With the prevalence of depression and anxiety, or at least the words if not the diseases, it’s hard to talk about what it feels like to have anxiety. Without fail the first question I get when I say I have/had anxiety is, “why?” Fairly straightforward, if vague, question that reveals a complete lack of understanding. Nothing causes my anxiety. It just is. Like Rilo Kiley.

But that goes into what it feels like to have anxiety, not what it feels like to be anxious. We’re all often anxious or stressed. Life is like that. It consistently throws issues in your face. You either deal with them or let them fester and deal with something a lot worse in a few years. However, most of those stressors aren’t “will I wake up tomorrow?” That’s a question I ask myself more often than I’d like to admit. (I don’t want to admit it because it’s a bummer and embarrassing not to be able to control your thoughts.) And, unfortunately for all those fans of the live every day like it’s your last platitude, believing this day might be your last constricts you to accomplish less than you’d like. As Adam Smith so smartly wrote a billion years ago, knowing of a personal tragedy that will happen tomorrow will result in a sleepless night. (He used the thought to discuss something completely different, and, arguably, more insightful and useful.) Worrying about continuing to live (not by any action or inaction, simply nature) is overwhelming. And though I tend to agree with Nietzsche when he said “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” everything becomes muddled when life and death come into play. A will to live does not prevent a heart attack, unless you plan to argue that everyone who has had one had no will to live. A cruel suggestion.

Anyway, I thought I’d talk a minute about my anxiety. I had no goals or point to make. Sorry if that’s disappointing. Sometimes I get down when I hear other people use words. I feel similarly about the use of Asperger’s. In my world, at least, the use has died down over the last couple years, but for a while, a lot of awkward people, typically comedians, would suggest they had Asperger’s. I understood the point, “I’m awkward in social situations, ahhhh.” but it’s a real thing that is being diluted by the repeated use in probably unwarranted situations. I also see a nice thing about hearing words a lot, it takes the sting away from them. The words become a little less taboo even if understanding isn’t necessarily increasing. I kind of appreciate not feeling insane when I say I’m depressed, even if people usually just assume I’m stressed out. My only issue is when it bleeds into the actual study/discussions of these disease/mental health issues. When psychology is overrun by random celebrities or internet celebrities with opinions. Then it becomes dangerous.

I suppose my feelings are complicated. Typical me.


Social Obligations

I’m writing a best man speech in between fits of depression. It’s an interesting process. If I weren’t the one going through it, I’d be fascinated by the alternating moments of sincere sentimentality and distance. Then I wonder if I’m faking the entire thing. Maybe I’ve read too much descriptive philosophy and I’ve become the impartial observer. It’s so strange being aware of things. When you start consciously thinking, “this is where I should feel loved.” Isn’t that supposed to just be felt?

I don’t have much of a choice. I have to write this speech and I mean everything I’m saying. I’m hoping to hold on to that integrity at least. It does feel a bit like putting on a fake smile, though. I know I’m happy for my friend, but I don’t feel all that happy.

I feel okay. I keep imagining a break from everything would fix this but I know it’s not true. It’s just something I tell myself to feel worse apparently.

I look forward to seeing my friends this weekend. The anxiety is rough but it’s normal and manageable. I’ll see how it feels right before the speech though. I’ve always been horrible at them. Last presentation I gave in paleobiology I was slightly shaking the entire time. I made it through alive though so I must keep that in mind. I won’t explode. Repeat until it sinks in.

