The Anti-Anxiety Notebook by Morgan Day

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I haven’t written much in my life besides college essays, love letters, and meeting minutes. Occasionally I’ll toy with the syntax of an important email. I’ve started writing now because of a situation that’s beyond my understanding. Before going to bed yesterday, my roommate Charlotte handed me this journal, The Anti-Anxiety Notebook, along with a note that read: For your feelings. She said that she was exhausted and unqualified to help me, then she laughed.

She explained that the Notebook was a belated birthday gift from her, recommended for stress by a coworker. I couldn’t react before she handed me a gift card to a candle store with $25 written across the back. Retiring to her room, she left me to finish the dishes, wipe down the kitchen counters, and lock our apartment door. The Notebook rested at the far edge of the island.

I can’t say that I know Charlotte’s humor well. We’re not roommates who laugh together. My birthday was two months ago, and she’d given me a strawberry cupcake with bright pink frosting. I have no clue what prompted this second gesture. I don’t consider it a gift.

That night I finished cleaning and went to my room, placing The Anti-Anxiety Notebook on my desk. It’s the size of a textbook. The dark green cover is disrupted, simply, by the title engraved in white font. Its size and weight feel purposeful. I have inherited an object heavy and indescribable. It is simultaneously a weighted ball and an invisible mark. Though, that’s not quite right. To be precise, it’s an object that would be difficult to be rid of, because even if it were gone, I would remember its name.

Reluctant to engage with the Notebook, I left it unopened on my desk as I got into bed to read emails on my phone. I eyed the lined pages from across the room. I couldn’t focus on my responses. I told my employees that I needed a report completed by noon the next day. I realized that I’d previously given them a deadline of a few weeks from now. I scheduled five donor meetings for the following week, all on the same day. While I was typing, I was replaying my conversation with Charlotte in my head.

In the past, I have also written pros and cons lists, five-year plans, and New Year’s reflections. Occasionally, in the margins of a particularly good book, I’ll respond to the author. I’ll do so while riding the subway to work when the chaos of people and their animals prevents me from deeply considering the author’s point. My New Year’s reflections and five-year plans are intrinsically linked. They are born from each other. They are more so annual reports than journals, with performance highlights and financial projections.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Charlotte was unlocking the door to our apartment. Before she caught me, I slipped the Notebook into my tote and pulled out a book I’ve been reading, Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers. The book covers 130 behaviors that we’re taught as young girls that could ruin our careers. It’s the prelude to Lean In. The executive author teaches the reader to avoid making “nice girl” errors, such as engaging in office politics, multi-tasking, failing to negotiate, using social media inappropriately, and asking for permission. Children ask for permission. I told this to Charlotte when she asked me what I was reading. She nodded, went into her room, and closed the door behind her. Hidden in my room now, I continue.

I’ve had twenty-four hours to consider Charlotte’s gesture. Admittedly, I wasn’t as calm as I am now. The woman had nerve.

The Notebook has appeared to grow larger as time has passed. It’s remained blank and untouched. Its form is a specter of our differences. Charlotte is obsessed with physical objects supposedly infused with meaning. She spends her weekends at art galleries and reports back on life altering paintings and sculptures. I’ve disagreed with her, but I keep my opinions to myself. Clearly, the Notebook was another of these objects, one that is living and malleable, and therefore ripe with the frustration of having been undefiled up to this point.

She’s onto something with the inanimate. I sense the Notebook opening up for me, inviting me to consume its soothsaying mantras. On the page just before this lined one are considerations of breath. I’m recommended to echo the primordial sounds of the universe.

I’ve never considered myself a noticeably anxious person. I’ve made efforts to develop an impermeable, outer shell. Not everyone wants to see me succeed. There are outside forces working against me. Nevertheless, I persist.

The night of the Notebook’s arrival was an eye-opening point in my friendship with Charlotte—a reckoning. I considered whether there was a malicious side to her I was unaware of.

Charlotte, in many ways, is in a difficult time in her life. She’s in her thirties, single, and in the middle of a career with little to no trajectory. I’m sensitive to her insecurities. We are each on our own journey.

