Thinking About Anxiety

So what’s an anxiety?

I read a post by Doug Robertson: Anxiety and Me and it has stayed with me. He writes openly about his recent bouts with anxiety and describes how it shapes his behaviors in a variety of contexts. He’s a witty guy so there’s a bit of self-deprecating humor to oil the wheels of reasoning that his writing invites. What surprised me was how familiar some of those situations were to me, how true they rang.

I have known for several years that closed spaces make me anxious – places where I submit to an order not of my making – airplanes, elevators, a bus or in my car stuck in traffic. I don’t mind flying, but waiting on the tarmac for long stretches truly challenges me. Elevators that work? No problem. But the prospect of being stuck in one is never far from my catalogue of worst case scenarios. These are situations I know about, so I’ve learned to mentally prepare and cope accordingly.

But Doug’s post led me to think a little more about what constitutes anxiety. My 12 y-o recently remarked on my standing in the doorway of the living room rather than sitting down. I admitted that I tend to feel a little guilty once we get home – like I should be cooking or emptying the dishwasher or doing something productive. So instead of actually doing one of those things, I stand and scroll through Twitter and e-mail. (At some point I do eventually cook something…)

Then consider this: Neatness is not my strong suit. Interior decor has never been an area of particular interest. My workspace is the end of a long table typically cluttered with stacks of books, papers, letters and other fragments which hold (or held) some significance for me. The order in my disorder makes sense to me, but it also makes the table (which is a beautiful, strong, warm wood construction) a collection surface more than a lovely piece of furniture (which it also is). Or that the table could be seen as a metaphor for the organization for other sections of the apartment. Sometimes I feel bad about this. Or even guilty.

Feeling bad, feeling guilty – these are common themes in my emotional line-up. Every day culprits that easily find their entry into my perception. I feel bad that I’m not a better housekeeper. I feel guilty that I currently prefer writing more than exercising. I feel bad (and guilty) that I’m as tuned in to my Twitter crew as I am to my family. Are you noticing a pattern here?

So now that I’m on vacation and I have more time to spare, I’m having a hard time just kicking back and relaxing. Instead, thoughts keep popping up of all the things I ought to be doing, finishing, thinking about, taking care of. There’s the fear of disappointing others. There’s a fear of the shame of disappointing others. And that’s the thought that really gives me pause: fear of the shame. I suspect there’s a lot to be uncovered in that particular hill of concern.

Thanks to Doug’s openness, I see an opportunity for me to take a new look at myself and my mental hygiene. Where anxiety fits into the picture may be one piece, and perhaps daring to name the daily demons constitutes a fresh start. We’ll see.

A cycle of exhaustion

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I believe there may be a kind of exhaustion which cannot be cured with a few good nights’ sleep. This exhaustion leaves you largely functional and provides you with just enough energy to make it through day after day after day, but once the social demands of the workplace are shut off, so is your whole affect. It’s like you crawl into yourself but can still drive home, pick up a few groceries and be sure to check the mailbox before going upstairs. It’s an exhaustion that leaves you soggy but without the evidence of how you got that way. You feel put out because of so much physical, mental, social output. The consequence for your organizational mind is a low-level havoc: nearly missed appointments, paperwork submitted a day late, lost items that turn up a week later when they’re no longer needed. You forget to hydrate. Yet you appear fine. You teach your classes, manage groups of kids with a degree of routine and detachment that for them feels like a relief that you’re not so easily bothered by their noise or interruptions or resistance to listening. It’s an exhaustion that seems well-fed, adequately sheltered, sufficiently nondescript so that no suspicion is aroused. At home the functionality remains – it’s ok, keeps things running along. There’s food to eat; dishes and clothes get washed. The child is not left entirely to his own devices. Only when bedtime is within sight does your patience appear quite frayed at the edges. Once you’ve decided that the bed is your definite next destination you make quick dispatch of everything and anything that might stand in the way. You retreat under the covers, stretched out, still soggy-feeling yet safe. You pick up whatever book is on top of the pile and read until you stay stuck on the same sentence. You put the book down and let sleep collect you. For a few hours you’ve won. You know rest. When you wake the next morning you know that rest is only incomplete but enough to start the whole process over again. You’ll be fine. You know how this goes. It’s Tuesday then it’s Friday and then Sunday again. You’re done and you’re beginning.

image via Pixabay.com CC0

Guest Post On Charleena Lyles

In a recent family correspondence, my Uncle, Dr. Thaddeus Spratlen, a long time Seattle resident, shared his thoughts on the recent killing of Charleena Lyles by police in her home in front of her children. He kindly gave me permission to post his letter here.

