a culture crisis

for the depraved

Tag: anxiety

On Anxiety, Coping Mechanisms, and Agency

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(source: http://www.pilotfire.com)

It is, at the moment, 12:01 am. I have been getting through a panic attack for approximately an hour and a half. Needless to say, at least for anyone who has ever had to endure such a thing, that the experience was rather terrible. This onset was especially distressing, though, because it seemed to have originated in the “nothing and nowhere,” to borrow from Heidegger. One moment, I was staring at my bowl of lentils (I made lentils for dinner) and then my heart was suddenly racing, for no apparent reason. I’ve had attacks before, but I don’t remember them being quite this bad. I began to shiver and so I moved onto my couch in the living room, laid on my side, and curled up in a ball. I was mildly convulsing and I began to cry, very fearful tears. I’m not sure what made them fearful, but I just knew that they were. If I’m venturing, I think I was scared about my anxiety (fear in the face of anxiety, or anxious in the face of anxiety, I can’t tell yet, will have to think about this later), about its sudden onset and my inability to tie it to something concrete.

This has been a problem for me lately. In my previous encounters with anxiety, they were very targeted. I used to deal with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Purely Obsessional OCD, and certain targeted phobias (mainly needles and stings). I’ve gone through bouts of existential angst before. It wasn’t pleasant but it had never been this bad before. And the thing is, I don’t even know that this was necessarily existential. I wasn’t anxious in the face of my own life, my own singularity, my own finitude. None of that. It was just this moment where I transitioned from a state of near-perfect calm (or unawareness, perhaps), immersed in my episode of Friends, to a state of severe and alarmingly quick heart palpitations. And lots of confusion. I didn’t know what to do. I tried deep, calming breaths to control my heart rate. I tried detoxifying yogic breathing techniques. My body wasn’t receptive to these strategies, though. So I didn’t know what to do for a while. It was the strangest thing, but I suddenly craved physical contact, physical shelter. I just wanted to be hugged, held tightly, perhaps. I’m sure there is some reason for that, one that makes perfect sense. But because I don’t know what that reason is, it just felt strange. Really strange, actually, and I can’t quite get over why that is. In any case, I called my sister and we spoke for about an hour and a half (which is why I began writing at 12:01 am).

But I wish I could put into words the way in which the internal tremors became me; I was anxiety itself, and we were indistinguishable. My body had difficulty taking in air, my heartbeat maintained its frighteningly rapid pace, and my mind… well, my mind was blank. I don’t know of a better way to describe it. It’s not that I couldn’t think anything; I knew that I was anxious, I knew that I was confused, I was talking to my sister and maintained something of a conversation. It’s just that when I thought about the anxiety itself, about what had triggered its onset, about my very encounter with it, I kept drawing a blank. Not a wall that I couldn’t get over, not a door I couldn’t get through – there was no secret something towards which I was anxious but simply couldn’t figure out. My mind was blank, my anxiety was blank, I was blank. My sister kept asking me questions and I kept answering “I don’t know,” because I didn’t… there was nothing to know in the first instance. Which is, perhaps, why this experience was so terrifying, why it lasted so long.

In the end, I allowed this anxiety to run its course. I chose to acknowledge the radical discomfort it aroused in me and accept that I would feel this way until the moment passed. This was my strategy for dealing with my various forms of OCD and phobias. This particular encounter was troubling, though, because I couldn’t even think of a coping mechanism to have to struggle against relying on. When I was dealing with OCD, I struggled against checking and willed myself to allow the anxiety to remain and run its course. But with this particular encounter, I had no choice but was forced to remain anxious. I could not actively choose to remain anxious over relying on some coping mechanism. It felt as though this anxiety was imposed upon me (as most anxieties are) but the difference was that I had no say in the matter.

I recognize the extent to which this is a perverse and problematic feeling. I am basically saying that I didn’t even have the choice to worsen the problem by relying on a coping mechanism. But that isn’t what’s troubling me. The fact is that I was stripped of agency in the matter, and that distresses me to no end. Precisely because this anxiety took the form of blankness, I wasn’t afforded an opportunity to struggle over the decision to allow my anxiety to run its course in the first instance.

I will have to think more about this. In any case, it’s past my bed time. Thank you for reading. If you’ve had such experiences, please share.

All best,

J.