Projections aside, I knew that to understand Charlotte’s intentions, I’d have to sift through the pages of the Notebook. I brought The Anti-Anxiety Notebook next to me in bed. It’s as cumbersome to hold as a newborn baby.

The Notebook has 200 pages for answering journal prompts as well as “free space” to use as a diary for thoughts and ideas. I spent the rest of the evening studying prompts developed by licensed professionals, which have been arranged to give me full autonomy.

The Notebook admitted, in the discreet way of discussing my autonomy, that control would be divided up between it and myself. Describing it here is an acknowledgment of what the Notebook intends to be, and who I am to become as a result.

Between the journal prompts are pages of insight, such as a “Letter from a Therapist”, and how to change my mindset, breathe, and sleep. The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based notebook was designed to help me track my emotions, become aware of my thought patterns, and reduce my anxiety.

I’ve never considered myself someone who is controlled or swayed by emotion. I take a pragmatic approach to life. I’d go as far to say that it’s a requirement for my line of work and my relatively senior position.

Reading on: The Anti-Anxiety Notebook was intended to challenge my mental distortions. As though I have some warped understanding of the world. The Notebook is the one who is a misplaced object, a textbook, a weighted ball, an invisible mark, an interrogator, an accuser, a trickster, a bicentennial, an animal with splayed legs…

Whereas I am situated, firmly, on the ground. My eyes point straight ahead. I have no stories, no musings, nor philosophies. People are not figures. They are not the products of rapidly growing bodies of literature, nor the silence of many black and white films. They are valued for their usefulness to me and society. Feet planted; vision secured.

I’ve always followed the rules. I have a lucid understanding of how the world functions. I know what you must put in to get out of it. Hard work and mental toughness beget success. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I will always be the one who works hardest. I have a radar for distractions that take away from potential. In over three decades of life, I’ve avoided friendships with stagnant people, and relationships with those devoid of ambition and purpose.

Lastly, and most relevant to my life, I was encouraged to use the journal whenever I felt anxious or stressed. There was a silver lining to Charlotte’s gesture. I could, at the very least, curate a space to vent; a set of lined pages to whisper into.

The night dragged on, and I came around to the idea of the Notebook, less as a means of restructuring my approach to self, and more so as an opportunity to reduce the negative impacts of stress that hinder my productivity.

I’ve decided that Charlotte could never know I was spurned by the gesture. I would show that I take her seriously, as you would with a child who does not understand the repercussions of their actions. I would stand at the edge of the playground looking at Charlotte as she refused to leave. I would wave goodbye. “I’m leaving,” I would tell her. I would walk down the street and around the corner. Eventually, she would follow me.

I’m most interested in The Feelings Wheel, a colorful circle with basic emotions at its center. Words like bad, angry, sad, and happy. Surrounded are layers of more detailed expressions of emotion, so that the outer edges include words and phrases like out of control, persecuted, victimized, and successful. These are the expressions I’m drawn to.

Articulating my emotions is tricky for me. I feel a general malaise wash over me during most afternoons. I am lethargic. My mind is dull. Occasionally the feeling lasts into the next few days. I have trouble understanding why this happens to me. I spend hours trying to attach the feeling to a cause, such as my employees, my boss, or the loneliness of the New York dating pool. Mostly, the trigger point evades me.

The Feelings Wheel could open my emotional expression to a vast vocabulary. And with this vocabulary, I could become more aware of my tendencies to self-sabotage.

I like to know what I’m getting myself into, and so, I flipped to the final pages of the Notebook. There were congratulations for reaching that point, and additional space for optional reflections before continuing onward, wherever I go.

Monday, July 2, 2018

I’m writing in my bed this evening. I want to see if comfort translates to a lubricated train of thought. A candle is lit beside me with a wooden wick that sounds like a bonfire. The curtains are closed to the city. The apartment is empty. There’s a glass of Chardonnay on the nightstand.

Charlotte didn’t mention the Notebook today. She said a few words to me about a delayed train before work. I offered my condolences. That was that.

I was surprised that she could avoid the subject. The Notebook, in its expanding state, was nearly the size of a traffic cone, and as heavy, too. As we circled around each other in the apartment, I imagined myself picking up the cone and placing it between us. Charlotte would move and there I was again lugging it to the threshold of the bathroom as she sat down to pee.

