We are scared of the unknown…
Of not knowing what to do. Our society avoids the bad feelings, and in turn we spend a whole lot of time and energy trying to escape what it is to be human.
I am so tired of seeing directives wherever I go. “Be kind”, “Live, Laugh, Love”, “Seize the day”, “Smile”, “Get lost”. I am also tired of seeing self help books, self help podcasts, and magazine covers with 10 ways to be happy or lose weight or get active.
Sometimes I just long to see some wall art calligraphy that says “don’t listen to me, just do your thing, you’ll figure it out, I’m just as lost as you”. Because that would be more honest. It would be authentic enough to say, “none of us have got this, I’m just as confused as you”.
We are terrified of feeling bad.
And we are terrified of not knowing what to do. So, when anxiety does arise, we are scared of the anxiety itself. (the same goes for grief, sadness, loneliness, anger, confusion, despair).
I have internalized this societal belief in a particular way. Anxiety is a familiar feeling to me; I’ve inherited it from society and my family. When I feel my anxiety rising or when I feel uncertain about the future, I have a compulsion to consult my tarot deck. I pull cards and really hope I’m going to get one that tells me I’m moving in the right direction, that it’s going to be great and that I’m not going to starve in a pit of hungry animals. And when I don’t get a reassuring answer, I pull more cards.
This ritual doesn’t actually calm me down at all. It just gives more for my anxious brain to think about. Because anxiety is telling me to find something to give it more energy… to find out what’s wrong and fix it now!
Anxiety is a tornado that scoops up everything in its path to make it stronger. So, seeing all these directives, lists of how-tos and self-help books doesn’t make it better. They feed the anxiety, they provide the anxiety with fuel to keep going… Anxiety starts screaming at me “Something’s wrong, and you need to figure it out, and this can give you something to work on, it might have the answer, and then do it, if you do it fast enough you’ll have it figured out and maybe you won’t be feeling this feeling anymore.”
Anxiety is like a fire, and all those directives are like pine trees in a drought; they just feed it.
Sometimes I am able to recognize the anxiety for what it is. That it is a fire burning in my belly (or my head) and that I need to give it space, that I need to find a way to put it out. I need to clear the area so that more trees don’t get sucked into it further.
Sometimes I give it water. There are times when I can take a bath, and breathe and say to myself, “I’m feeling anxious and that’s ok, I will just take a bath to give the anxiety a chance to burn down a bit”. Or sometimes I remove all fuel from the vicinity… fuel includes reading the news, tarot cards, self-help books, blogs. Or go for a walk with my dog and say to myself, “nothing needs to be done right now, it’s ok, and I’m going to do my best to not make decisions while I take this walk”.
I know I’m a hypocrite, that this blog post sounds a lot like advice giving… and, yes, it is…. And I am. So here is my soapbox rant in short. I’m suggesting that avoiding what is uncomfortable can make it worse, and we have to sift through a lot of “happy advertising” telling us what to do instead. I am expressing a plea to free our society from the subtle oppression of self-help and subtle directives in order to give us the freedom to live our own struggles and find peace within ourselves without the constant bombardment of being to told what will make it better.
Stephanie Boulton, MA LPCC (she/her/hers) is a counselor in private practice and is part of the People House Community. She also volunteers with Out Boulder County, co-facilitating a support group for Friends and Family of Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming People. Stephanie has a background working with a diversity of people in outdoor settings and draws from attachment theory, body-based and experiential therapies, as well as ecological and feminist approaches. Stephanie’s website can be found at www.soulterracounseling.com or you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.