I’m sitting here, feeling inexplicably anxious about things.
Those ‘things’, on the surface, seem hunky dory. We’ve just eaten a roast dinner, with a delicious gravy, mixed expertly by the gravy maestro himself (what can I say, it’s his forte). The laundry is all done (quite literally all the clothes we both own). We’ve also started to sort things out now that we’ve moved back into our modestly sized flat after having stayed at my parents for the past few weeks. The fridge is fully-stocked up with food for the week. We went for a nice long walk along the usual route today—it was cloudy but comfortable.
When I ponder all this—practically speaking, today has been a good day.
But, sometimes, I get riddled with a deep sense of discomfort when things don’t follow a set structure. And yet, at the same time, I find that having too much structure in life can be extremely limiting. It’s hard to find the words to describe how this state even comes about.
I’ll cover how control anxiety can take over on a different occasion, but here, I’d like to lay out some of my thoughts about the perils of fighting anxiety and negativity in general.
More often than not, anxiety creeps up on me like a fox stalking a rabbit, ready to pounce and claim its prize. Time and time again, I’ve let anxiety quietly seep in through the cracks, and I’ve tried to fight it. But believe me, just like swimming against a strong tide, there’s nothing more problematic than pushing anxiety and negative emotions away. After all, actively wanting to ‘not’ experience those feelings can be detrimental. Yes, I can’t lie—it hurts sometimes, but I mostly only wind up hurting myself, if not those close to me.
I strongly doubt that anybody truly wants to have negative thoughts and even so, sometimes trying to fix it with happiness isn’t the answer. My sister-in-law gave me (lent me?) a book a while back called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, which I recently finished. Essentially, it’s a guide around the practice of ‘ACT’ – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which, unlike many other methods, does not focus on the pursuit of ‘happy’ feelings by definition. Instead, it really hones in on accepting negativity and working constructively with it.
Something about this really struck a chord with me. People are so often told to just ‘be happy’, to go and find some rainbows, unicorns, sunshine or some shit like that. But the fact is, if you’re feeling a certain way, covering it up with a sense of false positivity isn’t necessarily the answer. It might be beneficial in the short term, but really, what will be the long-term impact of those activities?
I remember a story I remember hearing about the comedian Jack Dee. If memory serves, he was at a stand-up show one night and he completely bombed on stage. Nobody laughed at his jokes. Then, by default, he simply flicked the ‘must try harder’ switch off and instead gave an honest comment along the lines of: “Well, that was shit wasn’t it?” The very moment he recognised and owned that fact, he was able to connect with the audience on a totally different level. Now, that might be a story about stand-up comedy, which is a whole other ball game in itself. But whenever I’m anxious or worried about what people might think, I (at least sometimes) turn off that switch and roll with it. And it really works. When I’m not trying too hard to be funny, I might make a sarcastic comment that is more aligned with how I’m feeling instead and somehow it will elicit a different reaction. People tend to have a built-in intuition about their conversation partner’s comfort levels, through verbal cues and body language. If something seems put on, or fake, they know it. And then I know it. And then I feel anxious about it. It’s an endless cycle.
To quote Frozen (yeah yeah, I know but this is kind of relevant) – Let it go! Just…let it the fuck go. Try to read the room, assess the situation and say what’s on your mind. Something important I did learn and retain from a very short-lived stint at a comedy school in London is to ‘work with your quirks.’ It’s such a simple concept and yet so often we believe that these ‘faults’ should be ignored, or worse—repurposed as a weapon that we use against ourselves. Think about it. What makes you…you? Is it a nervous tic, a stutter, a outwardly ‘weird’ hobby you entertain yourself with, that stubborn birthmark on your forehead? It could be anything, couldn’t it? So, even if you’re ultimate aim is to rid yourself of them entirely, for now why not use them to your advantage? This applies not only when talking with others but also when thinking about the way in which you approach yourself.
Let’s face it, people misstep all the time. It’s perfectly natural, and deep down, I think most of us warm to stories about overcoming adversity, because we can empathise with them. We’re only human, and in our strife for self-betterment, it can be so easy to forget that it’s okay to be wrong or feel depressed, because there’s always a chance to learn and do things a little differently. There really is nothing except this moment, right now. Always. It also makes me smile that my favourite Queer Eye Fab Five member Antoni Porowski recently spoke candidly about how his anxiety continues to shape him.
On a somewhat hypocritical note, as I write all of these things, I should be mindful of them myself 🙂
*disclaimer: between the beginning and end of this post, my ice-cream completely fucking melted*