This wasn’t the post I intended to write tonight. Sometimes, the songs choose themselves.
It’s been kind of a challenging month, and I’ve been feeling more acutely anxious in the last few weeks than I have in a while. I frequently say that I don’t get to indulge my anxiety even one little bit, Like the one little drink the alcoholic takes, it never stops with just one. It feeds on itself and whips my insides up into a the equivalent of an F5 tornado. I may be calm on the outside, but sometimes beneath this calm exterior exists a whirlwind of self-doubt and worry. I’m a lot better at dealing with it than I used to be – I frequently say that my college years were lost to uncontrolled anxiety – but I still notice it. If I didn’t notice it, I wouldn’t be me.
So tonight when I was noticing the anxiety welling up in me, I thought about Stevie Nicks’ “Bella Donna” – pretty much my go-to song when it comes to dealing with anxiety. At first glance, a song like “Bella Donna” may not seem like an obvious choice. It’s typical obscure Stevie, something about riding high atop your pony, swinging from your trapeze, no speed limit, the fast lane and a woman being so awestruck. But it works! It really does. It works if for no other reason than those first five piano chords. They’re the first thing you hear on the album Bella Donna, and they are just magical. But the thing that always makes me think of it when I’m feeling especially anxious is the last line of the song.
“It’s just a feeling.”
Whenever I feel anxious, I repeat it to myself over and over again. Around these parts, we know one simple thing – feelings aren’t facts. Feelings are neither bad nor good, they just are there. Almost without fail, saying to myself that what I’m feeling is, in fact, just a feeling helps to inject a dose of reality into the situation. 99 times out of 100, the anxiety I feel is not in line with what is actually going on. For years, I tried to stop myself from feeling that, thinking that if I could just “fix” that part of me, I wouldn’t have to feel it any longer. Bzzzt Wrong answer! My work with mindfulness has taught me that those feelings are unstoppable, but just because they’re unstoppable doesn’t mean that I have to be a slave to them. I like to think of them as clouds in the air – I notice them and watch them float by, not grabbing on to them or anything, but letting them go. The trick to managing my anxiety is not being ruled by my feelings. And Stevie has taught me to always remember that it is just a feeling.
I listened to this song through some of my darkest moments and it took me until I was nearly 40 years old and was writing a letter to my 20 year-old self on the eve of my 40th birthday to really recognize the power of the song. I think it was in that letter that I first quoted “it’s just a feeling.” Ever since, it’s the corollary to the theorem “feelings aren’t facts.” I guess I wasn’t ready for it until then- that kind of stuff makes itself known when we’re ready. Chances are if I had really honed in on the “it’s just a feeling” line at age 20 or even 30, I would have been all righteously indignant and pretended that she didn’t know what she was talking about. I mean, I do vividly remember one day during my freshman year at Iowa State, frustrated with something mundane – probably cellular respiration or something – and saying to myself “Stevie Nicks never had to go to college!” Man, was I a douchebag or what? That said, at that age, I found myself drawn to the line in “Think About It” – “even though you feel like your life is fading/I know that you’ll go on forever, you’re that good/Heartbreak of the moment is not endless/Fortune is your life’s love.” I guess that’s what I needed then. The me of today gets a lot more inspiration out of “it’s just a feeling.”
Anyway, the whole Bella Donna album is actually quite a balm to my soul, but “Bella Donna” the song is always what I immerse myself in first (since it’s the first song on the record.) It never fails to make me feel better. It will always be my favorite Stevie album, and “Bella Donna” is probably in my top 5 Stevie solo songs. Because when it comes to anxiety, the whole thing really is phony.