Tag Archives: Anxiety

A Conversation with Writer’s Block Part II

frogWS : The last time we spoke you said that the lethargy, procrastination and inaction associated with writer’s block is fear based.

WB : Yes, I remember.

WS : But we never really fleshed out the connection between this behavior and fear. Could you explain this in a little more depth?

WB : Well, when somebody fears something he will tend to avoid it. Sometimes this avoidance is not executed in a fully conscious manner. It feels like it just happens. However, this feeling is misleading because underlying this avoidance there is a subconscious mechanism at work.

WS : So according to your position, when I experience writer’s block it feels like laziness but under the surface psychologically I am really avoiding a fear.

WB : Correct.

WS : Why am I not conscious of this fear?

WB : Maybe the fact that you are afraid of whatever it is you are afraid of is something you would rather not think about because to acknowledge it consciously would cause you to endure an uncomfortable feeling.

WS : Like what?

WB : It is always anxiety, stress, depression…

WS : But I feel anxious and stressed pretty frequently. I feel depressed on occasion too. Why have I not blocked those feelings out or avoided whatever triggered them in the first place.

WB : Perhaps those feelings are connected to or triggered by events or experiences over which you have no control. So you have to feel them. And because you know those feelings and do not like to feel them you subconsciously choose not to feel them when it is possible to exercise control.

WS : That makes sense but I still do not understand why I am not conscious of this mechanism at work.

WB : Duty.

WS : What do you mean, duty?

WB : You feel it is your duty to feel stressed about things. You think that if you do not feel stressed about things then you are not pulling your weight or that you are not being responsible. Am I right?

WS : Well kind of…

WB : Doesn’t your stress level go through the roof if you are running late for a meeting?

WS : Yes.

WB : Why?

WS : I like to be on time.

WB : And you hate to be late?

WS : Yes.

WB : In fact, some times when you are late because of traffic you experience such high anxiety that you will yell out loud as long as you know no one will hear you. Am I correct?

WS : Yes.

WB : That’s a pretty high level of stress, don’t you think? Probably more stress than is necessary. Can’t you cut yourself some slack?

WS : It seems difficult to do under the circumstances.

WB : Why do you think that is? Other people are late all the time and don’t seem to care at all.

WS : Well they’re not pulling their weight.

WB : So?

WS : So, if nobody pulled their weight civilization would collapse. This thing that generations of hard working, selfless, brave, patriotic people built up will die out.

WB : And you would be held just a little bit to blame for that wouldn’t you?

WS : Perhaps…

WB : All because you were late to a meeting and did not have the discipline to feel anxious about it.

WS : Where are you going with this?

WB : That’s a tremendous burden to carry on your shoulders, isn’t it?

WS : I don’t know.

WB : So maybe sometimes you allow yourself to not be aware of it and instead lapse into a state of lethargy without really knowing why and that is why you experience writer’s block.

WS : That sounds a little overly complicated to me. It should be more straight forward.

WB : Why should it be more straight forward?

WS : For example, when I write in the morning I generally experience no writer’s block at all. Or if I am writing about something I’m interested in the words just fall out of me. Could it be that sometimes I am just tired when I experience writer’s block?

WB : Absolutely. Sometimes you are tired and your brain is not firing on all cylinders and it is difficult to be creative. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the times where you are well rested and have the desire to write but when you actually sit down to write you then feel like doing something else… anything else. What you described and what I just described are two different experiences, no?

WS : I guess so.

WB : Right. So how else would you account for your inability to be creative when you find yourself to be in a situation where everything is right for creativity but the creativity just doesn’t happen?

WS : I can’t account for it.

WB : Of course you can’t. That’s what I’m trying to get you to understand. The system is set up so that you cannot understand. That’s how it works.

WS : So will it still work now that you have explained it to me?

WB : Of course it will.

WS : How?

WB: It will work because you want it to work. This conversation we are having will conveniently not make sense or it will slip from your memory and you’ll go back to that pattern.

WS : What do you mean I want it to work? Isn’t the whole point of this conversation that I don’t want it to work? Isn’t the point that I want to be able to write when I want to write and not experience writer’s block?

WB : Yes, that’s how you feel. But you also feel the other way too. You want to write but you don’t want to experience the anxiety that the writing produces and you also don’t want to be aware of this dynamic so you revert to a state of lethargy.

WS : We’ve hit 1,000 words, haven’t we?

WB : Yes we have. See you next week.

