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Aaron Gillies on anxiety, writing and emergency pints

You might know author Aaron Gillies as Twitter titan Technically Ron, famous for snappy tweets and micro-plays harpooning the Brexit mess, mental health and the awkwardness of being British. We’re big fans of Ron here at CALM, so we were chuffed when he picked up the phone and was happy to discuss his excellent new anxiety survival guide: How To Survive The End Of The World (When In It’s Your Own Head).

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CALM: Men can use humour as a bit of a defence mechanism. You use jokes to really get to the heart of your darker feelings, rather than deflect from them. Was it always that way for you?

Aaron: It’s very much a defence mechanism, but also if you turn things into a bit of a gag, you can talk about very serious subjects and not make people feel that it’s heavy or all-encompassing. My anxiety is part of my life, It’s something I live with every day, so I feel like I have the right to take the piss out of it, because it’s put me through hell. If I want to mock it I can. If I do it makes it seem smaller, if I give it a name it’s something I can battle with. For me it’s really helpful because humour lets me address things, and if I can make it into a joke, to something which other people relate, it makes it that much more tangible for them too.

So you personify your anxiety condition, give it a character and a voice. Would you recommend that as a coping mechanism?

Doing that can help you quantify it in a way you never would in your own head, because you’re giving it time, you’re giving it words and feedback and then you have to think of your own response back. You draw out a process that would essentially take milliseconds in your head and you go through it layer-by-layer and figure it out. You go “Oh look i’m doing this! Oh shit i’m really bad at doing that!“.  It’s a lovely little exercise because it gives you an insight into how your brain works and also into your gut instinct and how you react to certain thoughts too. When we first started writing, it made total sense to personify this illness, to twist it on its head and turn the conversation around so you get into a place where it’s not controlling you, you’re starting to control it.

Do you find the writing process therapeutic?

I do. When I’m writing down these emotions I give them scope and purpose and investigate them in a way that you’d typically gloss over. It started because I took to writing these blog posts that weren’t ever to be published, they were just for me. I’d just save them on a desktop and shut them away. I was literally just pouring words out of myself onto a word document, it would give me something to think about. I realised that I was articulating stuff in a way that I previously wasn’t allowing myself to, so it kind of came from there really.

When we first started writing it made total sense to personify this illness, to twist it on its head and turn the conversation around so you get into a place where it’s not controlling you anymore, you’re starting to control it.

I’d encourage everyone to write about their own mental health. whether you publish it or show it someone else or not. I think it’s such a helpful exercise to put into words how you’re feeling instead of just letting it rattle around and rot inside your mind.

It’s such a personal book. Did that ramp up the anxiety when it came to publishing it and exposing yourself to the world?

Initially yes. It was like a violent form of exposure therapy. Im not particular good at public speaking, or speaking in general, or generally thinking anything nice about myself… So when it started getting positive reviews it was that thing where you have 99 positive reviews and one negative review, and that negative review is the only thing you focus on. But I’m lucky in that I’m OK with sharing these parts of myself that most people aren’t comfortable sharing.

I’d encourage everyone to write about their own mental health. whether you publish it or show it someone else, or not. I think it’s such a helpful exercise to put into words how you’re feeling instead of just letting it rattle around and rot inside your mind.

The kind of response I’ve had has been mostly from men who have sent me a DM and said “thank you, this has been really helpful, I’m not ready to talk about this yet on a public timeline but I just wanted to let you know that a lot of what you said resonates with me and I’m going to the doctors.” And that just makes it worthwhile right there.

You have a huge following on your TechnicallyRon twitter profile, what does that give you?

It’s very much a persona. It’s very loud and bombastic. It allows me to be a more confident than I really am. In real life i’m very socially awkward, very quiet. I’ve never been the life of the party, so on Twitter I’m allowed to make big caps lock, big jokes. It’s great! My main concern when I was doing live events was like, ‘oh no, people are gonna find out I’m a fraud, a quiet little weirdo who has this mental health problem.’ But people have been so lovely and supportive.

With anxiety you end up rehearsing over and over again, coming up with back up plan upon back up plan of all possible events. You invent the worst case scenario. But it’s never that bad, you don’t get the best case scenario either, it’s somewhere in between. Technically Ron has been a good thing for me, being able to speak openly to strangers and do stuff that I’m not normally used to. And that’s come from many years using Twitter as a sort of support network. I’ve found it invaluable with strangers who are willing to listen and help me or give advice. And now it’s like going out the other end of that and becoming a real boy again!

With such a huge audience it must be a draw on your energy and time, how do you find balance?

Yeah it’s another form of self-care taking yourself away for just half a day a day or whatever. It’s something I practice a lot, what with the news cycle and the varied amount of people that arrive in your mentions. It’s become a lot nastier than it was even a few years ago, and it’s important to look after yourself and use it in a healthy way. Because you can have all these trolls attacking you, it’s important to distract yourself… go away, read a book, watch a Nicholas Cage movie from the 90s. That’s my advice for everything. Con Air is the best film ever made.

Is the book just for people who are anxious?

It’s for everyone. It’ll obviously strike a chord with the anxiously inclined, but it’s also written for people that know people who suffer or want to know more in general. Then there’s also that thing of anxious VS anxiety, two very different meanings in today’s world. We all experience anxiety in the way that we all have mental health. Anxiety has always been with us, it’s part of how we evolved… but when it goes absolutely bananas that’s what you need to be wary of.

But yeah, the book is for everyone, especially partners of people with mental health problems. It can be very difficult to explain things to your partner , you can have this idea of what they think of you, and you don’t want to ruin it. It’s been nice to see that people have given this to their partners and said “read this, you might understand a little bit more about me”.

Did you have any ideas about your ‘manliness’ whizzing round your head when you were opening up to your partner in such a candid way?

Yeah definitely. There was a study, I can’t remember who it was, in the 90s, that said that women are much more likely to speak to their friends about problems. I think with recent mental health campaigns things are slowly starting to change for men though. Me and my mates have something called the Emergency Pint Rule. And that’s: no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, if you get a message from a mate about an ’emergency pint’, you go! And you just sit there and listen, and whatever is discussed over those pints doesn’t go any further. Sometimes you just need to vent. If you keep it all inside, that’s where these bloody problems start. And for someone who’s been to the bottom of that and had to work myself back up, i’m not letting myself do that again.

Loads of people are saying how much this book has helped them understand and articulate their condition, what are the books that have helped you?

My Age Of Anxiety – Scott Stossel
Mad Girl  – Bryony Gordon
Tim Rayburn – Boys Dont Cry
Man Up – Jack Urwin
We’re All Mad Here – Claire Eastham
Remember This When You’re Sad – Maggy Van Eijk
A Beginners Guide To Losing Your Mind – Emily Reynolds

Thanks Aaron!

Serene Aaron.

How to Survive the End of the World (when it’s in your own head): An Anxiety Survival Guide is available in Hardback, eBook and audio from relevant retailers.

Follow Technically Ron on Twitter!

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