How Story Saves Us from Our Anxiety

Cherie Dimaline made several appearances at Calgary’s ever-brilliant WordFest this year, including one titled Group Therapy, starring Alexandra Auder, Cherie Dimaline, Susin Nielsen, and Mary L. Trump.

So, we thought it appropriate to excerpt a short passage from the beginning of her 2023 book, An Anthology of Monsters: How Story Saves Us from Our Anxiety, where she describes her “lifelong dance with anxiety and how story can help reshape the ways in which we think, the ways we cope, and the very choreography of that dance.”

Book cover for An Anthology of Monsters next to Cherie Dimaline's author photo, which shows a dark-haired woman sitting in front of a bookcase.


“The gift the Kreisel Lecture gives us is the opportunity to come not only as artists, thinkers, and writers, but to come as ourselves. To revel in, as my friend Dr. Florence Glanfield says, “ideas and possibilities.” And so, I decided—because of the timeline we are in and because I wanted to come wholly as myself—to talk about the modern monsters that haunt me: anxiety, panic, and all their asshole acquaintances.

I am not a therapist. In fact, I am not trained in any way to treat or even properly handle anxiety and mental wellness. All I have is a lifetime of experience with my own anxiety. All I have to offer are relationships, with myself and my community, with hope and my anxiety, and each one of them I freely hold out. My own personal anxiety has been the mean, twisted, maniacal life partner I drag from apartment to house, and over the midnight mark into every new year, despite promises to finally kick it to the curb. It sticks and it sings and, more than anything, it tells stories. So, if there is something here you can take, then you are welcome to it.

The good news, in spite of the lack of professional understanding or the ability to give you easy self-help guidance, is that I have been taught to tell my own stories. And so, anxiety and I, with our storytelling genes, we exist in a kind of friendly/ dysfunctional competition that’s been set up between us—who can tell the most powerful stories and which one will determine how I feel that day. The scoreboard changes all the time and I am not always winning, but I am, at least, in the running.

Basically, this is the story of a lifelong dance with anxiety and how story can help reshape the ways in which we think, the ways we cope, and the very choreography of that dance. What I want to talk about is how our anxiety uses stories against us, how we can create stories to fight back, and how life is basically an anthology of both. And, most importantly, that it is normal and okay for both to exist at the same time.”