Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Beauty of Anxiety

I suffered from severe anxiety on and off from the time I was a small child, which peaked in 2003 with full-blown panic disorder. I wrote about this in my book. Panic, in fact, was the catalyst for my memoir because it was a desire to understand the source, to stop the fear that made me reflect on decisions that I thought consciously would best be forgotten. Up until I began writing, in fact, I was ashamed of myself and my decisions.

What happened when my panic disorder began placing me in emergency rooms and causing me to veer off the road when driving home, was that I was forced to revisit my past and to reevaluate my life. Believing I was going to die at any moment, I began to live in constant fear. And when one feels such things, it is difficult to talk out. Yes, I did engage in cognitive therapy and I meditated and began a religious yoga practice. I did everything people say to do, but the panic continued to arrive. It came on like an explosion from within, without warning, and it would color the world around me so that everything seemed threatening: the driver beside me, the customer in line at the bookstore, the song on the radio—would they be the last people I saw, the last song I heard, my last image of the world?

As quickly as my panic began to consume me that summer, toward the end of the year, it began to fade. I told myself mantras, told myself that I was safe, that death was not something to fear. I reconciled with my fear of death by accepting that death was inevitable, and it was not something to be combated with fear. This is all very logical, easy to say now; but trust me, it was no easy realization. I knew this same information while I was in the midst of panic, and yet, I couldn't see beyond my fear. So what changed? What clicked in my mind that allowed me to accept reality and not dwell in my fear?

It took, as any redeeming story, a journey. I went where I never thought I would to find the answer. I went within. Consequently, I began to write, honestly, without filters, without adding glamor. I wrote Musical Chairs.

Those who suffer from delusions or severe panic are highly creative. It takes a lot of mental energy to convince yourself of an altered reality, after all. So the key, in my experience, is to channel this energy into something else. To find the source and explore it through art, through expression in some medium, but to do so honestly. A metaphor can only do so much for a person. It is only when you look at your anxiety head on that its secrets will begin to emerge.

This is in no way a call for everyone to write a memoir. Not everyone is a writer, after all, but I think the lesson is transcendent. Panic means there’s some energy within that needs an outlet. It’s welling up inside, and therefore in order to get over it, it must be released. This energy is a remarkable gift, and can be utilized to do great things. For me, it fueled writing; for others, it may fuel a spiritual journey or a change of lifestyle. Whatever direction you’ve always wanted to go, and never did, your anxiety is yelling at you to go, do. Use the energy, it's a gift. 


  1. It's good to hear that others have experienced the pitch of anxiety, anguish, and have found a way to make it "okay". I suffered my whole life with the worst of symptoms.

    My secret was to not let myself be "phased out" by my thoughts. There were many habits that I had to change, also my entire philosophy of life, my attitude towards just about everything had to change.

    I started slowly, to me at the beginning, walking out the door was a victory, even if I ran back inside 10 seconds later. I took longer and longer walks, and now on a good week I walk several hours per day.

    Walking is meditation for me, it helps me channel all that energy, so that it doesn't stagnate and become toxic.

    Anyway it was great to hear your story just now, the timing was right, I needed to hear that. Another thing I did is when I was scared of going someplace, or scared of doing something, I just went there or did that thing. It became evident over time that my fears were unfounded, and I guess at this point I was lucky enough to just grow out of them (sort of, I still panic but it's less frequent and takes up a much shorter span of time).

  2. oh wow, you are such an overcomer!Thank you for sharing your journey

  3. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing, Jonas.

    Honestly, I think that walking and exercise is one of the most powerful ways to overcome anxiety because it's the mind-body connection. And yes, the way you describe walking. That was writing for me. That's what it's about, finding a meditation.

    I too still have days that are filled by obsessive, anxious thoughts. Mine was more of a generalized anxiety, but I will occassionally hone in on a certain thing and anguish myself over it.

    I'm so happy you found your outlet. I do think that there's something redeeming there--something beautiful about your having overcome and learned to live with anxiety that makes you stronger and more appreciative.

  4. I love the idea of taking a personal struggle and doing something beautiful with it by turning it into a piece of writing.. Writing and exercise sound like very effective strategies for dealing with crippling anxiety. Thank you for sharing your story!


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