The conversation wouldn’t exit my head. I had spent the night thinking about what she’d said to me: I’m exhausted and unqualified to help you. No matter how much I examined our recent conversations, I could find no signs of exhaustion from her. There simply wasn’t enough time spent together for her to accumulate fatigue.

We had separate lives. She went out with friends while I worked longer hours. She went to shows and galleries, while I went to exercise classes. She had multiple, open-ended affairs with men twice our age, while I had a career.

Regardless, we make a point of drinking wine and watching reality TV together once a week. We talk about my job, our dating life, and her friendships. I don’t relate to Charlotte’s friends. She works at a small media company for creatives. She doesn’t create things herself, but mentally collects art objects from museums, which she could never own. She would correct me to say that it’s a spiritual endeavor. Another elevated habit of consumption.

Charlotte is an assistant to one of the Directors where she works. She plans his travel and events. Many of her friends are company people. They come to our apartment before going out, wearing neon, mesh, black boots, and loud jewelry. They’re from Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and other parts of the world. Her friends are polite, but don’t take an interest in me. And I have no interest in them. I excuse myself shortly after they arrive, emphasizing that I have work to do.

During our Wednesday evenings together, Charlotte clues me in on the group’s drama. Sebastian has always had a thing for Garrett, and last weekend they hooked up, so while Sebastian is smitten, Garrett feels like he’s made a mistake. The more wine Charlotte drinks, the more she is willing to judge her friends. She told me that Eliza flaunts her grandparent’s wealth. Ariel complains about his weight, yet he continues to binge eat every weekend. At this point in the conversation, I complain about the people who work for me, and Charlotte, in her flushed state, encourages me, bashing the faceless employees skirting their work.

This morning, as we made coffee and buttered toast, I had the urge to tell her that I have other friends I could go to with my problems. Women who would be happy to talk through the challenges I face at work. Women who understand more than she does. If I were to craft an Attributes Wheel, these women would fit in the categories of poise and nuance.

Although Charlotte is a beautiful girl—tall, alternative—I think that she’s jealous of my new title. I manage a program at a nonprofit for improving child literacy rates in local communities, Literate Tomorrow. I’ve been promoted to Associate Director. A few months ago, I’d been offered the job to start the program from scratch. Charlotte was likely having a reaction to the news. As much as I've tried to have empathy for her, there’s little I can do for her jealousy.

The more I’ve analyzed her behavior this morning, the more I believe the Notebook was a measured tactic. She was wearing a short, black dress with purple tights, and white sneakers from a brand I didn’t recognize. She was listening, pointedly, to music audible through bulky headphones. The scent she chose for the day is from a local brand that sells essential oils for every mood. Her scent today, lemon, is uplifting.

She wouldn’t look at me. Her movements and breath were harsh. I poured fresh coffee into a thermos, wrapped a piece of buttered toast in a paper towel, and walked out the door with The Anti-Anxiety Notebook in my tote, and without saying goodbye to Charlotte. I put on my headphones to distract myself with The Wander Money podcast.

The Notebook poked its green head out of my bag as I walked to the subway. I kept its title hidden. In an instant the invisible mark could become public. I had considered leaving the Notebook on my desk with my bedroom door open, and in Charlotte’s view from the kitchen. I wanted her to share the responsibility for its presence in our apartment, but I couldn’t risk her reading my first entry. She has one of those personality traits I’ll never understand. Even if she tore through my freshly written pages, if she were offended and furious, she would never mention it to me. She would stew. She would swirl in barely noticeable currents.

In the city, I noticed all the deep green things around me. The storefronts, coats, cafĂ© tables, and street signs—all the cousins to the Notebook who were now making themselves known. A man walked by in a tracksuit of the same color. I eyed him suspiciously.

My walk felt longer and heavier. The podcast was nothing more than a voice in a sea of voices, sirens, and demolition. On a backdrop of green, I saw women dressed like Charlotte. They all moved with angst, like the city was conspiring against them. I wanted to tell them that I was the only one paying any attention. They are not touching magic.

