I’m sure that we can live without
anxiety. Although it is isn’t fatal it
afflicts us with a constant doubt
that tortures us with no apparent benefit,
and may cause us to seek relief
of insecurity with insobriety,
or an irrational belief
whose side-effects include a quest for piety,
benefitting liquor stores,
drug pushers, charlatans, psychologists and shrinks,
and turns us into dreadful bores
when sober, and still worse ones after drinks.
Complaints about it quickly lead
to feelings in those listening of satiety.
However hard these people plead
for your attention, boycott their anxiety.
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Poet's Notes about The Poem
Anxiety may come on like an affliction, but it persists due to habit. Or, to put this another way, just because you are afflicted with a mental disorder doesn’t mean that you can’t apply your conscious will to mitigating that disorder. Even if you use medication, as I do, to coax your nervous system in a more salutary direction, your will — your determination to act in a way that is counter to your nature — still factors in. Indeed, I am convinced it is essential to recovery.
This isn’t to say that being willful is easy. Anxious thoughts — the what-if’s, the should-have-been’s, thenever-will-be’s — are dramatic thoughts. They are compelling thoughts. They are thoughts that have no compunction about seizing you by your lapels and shouting, “Listen to me! Believe me! ” So we listen, and believe, without realizing that by doing so we are stepping onto a closed loop, a set of mental tracks that circle endlessly and get us nowhere. This makes the anxious habit very hard to break. Over time those mental tracks deepen and become hardened ruts. Our thoughts slip into grooves of illogic, hypervigilance and catastrophe.
My own mind, I am fairly certain, will always gravitate toward anxiety. And like many, I will often be disinclined to do anything about it. The reasons for this are no doubt complex and myriad. But it is certain that anxiety is exhausting and demoralizing: in many cases, as you listen to your anxious thoughts you get tired and apathetic. You get depressed. And that hopelessness, inaction and despair can become a sort of cocoon, a protective layer between you and the high-pitched terror of it all, and maybe, over time, even a painful and perverse comfort.
But that doesn’t mean — and here is the good news — that there is nothing we can do about anxiety. Indeed, there is plenty a person can do. The promising thing about a habit is that it is not the same thing as a fate. An alcoholic, we are told, is always an alcoholic — but not every alcoholic drinks. Similarly, an anxious person will always be at risk of anxiety, but he needn’t be troubled by it on a daily basis. He can avoid his own tendencies. He can elude his own habit. To accomplish this, however, he has to work, and work hard. He has to fight — every day of his life, if he’s got it bad — to build new patterns of thought, so that his mind doesn’t fall into the old set of grooves. He has to dig new tracks and keep digging.
One comment to this article rings true:
No, this is wrong. There's a difference between anxiety and motivation, but the author, Daniel Smith, conflates the two. The thematic trick is: anxiety makes us perform, and so if you get rid of the bathwater of anxiety, you also throw out the baby of creativity, motivation, etc. But anxiety, while it can be a healthy source of energy, mental and physical, for tasks such as the teaching experience Mr. Smith mentions at the end of his article, is not the only spring from which we draw. What this article does, along with so many similar ones in the press, is identify *one* causal agent and then *reduce* all other causal agents to that one; in this case, anxiety. And so let's say I prepare well for a class or presentation because of my self-esteem. Or to outshine a competitor. Or some hidden motivation not present to consciousness. Self-esteem, competition, hidden neuroses, are not the *same* as anxiety, though the next trick that can be pulled is to try and corral all performance enhancers under the one label, 'anxiety.' I'm 'anxious' about my self-esteem, so my self-esteem is just another form of anxiety; competition with co-workers is given the same treatment. But this approach, while it works well for writing an article in the press, impoverishes our ideas of human motivation. Just as *all* mono-causal explanations do.
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