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Walls of Fear

Walls of Fear

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A personal view of anxiety and society.
A personal view of anxiety and society.

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Published by: Bill AKA "Kenosis23" on Dec 01, 2008
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11/13/2012

 
Walls of Fear 
It is early in the morning and I can hear Earl flailing around in bed – I'm in a homelessshelter – and I know that as soon as I get out of bed he will follow me so that we canspend the first hours of the morning together in silence, broken only by his remark“man, the wind is cold out their this mourning,” to which I will answer “yeah.” This kindof conversation was called “meaninglessness social noises” when I was in college. (Notthat I'm complaining, it has become my preferred mode of conversation and seems toavoid all unnecessary drama and anxiety in my life!)Finally, about just after 5:30 AM I roll out of bed, hunt for a cigarette in the dark andhead upstairs to smoke it. The shelter is somewhat of a dungeon, in the basement of the “Family Shelter,” where actual families get to stay in what I imagine is a more home-like condition. There is very little interaction between the two shelters and the implica-tion is that it is better to be a family in need of shelter than a single person in the sameneed of the shelter.The sun has yet to rise, there is a sprinkle of snow on the ground, like powder sugar on French Toast, and the wind is blowing cold – Earl and I will have something to talkabout. My thoughts are of my failure to form a long lasting relationships, bringing tearsto my eyes. This Epiphany hit me last week; why expect long lasting relationships whenI have shown myself nearly incapable of them? Sure there have been relationships thathave lasted for years, but all have ended with me feeling separated and alienated, won-dering what happened. I suspect that what has happened is that at some time I haveoutlived my usefulness, burnt all my bridges, they are done with me.In the last months at the shelter I have had satisfying relationships with several of myfellow “riffraff,” I use the term fondly, who gave me the support they could and for vari-ous reasons moved on. Is it time to admit to myself that this is all that the world has tooffer? I am beginning to think so. Now, I have been thinking, it is time to realize that mylife has, for the most part, with few exceptions, been a series of short, if pleasant inter-actions with others. It is time to admit that this is what my life will be and time to stop ex-pecting anything else.I know my tears won't last; they never do, because after the cigarette I will go backdown the stairs and take my first dose of Ativan. I take Ativan three times a day and itusually, unless I'm over-stressed, deadens the anxiety so that I am once again capableof being around polite company, participating in meaningless social noises.Before I am finished with cigarette, Earl follows me upstairs for his morning cigaretteand I find myself turning away so that he can't see the tears, while behind me he says“man, the wind is cold out here this mourning” and predictably I answer “Yeah.”
© B. W. ReedNovember 30, 2008
 
Walls of Fear 
Crying is considered a bad thing in my family. As a small child crying resulted in theexpected Pavlovian response of “Big boys don't cry.” As I grow older my embarrassmenthas escalated because it seems to happen mostly in the presence of some mentalhealth professional, trying to disentangle the reasons for my inability live a socially ac-ceptable life. In my mind I imagine them saying “Mentally Healthy people don't cry.”With time my anxiety has become worse, old triggers have strengthened and all toooften new triggers arise, by some mysterious process of spontaneous generation, frommy daily activities. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has an answer for this constantAnxiety called “Radical Acceptance.” It consists of, against all evidence to the contrary,accepting what is happening to you “right now,” this very second. The Buddha wasprobably good at this, but for us mere mortals it it is a constant struggle.How do you get from “accepting the moment,” radically, to actually doing something tomake your life better? The psychologist that introduced me to Radical Acceptance spenta lot of time coercing me away from this Acceptance; I suspect he was trying to “desen-sitize” me to my anxiety triggers, but mainly he succeeded in strengthening them. WhenI argumentatively mentioned this to him, he would say that it was “quite the bind.” Soonthe mere fact that he moved his attention to me became a trigger for anxiety.My final response to his treatment was to refuse to attend any of his groups. I did at-tend one more, on my last day, so that we could part on good terms. During that lastgroup he commended me,to the group, for “turning a bad experience into a good one.”Privately, in a conversation after the group, he said “sometimes you wonder if you havegone too far.” I took this as an apology, which in my experience is rare in the mentalhealth field.Anxiety is in reality frustrated fear triggered by some external event. The triggers areindividual and it is easy to fall into the trap of minimizing the anxiety of another; their triggers aren't yours. In normal fear, normal because everyone agrees that there is areason for fear, one has two choices, to fight or to flee, either one of which will reducethe fear.Anxiety is no different except others either minimize the trigger for the fear or fail torecognize it as a trigger. The “fight” part explains why an anxious person pushed to their limit is liable to strike out in an angry manner as, for example, often happened with thepsychologist I spoke of above. Remember that if this happens to you it's nothing person-al and try to understand the reaction is to the fear and not to you; emotional words wereused that weren't meant.
© B. W. ReedNovember 30, 2008
 
