a culture crisis

for the depraved

Tag: existentialism

On Anxiety, Coping Mechanisms, and Agency


(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,


For Not Nearly Enough People Have Heard This

This is the clip that I listen to most often, perhaps, of all the clips I have listened to (ever). I must account for a significant amount of those views. If you haven’t heard of him, Alan Watts is a philosopher well-known for introducing Eastern philosophy to Western culture.

RE: the above video

There was a time when I tried ever so actively to practice such “nothingness.” A nothingness that is “really like the nothingness of space which contains the whole universe.” I think it worked for a little while, and I was quite content. Happy, even. That is not to say that I am no longer content nor happy, but only that life got busy, and I forgot. I forgot these words and how much value they held for me. It took so long for me to understand “nothingness,” to know it in its positive capacity, but as it turns out, it seems that this is all I ever want for my mind these days (that is, when I have time to think about it).

In the end, I chose to post this today because not enough people have heard Alan Watts speak these words. Whether you agree, disagree, or otherwise remain neutral is not the point. These words are not a means to an end. Rather, they are an end in themselves. That is to say, the questions that arise from listening to Watts speak on “nothingness,” the thoughts produced by one’s engagement with these claims is that which ultimately matters. Whether this turns out to be a philosophy you ascribe to is really a matter of your own concern, but know that there is value in the mere development of your views, a value that, in fact, extends beyond even your own self, and I think that is a good thing.

Also, his voice is lovely and melodic, lulling even. Enjoy the clip if only for that, and for the perfect pairing of voice to audio. Near perfect acoustics.