She looks into your eyes. “I’ll tell you what you have”, she says, backed by thousands of hours of study and tens-of-thousands-of-patient-visits. “It is called a NERVOUS SYSTEM.”
The doctor who tells you “You have anxiety” needs to go back to school. No, this is not a joke. It is the truth.
What the heck? What is – “You HAVE anxiety” – supposed to mean, anyway? Really. What does that mean?
• One person experiences agitation, easy anger, jumpiness and dread.
• Another person experiences worry mixed with anguish, and shortness of breath.
• Another person experiences muscle tension and repetitive thoughts.
• Another person experiences a fluttering heart, racing mind and easy crying.
• Another person experiences a fear of death and constant questioning of the unknown.
• Another person experiences self-consciousness, easy embarrassment and sweating.
• …and there is a unique person for every and any combination or permutation of a long list of related signs and symptoms describing typical responses to what is unfamiliar and uncomfortable…so the list goes on and on…
Each case describes an experience of anxiety. It is happening. No doubt about that. But…a diagnosis? Every time? For 40+ Million Americans? Come on.
How about the up-and-comer…someone who suffers from “High-Functioning Anxiety”? That one takes the prize. So clever! Slicing diagnostic categories into subcategories; separating the anxiety-ridden-elite from the common-anxiety-riff raff.
It’s not good enough to treat the nobility the same way you’d treat a plebe with anxiety. No. Now, with the new breed of sufferers, the pharma companies can cull off the proletariat to treat the aristocrats with a custom-made…medicine…just a little bit more expensive…no doubt…as would be expected of anything…well…bespoke.
What drugs? Why, yes, I am so glad you ask. We have got the:
• Benzodiazapines. A class of drugs, better known as TRANQUILIZERS. They knock you out.
• Seratonin Inhibitors. A class of drugs, better known as ANTI-DEPRESSANTS. They stop you from getting sad.
We will mix and match the two for your custom American anti-anxiety cocktail. Mind you, the side-effects (that include, well, to be exact, anxiety…and heart attack, panic, dizziness…oh, dear, yes, you better read the insert)…can be a bit to tangle with (but it really is all we’ve got). The admixture may give you relief…for a day or a while…until it is time to change it up; then, well, you better remember to reread the inserts…
People: You cannot fool your nervous system. It will hold you accountable to deal with what information is incoming. You cannot shut it off. It is an information-seeking system, and it will over-ride any and every medication you take, sooner or later…because it lives for information.
If your doctor is not going to do it, I am. It is time you got a basic education about your body; it is time you realize everything you feel does not have to be labelled…and is not a disorder or a disease that needs to be medicated.
The human nervous system comes with the package you got when you were born:
• You got the hardware: Your body and all of its nice parts.
• And, you got the software that goes with it: Namely, your nervous system.
Without the nervous system, you would just be a lump of clay. A Rock. Inert. Inanimate. Lifeless.
Your nervous system is the software that got your parts moving and has kept them moving, since the day you were born. It is the software that has given you the ability to seek what pleases you and run from what scares you…to learn, to remember…to respond…to plan. It has to be ON.
The nervous system has all kinds of nifty ways to report what is happening in your life…in the world around you. There is the handy ability to smell, for example. To see. To hear. To taste. To gather information through your finger tips and when someone or something touches you; to feel cold and hot…wet and dry…a breeze or stillness in the air.
The fact that the combination of all of these sensations bombards your nervous system minute after minute after minute, all day, every day…orienting you and re-orienting you to your environment and all of its details…is humbling. Even scary. Or overwhelming and weird, if you think about it too much.
Give your body and mind credit for their incredible ability to wake up every day and just start processing…again. ‘Nuf said on that.
Anxiety is a universal human experience. Yet, the exact nature of the experience varies so wildly from person to person that is is almost a crime to nod your head – as if you understand – when someone confesses to ‘having it’.
OF COURSE EVERYONE EXPERIENCES IT…from time to time…shorter or longer durations of time, when it does happen.
Of course, each and every person has to deal with it when it happens. It must be dealt with.
Don’t blame your nervous system. You don’t have a bad one. It is not faulty.
It is your nervous system’s job to detect risk and to process it, so your body can respond to it.
