A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Existential Angst?

Existentialism:  philosophical theory which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free agent, responsible for their own development.

Angst:  a strong feeling of anxiety about life in general.

We all start out as infants and children dependent on others for our existence.  For better and worse, other adults take on the responsibility for training and developing our skills and understanding.  And yet from the start we are separate individuals, separate bodies and spirits.  No one can see through our eyes or feel through our bodies.  No one can know, not even our adult selves, what our first associations were when we were learning the symbols of words.  So much of what children do is the practice of imitation.  We learn by watching and repeating at home, in school, with friends.  For some attitudes and actions we are praised, rewarded emotionally and sometimes physically.  For others we are scolded and sometimes punished physically.  We learn young to identify our confusion when other adults and children say one thing and do another.  Here is where we have to reach for our own understanding, our own unique perspective.

In our minds as children we are free agents because there are no other people in our minds to oversee us, but in our circumstances, in the way we are treated, we are not free.  And in our physical bodies, none of us is free.  We are dependent on food and water and air; we are dependent on our bodies for survival and we are interconnected, interdependent on the people that make up the society that we live in.  Our minds appear to be self contained, but there is the sense that we can push the limits.  We are not restrained by our bodies.  But as we age, we become almost too contained within our minds.  After we learned to say no to others, we learned to say no to ourselves.  We suffer so much with our hypercritical attitudes and thoughts.  We shut ourselves down and our most constant pain becomes more internal than external.  This is the angst we tap into during the day when we worry, scold ourselves and others, keep our heads stuck in the past or imagining the future.

We are shown early that life and death are two sides of the same thing.  We haven't experienced death, but we know it will come as we see it striking others.  This can be the undercurrent of our "anxiety about life in general."  This foreknowledge is why we are not free agents, but mortal beings chained to the cycles of birth and death.  The best we can do is to take care of ourselves and think that this will extend our life here.  But I'd say most of us don't take care of ourselves.  Think of how many millions of people have fallen victim to all kinds of addictions.  And yet I do think that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and try our best.  

Most of my days are spent alone but in a strange relationship with my illness.  I see time pass and I see how slow I am to take on simple responsibilities.  In the last few years I have committed to my belief that there is so much more going on in me and around me than it seems.  There is a message in some support literature for people recovering from addiction that says:  you are where you are supposed to be.  That can be hard to accept when life is not moving smoothly or moving too slowly.  My angst takes hold when I forget it and I do a lot of the time.  I have a persistent barrier in my trained psyche to resist telling myself that it is okay just to exist.  I'm not in a race or competition and my life does have meaning, every second of it.  

I can hear some cynical person saying - we are where we're supposed to be according to whom or what?  I say according to God, that nebulous entity that is so free that no one can catch it.  Belief in God requires a leap of faith and once you've leapt you have to continue to nurture the faith.  I nurture it every day when I pray in the morning and ask for guidance throughout the day.  I know that I am not free and have chosen to depend of something elusive yet real to me, to help me, maybe even mold me, into being a happier, better individual.   

Angst is disbelief, is resistance, is fear and it goes deep.  People in the happier stages of life believe in something greater than themselves, whatever that turns out to be, and do not resist that force for goodness.  Belief and acceptance lead to peace.  And I'm not talking about blind faith which can often be prejudiced towards one group or another without deeper reflection.  Reflection on self and life experiences is meditation and a way to get closer to the mysteriously unknown benevolent forces that seem to rule the world giving us this beautiful planet to live on.  Reflection is constructive thinking instead of the wasted thinking of worry and anxiety.  We can compare our life experiences with others while respecting that they are separate and on their own path, but ultimately we have to think for ourselves and use our intuition and insight in our past life and present life.  What we think now leads to what we do later leads to one direction over another.  Without reflection we fall into the grooves of habitual patterns we've been practicing since childhood.  With reflection we broaden the healthier choices we have.  We re-train ourselves towards healing.  We lessen those feelings of angst.

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