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Monolog of a [W]hite Supremacist Part V

HitlerHe has a schizophrenic take on the ego. In the past he defended the ego as a vital force for survival. But sometimes he dismisses the ego as an antiquated concept. True to form, however, he does so in a vague and inscrutable manner.

Again, the “ego” is yesterday’s psychological wedge.

By “psychological wedge” does he mean the ego is literally splitting the psyche in two or does he mean the ego is a wedge issue that separates one group of like minded people from another?

Now the “ego” battles multiple Selves and is left susceptible to the Law of Diminishing Return. The “ego,” quite linearly, did not manifest with the intent of “combatting” multiple Selves. The “ego” must now choose which Self to speak to where “it” was once the dominate “voice” in one’s head.

I think what he is getting at here is that the ego is conceptually a different “self” living within the psyche of a person. Clearly people are aware that they have different and sometimes conflicting motivations from time to time. This is evidence of multiple selves. Then there is the part of the self that is self critical. This is further evidence.

I tend to lump this self critical aspect together with the part of the self that is self destructive, jealous, vain, racist etc. and I refer to it all as the ego. It might not be technically correct but that is how I look at it. As I said earlier, in the past he has defended the ego (or the qualities of the ego) as a positive force for survival. It is interesting to think of his preoccupation with race in this context. Really, race to him is merely an extension of his ego through time and space. In this sense his philosophy remains consistent.

But what is an “ego” to “say” to one with antithetical Selves self-created for the very purpose of submitting the “ego” to an internal silence?

From my perspective the ego is the cause of a great deal of suffering in life. It was a watershed moment in my life when I learned to separate myself from my ego and observe it. Through this process I ceased being governed by my ego to a large extent and I also gained insight into how my ego functions and the role it plays within my greater self. This liberated me from a great deal of depression and anxiety which had dominated my existence before hand. If ever I acted in accordance with what he calls “God-ordained free will” in my life this is the greatest example. However, if I take the pro-ego perspective, what I have just described appears as a subjugation of the ego. This is the idea I think he is attempting to convey in the passage quoted above.

Again, at one time the conception of a “man with a ego” was a man very Self-aware and thus very aware of outside his Self [sic.]. His “ego” was that first self-creation that functioned as an “outside observer and advisor” to the dominant Self. Over time, the “ego” was liberated and became only a reflection of the bad Self. Now the “man with the ego” is a stunted man, isolated in his own mind, privy only to a “reality” of his own desires and impenetrable to competing realities. This “ego” is a fundamentally transgressive ego where it was once a self-created feed back loop utilized to obtaining a fuller grasp of the total reality.

I am in full agreement that the ego is a natural process originally designed for survival. To the extent it aids man in his survival it is beneficial. Where the ego tends to run afoul is when it perceives threats that are not real and acts inappropriately to defend itself from these “threats.” The origin of the ego run afoul is typically bad parenting or some other form of abuse. If ego separation is not achieved then it is passed on to the next generation. I suspect this is the motivating force behind his white Supremacy. In a sense it is his ego that is the white Supremacist and he has ceded control of his greater self to his ego.

So now these two extremely antithetical conceptions of the “man with the ego” provoked a reaction from the dominant Self. Which of these “egos” is the one to trust, the one to distrust or how can I, the dominant Self, exploit the trusted ego and the distrusted ego? How can I, the dominant Self, silence the transgressive ego and hear more clearly the trusted ego? Such questions require the application of multiple selves manifested concretely from the dominant Self to test the “ego” in all ways possible. A loyal ego is a silent ego. A disloyal ego is a noisy ego.

There is a choice that must be made. Do you choose the light or do you choose the dark? The ego is tricky and can be very convincing at times. I can now clearly see my ego sits on the dark side of the spectrum and I have made my choice not to ally myself with it. He seems to have made a different choice and has constructed an elaborate philosophical and spiritual system to hold it all together. To the extent he can live a peaceful, happy life and not interfere with anyone else’s life I wish him well.

Postscript:

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent and I would like to shift gears a little. This white Supremacist series, although interesting, has introduced a certain negative energy into my life that I do not want to have present during Advent. As such, I will be taking a break on this subject for a while (perhaps permanently). In keeping with the theme of ego I would be remiss if I did not point out that this series has been ego gratifying for me. If I am being honest I have to admit that part of me (my ego) enjoys the arguments in the comments section. And the times when I felt I got the better of him gave me a short term rush of adrenaline. But this is all ego and vanity. It ultimately does not lead to happiness. In fact, it leads in the opposite direction despite its entertainment value.

