Today’s story takes us on a journey beyond Sombra’s door to remind us that the scariest villains are often the ones inside our heads.
[Sad] [Dark] [Slice of Life] • 10,788 words
What Spike saw in the doorway of King Sombra’s crystal palace hasn’t left his mind. The fear of Twilight abandoning him haunts him through recurrent nightmares. Anxiety taunts him when he’s at his most vulnerable, reminding him of all his failures, all his inadequacies, all his wounds.
One night, this fear and anxiety manifests itself in a full-blown nightmare, dragging Spike face-to-face with his greatest fear: What if Twilight never needed Spike in the first place?
FROM THE CURATORS: One of the core strengths of Friendship Is Magic is its unapologetic sincerity — taking a premise designed to pitch moral lessons (and sell toys) to young girls, and imbuing it with a depth and richness that holds adults’ attention too, without ever forgetting its roots. The notion that friendship literally is magic, and that it holds a power relevant to our own lives, is fundamental both to the show and the fandom surrounding it.
Anxiety examines that core premise through the lens of its adult audience — Spike is suffering from problems that will be all too familiar to some of us. “It’s a great look at anxiety attacks, low self-esteem, and the mental blocks that can come with those to keep sufferers from seeking help,” Present Perfect said, and Bradel agreed: “This tallies really well with my experience of depression.” The beauty of the story is that it still holds true to FiM’s core message in a relevant and honest way: Spike is in over his head, as it can often seem to those who live with mental illness, and it’s togetherness and understanding that will save both him and us.
What impressed us was not only the authenticity of the topics and emotions, but also of Anxiety’s characterization. Chris found Spike well-done: “Too many authors turn Spike into a grown up. … Spike’s reactions feel real precisely because he acts like a frightened kid.” Bradel agreed, also pointing out that “Spike characterization is always hard, since he resides in this weird, nebulous middle ground between child and adult.”
Finally, the strength of Anxiety’s closing message was singled out for praise. “The talk by Twilight at the end of the piece just knocks it out of the park for me,” Bradel said. “It really sticks the landing.”
Read on for our author interview, in which Bad_Seed_72 discusses forgetting, Best Pony surprises, not being alone, and forgetting.
Give us the standard biography.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy not so far away, on a dark winter’s night, the world was graced with the unholy terror that is [REDACTED], a.k.a Bad_Seed_72. It was on the eve of my birth that the five signs of Valhalla were gathered outside the hospital unfortunate enough to welcome me into the world, and it was only through the valiant efforts of—
Haha, kidding. Truthfully, there isn’t too much for me to tell. Let’s see… I’m incredibly old (twenty-two), female (last time I checked), (extremely) gay, and, most importantly, a huge nerd all around.
I’ve spent the last four years working in security (the cool computer stuff, not the Paul Blart stuff), but I hope to con someone into paying me to write someday. That way I have more time to binge-watch Netflix and fangirl hopelessly over obscure shippings no one cares about.
How did you come up with your handle/penname?
I actually registered on Fimfiction a year or so before I wrote my first story. I was The_Dragon and all I did was comment on a few stories. When I decided to write my first story, I settled on “Bad Seed” (due to my love of Babs Seed), then added the inverse of my favorite number (27). And, of course, underscores are cool.
Who’s your favorite pony?
I’ve been asked this question several times before, and people always expect me to answer Babs Seed and/or Apple Bloom, but…
Honestly? Applejack. (See what I did there?)
With the arguable exception of Twilight, of the Mane Six, Applejack has the strongest head on her shoulders. She’s hardworking, down-to-Earth, loyal, faithful, strong, and determined. She knows what’s important (family and friends) and protects and cultivates it relentlessly. She’s loving and caring, but she can also be a raging storm if she needs to be. She’s the epitome of a strong female character, but she has flaws, too—real ones, relatable ones, that she has to grapple with and overcome.
TL;DR AJ is best pone.
What’s your favorite episode?
“Somepony To Watch Over Me”.
The interaction between AJ and Apple Bloom (along with the other CMCs) is absolutely hilarious, and the lesson is relevant and heartwarming. Every older parent or sibling has to learn to let go as the kids grow up. It’s hard, but it’s necessary, and it’s both beautiful and humbling. I love the episodes that hit home like that.
Plus, AJ kicking timberwolf butt.
What do you get from the show?
It served its purpose in my life. It provided entertainment, insight, laughter, reflection, and even a lesson or two. It helped me through a long, dark night of my soul and gave me the inspiration to write when I hadn’t written anything in years. It helped me discover my slight spark of talent and my budding drive to further that. It helped me meet tons of wonderful people, one of whom I love very much.
I will always look upon it fondly.
What do you want from life?
There was a stage in my life where I was partying every night, going to nice restaurants, going to casinos every weekend, buying tons of new clothes and electronics, etc. I used to own three flatscreen TVs and four different gaming systems, along with hundreds of games and movies. The list goes on.
It was nice, but… none of that made me happy.
It took me several years to find out what does make me happy, and that’s being with those that I love and care about. Family, friends, my girlfriend… It doesn’t matter what we’re doing, where we are, or how much money is in my wallet. As long as we’re together, I’m happy.
I desire a simple life. A life where I can make time for those I love, rather than working overtime to buy the newest gadget or a fancy car. A life where I can work part-time (or write) and have enough money to pay the bills, spend time with my loved ones, and have enough left for a little traveling each summer. A life focused on love, experience, and fulfillment, rather than the endless tail-chasing of fame, fortune, and possessions.
If the (wo)man who dies with the most toys wins, I will leave this world a loser. And I will be happy with that.
Why do you write?