 By now you probably have seen some reference to last Sunday’s police shooting here in Seattle of Charleena Lyles, a 30-year old, pregnant and mentally ill African American, mother of four children.   Two White officers were responding to a reported theft of an X-box and jewelry at a public housing complex for previously homeless people. There had been previous calls from the victim regarding burglary or other disturbances that resulted in two officers being assigned to respond to the call for help.  On previous occasions the victim had been armed with some sharp shears. On Sunday she was holding two knives.  In the verbal exchange between the officers and Charleena, she mixed phrases that were incoherent with others that reflected the need for help. It has been suggested that she was experiencing hallucinations.  Details on why the interactions became life-threatening and violent are not clear.  But one of the officers shot and killed Charleena when she apparently was moving toward them and would not drop the knives.  Voice interactions are not clear as to whether any of her other behavior was physically menacing to the officers.

 

Why guns and deadly force in a situation that did not appear to be life-threatening to the officers?  As the law requires there is a Police Department investigation underway.  Tragically, there have been no convictions in the 13 or so nationally-reported cases in which police officers have been charged with wrongful death.  Charleena’s death is likely to be another one in which police who kill are exonerated.  It has just been revealed that cameras outside her fourth floor apartment recorded no entry or activity during the time when she was away from her apartment shopping before she called for  help.  The officers were not wearing body cameras.  So except for the voice recordings we are left with the officers account of  what happened.

 

This is likely to be a worse case than the deadly encounter between St. Paul, MN police and Philando Castile.  Recently, his killer, Jeronimo Yanez, was found innocent of second degree manslaughter.  In this instance a standard of “culpable negligence” was the threshold for conviction. In video footage it seems clear that the officer was negligent and created avoidable risks.  They did not require the victim or other occupants to get out of the car.  There seemed to be negligent disregard for the a child and Philando’s girl friend who were in the car.  The officer fired several shots into the car. Philando was shot three or four times.  Miraculously neither the child nor Philando’s girl friend were hurt. This trauma and tragedy started with a stop because of a broken tail light on the car that Philando was driving.

 

In the case of Charleena, the responding officers did not have tasers with them (despite having information from previous responses at this address).  So far it has not been indicated why they did not use pepper spray or their batons. Also, it is not clear how far away Charleena was from the officers when she started moving towards them.  According to Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large, the likely standard for conviction for the killing of Charleena would be “evil intent.” And so it goes for one more tragic tale of White police officers panicking in the face of carrying out their responsibilities of providing protection or help from crime.  The police officer ended up being  a killer instead of protector. Grim statistics also reported by Jerry Large were that for 2017 there are almost three police killings per day in the United States! As he put it, Charleena was the 451st person killed by police in the United States during the first 169 days of 2017.  That should be a national disgrace for violence against people that police are being paid to help and protect.

 

Sadly, Philando, Charleena and thousands of other victims of police killings could not stay out of the way of the police. Back to my starting point, the nation must find more humane and effective ways of dealing with mentally ill people and the use of deadly force by police.  This is another instance in which we lead the world in infamy.

Thaddeus Spratlen, Seattle, WA

Reading, learning, reading, learning, wrting, reading, learning, repeat.

One of my writing goals for this year is to practice the art of brevity. And while I enjoy the teaser qualities of twitter’s 140 characters, that’s still too brief for me to express most of what I want to say. It happens these days that I wake up with 3 or 4 ideas for blog posts or topics I want to dig into. And then life intervenes: trip to the playground, return home sandy and tired, food manufacture of some sort, negotiation of the next round of screen time, rallying towards bedtime, deep sigh when all is said and done, twitter feed scan until lights out, sleep.

Without further ado, here is some much recommended reading:

1. Principals are People Too blog posts by some mutually supportive school leaders who share the challenges and rewards of being a building principal. (Links to the other posts can be found at the end of his post)

This tied in nicely with my previous post about trying on someone else’s shoes.

2. On Deadlines via The Chronicle of Higher Education. This brief blog post introduces some compelling effects of how we may experience various forms of scarcity (i.e., time, financial, and attention) in the case of dealines and the implications that can have for our performance, both professionally and personally. The most compelling quote for me was this:

A deadline is not just a note on the calendar, or the date on an invoice. It is experienced as part of a much larger network of resources and scarcities that are interconnected in the brain’s responses. Simply recognizing that interconnection can be the start of a compassionate response to your own situation as well as that of others. And, given their findings about cognitive “bandwidth” scarcity as an effect of other kinds of scarcity, seeking support or advice outside your own mind can often reveal alternative solutions to a problem that you wouldn’t think of on your own.

This is why coaching can be so productive and useful: it can offer support that allows you to step out of your own head and create space for alternative viewpoints and potential solutions.

3. This piece by Alain de Botton, a philosopher with a superb sense of humor, Why you – probably – need to go see a therapist, speaks with remarkable clarity and beauty about why therapy should be as routine and high priority as dental visits for most of us really.

Read these gems and reap the benefits. These were just too good not to share widely.

Oh yeah, and Yoga is taking over the NBA.

Still working on the brevity thing…