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Humiliation Represses Real Emotions and Causes Passive Aggressive and Destructive Behavior

For most of my childhood I was told I was a wimp, a nerd and a geek. That was humiliating. When I got sad about it I was told I was weak. When I got angry about it I was labeled a spaz. Those feelings were also humiliating. Of course I did not like feeling humiliated but I  was stuck in a no win situation. The best solution I could come up with was to hide my sadness and my anger because I did not want to feel humiliation on top of humiliation. In this way humiliation kept me from feeling my sadness and anger.

But the sadness and anger did not go anywhere. They were still there, deep down and came out from time to time like an erupting volcano whenever I was pushed past my breaking point or when I was safely alone. For some reason every Christmas Eve I found myself alone watching A Christmas Carol and wept uncontrollably whenever I saw the scene where Scrooge finally accepts his nephew Fred’s invitation to dinner and Fred welcomed him happily even though Scrooge assumed he would not. When the sadness and anger did erupt in front of other people (and to a lesser extent when I was alone) I felt the sting of humiliation which pushed those feelings back down again. The humiliation had the effect of negating my truly feeling those emotions and getting the relief they should have provided me.

I have since learned that in order to be a full person and to grow I must be able to feel my sadness and anger without humiliation. I need to own those feelings as authentic and acceptable parts of me. I need to welcome them in a non judgmental manner and with love. They are the truest emotions I have and I can never fully feel happiness if I am never allowed to feel those feelings without feeling humiliated for expressing them outwardly. They reflect my true self and if I reject them I reject my true self as well.

For a long time I did not know any of this. I thought it was wrong to express sadness and anger. I thought strong, responsible people do not do this and only weak and irresponsible people cannot control the outward expression of their true emotions. But suppressing or perhaps repressing these emotions caused anxiety and depression. It also caused passive aggressive behaviors like internet trolling, and the sarcastic judgment and shaming of others. It also gave rise to addictions that numbed out the feeling of humiliation.

When I finally was able to feel my sadness and anger without humiliation the anxiety, depression and all the rest of it began to ebb. It was as if the humiliation was a foreign entity that invaded my body. It was a parasite that reproduced itself from person to person by the way I was treated and by the way I in turn treated other people. By becoming aware of this dynamic not only did I begin to heal myself but I also took steps to stop the spread of this illness.

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A General Overview of My Experience with Alcohol

I remember drinking vodka and fruit punch in the basement of my parents’ house in high school alone on a Friday night.  I felt the buzz.  It felt different, as if something uncomfortable was being erased. I liked it.  Throughout High School I would not say I was a heavy drinker.  When I did drink it was at house parties generally.  I remember the first party I went to and got drunk.  I do not think I got sick and I do not think I felt sick the next day.  I felt like I was doing something different that would put distance between the shy, awkward, geeky persona I projected and make me one of the cool kids.

Then there was the time a friend slept over and we drank, played Monopoly and dipped tobacco in the basement.  In the morning I was really hung over.  I think I told my mother I was sick.  My friend went home and I went to sleep in my room. My mother later discovered the half-finished bottles in a cooler in the basement.  She made me feel like I was the worst criminal in the world.  I think she also suggested sending me to a rehab or a counselor, which I refused. I did not think there was anything wrong with me.  I was just doing what kids my age did.  Later on my Dad drove me around in his car and interrogated me about what I had done. I remember him asking me if I had mixed the alcohol or drank it straight.  I remember not knowing why he wanted that information and feeling really embarrassed and frustrated about answering it.

In college I joined a fraternity.  I drank in the fraternity to be one of the guys.  For the most part it was the time of my life. The worst part was getting so drunk that the room spun or waking up hung over.  But there was also something in me that told me the more I drank, the cooler people would think of me.

I did the same thing after college when I worked and went out with friends (although not to the same degree or extent).  When I went to law school I did the same thing, perhaps to the same extent as in college, but I was living in New Orleans so that is probably an exception.

At some point after I got married and was working for a law firm alcohol became a way of coping with anxiety and depression. It switched from something fun and seemingly inconsequential to something I began to be concerned about and had trouble stopping.

The good thing and the bad thing about alcohol is that it obscures feelings.  It is bad in the sense that if my feelings are obscured then I do not deal with them and do not move past them.  It is good in the sense that sometimes feelings are too much to endure.  If there is no escape and no dealing then maybe it is a good thing to have alcohol around to escape.  Of course the danger of that is addiction and damage to health.  It is not easy to control and becomes more difficult if whatever feelings are being obscured by alcohol are never dealt with.  In my case that feeling was shame.

