Anxiety – One Man’s Tussle With The Thing

Do you suffer from anxiety? Of course you do – you’re human! We all get that stifling sense of dread from time to time. We all feel worried about stuff that lingers over us like a dark cloud. We all suffer from the idea of an imminent threat that sticks to our conscience like tar – an all-consuming viscous ooze of unshakable concern. The degree to which one suffers depends on myriad factors – the type of character you are, your inner biological make-up, your environment, the people around you, and the way you’ve been brought up, to list just a few. Some are swamped by anxiety on a daily basis – others not so much. Some psyches are pretty robust and able to cope with that looming feeling of dread – others are a bit more fragile and in need of support.

Anxiety is an insular, subjective experience, and often it’s difficult to actually recognise a sufferer – unless they actually tell you that they’re swamped by it. Which is difficult in itself, because no-one wants to show their ‘weakness’, as that will just lead to more anxiety. It manifests itself in many ways – from simple nail-biting to panic attacks to full-blown depression. And however it displays itself, those feelings of dread, uneasiness, worry, uncanniness and a ceaseless, nagging threat can be, at best, uncomfortable and, worst, utterly debilitating.

Fear-kegaard

Anxiety and its related issues have long plagued the human subject. But the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the founder of existentialism and all-round literary powerhouse, is probably the man most famous for capturing and illuminating the subject from a philosophical standpoint. He wrote many books which featured the subject as a prominent theme, with the The Concept of Anxiety (1844) arguably the most well known of them. For Kierkegaard, anxiety originates from our existential freedom. The fact that we have choices to make, and the responsibility to think and act as we wish, is fraught with the potential for dread and angst.

Kierkegaard was a devout Christian; a deeply religious person who lived in an eternal struggle with feelings of guilt, sin and anxiety. But he also realised that our anxiety, and this existential freedom, choice and responsibility we have, can essentially ‘save humanity’. Kierkegaard felt ‘truths’ came from passion, intensity and commitment. There is an obvious objective uncertainty about one’s belief in God – after all, we’ve never actually seen him/her/them/it! But for Kierkegaard, that fiercely committed, unwavering passion made it an existential truth for him. A later disciple of Kierkegaard’s, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, rejected any notion of belief in a deity, but built on Kierkegaard’s work with similar ideas placing our sense of choice, responsibility and freedom at the heart of our humanity.

Anxiety helps us to realise that we are responsible for our own existence – it is not up to God or any kind of spirit to shape our lives for us. We have the freedom to act as self-conscious beings in control of the paths we choose to take. The anxiety of that existential freedom, as the masters of our own destiny, and the contingent, random nature of life, might be dizzying, unsettling or even terrifying. But that is the nature of the human condition – anxiety is a part of our being, and we simply have to cope with it, one way or another. Anxiety gave Kierkegaard the potential to feel the dread over sin and shame, just as it gave both him and Sartre the potential to experience true freedom. This realisation is as dread-inducing as it is liberating.

There is a beautifully concise article illuminating anxiety, and how it makes us human from a Kierkegaardian perspective, by Clare Carlisle for Prospect magazine. She explains how Kierkegaard was interested in the human condition and the ways that peace and joy could be experienced by actually confronting suffering – true joy comes from “the depths of the human heart”. As well as this, Kierkegaard makes it clear that we all suffer – and this is “curiously comforting”. And it does warm the heart in a weird way to know that we’re all in the same boat – that we’re all tussling with anxiety or unhappiness in some form at some time. Carlisle explains how Kierkegaard’s “existential restlessness” was also a “vital sign of life”. “It is in this restlessness that we are most fully human,” she writes. “Curious, questioning, searching, moving, growing.”

The Thing

The reason I have decided to write this post (which is a relatively short one for me, you’ll no doubt be pleased to read!), is because I have been suffering with anxiety in various forms for some time (like everyone). But I have felt recently like my cause for anxiety has become more accentuated – what I mean to say is, there always seems be The Thing (of the moment) which seems to encapsulate all my feelings of paranoia, fear, imminent threat and concern. And The Thing is pretty fluid. One day The Thing might be a work issue – the next, The Thing transfers to a Twitter flare-up; maybe someone has questioned my work or unfollowed me unexpectedly.