Social Obligations

Update on a Life

I haven’t been online much lately. I can’t fully explain what’s been going on with me and in my head, I’m not a good enough writer to capture it with words. But there is a malaise washing over me. I’m being covered with something disgusting. I can feel it working its way through me and I’m terrified of it. The process of watching yourself change is strange, especially when you feel you lack control. I would liken it to riding a bike down a hill without brakes. You can see where you’re going and try to steer, but once you get going too fast, steering will┬ájust result in a crash, and the best you can do is hold on and hope the ground levels out eventually. I’ve noticed the ability to initiate seeping out of me. When you relate this feeling to others it just sounds lazy.
Of course you don’t want to wash dishes.
Of course you don’t want to work your meaningless job.
Of course you don’t want to take out the trash.
Of course you don’t want to clean the litter box.
And, sure, sometimes getting out of bed is annoying, it’s so comfy in there.
But it keeps going into the stuff that you love. I no longer have the ability to write. Reading is back to being as fun as it was in 7th grade English classes. Food holds no appeal, even the delicious stuff. I don’t want to see my friends or family. But “want” isn’t right. I do want to do those things. I want to want to do them, at least. (Meta-desire?) I know the pleasure I get from listening to music, but my stereo remains off. I know I feel fulfilled after drumming. I know I love spending time with my friends and niece. It gets to the point where you’re favorite band could be doing a live performance in your living room for free, and you wouldn’t bother showing up.
For a long time, I’ve been able to force myself to complete the things that used to be fun, but now feel like tasks. In the moment, they are still fulfilling on some level. Maybe it’s a purely intellectual understanding that what I’m doing is something I, at one time, considered fun or purposeful. But I sit with my niece and read a story while she tries to put me in a headlock or sings and does somersaults, and I feel okay, or at least distracted enough not to notice how not okay I feel. It’s observing someone else living. Understanding that he or she would be feeling joy or love and noting it in my field journal. It’s like a weak form of the Cotard and Capgras delusions. There’s some emotional connection to life that’s missing. I’ve gone through things similar to this before, but I don’t normally see what’s happening until I come out of the darkness. (Then it gets really bad because I have the energy I didn’t have in the depression to act.)

I’m in the middle of this right now and it’s a horrible thing to realize. It’s the come down from heroin when the addict can see the bad in what they’ve done but are unable to stop the draw to use again. But it’s a brief clarity. Covered quickly by the helplessness. Or more than likely ignored due to the helplessness. When you can’t steer and you can’t stop, there’s not much to do but put your head down and hope you survive.

I don’t really want to post this. But I’m trying to be honest and somehow admitting it to anyone makes it real.

Update on a Life

The Anxious Mind in Love

When I get uncomfortable I need to ask why it feels that way. Is there something truly wrong, or am I not prepared?

I’ve been trying to be better. When I see the road, I want to hide. Last week I tried to stay put and needed to force myself to move. I was sick, worried I had a heart attack, worried about death, and the social world. It was too much but I want to make you happy. When I see you try, I realize how much I can’t do. The most carefree moments cause me so much pain. Hours scare the shit out of me.

Everything I do has meaning. I bury it everywhere because I’m scared of it. It’s all my attempt to be honest and open with you. I don’t want to hide, associate my mind with shame, and live in my own world. I want to explore with you. I’d rather fail with you than live with my thoughts on my own. I’m trying. I’m constantly fighting with myself to override the discomfort of everything. I need to do better.

In a million ways, I’m terrified of withdrawing into myself completely. I have tendencies to keep to myself at every moment that make me always feel like I should be worried I’ll go too far and not be able to return. When I perceive or invent a reason to withdraw, I take it. It requires my mind work to stop searching. Normally a touch of resistance is enough to turn me into a recluse. I’m trying to let you know how flawed I am. I’m trying to understand myself and be patient with every aspect relating to who I am, including your reactions. I need to understand more. I want experiences because of you.

The Anxious Mind in Love

Love and Anxiety

There’s a well known experiment that goes something like this:

Individually, men are asked to walk from one building to another. Some men are made to walk a path that crosses a high, precarious bridge that most people agree is at least a little nerve-racking. After crossing the bridge the men are surveyed by an attractive woman who ends the interview by giving the man her number and asking them to call if they have any questions about the survey. Other men also cross this bridge and are met by an attractive man who does the same thing as the woman. Other men take a path that doesn’t cross the bridge, is safe and secure, and are stopped by an attractive female, you know the story by now. The results are always the same. The men who crossed the scary bridge call the woman way more often.