Risk equals many things, not the least of which is dealing with what is unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
In our fancy-schmancy modern culture, the unfamiliar and uncomfortable is villified. The task of making your world familiar and comfortable is outsourced to your parents, teachers, bosses, pastors, governors…bla, bla, bla…and anyone who does not cut the mustard is to blame for your stress.
Your parents should give you what you need to be safe…your teachers are supposed to make sure you are ready for college…your boss must make sure you are prepared for your job…your pastor ought to guide you to spiritual security…your governor better make the system fair and equitable…
God. Do you really believe that garbage? Could anyone really make what is unfamiliar, familiar for you? What constitutes comfortable? Who is supposed to predict what that means and, then, make it happen for you?
So, anyway, okay, that is another topic for a different day. Today, here we are: You’ve got this nervous system processing all of this information – and, I admit, it is a lot. Getting feedback about your environment can be distracting and inconvenient…and scary. But, don’t blame your nervous system. It is not faulty. It is just doing what it is supposed to do.
What you may have is faulty coping mechanisms…or you may be living in denial that you are responsible and accountable to quality control and interpret your own nervous system’s data entry and storage. Both of those things can be changed…to improve your user experience.
Considering the fact that every day is a new day…a new combination of circumstances, people, events…from weather to bugs on the sidewalk…to elections to deposits and withdrawals in your bank account…to computer viruses to new technology…to fashion and what you choose to have for lunch…to new friends and old frenemies to new neighbors…you must get used to the idea that NOTHING IS FAMILIAR. NOTHING IS COMFORTABLE. And, just to add the cherry on top of this little mystery sundae: nothing ever will be.
At some point, you just have to make up your mind to accept the truth: Every day is new, completely different and, to a great degree, unpredictable.
You may have the illusion of either more or less comfort – or discomfort – with a level of familiarity or unfamiliarity that varies from day to day…and, then, on one day, for whatever reason, you may feel either a level of great or zero tolerance for everything your nervous system is processing…and it will be just another day.
Whatever experience you have, it will not necessarily mean you have a diagnosis of megalomania or anxiety. It will mean you are a human being, dealing with what every human being on the planet has had to deal with since time began.
Welcome to the club.
What do you do when the sensations add up to what is, with a quick google search, defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”? is up to you.
You better be ready, because it is going to happen. It happens. (And, no, it is not, officially, curable…unless you believe a stress-response can be eliminated…over-written by some special code or perpetually invalidated by some special chemical.) It happens.
How about sitting down and acknowledging the following:
1. Either the data input load or the data itself is overwhelming to your nervous system.
2. You are in the soup of the uncomfortable, unfamiliar nature of life and you do not have adequate coping strategies.
3. It has happened to you before, yet you are still alive, and, as perfectly sane as you ever were…if we can say such a state really exists.
You can either stand up to say “It is a brand new day, full of unfamiliar and uncomfortable things, and I am a human being built for such things…and I will have a beginner’s mind and childlike curiosity and enjoy myself…and find ways to prepare myself to be flexible and adaptable…”
Or, you can wake up to say “It is a brand new day, full of unfamiliar and uncomfortable things, and I am a human being who will try to dodge what is different…and I commit to struggle with the avoidance and submit to the impossible fantasy of living an unchallenged life…and search for ways to satisfy my delusion, that include knocking myself out with tranquilizers and toning down my emotional thermostat so I can never be sad or stressed about anything.”
You have a nervous system. It is not going anywhere.
Goldilocks, your parents, teachers, bosses, pastors, and governors are not going to be able to make it just-right for you, no matter how hard they may try.
What you can do is get up off your bottom and find a way to make it just-right for yourself from the inside-out. It is not necessarily a DIY-job. No. But, on the other hand, it cannot be accomplished without YOU getting involved.
It is you who must choose to interpret the unfamiliar and unpredictable in a new, fresh way. The data comes in; you can’t stop that. After it comes in, you are the librarian who puts it into the stacks labelled mystery, history, tragedy or comedy. Or, if you decide to be a superstar librarian, you simply put it in a stack called DONE and forget about it, because, it is. DONE.
The past is gone. The future hasn’t happened. All you have is the gift of the present: where all your light and power exist.
This post is dedicated to John.