Friday Flotsam: Anxiety Attacks and Some Better Things

1. Suffered some major depression / anxiety attacks this week, amounting to pretty much a full break down. Been a while since I’ve had one of those.

If you’ve never had a real anxiety attack, it is like your brain is short circuiting. As you approach the anxious thought / apparently unsolvable problem, your emotions and nervous energy kick suddenly into painful overdrive, so that before you know it you are shouting or pounding or otherwise violently acting out in a blind effort to force some control of the situation. There’s no sense to it; just a panicked, instinctual reaction caused by your lizard brain kicking into survival mode without either an escape route or an enemy to fight, so all your fight-or-flight adrenaline has to be burned off in random, uncontrolled ways.

Meanwhile your conscious brain is frantically trying to regain control of the situation before you hurt yourself or break anything.

Best analogy I can think of is that it’s as if you’re on a horse that suddenly spooks and takes off in a violent panic with you onboard. You’re trying to get hold of the reins and get it under control again before something really bad happens.

2. My advice if this happens is to stop whatever you’re doing or thinking and walk away. You’re not in a position to do any good anyway, and you need to get some distance from it before you can deal with it. I made the mistake this week of thinking that a couple hours rest would be enough and came back to work; I really should have called the whole day once things started getting bad (fortunately I’m working remotely now, so no one saw me freaking out. I’ve never actually had a public attack so far, knock on wood). For me, recovery generally takes a night’s rest, and maybe talking with someone about it.

3. Feel kind of like I’m oversharing there, but what the heck; writing it out helps me get a grasp on it. And who knows, maybe it’ll be a help to someone who comes by and reads it. This is the age of mental illness; most people today have problems of this sort to a greater or lesser degree. That’s what happens when you rip out most of the stabilizing roots of a society, like family, tradition, class, culture, religion, community, and so on and encourage people to try to build their own identity out of self-referential nothingness. But I digress.

4. By the way, I think this is one reason Japan has become such a cultural force: it’s a fully-developed nation with a liberal-style government and society, but unlike most of the West it has maintained a pretty strong sense of cultural identity that it mostly appears to be comfortable with. Meanwhile European cultures – which includes America – have been perpetually rebelling against their own history and identity for quite a while now.

5. Okay, enough heavy stuff: on to more pleasant topics: reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Essays in the Art of Writing, which is pretty dense and sometimes hard to follow, but also full of striking points on style (and when the man who wrote Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde talks about style, you listen).

There is a particularly good quote in the very first paragraph:

“We shall never learn the affinities of beauty, for they lie too deep in nature and too far back in the mysterious history of man.”

6. You know, the Oscars have long, long since slipped into total irrelevancy, and I’m only interested in seeing whether their viewership tanks again this year. But I was just thinking: in a sane world, the big question this year would be “should Best Picture go to Top Gun: Maverick or Puss in Boots: The Last Wish?”

7. And I thought this video was pretty cool:

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