Friday, September 28, 2012

Anxious

It's taken me a long time to admit to this, partly because I simply didn't realize it about myself. I'm an anxious person. The best relief to my anxiety seems to be found in helping others, and so I'm always vigilantly in search of rescuees. I find myself unable control the urge to jump to the aid of those around me--even strangers at times--when they seem to be struggling with something, even if they don't expressly ask for rescue. From the ambling forlorn tourist to the crying waitress to the dejected friend: I'm on the job. Thank goodness I'm here right now, because I know how to make this better. I can fix it.

 I've always assumed that my reasons for such involvement were purely altruistic. I'm helpful, I'll think to myself. I care more about others than I care about myself, I'll proudly muse. If I'm overly opinionated it's because I don't want to see anyone suffering if I can help it, and I can help it, I'll respond when acquaintances comment on my evergreen helpfulness. I'm an advocate. No sufferer left behind.
We're all responsible for one another on this earth as brothers and sisters. We're all connected, I'll testify. Sometimes, while jumping in to another human being's quagmire, my body will begin to tremble. Only by reaching a perceived repair of the quagmired circumstance can I calm down again.

 Last week, my close friend Wyatt told me that one of our mutual friends had described me as manipulative. "Manipulative?" I said. I may be a lot of things but certainly not manipulative. "Why did he think that?" I quickly retorted (anxious--how can I fix his opinion of me?) "He said that you always think you know how to fix everyone's problems, and you are very forceful and directive about the way they should fix them."

It was 100% true. I did do that. I do that. Denial: impossible.

"Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death" (BoM Mosiah 18:8-9).

Taken proverbially, it's just a golden rule-esque equivalent. You guys, let's all help each other out and bring casseroles over when times are tough. But taken literally, it's an extremely serious commandment. When another being mourns, you too must mourn; actually mourn with them. If they are crying and hopeless and sobbing on the floor, you must also fall into a heap and cry as well, thus sharing and lightening their burden of sadness. Or at least you should lift them up off the floor and help them feel better; give them a shoulder upon which to cry and hold the kleenex box.

Because I took almost everything literally when I was an active Mormon, I must've engraved the fullness of these charges upon my very soul.

Now, to help others and bear up those who are in need of comfort is unarguably noble. To comfort those who stand in need of comfort, to have empathy for the other human beings that we encounter in this life cannot but enlarge us all. But in my case, "Was I really seeking good, or just seeking attention?" Further, if you're mourning, does it actually help you to have me mourn with you? In your dispair, does my added dispair relieve yours? Can I actually share your sorrow--divide it so to speak--or have I actually doubled the pain in the world by joining you?

Last week, I found myself in an airport security line behind a young dad, his son, and an older man--presumably the little boy's grandfather. The young dad seemed tired (it was just after 6am) and irritable. His face was blank and stoic. A backpack straddled his broad shoulders (probably the reason I noticed him so quickly) and he appeared to be struggling to remove it. After 10 seconds of unsuccessful shimmying, he incisively tapped the older man and pointed at his backpack as if to say "Remove this now." (my projection) The older man freed one strap from the offending deltoid, and the backpack came off at last.
Thirty seconds later, after removing a baggie of food, and with one strap already on again, I assumed he would want to return the second strap back to it's original spot. I felt a surge of adrenaline rush through my body, and I instinctively lunged forward to help. At that precise moment, he moved, and my assisting hand missed the strap. Shocked at my own intensity I stood still and didn't attempt to help again, embarrassed by my exuberance. He kept the backpack on just like that, content with just one strap. Like a zebra in the African savana, my fight or flight response had been triggered by this man and his overly tight backpack straps.

When a friend or co-worker presents a struggle or problem, even to someone else within earshot, I feel a similar tightness rise up within my stomach and chest. In it's grip, it seems to shout, "You have no right to feel good while this person suffers. Fix it so that you can feel better. And if you can't fix it, your good day is screwed." With the quality of my inner life is on the line--my very happiness hanging in the balance--it's no wonder I can be a little manipulative. Pushy even. I am aggressively desperate for that person to feel better as fast as possible. "I need you to get past this so I can feel better," I might as well say. But if I said that, I probably wouldn't seem as redeeming or helpful. And God forbid that.