If a friend told me a story of what had happened with the Notebook, I would ask about her friendship with Charlotte prior to the gesture. Charlotte and I have not arrived at an impasse. There was no blow out: a shirt borrowed once too many times, a boyfriend slept with, food eaten without permission.

I barely know Charlotte, her idiosyncrasies, and obscure communication patterns. Counting the quality time we’ve spent together, it’s four evenings per month across three months. Twelve evenings of about two hours each.

We have little history. Charlotte and I went to the same high school in Connecticut. We never interacted. I was on the Varsity soccer and tennis teams, and president of my class for all four years of high school. I managed to find time to participate in the arts, and acted in the school play as Stella. Charlotte didn’t take part in extra-curriculars, she was never in honors classes, and she was exclusively friends with people in the school band. I remember her in all black with dirty hair and thick make up. Her hygiene bothered me. She sang in the hallways.

Our parents have remained close over the decades. When we were both looking for an apartment at the beginning of this year, and as the few people in their thirties from our hometown who were not yet married, they recommended that we move in together.

Normally, I do find Charlotte charming. In the three months we’ve spent together, she’s dyed her hair four different colors: lilac, bright yellow, red, and electric blue. I didn’t complain when she let the dye stain our sink. I laughed and told her it looked like an abstract painting. When she leaves her dirty laundry on the bathroom floor—underwear with cartoon figures on the back, lace bralettes, high socks with emojis—I add them to my basket, wash, dry, and fold them like her mother.

I do more than my fair share of cleaning. Admittedly, this is because I do my best thinking when I clean. While I work in the evenings I’ll tend to stop and pick up a broom, wipe down the bathroom mirror, or take out the trash. It’s a method for problem solving. Though this may constitute a nice girl error—multitasking—cleaning is too benign to compete with the tumult of my mind.

I don’t know why she would find me to be a bad roommate. There’s little of my personality across all three rooms. I’m practically a nonentity, a figure that passes through without reverberation, a tiny pebble that only sinks.

More so, I read the news and have interesting things to say. I have a degree in political science and a minor in English from UPenn. I’m decently traveled. I know how to speak at dinner parties, which jokes to laugh at and those to not. I’ve never embarrassed her in front of her friends. I always have nice things to say about living together to my parents.

In our apartment, I rarely have guests. On Friday nights, when I schedule my dates, I make a point of going to the homes of the men I’m seeing. I’ve never been a romantic. They don’t need to see my space. There was not much to see, anyway. Beyond white walls, a blush-colored bedspread, my computer monitor, and photographs from family vacations, I keep my space minimal. This is mostly a result of the lack of time I spend in my room. I’m typically at the office, except for Friday evenings when I’m on a date, Saturday mornings when I go to a cycling class and the Farmer’s Market, and Sundays when I have brunch with friends.

Charlotte does the opposite of what I do. She brings her entire life into our apartment—her friends, people she picks up at bars, coworkers, and even the colorful costumes she makes for her boss when he’s attending a themed party. I’ll find glitter across our table, body paint on the counters, and glow sticks piled next to the toilet. I sense that she likes to have these creative remnants around for when people visit.

The people Charlotte meets out and brings back to our apartment tend to live well outside Manhattan, about a 40-minute subway ride, or as far from us within Manhattan as Harlem. She explained this to me one morning when I complained that I was late to a hair appointment because someone was using our shower. I smelled the scent of my Moroccan oil shampoo in the hair of the round man who left the bathroom moments later.

On the subway to work this morning after encountering Charlotte, I considered the second half of her statement, that she was unqualified to help me. From the sections of the Notebook that I’d read the previous night, she meant that she was unqualified to (1) identify my thoughts responsible for negative behavioral and emotional patterns, (2) identify my problematic behaviors, and (3) develop mindfulness-based practices for me. Clearly, though, she already had thoughts on (2), and had noticed problematic behaviors that she wanted me to fix, on my own, with The Anti-Anxiety Notebook.

Only once has my stress been a problem for someone else, a person I dated for a few months right after I graduated from college. He compared me to a little, shaking dog.

I knew that the word she used, unqualified, was clinical. I was able to curl my body into the ribbed walls of the subway car and remove the Notebook from my tote. I quickly sifted through the prompts again. There were many lists to be kept and referenced. I didn’t understand when and why I would be turning back to each list, but I felt confident in my abilities to create them.

