A is for Anxiety


artwork by Surrealist on Flickr.com
I am currently blogging, along with my daughter, all the way through the alphabet. Check out how the idea started, and get the rules here.

Anxiety has been one of the guiding forces of my life, determining more about the way I live day to day than almost anything else. It’s embarrassing. Really. Especially for guys. Our current understanding is that anxiety affects more women than men (2:1). Not sure exactly why this is, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that women’s brains are wired differently than men’s brains (and maybe because a lot fewer men are willing to admit it?). Men’s brains tend to be wired linearly, so that they think in sequence, and normally about one thing at a time — A leads to B, B leads to C, etc. Women tend to have non-linear brains and therefore think about many things at once, and in any order. A leads to B through Z, B leads to A and C through Z, C leads to A and B, as well as D through Z, etc. This is well-known, but I do not know what is the current state of our understanding about brain differences between men and women and how those differences relate to anxiety. My theory is that rates of anxiety would be close to equal if a study were done that involved both males and females who have been shown to think in non-linear ways.

That’s me. I’m a non-linear guy. Non-linear thinkers tend to be deeply intuitive, very familiar with feelings and how to express them verbally, creatively and artistically oriented, capable of considering huge numbers of factors at a time when making decisions, and capable of withholding judgement precisely because we are aware of thousands of factors related to each and every opinion that so many consider to be so black and white. The upside is that most of history’s creative geniuses have been non-linear thinkers. The potential good is immense. On the other hand, non-linear thinkers (artists, poets, composers, writers, etc.) are also drastically overrepresented among the ranks of the mentally ill. We are prone to schizophrenia, depression, and a host of other mental conditions. The potential bad is immense too. After all, when you think non-linearly, there is so much more to be afraid of! It can literally drive a person out of their mind.

The problem with non-linear thinking is that perception is reality.  How many times a day are happy-go-lucky people told by anxiety or depression-ridden people that they are “unrealistic” and that they have no real reason to be happy?  We might conclude that Kurt Cobain was “realistic.” Look where that got him. Emptiness. Anxiety. Depression. Addiction. The fact is that Kurt’s mental state in no way matched the reality of his life. That’s true of everyone at times. But it’s true of depressives and anxiety-ridden people quite a bit of the time.

Dealing effectively with anxiety begins with understanding that, in Richard Rohr’s words, every viewpoint is a view from a point. If you are struggling with anxiety, it is not because the terrible things happening in your mind are objectively real. It is not because the things that feel to you like omens are actually going to happen. It is because you think in a certain way that leads naturally to a lot of really scary things. But it also leads naturally to intelligence and productivity and creativity. I remember telling my wife 15 years ago that although I was constantly plagued with hellish fears and ideas, I would rather hang on to them than lose both them and my ability to write music.

But please hear this: if you are struggling with anxiety, you don’t have to make that choice! You can learn to think in new ways that will keep anxiety from devouring you, but will leave completely untouched that part of you that is generative and creative and gifted. And that is the purpose of this post — to let you know, if you struggle with anxiety, that it is not real. It is a product of the unique way you are wired. Because of that wiring, chances are pretty good that you will be able to do some things that people around you cannot do. But you may also carry burdens that many others do not have to carry. And you do not have to give up your gifts in order to lay down your burdens.

Why not get help today? You have nothing to lose but your nightmares.

Read Kyra’s “A” post

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Gina

    Sorry … “And you do not have to give up your gifts in order to lay down your burdens.” My immediate jump was to think you were subtlety referencing the faith stance that “Jesus makes everything better.” My bad. We both know I’m probably overly sensitive there … I do agree that not “fitting” into a linear world is often unappreciated. I spend a lot of time trying to “make it work,” (as we all do)when I wonder what I could accomplish if I just accepted who I was, and went from there? Anyway … thanks again for continuing to write. Always interesting and challenging!

    • My intention there was to say that it’s not a choice between losing the anxiety and losing the gift. We can learn to think in new ways that will deal significantly with the anxiety, but leave the creativity untouched. So I both am and am not saying what you thought I was saying! Yes, there is hope and freedom available, and all freedom comes from God, but no — definitely not ‘say this prayer to God and he will take it away.’

  • Gina

    From one “non-linear” to another … it’s nice to hear other people understand that gentle walk between creative, dynamic energy and insanity. I “secretly” fear that it’s only a matter of time until I slip over the line … even making fun of the fact that “I get to be the crazy grandmother” someday. But my fix has been, when I am a bit overwhelmed with all the noise in my head, to find something menial and “linear” to do … organize cupboards, sweep the floor, mow the lawn. Before too long, things usually settle down in there. I know what you’re saying … about “handing it all over to God.” But in my experience, that’s not a panacea, you know?
    I’m with you … I don’t think I’d trade stability for those bursts of unquenchable creative thought. And even though sometimes I teeter close …I actually kind of enjoy the tension most days.
    Great post!

    • Thanks, Gina. Not sure where the “handing it over to God” thing came from though, as I never mentioned that in my post!

      Non-linear thinkers, I have found, share an interesting bond. It’s a different way of seeing the world, to be sure. It’s not superior, but it is different, and I do happen to think it’s often undervalued not only by linear thinkers but by us non-linear thinkers as well!

  • Christina

    “The problem with non-linear thinking is that perception is reality.” As I read that line, my mind responded with a vocal “Oh, yes.” How true it is. I have struggled with depression and unnecessary anxiety for as long as I can remember and have had to work hard on discerning what is my “perception” and what is the honest to God truth. The curse of creative thinkers. I am watching my son struggle with it now as well. Knowing how difficult a battle it is, I found him someone to help him work through and channel it into something good. Thank you for this post and your insightful words.

    • Good call on getting help for your son. There’s a very strong genetic link in all this, obviously. We saw these tendencies in our oldest daughter when she was very young and were going to get her into counseling, but then I decided that since I am a counselor, maybe I should at least take a stab at it. As you know, you don’t totally cure anxiety, and she still has her struggles, but I was able to help her learn to cope with it, to reduce the intensity of the fear, and to help her understand that it’s not real. That time together also kicked off an open dialog about anxiety that continues to this day, which has established a very healthy environment. Thanks for reading, Chris. I have several other pieces on my blog related to anxiety that I hope can be helpful as well.

  • Joanna

    Obviously this blog challenge struck a chord with me as I had a dream about it last night. Let’s just say in this instance the reality was MUCH better than the dream! Thanks for this post–been thinking a lot about anxiety lately and try to come to peace with its existence (and sometimes control over) my family. Lots of helpful perspectives here.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Joanna. A thumbs-up from you is always high praise.

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