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On Being Busy, and the Maintenance of Sanity

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(source: For a Little Mystery)

I have been thinking lately that busy days do not merely constitute the continual performance of some action or other with little to no physical rest in between. Of course we are busy on days where we get up quite early in the morning, prepare something or other for dinner prior to heading out the door for work, and then, while at work, exhausting ourselves physically and mentally. And then of course, we leave work to pick up the kids (I have no children, but parents do this, don’t they?) and drive them to soccer practice – or something like that – and then when that’s over, we head home to finish whatever it was we prepped for dinner that morning. And then, since many of us bring work home, we do that for some time, and, well, you know the rest of the story. Voila, the busy day, par excellence.

But is it? This example of busyness must sound exceptionally familiar, resembling each of our lives in some form or other, relatable in some capacity. People know this type of “busy.” And it is certainly a type of busy. But lately, I have been thinking about different orders of busyness, different kinds, different levels…

I suppose, then, my point is that “busy” is not necessarily, nor exclusively, a physical state. Perhaps this is self-evident, but lately I have learned never to assume the self-evidence of even the most simple of claims.

(I teach a literature course to science students, and while I thoroughly respect the sciences and the value of such knowledge, other kinds of knowledge, knowledge that I understand as sheer common sense, is taken as the most revolutionary and radical kind of thinking… It’s a little sad actually. This is, of course, not the case with all science students. Don’t worry, I’m not homogenizing you all. But at least in the demographic consisting of the students in my class, very few of them understood concepts such as ideology and gender, nor issues like colonialism or even contemporary American politics. Writing and critical thought proved to be an “unfair” expectation of them, as one student shared with me, and that is just sad. A few of them threw around sexist remarks without even knowing they were sexist. “Obviously only women wear makeup, and if you wear makeup you’re either a woman or want to be one.” Well, no. “Obviously only females who can be compared to men are those that can be viewed as equals and in the same category.” Not sure exactly what that means, but once again, no. One student didn’t even know the word “patriarchy.” All to say, critical thought is required in all disciplines and I have learned not to assume that everything is self-evident. In fact, I had to break down, piece by piece, to one student the reasons why one’s enjoyment of makeup does not categorically mean that this person wants to be a woman. That, my friends, was a frustrating day. In any case, I digress…)

I am currently in the middle of my essay-writing period, and despite the fact that I have an incredible amount of work to do (I can’t even over exaggerate how much work I have) I have been ignoring it. I am currently ignoring it in order to write this entry (thank you blog for helping me procrastinate!). In fact, I’ve been filling my days with watching endless hours of Mad Men, and apparently I can’t tire of Don Draper’s attitude nor of Sally’s exceptional charm.

Seriously, look how cute they are:

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(source)

But in any case… I have been doing nothing for about 6 or 7 days now, performing no action other than eating and Netflixing (and showering too, I’m not that quite that lazy), and yet, I feel as though I am busy. Very, very busy.

There is this constant worry to get things done, and to be fair, perhaps I am busy insofar as I have very much to do and the workload is only getting heavier the more that I delay, but that isn’t really my point. It is not so much that I am busy, but rather that I feel busy, as though I were doing something, many things actually, but really I’m merely planted in front of my computer.

Lately, I have been experiencing a kind of worry – a constant worry, actually – and I think that this feeling, this generalized anxiety, perhaps, is that busyness. My mind is always working, whether I am physically performing actions or not. It is on overdrive, overworking itself, refusing to rest, running on and on with a will of its own, irrespective on how much I want to simply relax. It strikes me, then, that I continue to delay, to relax by way of doing nothing (you know, just Mad Men-ing), in order to alleviate that sense of busyness, and I don’t think that I realized that until just now. Literally, just prior to typing it out…

But I don’t know that it’s gone anywhere. Nor do I know if it’s gotten worse. I can’t quite tell right now. But I think that writing this out has been helpful, if for nothing other than allowing me a space in which to sort out what it is that I’m thinking about. But now the trick is getting work done… I think I’m just going to have to force myself to get down to it (though I’ve tried that, but this is where I’ve ended up). Though, it is not the end that matters, but rather the process that led up to that end.

This past year, I’ve been working towards achieving a certain state of mindfulness and mental awareness, and I think I’ve done well in that respect. I keep reminding myself that it is crucially important to actively maintain my health. That is to say that if I am to be healthy, I must be the one to ensure that I am so. That’s not to say that this is something I must do alone. That’s rather silly, actually, and not always possibe. Nor is it the case that, if I happen to have difficulty with it, it necessarily means that I have failed. No. But it is something that I need to take part in, or else it cannot be achieved. I have to help myself be healthy. I’ve done this before, but then again, I’ve never felt this generalized sense of anxiety before, so I am not quite sure how I am going to approach this. But the important thing is that I will approach it.

Thanks for listening.

J.