Something I haven’t written about in detail in quite some time. I tend to avoid the subject because it’s by nature quite uncomfortable. Anxiety is something of a fashionable affliction lately, sort of like how everyone suddenly had OCD, depression, PTSD, and ADHD when medical science finally decided these disorders were worth acronym-ing and treating. Interestingly enough, psychiatrists are finding that each of these flow and intermingle with one another to various degrees. That one rarely has just anxiety or depression or OCD but rather, they’re a spectrum of descriptions for mental imbalances.
I was shocked to learn that anxiety sufferers have OCD characteristics but once it was pointed out how a key characteristic is a compulsive fixation on negative thoughts that are deemed true, bothersome, and unacceptable it made perfect sense to label that characteristic OCD.
So anxiety. What anxiety is is a very subjective experience but anxiety isn’t “oh, I have to give a talk later this afternoon, my anxiety is going to flair up, tee hee.” That’s just regular nervousness. Everyone gets that and I think many people don’t understand that there’s a qualitative difference to what diagnosable anxiety is.
Anxiety from the medical standpoint is a crushing sense of fear and despair from a source that, while you probably know is non-threatening or irrational to worry about, nevertheless has rooted itself in your biology so far that you feel like you’re going to die.
That is not hyperbole. Let me repeat myself: you feel like you’re going to die. Because that’s what’s happened: your body’s panic and emergency response system has engaged. As I started telling people when I finally started to open up about my social anxiety: “I feel like I’m standing in front of a lion and it’s about to charge.”
I know that rationally, there’s nothing to fear. That I don’t need their validation or approval and that I’m probably way cooler than them if they were making fun of me for being anxious. But because anxiety works on a biological level, your thinking mind has no say. The amygdala has been hijacked by repeated fearful experiences (or a single intense experience) and it has the power to push your prefrontal cortex, your rational brain, aside when it hits the fire alarm. That’s where PTSD ties into certain forms of anxiety; your body-mind have been conditioned (traumatized) into a constant state of hypervigilance and fight or flight lest you get triggered.
Now your fire alarm doesn’t just go off when there’s a fire. Or when there’s smoke. It goes off when you look at a picture of fire. Or there’s steam. Or someone’s smoking nearby. And so you start planning your life around avoiding campfires and smokers because your smoke alarm might go off. That’s anxiety tied into OCD with a touch of depression for when self-criticism and defeat become your constant companions.
So why am I writing all of this now? Because there’s light on the horizon now.
I’ve done a lot to understand and navigate anxiety. Initially, I started meditating because…Well, I don’t really know why. Meditation taught me a lot about my mind but I also know for certain that increasing my self-awareness is what opened the lid on my anxiety. It was always there, fueling my mincing, self-effacing “nice guy” mannerisms. But once I saw it the emotional aspect sprung forth like a snake-spring in a can and I had no one who understood anxiety well enough to guide me. The only meditation teachers I had around me had no experience with anxiety. So the only advice I had was “just be mindful,” which was garbage and made things worse.
So I’ve meditated, tried nootropics, dabbled with alcohol, strangely have managed to steer clear of hard drugs, though I’ve heard very good things about Ecstacy, Psyllocybin/LSD and anxiety and have been curious for awhile, yoga, tears, prayers, running away, and other stuff. But what finally feels like the catalyst for change is two – no, three – things.
First, vulnerability. I reached a point where I stopped caring enough about others’ judgments to finally feel and accept myself for who I was and put myself first. That was, IS HARD. So hard. Because I don’t like expressing my vulnerability. I don’t like being misunderstood or disliked and letting it be. I don’t like not knowing why I feel the way I feel. I don’t like texting my friend Emily asking her if she has a moment to listen because I’m about to cry over an irrational impulse. I hate it. I want to be strong. But vulnerability is strength. It’s having the courage to be a mess when you don’t want to be and the self-care to pick yourself up after. I like to imagine my anxiety as a child version sitting next to me, fearful, ignored and crying. Would you hit that kid or hug him or her, hold him close, and tell the world to fuck off for a moment while you tend to him?
The second is communication, as I’ve been doing with Kent. He says I’ve become far better at expressing what I’m experiencing, which means I’m becoming more familiar with my emotions and sensations. Having a skilled therapist has been essential.
And the third is a series of teachings wrapped up in a great book called “Don’t Panic.” It’s a brilliant book that’s really transformed how I approach my anxious thoughts and emotions. It breaks down the physiological and psychological origins of anxiety and gives a concrete method of dealing with it that sucks and promises no instant guarantees but absolutely changes how I go into and come out of anxiety-provoking situations. More on “Don’t Panic” later because it really does deserve its own post.
One thing that really appeals to me is doing a series of video blogs on anxiety. I think I have a lot of useful things to say on the subject that would be of help to lots of people. There’s quite a bit of content out there but I can’t help but wonder if my own personal angle would be worth listening to. Also it would get me creating content again as I’ve wanted to learn videography for some time now. Let me know what you think here on video blogs on anxiety.