I write because the process of struggling with the questions—What is the meaning of life? What is love? What is loss? What is the right thing to do? etc.—is more important than finding the answers. I write because I don’t have all the answers, and I know I can’t find them, but writing makes that okay, and makes the world a little more beautiful and understandable to me.
I write because, if I don’t, I have all these ideas knocking around in my head, begging to be explored. I can only take so much noise!
Most of all, I write because, as Hemingway said, writing is akin to opening a vein onto the page.
Writing is not just creativity for me; it is therapy. Not just in the cathartic sense, but also in the, “Oh my God, I created something,” sense. The wonder you feel after creating something is such a euphoric feeling that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give it up completely.
What advice do you have for the authors out there?
Write for yourself, and only for yourself. I don’t mean to imply that writing something in memoriam or dedication to someone else is a bad thing. What I mean is that you shouldn’t let anyone bully you into writing something you don’t want to. If you ever do that, whether it’s just a paragraph, a chapter, or an entire story, you will come to regret it. Stay true to your own heart, and your own heart alone.
Never give up. Never stop improving. Never stop fighting the tidal wave of opposition you will face—and you will face it—that says that you can’t make it. You can. You will. Prove anyone who says you can’t wrong. Make them eat their words.
Finally, get good editors and listen to them. No one likes criticism, but it is a necessity to creative growth. Don’t take constructive criticism personally. Even if your soul is bleeding all over the page, the critics are attacking the words themselves—not you.
How do stories about mental health issues help the reader?
Stories about mental health issues help the reader in the same way stories about death and dying, or addiction, or growing up, etc. do. They whisper to the reader that they are not alone in their struggles. They whisper that they are not beyond help or hope. They give them a reason, if only for that moment, to no longer regard themselves as wounded beyond repair.
Stories such as these are important in our society—especially American society, where mental health treatment is unobtainable for many, inadequate for some of those fortunate enough to receive it. The degree to which mental illness has been stigmatized is saddening, especially considering the ultimate consequences of leaving it untreated. Mental illness can be life-threatening, and it should be treated as such. You just don’t “get over it”.
Any form of support for those who suffer from mental illness, whether it’s in a story or something far greater, should be recognized as important. We’re all in this together, bodies and minds, and we should not be shamed or made to feel weak for any sickness we may have, regardless of its nature.
What inspired the “voice” Spike hears?
Both my own “voice” and the “voices” of those I know who have struggled with similar things gave me inspiration.
While the “voice” is definitely not a uniform representation of the experiences of those who struggle with anxiety disorders and/or depression, many in the comments section said it was a good or accurate representation.
Though we don’t know everything about mental illness, and each person’s anxiety manifests differently, there are some common threads. Self-depreciation, second-guessing, rumination, catastrophizing, etc. Another common symptom is short-term memory loss (i.e. when Spike begins to question if he bought an apple from Big Macintosh).
I think many of the readers (judging by the comments) missed the memory part of Spike’s symptoms, but I want to address it here. The way I understand it, when your anxiety is occupying the majority of your thoughts, it’s easy to forget things (either due to preoccupation or memories just not being processed correctly).
Before I was diagnosed and treated for my anxiety, I was seriously beginning to worry if there was something wrong with me neurologically because of how often I would forget things. It wasn’t until I went through therapy and learned how to keep my anxiety in check that my memory returned to normal. It’s this symptom that leads to the climax of the story, and one of the most distressing for Spike.
While not every reader may find the “voice” relatable, at the very least, I hope its inclusion has served to educate.
Is Twilight also suffering as Spike is?
Yes, without a doubt.
Though we haven’t seen Twilight have a full-on panic attack since “Lesson Zero,” the thing about anxiety is that it can never really be “cured”. The thoughts and fears that manifest as anxiety can be countered, analyzed, and dismissed until they don’t produce the same physical symptoms, but they are still there. They will come back, and they will have to be dealt with again. Most importantly, there’s no telling that “Lesson Zero” will be Twilight’s last panic attack (or other physical manifestation of symptoms), either.
Twilight’s fears of disappointing Princess Celestia (along with the catastrophe she imagines as a result) may have been assuaged, but she still has anxiety, even if she can keep it in check. I think that she and Celestia had a deep conversation after “Lesson Zero” about why exactly she reacted the way she did to this imagined fear, what it meant, and how she could prevent it. I think that conversation is why we haven’t seen a similar panic attack since (yet).
Twilight being the intellectual, rational pony she is, is definitely well-equipped to handle those thoughts and keep them in check to the best of her ability. From her own experiences, she is able to help Spike with his anxiety as well, and be the best ally she can be (shy of a therapist) while he learns to cope.
Did Sombra’s door implant the anxieties in Spike or awaken doubts and fears that he already possessed?
Those doubts and fears were already there, buried beneath the surface. It was the trauma of seeing Twilight disown him that triggered both the nightmares as well as the acute manifestations of anxiety.
While some may interpret this as PTSD, I was more going for adjustment disorder—anxiety in response to a major life change, loss, or event (not necessarily traumatic, but it can be). In both PTSD and adjustment disorder, past stresses/traumas can be brought up and mixed with the triggering event, confounding the sources of distress. Spike’s doubts about himself and his actions, his relationship with Rarity, etc., and the nightmares after seeing the door were all sources of his anxiety, though only the latter triggered it directly.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for this interview and for inducting my story into the Royal Canterlot Library. I’m glad so many people enjoyed the story and were touched by it. I hope that Anxiety helped to show some of us who have heard the voice that we are not alone.
Though my time in the brony fandom has come to an end, I am grateful for this final honor, and thank you all once again for all you have given me. I wish you all the best!