The next week, The Thing might be money troubles, then The Thing switches to a health concern of some kind. And then it’s some looming deadline I have to fulfil. And when The Thing takes hold, it becomes difficult to focus properly on anything else. Now, it’s never so bad that I can’t actually live my normal life – go to work, look after my son, write this blog and such. But The Thing is still pretty powerful – it dominates my thoughts, gives me restless nights, gnaws my finger nails to the bone and causes me to act in irrational, immature, selfish or even spiteful ways.

And the worst part is that The Thing always seems to be present in some form or another. Just when I think I might’ve shaken The Thing, it comes back stronger than ever in a fresh guise – is that person upset with me? Am I helping out my wife enough? Am I being too hard on my son? The truth is, I can’t even go on a night out any more without feeling a sense of dread in the preamble – will I end up getting more drunk than I should? What if I send a needlessly stupid message when I’m drunk that I end up regretting? Am I going to feel awful tomorrow? I can’t even enjoy the prospect of a few beers with mates without thinking of the overblown perils that might befall me (or, rather, that I bring upon myself unnecessarily).

Anxiety and uncanniness

It simply wouldn’t be a Being & Niceness post without a tad more philosophical input, so let’s introduce a couple of my fave big hitters for a little more context. Martin Heidegger, the master of ontological inquiry, wrote a lot about anxiety in Being and Time. He believed it provided the ‘phenomenal basis for grasping the primordial totality of the being of Dasein’ (his notion of human existence). It’s as if our capacity for experiencing anxiety is what distinguishes our sense of humanity – as a separate being in a world of other beings that is able to appreciate and reflect upon its being.

“Anxiety’s being reveals itself as care (sorge)”, writes Heidegger – with care being a key Heideggerian term. If you’d like to read more about that aspect of his work, check out this introductory blog from my ontological series Accessible Inquiries into the Nature of Being. “Anxiety does not know what it is anxious about,” he continues. I find this idea particularly illuminating. The Thing is there – and I feel it so prominently every single day. Yet I often cannot really understand exactly what I am fretting over, and how it manages to consume me so readily. “It is so near that it is oppressive and takes away one’s breath – and yet it is nowhere,” adds Heidegger. He speaks about the uncanny, unhomely feeling of anxiety and how Dasein (our sense of human being) fetches itself back out of its entangled absorption in the world when it experiences those feelings.

“Everyday familiarity collapses,” he says. And, naturally, it always comes back to Kierkegaard, and how the uncanniness of anxiety pursues Dasein and threatens its everyday lostness in the they (the comfort of the public realm of acceptance). Heidegger writes of how anxiety individualises – it reveals to us our authenticity and inauthenticity as possibilities of its being. “The fundamental possibilities of Dasein, which are always my own, show themselves in anxiety as they are, undisguised by innerworldly beings to which Dasein, initially and for the most part, clings,” he says. “Wanting to have a conscience becomes a readiness for anxiety.”

And this, as one might expect, eventually brings us to the topic of death: “The indefiniteness of death discloses itself primordially in anxiety.” The insignificance of the world disclosed in anxiety reveals the nullity of what can be taken care of. Anxiety is anxious about ‘naked Dasein’ thrown into uncanniness. It brings back one’s thrownness as something to be possibly repeated (something manifested in our obsessive compulsive tendencies). Anxiety – from Dasein itself – is a ‘thrown being toward death’.

Another heavyweight of the existential/ontological/moralist sphere, Friedrich Nietzsche, saw all this guilt and sense of conscience as a relatively recent construction – from law-making and our creation of a social structure. He illuminated this repression of instincts and development of rationality as a precursor to the great unhappiness we all suffer on a daily basis. The tussle over instinct and morality gives us the platform to ceaselessly punish ourselves. Whether or not we mean to, we give life to The Thing. We feed it daily – and The Thing is only too happy to feast on our lack of conviction or certainty.

Moving forward

The brilliant Kierkegaard suggested that life can be understood backwards, but that it must be lived forwards – and that is true for all of us. And I think that applies here especially. It’s difficult to think about doing anything without always having that nagging feeling of past mistakes in the back of one’s mind. The question is – how does one shake off The Thing? Moving forward, how can I learn to cope with The Thing? How can I stop The Thing being a Thing? The existential nihilist in me might suggest that nothing really matters anyway, we’re all going to die at the end of it all and that nothingness is the final destination for us all, so why sweat the small stuff?

