Today I was walking my dogs through my beautiful neighborhood. The sun was shining, birds were chirping. Deer were rustling and I could see their white tails prancing as they leapt away. The winter temperature was a perfect 50 degrees. And yet as I stopped to gaze and smell and take in all that was good around me, I felt a rumbling in the pit of my stomach. A very familiar rumbling followed by a sinking sensation. It is the eschewing in of the invisible, chain rattling angry ghost of my own invention, Anxiety.
I was recently reading the book, “Dispelling Wetiko,” written by Paul Levy, and in it he explains that in order to conquer an enemy (in the case of Wetiko, being the name given by native Americans to a viral-like infection of the soul, otherwise known as narcissism), even one such as anxiety, must be drug out into the light and identified, named. It cannot be allowed to hide and grow in the shadows, unimpeded. When ignored, it goes unchallenged.
Anxiety is one of those invisible ailments, much like narcissism, that can be hidden, not just from outsiders but also from the sufferer. Those of us who have had anxious attachments since childhood, for instance, go through our lives in varying degrees of fight-or-flight mode, perpetually eluded from peace. Anxiety feels normal.
While my intellect attempts to rationalize with my emotions, I feel this is a battle I might never win. I have a hard time being happy. And this is not to say I am the opposite of happy – depressed. Depression has never really been something I have struggled with. But anxiety is something else. Anxiety is fear based, but depression goes a little deeper and seems more based on self-loathing. I do not loathe myself but I do go through life in a constant state of expecting bad things to happen and worrying that I might not have the resources to handle it.
As my intellect is constantly pointing out to me, I have handled quite a bit of crisis and chaos in my lifetime, and managed to overcome and survive it all without developing disordered coping skills that harm others. In fact, I am blessed (and cursed) with an abundance of empathy. I feel deeply shamed if my actions harm others. I’m grateful that, despite being surrounded by mean and selfish people, I didn’t become one of “them”.
Having self-identified with anxiety, named it and claimed it, how does a person divorce from it? How does someone who has grown comfortable with chaos, learn to feel comfortable with peace? Perhaps instead of defeating anxiety, I can come to a stalemate.
Perhaps there is a balance between anxiety and peace that can be obtained – a solution that wouldn’t require me to give up my well-girded fight-flight defense mechanisms, but one that would allow me to accept peace without restraints.
One of my favorite philosophers, Lao Tzu, has this to say on the topic:
“If you are depressed, you are living in the Past.
If you are anxious, you are living in the Future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the Present.”
Maybe the Present isn’t such a bad place after all.