There is a funny way of seeing the world that says, "I can't feel good unless those around me are _________." The parent thinks to him/herself, I can't have a good day if my child comes home with bad grades. The boss thinks, I can't feel good unless my employees respect me and honor my wishes. The religious leader thinks, I can't feel the spirit of God unless my sheep remain morally clean. I think, I can't be calm and content when people around me are in trouble.
My intermittent anxiety has remained mostly unacknowledged because for most of my life it has hidden behind some fantastic scapegoats. While a practicing Mormon, I constantly juggled anxieties about my future. How could I stay in the church, be faithful to God, and righteously manage my ever self-asserting incongruent sexuality? Will I ever be able to get attracted enough to a woman to get married and have children? Will entering a mixed-orientation marriage be fair to her? Will I be able to manage and successfully compartmentalize my sexual attraction to men?? Every cute boy with big hands and a crooked smile brought a fresh shower of anxiety over my spirit. But rightfully so! I'm not anxious at all- my circumstances are producing the anxiety. And plenty of it. It's not me. It's my gay mormon-ness. And was I not taught to be anxiously engaged in a good cause!? Being merely truly or wholly engaged in a good cause is not enough. One must be anxious.

After leaving the church I found a boyfriend to serve as a shiny new scapegoat for my continuing anxiety. Why can't he be happier and more optimistic? He's so negative. He doesn't have sex with me enough. Why can't he get along better with my friends? I found myself constantly and agitatedly striving to ease his emotional pain, even steamroll his inconsistencies of spirit. "Will you please feel better so I can??" my mind begged him. Eventually it became, "I think I need to break up with him. Oh no, that is really going to hurt him. But I'm not happy and so I need to break up with him. That's really going to suck. But I probably have to do it, sometime." Every unwanted interaction between us poured fresh aqueous anxiety over my restless spirit-- albeit via a different shower head than before.

Now that my relationship has ended after six and a half years, I still find myself occasionally waking up in the morning feeling anxious. Can I continue working as an actor and make enough money to support myself throughout my life? Will my body (which is sometimes extremely sore) be able to continue my 8 show/week schedule into the future? Did I choose the right career or should I have pursued something more stable? Maybe I should have become a doctor after all. Should I go back to school and do something else? Why am I so anxious anyway? Now that I'm aware of my anxiety, am I going to be too anxious to find a happy relationship? Should I go back to my old relationship and try again, even though I was not happy? Maybe my anxiety poisoned it.

I have to face the facts. There is something going on inside of me that needs attention.

I must learn to acknowledge that each person on this earth is a powerful creator in his/her own right, and is not only responsible but fully capable of helping him/herself feel better. If people want help, they will ask for it. For me to feel the need to anticipate everyone else's needs is a huge source of anxiety.

My belief that I am worthless beyond my ability to help others is something that I must also face head on. I must accept the fact that I don't have the answers to the problems that others face.

I should probably also accept the fact that sometimes people don't want to feel better right away, so trying to force them to do so is futile, and not helpful at all.

And finally, I've got to accept the fact that I am allowed to be happy even when others are not. There is always someone suffering. Life is full of people who have lost a loved one, found out that they are sick, lost their job, or gotten dumped. If we must mourn with all of them, then it is likely that we will perpetually be dressed in nothing but black. 

Eventually, I'd like to discover a way to help others without hurting myself. But that begs the question, where did I learn that one should suffer innocently--even unto death--to redeem and comfort people who struggle? Maybe when you live that way you're not intended to live longer than 33 years. I'm 35-- maybe that's the problem.

In this moment, I have an opportunity to learn. To breathe.

After the showers of anxiety, I find that the plush towel of abundance works wonders. To replace thoughts of fear, anxiety, and lack with recognition of abundance--of fullness-- is the most incredible tool I've discovered so far. When I see others in distress, I want to learn to recognize the truth: that they can handle it, and that they will learn from the distress that they themselves have brought into their experience. They don't need me to fix it. They're going to be fine.

Interestingly, I'm actually not trying to be like Jesus at this moment.

And I think that's a good thing.

8 comments:

The Lead Singer said...

