In the off chance that you wake up in a zombie apocalypse story, let’s review the typical roles, so you can be prepared:
1. Zombies, of course.
2. Renegade hero.
3. Sidekick/possible love interest.
4. Hordes of onlookers.
If this were a personality quiz on Facebook, which one would you be:
A zombie from the get-go, because sometimes it’s easier to go with the flow, you know?
The hero who leads the band of raggedy humans to safety through daring and a large dose of extroversion?
The sidekick who aides the hero, but tends toward martyrdom and therefore, inevitably gets wounded and/or zombified?
The onlooker who also gets zombified because they are always one second behind?
Or the reporter who lives in order to tell the tale, because they happen to be high-strung enough to escape total tragedy?
I’d be the reporter – always on the balls of my feet physically, mentally, and emotionally, for better or worse. To be a reporter, you possess a certain set of skills that often look like weakness. You have a sixth sense for all the things that could go wrong in any scenario. Worriers, raise your hand. You also deeply feel everyone else’s emotions as well as your own. All the SuperFeelers, raise your hand. This is what we, who have anxiety, do.
For most of my life, I viewed anxiety as my greatest flaw. As a child, too many people told me to “just relax” and “stop being so sensitive” and so I assumed that one of the fundamental things that made me who I am was wrong. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence trying very hard to be the hero, the sidekick, or if need be, the onlooker who could blend it, be zombified, and go on my merry way. I dreaded being the girl whom people felt sorry for because she couldn’t chill out.
Prior to one particular family vacation to Colorado, I woke up three consecutive nights, the eve eve eves of the trip, drenched in sweat, worrying about all the things that could go wrong. What if there was traffic on the way to the airport and we missed our flight? What if the first flight was delayed and we missed our next? What if the rental car got a flat tire? What if my dad got a speeding ticket (not uncommon) and was in a bad mood the entire trip? What if they lost our reservation at the hotel and we wouldn’t have a place to stay? What if they put me in a ski school class with kids who were all better than me? I made myself sick with the what-ifs. I was eight.
It wasn’t until college when I found an excellent therapist and a medication that worked that I came to understand my anxiety for what it was: a coping mechanism against the uncertainties in this world. I also began to identify it as one of my greatest strengths. We anxious people get things done. And many of us are creatives. Writers, painters, musicians, and the like often display a tendency toward over-thinking and over-feeling. Distracting and often overwhelming? Yes. But also, when seen in a different light, it is a knack, a benefit to our humanness to connect so deeply with the world inside ourselves as well as out. It allows us to make art that says something meaningful.
I wrote The Summer of June, a middle grade novel about a girl living with anxiety, for the kids who are like I was – anxious and often made to feel somehow wrong. They deserve to see all that is right in themselves.
There is a famous poem by Shel Silverstein called “Whatif” where a boy lies in bed mulling over all the whatifs that could happen in his life. “Whatif” the bus is late? “Whatif” his parents get divorced? “Whatif” nobody likes him? In The Summer of June, June thinks of herself as the Whatif girl and she hates it. It’s not until June opens herself up to friendship and the power that comes with sharing who you really are with people you trust that she begins to see the upside to how she processes the world. The fact that it takes place in a public library and a secret garden also helps. Books and plants are their own forms of therapy.
May we all begin to recognize the magic in how we are made. The world needs all kind of people…especially if we’re going to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Jamie Sumner is the author of the critically-acclaimed middle-grade novels, Roll with It, Tune It Out, and One Kid's Trash. Her forth middle-grade novel The Summer of June hits shelves on May 31st, 2022 with Atheneum Books for Young Readers. She has also written for The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as other publications. She loves stories that celebrate the grit and beauty in all kids. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee. Connect with her at Jamie-Sumner.com.