Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ain't Nothing All That Useful About Anxiety

I have been thinking a lot today about anxiety. I can do that because, for whatever miracle, I am not experiencing anxiety lately. This melancholic feminista has always suffered more from anxiety than profound depression. Don't get me wrong; I've had my bouts with depression too. But, anxiety is my more regular companion--and not a nice one.

What really bothers me about anxiety is that it makes all of your problems seem equally dire and you cannot sort out what is worth dealing with and what can be handled. You wake up in the middle of the night and run through everything on your never-ending "To Do" list. Once I have thoroughly stressed myself out with all of the things I haven't done, I start to worry about the world, my friends, how effective I am at my job, yada . . yada . . . yada.

Anxiety makes us worry, but it doesn't do a whole lot more than that. I have never actually crossed things off my list thanks to anxiety. Usually, anxiety just backs me up in a corner of my house and I wish I hadn't quit smoking so that I could do something with all that nervous worry. Anxiety colors the world black and convinces you that whatever jam you're in now, it will only get worse and worse and worse until you cannot fix it anymore.

Anxiety also messes with time (see my post about this from last week). You feel hopelessly locked into a bleak future, totally bypassing the present moment. When this happens, I start needing someone to rescue me, preferably my mother. But, I never get up the courage to ask her to rescue me and so I just stay stuck in anxiety.

So, what amazes me, is how effectively psychopharmacology can quash anxiety. Maybe it doesn't work for all people, but in my experience, it always works. And, hence, this is why I am so obsessed with Prozac and enhancement.

Before the advent of SSRI drugs, anxiety had a deep, meaningful role to play in human society. Martin Heidegger, for example, argued that anxiety is what forces all human beings to confront their mortality. Anxiety, for the existentialists, forces us to consider what makes a life meaningful.

I used to love all of that stuff because, after all, I was a girl haunted and crippled by anxiety. Why not elevate it to some important status so that I could feel better about feeling crummy much of the time.

But, Zoloft took that all away for me, years ago while I was still in graduate school. I went from being a brooding, intense Heideggerean to a more carefree, perhaps less deep, feminist theorist. I was less interested in what profound insights I would get from my states of anxiety. If taking Zoloft and the even-temperedness it brought on amounts to "enhancing" my natural state, then so be it. Since, anxiety was not producing for me; it was making me both narcissistic and solipsistic. My medicated self was much better at handling the inevitable stresses of life and I got along a lot better with everyone else.

What caused the anxiety didn't go away. I just didn't care as much about the problems. I just decided to deal with what was in front of me and be in the moment. Maybe it made me less reflective about my life, or maybe it helped me refine what really needed attending to and what was just gumming up the works.

What do y'all think about the role of anxiety in your lives?