Monday, April 27, 2015

Anxiety, the Internet and Shark Attacks

My vacuum brand name is Shark. And it is purple. I am not sure if there are any actual purple sharks out there (my guess is no but maybe there are), regardless, it was my vacuum named Shark that helped me this morning.

You see, I am one of the millions of people out there that suffers from anxiety. I have since I was little when I would go to my mom and say, “Mom, I’m worried.” It is not as severe as some, it is not consistent. It is sometimes quick, sometimes loud, sometimes paralyzing, always unwelcome.

And it can strike at any time.

Today was one of those times.

It started off with a nightmare from last night. A truly horrific nightmare involving violence and death that I probably could deconstruct in a therapist’s office if I wasn’t financially challenged.

Sidenote: I paid several hundred dollars to the State of California for my taxes. Today I received a refund check in the mail. I was so excited until I opened said refund check. It was for $6.54. Now you are just mocking me sir.

Back to anxiety. It started off with a nightmare that was neither food nor media induced. And then a single thought happened. It involved my unknown future. And this thought lit the match that burned the straw that was on the camel’s back. The train left the station. And once the train leaves the station it is nearly impossible to stop it. 

Especially now.

The Internet can be friend or foe and in this case it was foe. For every thought that was in my head, for every irrational fear, there was a news article there waiting for me.

Okalahoma City Bombing. Climate change. Footage of the avalanche on Mount Everest.

It never used to be like this. I am not talking about sensationalizing news. I am simply talking about access to news. Back in the day when people lived hundreds of years ago your fears were limited to your surroundings and your neighbors. You couldn’t worry about terrorism in the Middle East because you didn’t even know the Middle East existed. How can I worry about the Great Barrier Reef dying and the ocean’s ecosystems being disrupted if I never see the ocean?

And you are right; some of it is sensationalizing the news. Bad news sells. Period. We hear all about the people that lost their lives in a fire but no mention of the millions who woke up this morning, had coffee, went to work and came home after having a fairly average day before they settled into Netflix. That story is just not told.

The Internet makes news easy and accessible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I don’t think we are even beginning to understand the psychological impact of being perpetually traumatized. What does constant instant bad news do to us? With a smart phone in nearly every hand the Internet becomes a minefield of your worst fears you can’t tear yourself away from.

So it was with me this morning.

Bees are dying, so is a young mom with cancer, so are people trapped in earthquake rumble in Nepal. I am crying.

It doesn’t matter how irrational the fear is or how unlikely something like that will happen to you. And worse, there is nothing you can do to elevate the suffering. For them or for yourself.

Most people I know that are really anxious people are also highly empathetic people. And in today’s digitized world you go from imaging life as a black man in the south, to being a refugee smuggled on an overcrowded boat, to being diagnosed with some mysterious illness in an instant. You feel it. You absorb it. It is all consuming.

And it is extremely hard to explain it to someone that doesn’t struggle with it.

I can try.

Imagine trying to stop a train using nothing but tissue paper.

I will write more about anxiety in later posts. It is a complex multifaced beast.

But for now I want to give a special hug to those that suffer from anxiety and another hug to those that love someone that suffers from anxiety. And still another to those that simply want to understand people who have anxiety.

Speaking of hugging, did you know that studies are finding that cuddling helps alleviate anxiety,  reduce depression and boosts the immune system? Pretty groovy huh?

But what does one do when one does not have someone to cuddle with?

That is where my Shark comes in.

This morning while I was on my bad news train I came across one article about a shark attack in southern Australia. The man lived, thankfully, and something else happened. 

I realized that there was a zero percent chance that I would be attacked by a shark today.

I know that sounds crazy, that I would methodically think through the unlikely scenario where I would voluntarily drive myself to the beach or get kidnapped and taken to the beach. And then I would be forced into the water where a shark would happen to be. I even went through those crazy indoor pool scenarios that we all have. (I blame Spielberg)

Nope, zero chance I would be eaten by a shark today.

And somehow, that was enough. I looked up at that moment and noticed the name of my purple vacuum cleaner.


I smiled.

You will not attack me Shark, I will be the master of you this time! I will turn you on and off as I so choose. You will suck up dirt on my command.

You will not get me today.

The train slowed down. I got off at the next station. 

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your blog entries. They're so engaging.
    By the way, there's probably also a zero percent chance you'll get stuck in a snow storm today (assuming you're in Cali).
    ---Nate Dog