I flipped back to the introduction of The Anti-Anxiety Notebook. If I choose to trust in the process, I’ll transform my symptoms and mood. I will learn how to prioritize my problems, fears, and concerns. I’ll develop positive self-talk. The world will become less overwhelming. I will find a healthy voice in my head, whoever they are.

Monday, July 2, 2018

I wrote the previous entry after getting home from work and prior to eating and showering. I thought I was done for the night, but there’s more. I’m giving in.

The Notebook has a gravitational pull. I can’t help myself. It’s like texting a man who wants nothing to do with me. I pick it up, I put it down, I pick it up again and jot out a thought or accusation. Similarly, there’s no response.

With that, I’ve made the decision to trust in the process; to give myself over to the Anti-Anxiety Notebook. I’m keen on seeing where the Notebook takes the two of us.

I’ve already treated the Notebook as its own active form. I’m attaching myself to its green body. I suppose the Notebook deserves an introduction to who I am, where I’ve come from, and where I’m undoubtedly headed.

My name is Allison Marks. I was born on April 30, 1986, at UConn John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, Connecticut. I’m 32 years old. My zodiac sign is Taurus; ruling planet is Venus; element is Earth; and lucky day is Friday. I’m compatible with Virgos and Capricorns. My colors are blue, and green like the cover of the Notebook.

I’m patient, calm, and logical, while at times I have the propensity to be stubborn, grumpy, and materialistic. People born on April 30 occupy a high position in society. They are brilliant leaders who place high demands on themselves. Those of us who can admit that we think differently will succeed. The traits associated with my birthday, and therefore my personality, which I disagree with, include jealousy and dependency. I was raised to only depend on myself—a truth I will never compromise.

I’ve had two boyfriends and no engagements. I’ve slept with nine people. I have 812 followers on Instagram, 203 on Twitter, and over 1,000 Facebook friends. My mother was 25 years old when she had me. My father was 28. I have one brother, who is two years younger than me. I live in New York City. I’m working my third job out of college. I make $108,000 per year. I manage four people. I have one tattoo on my left shoulder that says This too shall pass in honor of my grandmother’s death.

I plan to have two kids with one husband in my late thirties. The feeling that time is running out hovers over me nearly every day. I want to be the CEO of a socially impactful nonprofit organization and have some rapport in Washington. I’m a Democrat. I believe in a form of light capitalism. My role model is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I shop at Cos, Vince, Theory, and Lululemon. I exercise at least three times a week.

A day in my life begins at five-thirty in the morning when my alarm goes off and I wake to scroll through the news and Instagram, then check Hinge, Tinder, and Bumble. Since my last long-term relationship ended over a year ago, I’ve made a concerted effort to put myself out there. With the limited time I have due to work, dating apps have become a useful and efficient way to weed through potential partners. I check my messages on each dating app before getting in the shower. When I get out of the shower, I write my responses in a note on my phone. I send them later in the day. I don’t want to appear too eager.

While I fix my hair and put on makeup, I listen to a new episode of The Daily podcast. This morning’s episode was about race and zero-tolerance policing in Baltimore. The host, Michael Barbaro, describes how the relationship between Baltimore police and the community has fallen apart. I learn something new from him every day. His podcast was the source of my efforts to ensure that Literate Tomorrow gives employees a half day off to vote in this year’s primary elections.

Once my hair and makeup are done, it’s usually close to 7:15 am. I make myself an espresso and do two sets of body weight squats in the kitchen before putting on my dark wash jeans. I spray perfume on my decolletage and slip into a blazer. While I brush my teeth, I tidy my room and prepare my tote to leave. Charlotte leaves her room around this time, in her pajamas, and seeking a cup of coffee. Occasionally we will say hello. Most often we don’t.

I walk ten minutes to the Delancey subway station in the Lower East Side where I take the J train to Fulton station in the Financial District. On the train I listen to Drake, Beyonce, The Weeknd, and Tyler the Creator. I reload my email when there is cell service. I avoid eye contact with strangers. I scan the outfits and bags of women. I stand tall and strong without holding on.

