Most days I fight with anxiety.
Well, some days I fight. Most days I just tolerate it, like a bad roommate assigned to me whom I’ve gotten used to, one full of bad advice. Or it’s like clouds at the beach. It’s there to dampen my day with whispers of confusion, doubt, and fear, hindering my ability to connect with others.
Anxiety is a constant companion, tied to every choice, decision, or plan that comes into my head.
Like right now. Should I be writing this blog post? Wouldn’t my time be better spent on another task? What about the grocery shopping, those plans I need to be making for my parent’s visit next month, or the yoga class I thought about taking today? What will happen when people read this? I’m teaching guys to find their bliss in the yoga classes I teach. How can I do that while I’ve got my own carefully hidden tumor of anxiety lodged deep inside me?
Well, I must write about it. If I’m going to stay true to my own value of authenticity, then I’ve got to talk openly about the anxiety I carry.
It’s real. It’s mine. And I’m not ignoring it anymore. In fact, I’m introducing it to all of my friends. With their help and my own internal work, I’m finding out what it has to teach me.
Consciously facing it has improved my daily meditation in that regard. I sit. I listen. I let go of the judgment I have (as best I can) for feeling it. I feel where it is in my body. And I identify what it’s trying to teach me. I explore it with a licensed therapist.
I think it’s trying to teach me how to feel.
Until now, it always seemed to come from another dimension, from origins imperceptible to my most intensely conscious reality.
I’ve come to realize that is because I have always tried to live in an empirically driven, measurable reality, a world where reasoned, rational thought prevails. Unfortunately, anxiety grows out of the world of emotion not reason. So guess what? Even after I’ve put every behavioral aspect of my existence into its own perfect little box, labeled it, categorized it, and sent it off to peer review to be validated, I still feel anxious.
That’s because I don’t know how to truly identify or have a feeling.
Sounds funny, and it would be if it were not such a serious impediment to another of my core values, the value of “contentment.” With regard to anxiety, feelings are all that’s left to explore. I’ve tried ballet, moving, extreme sports, sex, extreme sex, computer network administration…anything that’s formulaic and predictable.
I’ve tried to mitigate the clouds of doubt with extreme rational organization techniques, using: Frankly Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Master/slave roles of the BDSM world, Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and restructuring computer and permitting systems at my city hall job. I find all of those protocols helpful and edifying, but, for the most part, all they offer is an escape from the origin of all behavior, which is emotion.
I thought my gayness had forced me to be more advanced then this.
With prejudice, I observed that us gays were more willing to express feelings than the non-gays. And by comparison to straight men, yes, we are better at it, but only to a relational degree.
Guys my age (I’m 54) had to teach ourselves about the human homosexual experience on planet earth, all without any help from the dominant culture. With my other queer comrades, I thought I had learned about love, community, and compassion.
We built an activist culture. A warrior culture. Practicing it brought me dignity, but it didn’t teach me much about how to process a feeling.
The primary thing I learned was how to identify a quantifiable policy issue that needed to change, like job protection, AIDS research expedition, etc. and then fight like hell until we won. And we won a lot!
But, I’m I still anxious…
Again, it’s because of this whole emotion thing. I was taught that feeling them would expose me to loss, rejection, or violence. I’m a man born and raised in the northwest heartland of the USA, a world where emotions are shamed if not expressed as anger or triumph. Even in Los Angeles culture, hell, even in West Hollywood culture we support each other if we are really ANGRY or totally WINNING (look at Facebook) but expressing doubts or any other vulnerability is like wearing a blindfold and walking down Hollywood Boulevard naked with the words “kick me in the balls” written on my body in black magic marker.
To be honest – and that really is what this exercise is about, being honest, and that’s why it’s scary – my anxiety is such a part of me that I find it hard to visualize my identity without it.
Who will I be without this constant companion? As uncomfortable as I am with this tumor of doubt, I’m not sure I would know how to live without it. Would I still be Mike? My ego tells me, “No.” I would no longer be me without it. Its loss would threaten my primary relationships and I would end up alone if I told anyone about my real fears, dreams, and regrets.
So that’s my anxiety. At least I recognize it.
I know how it limits me because of its affect on my behavior. I know it has something to teach me and those lessons are probably about grief, aging, and ego.
Rather than simply feeling rage or pride – being less than or greater than – I now give myself permission to feel, no matter how vulnerable that makes me. Because inside my vulnerability is where the juicy stuff is hiding.
I’m willing to hug it and love it until it no longer serves me. I’m willing to be with it until I attract a world of men who have done the work already and can teach me, or are willing to walk this path of emotional exploration with me.
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