So the answer in the long run is of course to deal with feelings and ultimately that is how to overcome a problem with addiction.  It is a chicken and the egg type of situation (maybe).

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part IV

My wife and I started to see a couple’s therapist named Dori in Connecticut who was part of a larger practice trained in the Gestalt method.  Her office was an upper room in a large, formerly residential house that had been refurbished into therapists’ offices.  She primarily had us “mirror” each other whereby one of us would state an issue and the other one would repeat what the first one said starting with the phrase, “I hear that you feel…”  This was very difficult and after several sessions it did not seem like we were making much progress.  We were still angry with each other all the time.  During one session I had expressed that I felt a lot of shame and that I was trying to get past that and that was the reason I had seen the psychic.  And I did not like how my wife had shamed me into not seeing her.  Dori suggested that I join a “men’s group” that two of her colleagues ran in the same building.

I showed up to the first session feeling very awkward and nervous.  The group was made up of six men and two facilitators (Scott and Dave) who were trained in Gestalt, body centered therapy.  I remember that first session everyone took their shoes off in the hall so I did too.  I saw some other people bring in folding chairs so I grabbed one and set it up in the room. Other people sat on couches already in the room.  Once everyone had settled in the facilitators went around to the group members and asked them if they wanted to “check in” or “work.”  If a member checked in he would briefly describe how his week had gone and how he was feeling generally.  If a member chose to work he would describe something that was bothering him and the two facilitators would probe him until they got to the bottom of the issue.

Often the method employed was called “pillow work.”  If a member said they felt anxious about something (for example) the facilitators would put a pillow in a chair facing the member and say, “That pillow is you.  Make you feel anxious.”  Then the member would try to put himself into the mind of a person who would try to make him anxious.  Often this process resulted in the member lashing out in anger and then breaking down crying.

Each member checked in or worked and I grew increasingly nervous as I felt my turn approaching. I remember one member, Rick, announced to the group that he was dying of prostate cancer.  He had just been diagnosed with six months to live.  He seemed pretty balanced about it.  I remember thinking none of my problems were significant in comparison to his.  When it was finally my turn and everyone turned to me I remember saying that this type of situation was very difficult for me.  Scott told me he thought I was courageous for doing what I was doing.  I did not believe him.  I thought he was just trying to make me feel good about myself.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part III

The next therapist I saw was a psychologist I saw for several years while living in Philadelphia.  I went to see him because I was depressed, anxious and generally dissatisfied with life.  Initially my wife and I saw him as a couple’s therapist after friend of mine came to visit.

The three of us went out for drinks.  I remember my wife’s behavior really embarrassed me.  I had just been hired by Dechert and was earning more money than I ever had.  She kept congratulating me and it felt awkward in front of my friend.  I asked her to stop but she kept doing it.  Then we went to a restaurant called Cuba Libre.  There she was involved in some sort of scuffle where some guy picked her up and moved her away from the bar.  She complained to the manager who did nothing.  To me it felt like she was getting drunk and making a scene.  I tried to get her to change the subject but she would not stop talking about what had happened.  Finally I said if she talked about it one more time I was leaving.  She talked about it again and I got up and left.  I waited outside on the street.  She and my friend eventually came out and we took a cab back to our apartment.  She kept yelling at me saying I ruined the night.

The next night my friend was still there.  It felt like things were smoothed over but I wanted to joke with him the way we normally did.  My wife seemed unable to contribute.  It frustrated me.  I felt like I would always have her around so I would never be able to feel free and joke around with my friends. This thought made me feel depressed like I had given up a piece of myself that I could never retrieve.

This was the start of my wife having a problem with my friends.  I remember the psychologist asking me, “why can’t you just let your friend and your wife have that relationship,” meaning (now that I look back on it) why not allow the three of us to interact in the way we did without getting upset that it was not the way I wanted it to go.  It was a valid point but I would not get to that point until much later.

After a few sessions as a couple I continued seeing this psychologist by myself.  Once a week I would leave work at lunchtime and walk across town, past City Hall, to his office.  We talked about a lot of things.  Most of the time I would bring up a subject.  He would take notes and sometimes ask questions but his form of therapy was very client driven.  I cried once or twice.  We talked a lot about my relationship with my father.  We talked about my fascination with “A Christmas Carol,” whether the ghosts were outside entities or creations of Scrooge’s consciousness and about how I burst into tears every time I watched the scene where Fred welcomes Scrooge to dinner (but only when I watched it alone).  He pointed out that even though I was born after my father’s car accident in which my older sister died when she was a baby, that it must have had an impact on me.  That was an idea I had never considered before.  He described me as feeling a “lack of entitlement.”  He told me I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

He was definitely compassionate.  He told me I was an interesting case.  I think he liked me on a personal level.  But looking back on it I never really thought the therapy went anywhere.  I think I grew marginally under his care probably because his type of therapy was not well suited for my specific issues.

