Saturday, January 18, 2014

I Don't Care That My Anxiety Makes You Uncomfortable

By Ana Casian Lakos

You may have heard through facebook, or more likely over Anderson Cooper's twitter feed, that I am an anxious person-- well, not an"anxious person." More like "a person who suffers from anxiety." (I guess there's a difference? )
Anyway because of this, my emotions are often divided between happy-neutral and inconvenient apprehension. (with a healthy sprinkling of 'hungry' in between.)
At this point,  anxiety management comprises such a significant portion of my daily routine, that it no longer really warrants special attention.. I brush my teeth, I sit down to write, I deal with  my irrational fear of vomit and when it all gets too overwhelming, I Google Tina Fey.


It's really not as complex as it sounds, and most of the time I'm pretty okay with it. However, problems do arise whenever my "issues" cross over into the pristine arena of "the public".
 As it turns out, people don't like it when you remind them that they don't live in the unobjectionable world of a 50s sitcom. That's right: Acknowledging a potential for norm-deviation is tantamount to shitting all over a neighbor's perfect picket fence.

It took a while for me to realize this, as I never got the memo that "emotional issues" are to be addressed noiselessly and in private. [and any references to "problems" in the presence of unwilling company must be made at the risk of stigma, social alienation, and finding your lunchbox in the school toilet.]

I shouldn't have to explain why this is fucked up, but I will.  Um, it's because EVERYBODY HAS PROBLEMS. Pretending otherwise makes for a pretty pointless web of deception, don't you think?  And what could even be gained by a lifetime of simulating superficial "self-possession?"  (The answer is "More Facebook Likes." And sometimes an Oscar.)

"it came true!"

But more importantly, how happy can a person  even be if he or she dedicates their entire life to feigning socially-approved happiness? AND what does it say about society that we bother monitoring the ups and downs of others? (I'm starting to get the feeling this post will contain more questions than answers.)

While I haven't always been aware of this particular paradox,  I have often wondered for example, why it was so desirable to project unnatural detachment in manufactured social settings (a juvenile form of posturing, incorrectly conflated with confidence,) while any inkling of emotional investment was a potential affront to the predetermined pretensions and hierarchies of the occasion? [ --The angry backlash being: "Who do you think you are not to be playing your part here?"]

Because not playing one's part is about a lot more than simply "being weird." At its core,  the refusal to "know one's place" amounts to a rejection of the enforced social order, (and related conventions.)  and that is what's threatening to "the public."
I bring all this up because like all displays of sincerity, being comfortable enough to proclaim "I'm upset, or  I'm anxious, or I'm gassy!" is an outright rejection of one's social obligation  not to upset anybody. Particularly when doing so, not only disrespects the community's corresponding system of values, but worse, actively presents them with the possibility of defection.
 And we all know there's nothing scarier than acknowledging one's own complicity in the survival of an elaborate scam. A life free of choice, is a life free of responsibility.

What if we changed that script though? What if sadness, and disappointment were treated like ordinary human emotions? What if we could acknowledge that certain things really suck, and we all get scared, and lonely as a result.  A culture of openness would result in less fakery and alienation. It would the make hardships seem less intimidating.

That is  why I try not to play into America's cheerful mandate. Because I'm simply not always happy, and I think that's okay.
At times i'm genuinely distressed, and it doesn't make me pathetic to draw attention to that--if only to pause and acknowledge that "I feel pretty shitty." Any obligation a passer-by might feel to respond "appropriately," is their problem, not mine. I don't express my feeling so that I can be fed your token sympathy, okay? And to assume otherwise, is insulting. Instead of that, you might assume that I am an intelligent human being deserving of respect-- you can assume that i won't hold it against you if you're at loss for words. That's okay. It's not your job to fix me. I'm simply here to own my truth. How you react is up to you.
 It is not up to me to alter circumstances so that you never have to face anything uncomfortable. Got that?

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