on letting go | an introduction called
a very american anxiety
Turbulence is the tone and timbre of late, here in America but also globally, and no reprieve has been promised. No end seems to be in sight. No captain is coming over the loudspeaker to let us know that this is just a brief foray, please fasten your seatbelts and hold tight, this will all be over momentarily.
I’ve heard it said before (and/or seen it on quotable cards) that peace has more to do with being in a place of chaos and staying with yourself than with finding a lack of chaos somewhere else.
Challenge accepted, I guess.
To go with the rising tide of chaos, anxiety is reportedly more and more common lately. At least on a clinical (?!) level (whatever that means). Anecdotally and statistically, though, this seems obvious. Here and here are a few interesting treatises on the matter, as a sidenote. (Skewing more cultural, for what it’s worth.)
As a lifelong anxious being (is that a curse I just put on myself? never mind), I am not all that shocked. I’m more impatiently here for it. Finally, I am not alone at this party.
I don’t mean to come off as cute in saying that. But when Sarah Wilson shared the nugget of wisdom that “if you’re not anxious, you’re not paying attention,” I felt that heavily. Sometimes that sense of disorder is a cue that something is wrong. Whether it’s a past or present something.
So if you are sort of already wired to pay attention—and if there are more people thusly wired these days—since there are more people overall—
Yeah. It’s something of a perfect storm. A gut-churning, eyelid-twitching, muscle-gripping, 4 AM-waking storm.
I really wanted this to start off on the level of a big, gushing waterfall of a reason for all of us to be anxious. Or for anxiety to threaten. But there are and have been so many such reasons over the last few weeks. So let’s start with two.
We’ve got the whole slew of recent women’s health related lawmaking events—that-which-shall-not-be-named. I say this mostly because I don’t even know what to call such a fiasco. Our Collective Almost-Handmaid’s Tale? Is that too melodramatic for this space?
We’ve also suffered the loss of a writer wildly influential to so many, myself included. Rachel Held Evans passed away at the end of April and left a void that is unbelievably vast.
I want to talk about both of these things because that’s what you do. It’s how you survive.
But also because there is no turning around from this.
There is no turning around because the coinciding of both events puts in stark relief the fact that there’s a lot of nonsense in what we are doing anymore. The old-world sort of stance of trying to legislate something very private, intimate and personal—an action which, mind, contradicts the original philosophy behind said stance—is getting very old and tiresome and sad. Humans have physical and emotional needs foremost, and how did we all forget this very basic thing so quickly?!
(Not to sound too surprised. Clearly most of our institutions and ideas were started with a foundation of ignoring said needs for most groups of people.)
And I understand the opposite perspective. Really, with all my heart, I do. It used to be mine. But there is no getting to a deeper place spiritually or morally without reconciling with this piece first.
Furthermore, a very eloquent and measured writer who was part of the community that arguably planted the seeds of this conflict—which I’ll just go ahead and say because I used to be/am sort of part of it, too—is gone. She cannot chime in with wisdom and guidance regarding this mess.
This turbulence is for the remainder of the flight. This plane is not turning around.
None of this is meant in a battle-cry sort of way, but then, maybe it is. Because all of this, frankly, hurts, and on several levels. Personally, I am so sick of false lines being drawn that pit people against one another, and for people controlled by their fear and their pasts getting to make the rules, letting people stay stuck in cycles from which they may never emerge. It’s ridiculous: don’t we all want the same things, deep down? To be safe, known, loved?
Someone like Rachel Held Evans was in a powerful place: she knew how to cross those lines. We have so few people in that place: people willing to be unafraid, and who are unshaken by the fact that things are not as they should be.
That willingness is the only coping mechanism that counts, in the end.
Because there are so many coping tools we lovely anxious humans cling to, and if you’re only getting anxious now, these may be quite new to you. We get irritable, combative. Or addicted—to people, to substances. Or we freeze up, check out, dissociate. I suspect that last one has become incredibly garden-variety. Complacency—it’s a straightforward choice. Scrolling can be the sweetest thing.
Of course, when life keeps being scary and unpredictable, some of us get less complacent. That righteous anger bubbles up. Words are volleyed. Action is taken. Whew, that was a doozy. Now that’s over.
No. It’s not. This just keeps happening.
And so with these last several doozies, well, what do we do?
What, I’d ask instead, do we not do?
If life itself has truly become this ill-suited to everyone then a holistic overhaul is clearly due. Environmental reform. Maybe the kind that starts from within and works its way out on several levels.
I have no idea how to make that happen. That’s the goddamn million-dollar question, isn’t it? But this cycle is the unfortunate equivalent of trying many different kinds of band-aids (like an abortion ban! like a march in DC!) when the bleeding is internal.
And maybe it’s also to say, I’m aggrieved and exhausted of this national dysregulation—this existential crisis—and if you’re reading this, perhaps you are, too. Maybe all of these attempts at ideology are just twisting us more thoroughly into something not-us. And maybe we all need to take a breather from the way things should have been and used to be.
Maybe that’s the only road toward something better. Toward being all of who and what we can possibly be.