There were a few instances where he got my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants to me.  I was on Paxil for a while.  It seemed to work but had some sexual side effects that I did not like.  Specifically it was difficult to maintain and erection and to have an orgasm.  I was later on Lexapro, which was pretty similar.  He eventually prescribed me Wellbutrin under the influence of which I had a mental breakdown of sorts.  This happened at my parents’ house in Connecticut one weekend we came for a visit.  Both my sisters and my cousin were there. I remember being so angry with my wife (we were not getting along at the time).  I got up from the dinner table, got a beer in the kitchen and ran out on the golf course behind my parents’ house.  I chugged it in the middle of the fairway in the dark.  The rest of the night is hazy to me.  I remember my cousin consoling me in the driveway as they were leaving.  Then I went up to bed.  I stopped seeing the psychologist after that.

I wanted to get off Wellbutrin but I did not want to experience “mind zaps” I had heard about.  I looked up a psychiatrist in the phone book.  I called her and she was willing to see me.  I think her office was in an apartment building in Washington Square.  My concern was that I wanted to get off Wellbutrin because it was making me behave bizarrely but I wanted to do it in a medically supervised way to avoid the side effects I had read about regarding abruptly going off of anti-depressants.  I do not feel like I made a real connection with her and I only saw her for a few times.  I remember she asked me about my first memory and how abnormal it was that it did not involve either one of my parents.  I also remember another interaction where I told her that I was uncomfortable with my drinking.  Her response was, “well there are other things to drink besides alcohol.”  I suppose she was not that well acquainted with the mind of an alcoholic because I remember thinking that there certainly are other things to drink but none of them make me drunk.  That seemed like an important point looking back on it.  I did not express it to her at the time.

Anyway, she guided me through getting off of Wellbutrin.  Part of that involved not drinking for two weeks, which was difficult but I did it.  Once I got off of Wellbutrin I quickly got back on drinking.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part II

I did not see another therapist until I was in law school in New Orleans.  Until that point I never appreciated the connection between the mind and the body.  I had met my wife and asked her to marry me and she said yes.  She immediately went ahead with the planning which took me aback.  It seemed like there was a lot of pressure and looking back on it I had no way of coping.  My throat started to feel like it was closing up on me.  I started to get really bad heartburn.  I went to see the doctor in the school clinic.  He prescribed Prilosec.  It did not really work so I went to a gastroenterologist.  I remember now that he suspected my symptoms were stress related but at the time I did not understand what he told me.  I think the fact that I was in law school scared him because he continued to run tests on me.  There was a procedure where they shoved a camera down my throat.  One time I had a tube fed up my nose and down my throat.  At the end of the tube outside my body was a computer device.  It recorded something to do with my throat.  I eventually changed doctors because nothing he did helped my symptoms.  The second doctor also suggested that stress was the problem but again I did not accept that answer.  I was prescribed antibiotics but they did not work.  The doctor seemed annoyed with me. I wanted to think that the problem was physical.  He eventually referred me to a cardiologist.  The cardiologist acted like he did not know why I was there.  I gave him my story.  He agreed that the problem was stress and recommended me to see a psychiatrist.  This time I listened.

The psychiatrist was a tall, lanky, older man with a gray beard and mustache.  He looked the part of a psychiatrist.  His office was in a shotgun house.  It was dark inside and the walls were lined with tall wooden bookshelves.  One shelf had a skull on it.  He was dyslexic and wrote awkwardly with his left hand.  He assured me my issue with my throat closing up was indeed stress related.  He prescribed me a drug called Serzone which I think is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac.  He had me sit in a recliner and talked me through meditative sessions.  I do not recall what exactly they entailed but I think they brought me to a relaxed state and then he told me when a stressful thought entered my head I should say to it “Stop!  Get out of there!”  After a few sessions the sensation started to subside after months of misery.  This was the first time I appreciated that psychological stress can cause physical problems.  It was also the first time in my life I experienced a physical problem that a regular doctor could not cure.  I believe his method was the Cognitive Behavioral approach.

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