This morning, I listened to another interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. About eight minutes in, she talks about how anxiety is like a disease that has spread around the world. We have good reason to be anxious these days, but she wondered, “What if I just didn’t drink your anxiety lemonade? And, what if I found my own way to be in my own skin where I was ok no matter what?”
I’ve been asking myself that exact question for a long time now. Throughout my life, I’ve always been the most anxious person I know, but that’s exactly why I’m trying to opt-out of the world’s collective anxiety now.
A few entries ago I said that I’d already spent years living like most people lived in 2020. I meant that I’ve always been terrified of the collapse of the environment, society, government, and public health. I’ve always had my claws in the ceiling about my finances and the stability of my housing. I’ve always self-isolated because I struggled to trust anyone.
Some of my anxiety was warranted and some of it wasn’t. It was partly because I’m at an almost super-human level of HSP who senses impending doom long before anyone else does. I always hear the train whistle or smell the rot first. It’s partly because my inherent anxiety forced me to focus on things that weren’t true threats, but they felt as good as real to me at the time.
I started preparing for a Mad-Max like future when I walked into a karate dojo for the first time almost twenty years ago. I enjoyed karate, but I would’ve enjoyed dance more. I knew that about myself, but my fear wouldn’t allow me to walk through this world without knowing how to defend myself.
By the way, as a person who always knows what’s on the horizon, I see a light at the end of this tunnel. I can’t make any promises, but I think we’ll get through this thing.
Anyway, the start of the pandemic finally gave me permission to acknowledge all of the stuff that has been swirling in my ether for years. I heard people saying, “living like this is really hard.” I thought, “Really? It is? Are you saying that I’m not a pathetically weak and ill-equipped person?”
In this past year, I’ve found that I have so much experience with armageddon levels of fear that I’ve trained myself to opt-out when I need to opt-out. I don’t close my eyes to reality (although, doom-scrolling is a thing, and it’s as good as drinking poison). I’m not capable of playing make-believe (one of the reasons I’m a natural non-conformist). I’ve merely spent decades teaching myself how to process my reaction to whatever’s going on. Again, I’m not perfect, and I still struggle. It will probably be a lifelong struggle because I’m no monk. I’m just a person living an average life.
Now, my main issue is that I feel guilty about it. Shouldn’t I be subjecting myself to the same pain as everyone else? Elizabeth Gilbert’s comment in that video assured me, no, it’s perfectly fine to choose something else.
If I could figure out how my panic would make the world better, then maybe I’d do it, but I see no advantage to it. I vote as responsibly as I can. I’m vegan, I don’t own a car, I don’t even own a clothes dryer (although, I happily would if I could). I rarely buy things that I don’t need, and I don’t litter. I wear a mask in public, and I keep my hands clean. I don’t shout it from the rooftops, but I let people know where I stand on social issues, so the bad guys know which way the wind is blowing. Basically, I do my part. And, the reason I’m able to do my part is that I’m not paralyzed with anxiety (well, not most of the time). I don’t have a million weights dragging me down, so I don’t need to make my life as comfortable and rewarding as possible to stay in it.
I know what it feels like to live with a million weights dragging me down, and I know what it feels like to have those weights gone. I’m so grateful that I can shed them, and I’m so grateful to have some confirmation that it’s ok to be this way.
What I’ve Been Reading
I’ve been reading more of Ken Liu’s short story collection The Paper Menagerie. He’s won a bunch of awards, and I can see why. The title story, “The Paper Menagerie” is online, but only read it if you feel like crying your eyes out. He really knows how to put emotional weight into a story.
I don’t usually read short story collections, but I’m trying to write some short stories of my own, so I thought it might be wise to get to know the form. Speaking of which, I need another short story idea. The first story I wrote (not the first, ever, but the first, lately) is in the clutches of my writer’s group.
I’m also reading Figuring by Maria Popova. The language is a little complex for me, so I have to concentrate hard when I read it, and I’ve only been reading it one chapter a day. At this rate, I might not get it done before it’s due at the library.
Earlier today, I had the urge to read a paper book. A few friends in Japan have given me a handful of paper books over the years. Maybe I’ll pick up one of those. Some of them are well-reviewed, like Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.