But we all know that human beings don’t work like that. We can’t stop caring about the world and the people in it. Life doesn’t play out that way – unless of course one suffers from some kind of pathological abnormality. Or if they’re just a heartless, selfish dickhead. One simply cannot just deny The Thing or refuse to acknowledge it’s there – if you’re prone to being sucked in by its powers, then it will always be present in the back of your psyche, nibbling away at your ego. One’s super ego cannot help but keep a watchful eye on our behaviour and dish out a dose of guilt to keep us in check when it feels you need/deserve it.

So I guess the reason for writing this post (which is slightly different to my usual offering) is because I need your help. I want to know what you do to cope with The Thing. How do you overcome your anxiety? Can you overcome it? Do you simply just have to let it pass in its own time? I constantly feel uneasy or guilty about things that are happening in my life – even though I know they don’t really matter. I’m constantly battling The Thing, telling myself that I have a wonderful family, friends, job and home, and that the small stuff that’s making me anxious really isn’t worth worrying about. But The Thing is relentless. It really does take prisoners – and that prisoner is me. If you have any advice that you’d like to share about how you deal with The Thing, please tell me about your experiences in the comments section below. And hopefully we can beat this Thing – together.

29 thoughts on “Anxiety – One Man’s Tussle With The Thing

  1. Wow such a long post but with pertinent information! I live with adult ADHD untreated so yes I know what anxiety does. Sometimes I can push through it but there are those moments when you can’t. That’s when you have to holdon n ride it out. Key is not see it for what it is not take it personal. Great post!!!
    I’m gonna leave my info under your post on Twitter for return favor. Your AWESOME 💚💛💜💙❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Michelle. Sounds like you have a real handle on things, despite it obviously still being hard work.

      And please do – I’ll have a look at some point 🙌🏻💜

      Like

  2. *key is to see it for what it is (sorry about typo)

    My “handle” came from a lot of loose tears and thoughts until i disciplined myself and did it on a consistent basis. Mind power… It works but most won’t try it because they Blame their disorder saying they can’t. Sometimes you won’t be able to push thru but to not even try saying you can’t?

    Zero tolerance for that! I live you and your blog a lot!!!

    😖 Perpetual madness of the mind
    https://rawthoughtsfromchelle.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/perpetual-madness-of-the-mind/
    That was written DURING AN ADHD CRASH MOMENT NOT AFTER.
    It’s hard to write during a crash but it CAN be done …

    Thanks sweetie n let me know please your thoughts on this post!!
    🎶❤️💙💜💛💚⚡

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t anxious. It seemed that I was always doing something wrong and breaking some unwritten rule that meant people could be unkind to me.
    I try to flip the script on myself and remind myself of all the times the worst didn’t happen and everything was alright.

    When I am afraid to leave the house I remind myself that there is nothing anyone can do to me that hasn’t already been done (bar murder, which would save me a job-my humour is a tad dark there).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have done since being a young child.
    I completely feel your words when you talk about “The Thing” consuming you.
    On a dark day when the black cloud looms, I question everything. The who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s and why’s ! The what if this and what if that’s!
    It’s exhausting.
    I suppose all we can do is to keep talking, keep trying and battling on . I wish I knew the answer 🤷🏻‍♀️ However we would have nothing to write about on our blogs lol 😆
    Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice post Joseph. My takeaway – Everybody has anxiety. At a certain level, it’s part of being human.

    Next, I know you have asked for advice but sometimes a bit of medicine can help. Maybe just for a month or two if you have a slightly higher level of anxiety and it isn’t an ongoing condition. Just to level out and regroup.

    Another thing that has helped me is yoga, exercise, hobbies, prayer, and meditation. I don’t believe God is responsible for everything I do but it does help to ask for help from a power greater than me. Prayer, meditation, and visualization have gotten me through very stressful times.

    Lastly, like others that have commented, if I feel the threat of impending doom creeping in for no apparent reason I remind myself of all the times I’ve felt it before and absolutely nothing has happened. We’re scared creatures, and being scared in and of itself many times helps us to survive. But it shouldn’t take away our joy. So we need to be balanced.

    I’m working on it just like you every day. You’re not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this wonderful comment Rachel. I really appreciate your kind words. Of all the things you’ve mentioned, I think yoga would suit me, so perhaps I’ll give that a try.

