Thursday, August 15, 2013

It Gets Worse, It Gets Better

Is it going to get worse as it gets better?


That's a pretty abstract statement, what does it mean?

The path out of depression and isolation is necessarily routed through landscapes of anxiety that run as hot or hotter than anything in your long anxious history.  There's just no way around it.  You are more active and asking more from yourself and from the universe than you have felt safe doing for years.  Soon more and more people will join in this cultural economy of raised expectations and personal attachments.  They will telephone you because they want things for you and from you. 

You should expect that it is going to feel a bit like falling down an elevator shaft a lot of the time, but take heart: your very specific form of bad feeling is objective proof that you're lot in life is improving. 

Certainly you can understand how counter-intuitive this seems, sounds and feels.

Certainly I can, but I thought you fancied yourself at home with (negative) dialectics?

Shucks! I should have seen that coming.  That's just another example of how my ramped up anxiety around communication and connectivity clouds my experience of what you call forward progress. 

Perhaps.  You are swimming against the current of decades-old constellations of thought and behavior.  You should expect to feel more overwhelmed and not less for some time, even as you are surely moving forward.  

You mentioned swimming.  I try to swim at least 6 days a week lately at public pools.  It is socially awkward, often rather chilly and I have never gotten over my visceral aversion to the process of lowering myself into the water.  Worse, I swim at least as far as reaching oxygen debt, thus guaranteeing heavy breathing and hyperventilation that powerfully evoke my brand of panic attacks.  Everything about my daily swims brings with it some suffering and yet my swims are the centerpieces of my day.  I am more myself flailing in those chilly pools than I am on a stage or in my study.  When I swim I face discomfort head-on because my own counter-intuitive investment in resuming a half-ambitious, livable life dictates that I do.


Are you making fun of me?

No, exercise is good and you should be proud of your efforts. 

Obviously you're making fun of me.  Are you at all concerned that your message - it gets worse before it gets better - will piggyback on longstanding white-ethnic Catholic moralism inside of me?  Anxiety is uncomfortable, we can all agree, but it is no danger whatsoever compared to the moralism and defeatism of my negative self-talk. 

You sound afraid. 

Well, now it's my turn to congratulate you on your insight.   The physicality of anxiety can wash my days in tremors, trembles and chattering teeth, but I seem to be capable of swimming my laps and doing a certain amount of fledgling scholarly stuff regardless.  However, there are genres of negative self-talk available to me which, once triggered, can lead me on almost weeks-long benders of alternating self-attacks and hibernation.  I am afraid that this better/worse dogma incentivizes my telling myself to disregard my surface anxiety in the name of a larger cause in much the same way that I willfully undermined myself and under-reported my distress during traumatic periods of my life.  I am still paying a very high price for times when I thought the "right" thing to do was disregard my own discomfort and thereby degrade my own sense of importance.

That was then.  You are no longer surrounded by the same bad actors. You've learned some new moves.  

Oh,  I've learned some new moves.  If anything I have learned to distrust my personal interpretation of psychic events.  I believe you people when you tell me I'm doing better, even up to the point that doing better in a way means feeling worse.   I guess this means that for the time being there is only a minimal amount of gain to be gotten from talking of my distress with intimates and friends?

Reporting your anxiety is like turning on a white noise machine for people and expecting them to respond.  Reporting negative self-talk is likely to enable promiscuous phoning to the Emergency Room.  You should talk instead about your swimming or your band, the weather or what kind of podcasts you listen to.  Maybe even a little Oregon ballot initiative Politics? 

On this we can agree. There is a woozy hunger out there for my penetrating analyses of Initiative and Referenda politics in Oregon.   It can be titillating, if not transgressive, to plum obscurantist politics while regularly undertaking waves of bodily anxiety, dissociative flights and near-panics.  Lately I'm amazed by how much I accomplish daily, considering how my impression of the day is usually given over to recalling my symptoms and not my good works. 

Maybe you need to give yourself some credit. 

Maybe I need to feel less every day like the Face-hugger from Alien is crawling, tendril by tendril, outta my backside, up my body and towards my skull.  If that feeling went away I could surely learn to take it a little bit more fucking easy. 


solidcitizen said...

What kind of podcasts do you listen to? I listen This American Life and WTF? I'm looking to branch out.

ash said...

My hope is that in this space everything's fair game for discussion--anxieties, swimming, swimming in anxieties, your band, penetrating analyses of other people's bands, podcasts about politics, referenda about face-huggers, it's all good.