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.