight of stairs and sustained catastrophic injuries, including breaking my neck in two places and being put on life support. This happened while my husband was in rehab after brain surgery, and it caused my PTSD to become much worse. Caring for my husband, who now has the beginnings of dementia, also causes my anxiety to spike. What helps? Not viewing myself as a victim. In spite of what some would consider a litany of woes, I consider myself to be the luckiest woman I know. I make a five item gratitude list every day and share
    it with women friends, and I *always* have loads of things to be grateful for. EMDR has helped some, as do tapping, using aromatherapy, continuing physical therapy/light exercise, staying clean and sober with the help of a support group, and regular prayer and meditation.
    ~Lynda, the lucky duck

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    1. Lynda: Wow. You've had so much to cope with, and you're doing amazingly. You're an inspiration.

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