12/7/2023 02:56

Worrying About Anxiety

When I was younger, merely middle aged rather than lapsing into being elderly, I sometimes found myself waking in the night afflicted with anxiety and unable to return to sleep. I would have to get up, hook the leash on the dog, and walk for a mile.

Having reached nearly six dozen years of life, I am uncomfortable leaving the house in the dark and especially during the winter when there are patches of ice on the walks. I will need to find some alternative to panic walks. Interacting rationally with life might be the ideal solution but it is hard to be rational about anxiety.

I remember once -- it was March of 2008 -- I got up and watched the 1926 film The General. That proved to be effective but it is hard to arrange having "one of the greatest American films ever made" of not over 75 minutes running time ready for viewing on the specific night when I need it.

I also remember, much longer ago, reading about a brilliant but eccentric intellectual who once telephoned a colleague in great agitation saying, "Please come. I need you." When this colleague arrived he was invited to sit. For some time the two of them sat. Eventually the great man said, "Thank you for coming. I needed that." I have often said that I can identify with this person and his need. Based on the reaction of my friends to this story I am leery of making any similar demand on them.

I have no idea who the eccentric intellectual was or how closely my recollection of the story follows the original version. I think it has become a fiction about my own potential experience. It may not be factual about actual events but it is true in terms of internal experience.

Tonight I spent at least 15 minutes systematically analyzing the thoughts which incited the anxiety. I stopped when I realized my brain was simultaneously extending the list of concerns about which I could worry. No danger of running out of pointless anxiety when you can multitask the stream of consciousness: What if I get old and have to live in a nursing home and get hungry at night and am too debilitated to maintain a stock of bread and peanut butter and have neither family nor friends who will care for me and society limps along at near the point of collapse and many elderly people are in similar situations and I am failing to anticipate other future realities which further put my life at risk and the lives of those around me and ...

The actual reality is that if these were rational possibilities there would be rational responses to be attempted. What I wake up to face is an "illusory reality" which is hard to obviate.

How do you prevent an experience which does not occur?