Walls of Fear 
The “flee” explains the perception that the anxious person is running from the world;they are. All exits seemed walled off by the anxiety; the Anxious are emotionally cata-tonic when pressed in the wrong direction.I call Anxiety “Frustrated Fear” because, although it has all the mental effects of fear for the one experiencing it, others are not likely to recognize the anxiety as fear and sodo not treat the one who is anxious as one who is frozen with fear. A good exercise is totry to imagine living in near constant neurotic fear, for this is the mind set of the Anxious.There are two kinds of anxiety. If I have a clear view of the future beyond the wall of fear, for anxiety is a “wall of fear,” I can move one step at a time through the wall andeven feel pleasant relief afterwards. On the other hand, if I have no clear view of the fu-ture beyond the wall of fear, then the wall seems nearly impenetrable and my any stepat all seems futile. If a person is truly blind to anything beyond there wall of fear, just bla-tantly pointing it out to them usually increases their anxiety and if pushed they will re-spond angrily.Currently, I have “no clear view”; anything beyond the wall anxiety is blank to me, allaction walled away by anxiety, nowhere to go but to stay where I am, doing just what Ineed to stay here. I am trapped in perpetual “Radical Acceptance.” On some days I canpresent as being normal enough that people wonder what my problem is.Anxiety is probably both under-diagnosed and over-diagnosed. Under-diagnosed be-cause when not being triggered the person prone to anxiety can seem normal except for their annoying tendency to blow-up at people for small reasons or stubbornly refuse todo the smart thing. Over-diagnosed, because at its worst stages symptoms of anxietycan mimic the symptoms of depression; the symptoms are superficially the same buthave different underlying causes. (This can complicate treatment because not all peoplewith anxiety problems respond to the usual treatment of antidepressants.)So what helps? Relationships, sometimes called a “Support System,” most important-ly; they distract from the ongoing anxiety, but only if the topic conversation is not solelyabout the current trigger of the anxiety. If you are talking to an anxious person and theyare getting more anxious, it's time to back off and talk of other things. A close friendshipcan give the anxious a reason to see something beyond the wall of anxiety, but any signof pulling away will be seen as a sign that the anxious person is not valued. Helping oth-ers helps and distracts the anxious person from their anxiety, so don't let your knowl-edge of their problems convince you that they have nothing to offer in the friendship.Having a job helps, but it must be a job that engages their mind so as not to give thesmallest chink for the crowbar of anxiety to find a purchase. Any job that becomes auto-
© B. W. ReedNovember 30, 2008

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1 hundred reads
Bill AKA "Kenosis23" added this note
Thanks, Wandering Jew, for reading and rating.
Bill AKA "Kenosis23" added this note
I wrote close to three years ago. Much has changed since, which is to say my old issues have been replaced with new issues and so the person that wrote this is not who I am now. I continue to deal with anxiety on a daily basis; some days are better than others. Whatever improvements I have made have been dependent upon the support of others – not “mental health professionals, but everyday people.
Patricia Cornett added this note
This is very well written and asks a humane question at the end. The Pavlovian reference I understand, but it's difficult to find good ways to reverse such strong training. I can only say that patience, tolerance and love are the only way I could respond, but I'm not perfec. This also shows the great inadequacies in the mental health field. This read has been very thought provoking. Thank you
Bill AKA "Kenosis23" added this note
I wrote this two and a half years ago. Much has changed since, which is to say my old issues have been replaced with new issues and so the person that wrote this is not who I am now. I wonder why it has gathered so few comments – other documents with fewer views have been commented upon much more. Too raw? Too honest? I don’t know.
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