The art of self-pacification has always been a very "hyper" pursuit for you. Now, perhaps at the forefront of a frontier full of "non-activity," you're seeing that there is no doing; only being. Your previously worthy work of "fixing," will now ultimately lead to more fulfilling empathic responses. Because true empathy includes an honoring of another's journey. Much like the statement "Namaste" which means "I honor the creator in you," you are learning that everyone is exactly where they are and how they are because they have deliberately placed themselves in said circumstances perfectly and unapologetically.
I imagine we will continue having this lucid discussion of profound, reflective, and enlightening discoveries for many years to come. This process of self-discovery is ebullient!

CLARK JOHNSEN said...

I'm hyper too? oh shit. j/k Thanks so much for your response LSOARB, and for your amazing insight. I owe so much of who I am to you, "like a comet pulled from orbit.." or something. Love you!

The Lead Singer said...

It has recently come to my attention that I am anxious. #chlo√ęsevigny

Matt said...

Yay for new posts!

I have always enjoyed your insights.

In many ways, my inherent anxiety (which also has been/is a major presence in my life) has resulted in the polar opposite behavioral response: I turn inward and become so hyper-focused on the full-range of my own perceived shortcomings that I become incapable of recognizing others' problems. Never mind trying to fix them. In many ways, I look at your natural inclination to turn outward, to help people in need, as the direction toward which I need to move myself.

The funny thing is that self-realization has you trying to be more like what Jesus really is (at least in my mind), instead of what I used to believe that He was. Until recently, my picture of God was that of a puppeteer, twitching this string and that, interfering in every aspect of life in response to our needs, desires, and righteousness. He was Julie, your Time Life™ operator, standing by to take your call.

My personal understanding has evolved with a little separation from the church. I no longer believe that God is there to serve as my holy concierge, to fix all of my problems. Does the fact that he doesn't jump in to fix my problems for me mean that he doesn't love me? I used to believe that it did; no so much anymore.

I hope you don't ever lose your ability to recognize and sympathize with those around you who struggle; It's a gift. But like any gift, that one aspect alone shouldn't have to define the way you live your life. You can still be you, be happy, and be there without trying to, for lack of a better analogy, "play the Savior" and take everyone's burdens upon yourself. You, like Jesus, can be there to say, "I feel ya bro," (sometimes in my head, Jesus talks like a frat boy), "but I'mma let you figure this one out on your own. I'll be here to talk if you need me."

I, on the other hand, will be working at it from the other direction..."What? Oh, you have a problem? Just a second while I pull my head out of my ass, and then maybe I can help you out with that."

Maybe we'll meet up somewhere in the middle.

Dean Scott said...

I agree - yea for new posts!!!

I am somewhere between you and Matt on the anxious to help scale, but I was more like you back when I was closer to your age. Anxiety wore me out and I was forced to lighten up. I am not sure if I am calmly anxious or anxiously calm. My son gave me a t-shirt for Fathers Day that had a cat hanging upside down from a wire with its fur in a rage. The caption was, "Not nearly as calm as I look."

Kurt Peterson said...

Well written. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Actually Textual said...

Clark, don't change who you are. Though I only know you from your blogs and media persona (like the interview, where you beamed), you are a good man, you have a good heart, and I do not suspect all of your or even most of your anxiety is from feeling that only service validates you. Rather I suspect you are anxious in part because you are so darn smart you know what can happen, as when our income fluctuates. We all crave multiple levels of security. I can tell you that the older we get, the more we come to terms with insecurity. Now, there are some people who seem to live well focused mainly on themselves. I can see clearly that it is your love even for strangers that gave you an innocent gleam before, and now gives you a more powerful aura, because you have experienced a lot, and yet you care about others. I do not see you as manipulative, but as honest with others, because you are honest with yourself. Sleep tight, Clarky, you are a good man, and you love ardently. You bring warmth to a world that really needs it. Glad you are posting a little more now.

emerdean said...

I had lunch with you and a friend of yours from Houston several years ago in New York. I admired you then and I admire you now.
Please keep following your heart. As the fox said - "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
If you follow your heart and are patient, you will learn the most beneficial ways to mourn with those that mourn.
It is an honor to be of use to others.
Hope to meet you again one day.