The explanation behind this observation is that the men confuse their emotions. They are on edge, scared, etc. from crossing the bridge, but they mistake that nervous feeling for attraction to the female interviewer. They say the body has physiological change when crossing the bridge, the brain notices these changes and unconsciously attempts to determine the cause. When there’s an attractive female standing right in front of the man, it’s reasonable to conclude the feeling is being aroused by this woman. Attraction. Connection? Butterflies? LOVE? When a man is waiting on the other side of the bridge with a survey, the brain doesn’t mistake the nervousness from the bridge with the man*. The study itself is interesting and tells us a lot about how aware we are of our emotions, how the brain processes information and how it can be wrong. But the idea that struck me when reading the study was that what if a person is nervous all the time? What happens when someone with anxiety – racing thoughts, vague feelings of impending doom – interacts with a potential partner (meaning anyone the person might be attracted to)?

It would follow from the conclusions above (though that doesn’t make it true) that people with anxiety may be continually framing interactions incorrectly. One of the key features of the study above is that the people didn’t have something concrete to attach their feelings to, so the brain picked up a potential cause and since it fit the data well enough, decided the cause was located.

Imagine having anxiety. You have a disproportional amount of stress about the coming day. The paper you have due is crippling you. Your exams are adding even more weight to your shoulders. Meeting people in those circumstances is bad enough. The worry about being liked and everything else is already there, and on top of that, your brain is misreading situations that make interactions even more confusing.

Then let’s say you find love. You’re in a great relationship and then your anxiety ramps up. Maybe for no reason or maybe you have a lot going on. If people with anxiety have trouble parsing worry and attraction the same way the men crossing the bridge did, then there’s another layer of difficulty on your relationship. The people crossing the high bridge were momentarily put in an aroused physiological state, but if that state is more or less continuous, would the affect be the same? Would the experience the men on the bridge had, feeling an attraction for the woman interviewing them, be similarly experienced by people with anxiety every time they interact with a potential partner?





*I believe the study was with straight men, but I can’t recall reading that detail. The setup sort of requires it to be able to analyze the data in a meaningful way.

Love and Anxiety

I wrote a poem about someone I never knew

You read, I know.
I can tell by how you speak,
When you speak to who you speak to,
Not me,
But near me,
I watch while I busy myself,
A cup of coffee,
Or try to write,
Try to appear busy,
Though preoccupied by a show,
Life as entertainment,
Every word is a show,
Every movement,
You’re smarter than you let on,
Another show,
There’s a fear in your voice,
I recognize it,
It’s my voice,
My fears,
Of inadequacy of yourself,
With a mind can’t live up to your mind,
But you move,
Always forward,
Always moving toward a constantly moving goal,
Chasing the sun around the world,
Your eyes show wear,
But pride in how they look,
What they mean,
Who they tell the world you are,
Who has lived nightmares,
Continued to be,
Now with a story to tell,
Though you don’t allow yourself to tell it,
It’s a simple story,
Accept definitions,
But not simplicity,

You move with hesitation,
Movements revealing little,
Finally reaching with deliberation,
Satisfied with your decision,
Never light,
A battle running,
Conflict in the background,
As if there are two of you,
And you’re unsure who should win,
A battle,
You fight,
You can’t win,
But you never lose,
The coffee tastes bitter,
It doesn’t show,
You make sure,
You feel eyes,
For a show,
For you to show,
A weakness to exploit,
Can it be just me again,
Talking to myself,
Making you into something recognizable,
Everyone becomes the same.

I wrote a poem about someone I never knew

Something Resembling Depression

When my heart beats,
My chest echoes.
My breathing sounds far away.
I can look down on who I am,
But I don’t know how to separate us.

It’s superficial,
But worse in ways,
The numb is gone.
There’s a dangerous activity,
First in fingers, then the toes,
Then my mind.
Emotions flood the synapses,
A terrifying reminder of what’s possible,
When you wake up in the morning.
I’ve lived inside a dreamworld for so long,
I’m not sure I can function without the mirrors,
Reflecting reality around curves,
Distorting the truth in my mind.

I’ve made plans for the first time in weeks.
Now it’s up to me to move the blankets from off my head.
To lift myself up,
And find out if my legs have remembered how to walk.

Something Resembling Depression