Tag Archives: anxiety

Core Beliefs

Core Beliefs

my therapist says overthinking
can be a defense mechanism

overthinking can be
a defense mechanism

overthinking can be
an unfenced metaphorical prison

it’s not my fault
my therapist says

confessional poems
can be used against me

my therapist runs a mom & pop
Oedipal arrangements shop

with thirty-one flavors
of oral fixation lollipops

overthinking can be
a dense intellectual prism

a defense mechanism
defense mechanism

anxiety is a preexisting
human condition

paid for by a
state institution

my therapist ties
Freudian slip knots

to agoraphobics flying
kites in parking lots

it’s not my fault
it’s not my fault

I don’t believe
it’s not my fault

my therapist is the reason
I’m in touch with my feelings

c b snoad
2-13-17

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The Weight Of A Thousand Ghosts

When I became the lead opinion writer for my college newspaper, my father suggested I call my column “The Road Not Taken” after one of his favorite Robert Frost poems. I thought about it but went in a different direction, choosing instead a title of my own: “Free Association.”

Five years later I instructed the cemetery director to add these lines to my father’s headstone:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by”.

I read recently that Frost wrote “The Road Not Taken” with his friend Edward Thomas in mind. After an initial reading, Thomas thought that Frost, through the speaker in the poem, was lamenting the uncertain nature of making choices, suggesting his life would have played out differently if he had traveled a different road. Actually, Frost was poking fun at Thomas, who frequently complained about the routes they took on walks through the woods. Unaware of this backstory, many readers believe Frost is arguing in favor of the road not taken, praising independent spirits for forging their own paths.

We can’t imagine a life we didn’t lead—we only know the road we’ve taken, the one we’re on right now.

Wherever he went, my father didn’t travel lightly. He carried in his chest the weight of a thousand ghosts.

Naturally I inherited his nerves. I was hurting so bad after college I decided one day to disappear. Medicine works best in small doses. But it’s easy, when you think about it, to fit a bottle in your mouth.

There is no magic pill, I’ve learned, no invisible ink for writing goodbye. Once you’re born, you’re in the thick of things. Even suicide, Sartre reminds us, is an act of being in the world.

There were signs we missed, being caught up in our moods. I shared a poem with him once about my life being an arduous climb up a mountain that extends higher and higher with each step, death a slip within reach.

Our only hope is to keep climbing, he said, without looking down. “This is how you’re feeling now. The pain won’t last forever.”

These are the pictures I paint of him in poems, stories and songs. There’s an art to reproducing one’s father, recasting his shadows, repeating his sins.

Fate is genetic; it comes before and after us. Faith requires both a leap and a precipice.

It’s easy to get lost in the woods.

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The Spirit Of Melancholy

I took away three main ideas from Alina N. Feld’s brilliant analysis of depression in Melancholy and the Otherness of God.

First, philosophers from Ancient Greece to modern times have seen the Melancholic as a visionary soul vital to humanity’s recognition of its own simultaneous vulnerability and power. The Melancholic thinks and feels at a higher frequency than “normal” people. This leads to greater distress and untold suffering for the afflicted, but this pain is survivable. Those who attend to the vibrations of what today we call depression become wiser human beings.

Second, living with depression requires courage. The Depressed must feel the fear and proceed anyway. At the heart of Being lies the specter of Nothingness; the Depressed encounters Nothingness but doesn’t back away from it. There is value in appreciating the vertigo of contemplation before the abyss.

Third, in order to reach heaven one must go through hell. Depression feels like hell on earth, but its torment is far from eternal. The life of the Depressed is a spiritual journey, a path to freedom in the face of terror. There is no Resurrection without Crucifixion.

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A Portrait Of The Artist As An Anxious Man

I imagine many folks enjoy art in itself. Maybe it takes their breath away. Maybe it shocks their bourgeois sensibilities. However art affects them, they move on—back to their families, 401k’s and streaming video subscriptions.

Against reason I’m driven to create my own art—a gratifying but often frustrating endeavor. Sure, I’ve been proud of a poem or essay here or there, but when I step back to judge my oeuvre against established writers I’m thoroughly unimpressed.

This is probably my depression speaking. To combat a severe lack of confidence my therapist has me on a new drug called Self-Esteem, a generic form of Empowerment. I’m still learning how to take it. Everyone—the most recent psychological literature suggests—has the same intrinsic value. This includes me apparently, but it takes four to six weeks before my gut fully absorbs the concept.

Perhaps my hesitant nature—an inability to assume a position of strength, to let words flow beyond my control—bolsters my writing. A deep consideration of language might constitute a conscious ethical choice. My ideas, unsure of themselves, reflecting the anxious tone of my unique artistic presence. Mastery of an uncertain craft.