      I would also be interested in meditation, and perhaps can somehow marry the two

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Joseph! There is yoga with mediation and that has no religious suggestions, and it’s very good. I will be interested to hear if it helps you! There are many options on YouTube in case you’d like to look there.

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  6. What I have done when dealing with anxiety, is take a time to identify what the Thing really is, and then ask myself questions: why is this bothering me? Is it because I feel powerless? Is it because I’m taking personal something that isn’t? What’s the worst thing that can happen? Sometimes this introspection helps to put things into perspective. Sometimes writing things down (as you did), or talking to a friend, can do the job. Putting feelings into words usually helps us cope with those feelings.
    Hope this helps.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this and taking the time to explain it so well. Issues surrounding mental health like anxiety and depression can be difficult for those experiencing them to explain, even if they want to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Britt. 💜 I’d had a bad period of neurotic thoughts and decided this might be a cathartic way to releasing the valve a bit. It certainly has helped and I’m really glad that it seems to be resonating with others

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  8. I have been dealing with anxiety since I can remember, so I have had a hard time. Last year I learned how to focus on important things and my present rather on things that I can’t change. I’m still working on it but my life is a little better than it was before.
    Thanks for this post, I enjoyed reading it. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Claudia. I hope you’re well. I assume this is BTS Army Claudia from Twitter? Either way, props to you for figuring out a way of coping. I’ve had so many great comments on this post. It’s nice to see all the strength that people have to not let this shit best them

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  9. Wow, I am impressed. I really find it unusal (in the best way possible) for a man to talk about mental health and his personal emotional experiences. The official term for ‘anxiety about the thing that keeps on changing’ is free floating anxiety. I sometimes also refer to as shape shifting anxiety.
    I was wondering if you would like to collaborate with me on my upcoming post about body image issues in men? Please contact me if you are interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve framed it beautifully in Kierkegaard and Heidegger. I understand The Thing and their complex work better after having read your work! For years I fought prayer and meditation as a way to calm anxiety. Now I practice them. And it helps. Mindfulness. I think if you suggest mindfulness practice while reading what you’ve written philosophically, it fits nicely. Oh, and music. It’s like magic for me. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Ugena. I’m not really one for prayer, I’m afraid, but meditation definitely sounds good. I’m now thinking that mixed with some yoga might be a good pursuit going forward.

      That and perhaps reading some more Alan Watts books on mindfulness!

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  11. Thank you for sharing this! For years I hid my anxiety – sometimes I still do. It’s such a horrible thing to have to live with. It’s embarrassing when I’m in the grocery store and I can’t even concentrate because I’m 100% sure my throat is closing up and I’m going to pass out on aisle 7 and everybody is going to see it! I hate having anxiety, but I’m learning to push myself through it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you Michelle. That sounds like you have quite severe emotions to deal with, so good on you for showing that strength. I find it impossible to hide it sometimes (nail biting and such) but I’m learning about lots of techniques people use to cope

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m not sure I do overcome it, fully. Just cast it back from the forefront of my mind. Most of my anxiety stems from feelings of inferiority, insecurity, loneliness and confidence issues. Throw in a bit of time and money concerns too, which are of course hardly unfamiliar for the millenial generation. I guess I lift my head above it by listening to music, doing something I enjoy or (what often seems to work) taking myself out of the setting that I’m feeling anxiety. If it’s at work, stepping outside can alleviate things. I took things to the extreme last year – I spent 2018 out of the country, on the other side of the world, far away from everything I’d grown up with, and it was wonferful. I rarely felt anxious or stressed. My confidence picked right up, I felt capable of whatever I could set my mind to, and generally a great deal better about myself. Now… I’m back. Occasionally I can set anxiety aside by having a beer with mates, but the truth is that recently, it has begun to overrule the liberty I feel I have to do that – that I’d be better off going home and attempting to work through things. It can work, but it means sacrificing activities that I feel can benefit me in the long run – spending time enjoying myself with and around my peers, gaining confidence, feeling as though I belong. The Thing is persistent and I need to continue to push to find ways to ruse above it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’ve done really well bud. You’ve come a long way since I’ve known you. And last year was a really great thing for you to do to grow as a person. You just need to remember how many people think you’re a neat guy – I think the past year you’ve just had is gonna put you in really good stead for the future 🙌🏻💪🔥

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