I just updated the article that I wrote about overthinking and found myself writing about anxiety paralysis. A fear of the future that is so strong in paralyses you. Fuck it’s intense and it’s also something that I believe is affecting a lot of our young people today. The reason that I say that is because it was something that really affected me for a very long time and I couldn’t even name it. Anxiety was gripping, wrenching and chest-crushing all at the same time. Anxiety was paralysing and it was one of my big teachers in this life, though it did take a very long time to get wrestle it to the ground, as it basically left me on the brink of panic every single day. I mean what the fuck do you do when every move you make is going to lead to climate disaster for everyone and moves beyond the human paradigm? After all, we are taking all the other Earthlings with as as part of our rather indulgent behavior and that really doesn’t seem very nice. Later this specific aspect of anxiety paralysis came to be known as eco-anxiety.
Anxiety paralysis was a term that I came to know during my InnerLifeSkills life coach training. When one of my fellow students used it to describe their experience of anxiety and how it had affected their life. That they had become stuck and unable to move forward in their life in a meaningful way. They felt paralysed with anxiety. It made so much sense to me.
These days conversations about mental and emotional health are commonplace. It’s become normal to talk about both anxiety and depression. It’s become common for people to name anxiety as the thing holding them back or affecting them in any given situation. The list of anxiety-related behaviour and symptoms seems to be ever-growing. these days social anxiety seems to be topping the ranks. Anxiety is now known to be impacted by the influence of social media, the need to be perfect or at the very least suitably photographed. We still seem to be caught up in consumptive image-making that consumed us emotionally, especially when we seek to commodify the human life experience. This is especially true particularly within the wellness industry which seems to promote toxic aspirational body imagery. All I can really say is thank fuck for people like Lizzo.
As a community activist that had an overriding desire to create wellness for everyone (including the Earthlings) I too was often paralysed with anxiety. What was I supposed to do when almost every decision that I was allowed to make resulted in harm for others? Not only that it didn’t create wellness for me, given that the success of our collective futures was inextricably linked to one another’s wellness. It was a shit show to figure out and disentangle. There were some many causes, and so many people to help, even in a small town, even if I kept it local. There is no way that I could turn up for everyone and everything that was in serious need of attention. Not only this each one of these people, places, and things once engaged with always seemed to be bogged down in an unstopped chain reaction of negative consequences. Whose management led to half-arsed, disappointing outcomes that barely scratched at the problem and provided no meaningful solutions. Community activism seemed like a commitment to drudgery, that in the short term was corrosive, exhausting, and in the long term was soul destroying. It was no different to any other job even if it was self-directed. I hit a brick wall.
Speaking truth to power was a waste of time and institutional and structural violence was entirely normalised, legitimised, and expected. The unconsciousness of the humans that had any kind of handle on power was entirely upheld back the bankrolling power of the establishment. In short, everyone that worked was co-opted to uphold these practices and behaviours with little regard for how their decision-making processes impacted the most vulnerable and the unrepresented. Which includes other earthlings and the environment. It was a shit show that I couldn’t solve. In an act of self-preservation, I turned to radical rest as a refuge, and rather than acting, took to observing and witnessing instead. I named this position the art of in-action.
In the meantime, people who had a grip on our larger social issues seemed to manage their anxiety by taking massive action. It was disturbing. Let’s plant a million trees, build a million homes and fuck the consequences for anything in my way because my ego and need to succeed were so important. It just wasn’t right. The activated ego’s too wanted to coopt everything in their path onto their mission, having done no research, no community engagement, and when I get down to it very little thinking or planning. They just powered on and largely collapsed in on themselves while banging on about sustainability. The emotional and relational component quite simply was catered for within their attack of massive action. It didn’t take long to realise that these massive actions were all based on a desire to bulldoze the physical situation into submission that represented the unhealed parts of themselves. Even now I boggle at the amount of unpaid space holding that was required to be still with my silent screaming of “YOU ARE GOING THE WRONG WAY”. The idea of emotional labour would present itself until much later in my life.
In these moments I became grateful too my anxiety, in the long term and I mean the very long term I saw it as protective. I also understood that it minimised harm to others. I didn’t and don’t have all the answers and although I had a very good brain I couldn’t solve everything and I came to a place of radical acceptance. I could only take responsibility for my wee small part. Using guidelines like ‘act local, think global’ as a mantra for those that might want to continue to live, along with other members of our species and our earthling companions. I just needed to focus on what was right in front of me. It was a major intellectual challenge to figure out how best I might exist sustainably in the world. Because as we know not everything is what it says on the tin. It feels like I’ve spent a lifetime junking products that are no longer viable. It feels like a metaphor for our species.
More than this I found that slowness was not just desired but necessary in our fossil-fueled turbo charged world and I was delighted when the book ‘In Praise of Slow’ emerged. This book gave me permission to live my life exactly as it was, entirely present with the now. In a process that I termed Real Time Existance. I had no TV, no internet, and only my phone. you’ll also be amazed at how few people call you when they can’t benefit from you socially or financially. It’s an incredibly powerful place to be, which continues to serve me to this day.
Radical rest, glocal, real time existence and the slow movement gave me the philosophical underpinnings to live my life differently to live my life as a human being free from the propaganda of capitalist production. That I had to be productive.
In the end, I view my anxiety paralysis as a gift, it gave me the space and time that I needed to figure out life. That I was right to be anxious I was being forced to live in a toxic anti-human system that was emotionally destroying me. That I was being gaslit to believe that there was something wrong with me. That I was to be forced to believe that there was something wrong with me for valuing life, not just my life but everyone’s around me. That I was not a productive part of the system and therefore I was obsolete, no more than a glitch in the matrix. I now know better, anxiety no longer fuels my day-to-day life, nor does it guide it. It turns out that standing still is a superpower.
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