Categories
Thoughts

Anxiety and Existential Fear

At various times in my life I’ve felt a lot of anxiety. It has shown up at different times, in different places, and in different contexts. Some of it has felt overwhelming as I was experiencing it. Some was the result of me not taking my health seriously enough, and not doing what was necessary to manage my mental illness, while on other occasions it was largely the result of circumstance. I would say that most of my anxiety, at its core, stems from a deep, existential fear. In the process of trying to know myself, to understand my subconscious motivations and in general my emotions and their source, I have given a lot of thought as to where this fear comes from. What is this fear, and how does it inform all of my actions?

I guess it perhaps stems originally from early childhood, and it developed for reasons I can’t fully explain. I grew up in a very stable and loving household. Unfortunately, I was raised in a very devout Christian household, and I was taught from a young age that man is by nature sinful and evil, and therefore I was sinful, and evil, and in need of salvation through Jesus. Perhaps as a result of this, and other factors, I never felt good enough, I always felt defective. I worried that I was doomed to hell, and I prayed desperately for a way out. When I would engage in behaviors that my parents, pastors and peers called sinful, I would feel immense guilt afterwards, terribly confused about why my behavior was not in line with what I was taught I should be doing. A sort of existential confusion ruled my childhood. Because I was told that what I wanted was inherently sinful and basically wrong, I resisted wanting anything, I attempted to drown out my desires with distraction, because my desires were at root evil. I simply viewed myself as worthless, not worthy of love, not deserving of anything.

As I grew older, I thought, at the age of 22, that since my actions (not going to Church, reading the Bible, or praying) didn’t line up with the faith I purported to believe, I realized that my only logical option was to abandon my faith and declare that God was dead. I was miserable emotionally, and the struggle I had with my newly discovered mental illness made me consider that maybe religion had it wrong. This was a big event in my family, and when I revealed to my parents that I didn’t believe in God, they were terribly concerned and viewed that information as some kind of emergency. The real emergency was that I seriously needed effective mental healthcare, which I did not receive.

I did not recognize my anxiety for what it was as a child and a teen, because I wasn’t always very consciously aware of it.  Looking back, I can see how it informed nearly all of my actions. Getting bullied at times, lashing out violently at students who mistreated me, generally experiencing unnamed fears over various situations and interactions, not doing things to help myself, procrastinating endlessly, I can now say all stemmed from my anxiety and fear. In my 20’s, as my illness progressed and worsened, these feelings at times became overwhelming. The fear manifested itself in many different ways. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection. Fear of making decisions or taking on challenges. Fear of school. Fear of work. Fear of losing all my friends, being destitute, being homeless.  Again, at its core, much of this fear came from the early, very early notion that I was essentially bad, not worthy of love, and flawed. I was destined for hell, so clearly I didn’t deserve love. I failed miserably at loving others in my 20’s because I had never learned to love myself. I didn’t know how to express outwardly something I had never done inwardly.

Concepts like happiness, contentment, and inner peace were completely foreign to me. Not long after I had entered college, I turned to substances to replace my feelings, to numb out, to escape myself.

I remember vividly the first two times I was intoxicated. The first time, on a family trip with some cousins, I got fairly buzzed, but not fully drunk. The second time, in college, I drank heavily, and got very drunk. Both times, the feeling I got from alcohol was incredible to me. I had never felt this good before, that I could ever remember. I thought to myself, perhaps subconsciously, that I was finally alright, that this was the best feeling I had ever experienced. The beauty of it was that I could drink whenever I wanted. Instead of choosing awareness, and difficulty, and perhaps some form of emotional progress, I took the easy way out: I chose the bottle. A few years later, as I was a junior in college, I tried marijuana for the first time. The feeling I got from my first hit was wondrous, to me it felt just as good, if not better than the alcohol. I had a new favorite substance. I was finally home. The moments when I was high, I felt ok with myself.

