I’m finding comfort in reading John Irving novels. Currently, I’m reading The World According to Garp. I like Irving’s writing even though I’m sure I don’t understand parts of it. His work always intrigues and challenges me.
In this novel, the Garp family talks to their young sons at the beach every year about the under tow. They describe what it can do to you. One of their boys becomes particularly afraid. Finally, they get to the bottom of his fear. He believed all along they were saying, “Watch out for the Under Toad.” He was picturing a massive frog-like toad, lurking under the dark of the water, big-eyed, slimy, ready to grab him by the legs and steal him away.
After that, whenever anxiety popped up in their family, they called it the Under Toad.
I’m seeing quite a bit of the Under Toad lately, are you? I see it in the news, in my Twitter feed and other forms of social media. I see it in families and friendship circles. I see it in schools, churches and in the community. Last week, I had a conversation with a relative over politics at her initiative that sent me rushing out the door, emotional, sweating, uttering bad words and covered in Under Toads.
One of the ongoing lessons I have learned in my adult life is that the Under Toad does not help anything. It is bad for marriages and parenting. It is bad for leaders and followers. The Under Toad moves us from being thinking, calm people to overly emotional, reactive ones.
I hate it because it is so much fun to blame others, but the truth is we cannot manage other people’s Under Toads, only our own. When anxiety is high, all you can do is manage your Toad.
Sometimes our fears are real and based in fact. There really is, for example, an under tow out there which we should know about and respect. But, it is not a huge, amphibian-like monster plotting to get us. Millions of people do not die each year because of Under Toads. In fact, no one has even been hurt by one, ever.
How do we manage our Under Toads?
Everyone is different, of course, but here’s my list of anxiety-busters:
Establish some spiritual touch points and routines that anchor you like prayer, journaling, meditation, scripture. Do these whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until inspired. That is not how it works.
Engage with nature. Creation feeds our souls. The colors, the smells, the wonder of outside eases anxiety. Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite twice a day Toad repellent.
Music works every time.
Comedians. Thank God for the funny people. Did you know, laughter cannot co-exist with Toads?
Babies. Children. Find some. Rent some. Volunteer near some. According to Psychology Today, 4 year olds are reported to laugh 300 times a day. 40 year olds? Only 4. Find a small person, play and just laugh when they laugh.
Disconnect. I’m beginning to think our media feeds our hungry Under Toads and when our Toads are large and scary, we keep going back for more. When they see what sells it is like supply and demand. Maybe we should take a little break.
Breathe. Mary Oliver, the poet, writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget to breathe deeply, especially when being pursued by Toads.
Exercise. It is amazing how we are made. Exercise is good for us and breaks the anxiety chain. It helps us feel better, look better and sleep better. I walk. Every day. Outside, in nature. I breathe there. I disconnect there.
Act. Do something. Go ahead and act. Today, I spent a couple of hours with some amazing women strategizing about how we would help serve the economically disadvantaged students in our public schools with school supplies and other resources. It kept the Toad at bay.
Love. Love people. Love strangers. Love your family. Love those who feel differently than you do. Try to listen but also take care of you. Learn to say, “Can we change the conversation? I’m having an allergic reaction to a personal Toad problem right now.” I promise they will stop talking.
Thank you, John Irving, for your writing. You showed me the power of the Under Toad…and more than that, you showed me it is not even real.