From (and against) a place of fear and pathological aversion to criticism I put pen to paper and begin anyway. To reluctantly own myself, to inscribe my name in doubt: the mark of not just a struggling artist but a deeply conflicted human being.

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Against The Wind

In his 2010 book The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age, Alain Ehrenberg examines how psychiatry (and by extension culture) has viewed and diagnosed depressed “selves” over the last hundred years.

Ehrenberg asserts that today people in the West are less bound by morals and appeals to outside forces than by an obsession with self-improvement and an inner-directed responsibility to reach one’s full potential.

I am in charge of my life and must perform at peak levels, even when I don’t feel like it. Free from old-fashioned moral constraints and the fear of God’s punishment, I have too many options and courses of action. The idea of limitless potential leaves people vulnerable to depression, or “the weariness of the self,” when they don’t live up to unattainable standards of super-excellence.

As Ehrenberg summarizes our current situation:

In the end, the story is very simple. Liberation might have gotten us out of the drama of guilt and obedience, but it has taken us straight into the demands of responsibility and action. And so the weariness of depression took over from the anxiety of neuroses. (229)

People still suffer from anxiety; Ehrenberg doesn’t deny this. But patients aren’t considered “neurotic” today. They aren’t troubled by the internal battle between Id, Ego and Superego. Today depressed patients struggle with inhibition and indecision. The depressed can’t act quickly or adjust to the frenetic pace of hyper-reality. In America not moving fast enough is a cardinal sin, akin to saving too much money or eating less carbs. Hence the status of “outsider” attached to the depressed.

Ehrenberg by no means calls for a return to less morally ambiguous times. He aims to develop an outline of the history of depression and lets us draw our own conclusions. One thing’s clear: in gaining more control over our bodies, our minds and our lives, we’ve developed new ways to torture ourselves for not being good enough or smart enough or successful enough. Especially compared to our Facebook friends.

The rain, rain won’t go away. For some of us—the brave ones—depression affords time to reflect. It’s an umbrella in a hailstorm when most people barely feel a drop.

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Sensitive Subject

In my encounters with other depressed and anxious people I have found behind their struggles a deep sense of compassion. Are they compassionate as a result of living with mental illness or is their “sickness” a natural response to being highly sensitive to their own bodies and the needs of others?

Like Forrest Gump says about whether we are free or determined by outside forces, maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time. Sensitive folks take things harder than most people, and in coping with their pain want to ease the suffering of others.

I’m a sensitive guy, no doubt. While we’ve made some progress, it’s still unmanly to be sensitive. Dare I say many alpha males find sensitive guys “womanly,” or another hot-button name for lady parts? Don’t forget what term middle school boys (and grown men who act like boys) hurl at anyone deemed “gay.”

That’s the thing. Sometimes I feel the need to come out as straight. Just because I write poetry or don’t wave my dick around and drool like a frat boy, doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer or almost any woman who is both: (1) conscious; and (2) in my line of sight.

Maybe it’s my below-normal testosterone levels or how high my voice sounds over the phone. Thank God I’m not into musical theater and don’t have any fashion sense.

Okay, now I’m being a dick. But if you’re reading, J-Law, I hope you get my point.

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Cosmic Insignificance

Nietzsche on the nature of reflection:

When we try to examine the mirror in itself we discover nothing but things upon it. If we want to grasp the things we finally get hold of nothing but the mirror. This, in the most general terms, is the history of knowledge.

I could use the bulk of this post to conduct a close reading of the above quote, to pick apart its internal logic, illustrate its underlying tensions. But today I’ll concern myself not with what Nietzsche says, but instead what my choosing of this passage says about me.

Essentially I want to know why I’m drawn to philosophy in the first place and how this interest relates to my depression and anxiety.

Does a depressed way of thinking lead me to agree with Nietzsche that attempting to know something is futile? This sounds simple enough. My misery loves the company of Nietzsche’s pessimistic worldview.

In addition, does my anxiety recognize itself in Nietzsche’s thoughts on the impossibility of knowledge? Do I suffer from metaphysical hypochondria—the constant fear that reality isn’t real, that I have no self, that the world is an illusion? The vertigo of knowing that nothing can be known for sure? Makes sense. Afraid I’ll float away, I ground myself in doubt.

But the psyche is an ocean and so far we’ve only touched the surface. I argue that choosing this quote reflects a deep-seated existential angst that manifested itself long before any symptoms of my illness appeared.

I suffer from depression and anxiety because my entire being is engaged in an existential crisis, and has so since birth. My illness is both an expression of and response to this crisis. When I’m depressed I feel nothing because I am, at my core, Nothing. When I’m anxious I worry this Void will consume me.

Some people lift weights, get high or go to the shooting range as a means of coping with their cosmic insignificance.

I go to the library, where great minds thrive. And there I find Nietzsche. And there I find joy.

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