My substance abuse helped me to fail out of college. I had, by my senior year, entered into a deep depression medicated by alcohol. After dropping out, I returned home and took solace in more booze, and this time much more marijuana. I eventually got around to trying pills as well, but usually infrequently and when it was randomly available. The next 11 years of my life were marked by moments of insanity, hospitalization, arrest, misery, and depression. My drug abused threatened any type of stability I had in my life. My only friends were generally people I got high or drunk with. I did this to escape my anxiety and fear, to treat my depression or my mania. To distract myself. Anything to avoid my feelings. The perpetual knot in my stomach signified an area of my brain and body that I refused to go to, that I refused to acknowledge or deal with or attempt to resolve. Functional relationships were extremely difficult, if not at times completely impossible. I did my best to muddle through, but it seemed like every time I tried to go to school, to get a new job, to do anything for myself, I always failed.

The hallmark of these times were usually short periods of attempted sobriety followed by even worse alcohol and drug abuse.

Finally, I reached a point in the last year where my situation became desperate. I had finally run out of answers and excuses. The way I was living wasn’t working. My mental life was a mess, and dominated by thoughts of suicide. After multiple months of this, looking for a way out, looking for answers, I finally realized that I needed to stop abusing substances. I had tried living clean before but it had never worked for me. This time I fully committed myself to the process and attempted to change everything about my life that was in my power. I wrote out how I felt, and I focused on what I didn’t want, and how my feelings were. This was the turning point for me. Sharing this with others, and then going back over it myself helped me to achieve some clarity. I’ve always been pretty bad at figuring out what I truly wanted and acting on it, so instead I focused on what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to kill myself, ultimately, and I didn’t want to keep feeling the way I felt. The drugs no longer numbed me out, no matter how much I used. The escape mechanism stopped working. I was forced to come to some realizations about myself and my situation.

With a lot of help from others that I reached out to, I started over again. I’ve been clean nearly 4 months now. I got a job, I changed my living situation, and started making friends with people who were also clean and making good choices. I’ve never felt more certain about what I need to do, and I’ve never felt better about myself. Still, the self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-pity that were my mode for so very long are still there, but less so. When I feel those things today I respond with action, with positive movement in a good direction. I realized that if I’m not moving forward with my life, if I’m not growing, I’m dying.

The anxiety and fear are still there, but I have to aggressively attack these feelings by continuing to walk through it. My confidence is growing, little by little, after having been crushed for so long by many personal failures and disasters.

I read something yesterday, spoken by Winston Churchill, many years ago that really got to me when I saw it. That’s how I’ll close this writing. He said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I could not agree more.

Categories
Adventures

Poetry

In between two of my trips to the mental ward in March of 2010, I was driving around town on St. Patrick’s Day. I was driving around randomly while manic, late at night. I actually had no idea then, or now, what time it was or what day it was, I just knew it was dark. I realized it was St. Patrick’s Day because I had gone into a gas station near the university and seen tons of college kids dressed in green buying beer.  As I was driving away from the gas station, I saw a rather rotund man yelling at a cop. He was holding a sign, and seated on a milk crate. The cop was still in his cruiser, with the window rolled down. He was having some sort of exchange with the man, but after a few minutes, the officer gave up and drove off.  I was driving in the opposite direction, and after the police drove away, I turned around and pulled up to the gentleman on the milk crate.  He was sitting there on the crate: holding a sign, as you do when you’re homeless and begging for change. He appeared to be in his late 60s, wearing a green jacket, a hat, and sporting a gray beard. I rolled my window down and offered, “Hey, you need a ride?” He replied in the affirmative; after all it was fairly cold. I asked him if he wanted a beer, so I stopped at the gas station again and grabbed him a tall can of something like Fosters.  I got a few for myself as well.