The office is the space where all hidden parts of my life come to the fore. That’s to say I do nearly everything at the office. I’ve even slept there. I work on the seventh floor of an old building. When I arrive, I first go to the kitchen. The office is empty except for the cleaning staff. I pour myself a cup of coffee with a splash of almond milk. I have a small bowl of oatmeal at my desk before anyone else arrives. Between this moment, and the time that I leave the office, there is a free for all of back-to-back meetings, impromptu coffee runs, unexpected phone calls, bathroom breaks to swipe on dating apps, and multiple hours spread across the day in which my employees ask for my assistance.

When I received news of my promotion, I made the decision to lead with intention. I told my employees that no matter how small or big their ask, I would make myself available to them. I was not just a manager, but a team player, and a friend. They can lean on me throughout tough work and personal situations. I was inspired by the book Leading with Kindness: How Good People Consistently Get Superior Results to create a gentle and more human experience for my team.

I believe this is an inherently feminist approach. Women who lead are responsible for bringing in a new age of management in America. I see myself at the forefront of this movement.

The softer, alternative work environment that I’ve cultivated necessitates order. Lists have always been a critical part of my days. They are, for lack of a better term, the secret to my success. After eating breakfast, I create a list of the things that I’ll need to accomplish that day. The to-do list is separate from the calendar on my desktop. Meetings are not part of my to-do list. They are a fact of life. The bulleted items on the list are tackled between the meetings on my calendar. They take place in separate spaces, too, like when I steal away with my laptop to an empty conference room.

I’ll hide myself when my team is at lunch. They go out and take up the entire allotted hour, down to the minute. I know this because I watch the clock, though I pretend not to notice when they return. Occasionally I’ll smile and ask what they ate together.

I always take lunch at the office. I eat brown rice, chicken and vegetables that I cook in bulk on Sunday afternoons. This hour, specifically, in the conference room with my Tupperware, is when I answer emails that I couldn’t get to in the morning. By 1 pm, I aim to get my inbox down to zero. By 8 pm, my to-do list should be complete.

It takes me 25 minutes to get to my neighborhood from the office. I’ll buy a Sweetgreen salad around the corner from my apartment building. I’m home by 9:00 pm, and eat on the couch while reviewing the work of my employees.

The days in which I don’t have to review their work I go to a Soul Cycle class in SoHo. All the tension I absorb throughout my workday is released while I straddle the bike in the dark, pedaling, standing, dancing.

I usually finish my day by 10:30 pm. I take off my makeup, brush my teeth, and scroll through Instagram and Twitter until close to midnight. I look at posts of friends from high school and college. People I rarely speak to, if ever.

They post photos of engagement rings on manicured hands, couple photos in front of new homes, and selfies of bold haircuts. They tag 4- and 5-star hotels. They’re humbled to start new jobs and families. They’re outraged. They donate to causes. They share quotes from activists.

I see rooftop bars, handbags, white sneakers, cocktails, bleached teeth, skincare routines, paintings, modern furniture, sunhats, tanned butts, gyms, cars, the ocean, children, grandparents, and many thanks to God.

My own page has seen many evolutions. Recently I’ve posted photos with tones of pink and orange. There are photos of me in New York, with friends at restaurants and bars, and of my face at the end of a tough exercise class. At the end of the year, I recommend my favorite books and music like Barack Obama.

I haven’t posted a man on any of my platforms since my last relationship. Taking the advice I’ve heard from many successful women, I’ve avoided posting photos of my body. My social media pages are, in many instances, a first impression that is completely within my control. My goal: well-rounded, intelligent, and kind with many friends. Pretty and active.

My day ends there, and the following morning I pick back up again. My weeks aren’t repetitive, even though I’m speaking to the same people and going to the same places. No day at the office is like any other. This encourages me, because I am, without a doubt in my mind, on an upward trajectory to the person I seek to be: CEO.

Morgan is a writer living in California. Alongside architect Bjarke Ingels, she was the lead writer and editor of Formgiving: An Architectural Future History (Taschen, 2020). “The Anti-Anxiety Notebook” is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. She’s also currently at work on a novel about the California art world, and a book of architecture essays.