I introduced myself, and asked his name. He told me it was Harry. “Where do you want to go,” I asked. He replied that it didn’t matter, so I wandered around for a while on the darkened streets of my city, mostly empty because it was late at night, I suppose. Eventually we made our way back to the apartment building where I recently had lived. My room had since been emptied and locked, and I had been dispossessed of my key. We spent a few minutes trying to see if there was any way to cheat the lock and get inside, as it was fairly cold, but alas, we could not. We kind of just hung out there, outside the place, drinking beer and carrying on late into the night, waking up half the apartment building. As I found out later, tenants claimed a big party involving many people was going on outside, late into the night.  Eventually, after all the beer was finished, we retired back to my little Saturn, and I turned the heat on.  At this point, Harry mentioned that he wrote poetry, and had been a Vietnam veteran. He asked me if I would like to hear one of his poems. I replied that I would.

Harry produced a worn out sheaf of yellow, dog-eared notebook papers and began to read. I listened with rapt attention. I don’t remember clearly what he said now, as I was in the middle of going rather insane, but I seem to recall one line clearly: “I cried so many tears.” His poem was about his life, what he had seen, and he shared with me his wisdom. I regret that I never got a copy of it, but again, insanity. It was warm in the car, and after we shared this poem I told him I was going to sleep, and that he was welcome to sleep next to me in the passenger seat. He took me up on my offer and we both dozed off.

Maybe three hours later we both woke up, restless, the car still running and pouring out heat. I asked him if he wanted to make a campfire, and he said sure, so I started driving. I took him a ways to my parents’ house (where I wasn’t really welcome), and we walked back to the yard, and sat around the fire pit behind the shed.  I produced my Swiss Army knife and started shaving wood. I don’t remember what we used to start it, but there was plenty of wood, and it didn’t take too long to get a nice big fire going. We relaxed a bit, and he rolled up a pant leg and showed me a big sore from an injury he had got a while back. We sat around the fire and talked some more and he read me another poem. I asked him to read me the first poem he had read to me again. He did, and I listened again, hearing the emotion in his voice. I was overcome by the heartfelt nature of this art he had created. We sat around the fire for a while longer, and then eventually it was time to go. I think he knew better than me that he did not belong there, in the suburban world of the housed, where people get things like health insurance and a paycheck. At some point in the night of our adventure, he had lost his panhandling sign, and he asked if I could get him some cardboard and a marker. I dashed back to the house and returned after a brief search. He made himself a new sign and we departed again.

I asked him where he wanted to be let off as we were nearing a highway off-ramp, and he insisted that right where we were, at the exit, was fine. I questioned him, asked him if I could buy him some food, but he declined. So I left him there, alone, with his sign, on the off-ramp. I drove away, with tears in my eyes. I never saw Harry again, but I’ll never forget him.

Categories
Thoughts

reasons

I guess I started this blog because I need to write. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. I’ve been writing in one form or another for a few decades now, and I rely on it as an intellectual and emotional outlet. What that implies about my life may be interesting, but mostly only to me.

I’ve been blogging since way before it was cool, on Geocities and Tripod in the late 90s, and then on my own domain, with blogger, and then later WordPress and a few different social community forum things.  I can’t remember all the different sites and publishing methods I’ve used.

I’ve been using the internet in one form or another since probably 91/92 or so, as a young child. I’ve grown up with the internet as the technology itself has matured. For that reason it is where  I feel most comfortable in different phases of my life. I crave all the forms of communication the internet makes possible, with the exception of video, which I feel is somehow restrictive.

Many, if not most of the platforms and technology I’ve used are long since defunct.  This has made me somewhat jaded, and especially purchase phobic when it comes to choosing technology platforms on which to rely for a long period of time.  It has also however made me very optimistic, as I have been able to witness first hand the rapid ascent of the computer age over the last 25 years. It has really been a glorious thing to behold.  The internet has opened new avenues of communication to people all over the world, for the first time in history people across the world can cheaply and easily communicate with each other. The impact of this revolution is still yet to be fully felt, even as it continues to transform the way the world works. So there is hope as technology continues its now seemingly inexorable advance.

In a way all of the topics of this blog will be somehow related to that, as this revolution has informed my life and the way I think about the world.

It’s been too long since I’ve last blogged on a regular basis, hence the name of this here site.  The idea is to write once a day, at least. Let’s see how we do.