All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fear Of Fear

[Bela Lugosi]

Best I can do today is rewrite an old essay. It is 110 degrees in this valley and I am suffering side-effects of a medicine that has doubled the circumference of my jugular veins. They told me it would control anxiety and ease withdrawal from nicotine. By evening I shall develop gills and piranha teeth, but anxious? No. I suffer, decidedly I suffer and fear nothing! Pffft! What, after all, is anxiety?

FDR said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." He was talking about anxiety and worry, nuisances produced by natural selection. Those Darwinian candidates who rehearsed emergencies effectively survived them. Those who didn't didn't. But many good things can be overdone. All roof repairs, no matter how small, become a way of life. Same with worry, with fear.

It even gets fashionable. Madame affects a nerve storm and swoons decorously upon the chaise lounge (English for the French "chaise longue", rhymes with tongue which real French ones have) , with proper form, backhand to brow, observed by all upper --or "swooning"--classes. Brandy is fetched by a domestic --or butling--class-member from the butlery. Butling is appellation derived from the naturalist's word for tuxedoed children who grow up to be butlers. This should not be confused with pathogenic coinage such as "liveried servant", which, since found to be inoculable, has passed from common usage just as hospital wards treating livery have been summarily refitted. Society is thus stratified by worry. Pffft!

A doctor --"professional" class-- is sent for and solemnly orders a rest-cure at a very expensive sanatorium run by, well I don't know but they all wear white coats and prattle on about "waters" --that class. The master of the house must pay for it by raising rents and poisoning uncles --and the roof is leaking. This leads to worry all round.

For our purposes, anxiety may be adequately defined as a fear of fear itself. As Admiral Farragut put it so cerebrally, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" This utterance marked his conquest of Campobello and liberation of the Bay of Fundy, which resulted in his becoming our 32nd U.S. president. Literature of the time adopted this sort of bravery for great sea stories, but some suspected the "Brass Class" spoke only for itself. Neglected in these accounts were "Crew Class" members who actually feared getting exploded, drowned or sharkbit over fear itself.

This latter sentiment is reflected in the third word of Melville's "Moby Dick" ("Call me etc."), which was originally "fishmeal". Censors changed it to something Biblical and nothing more could be done. There was some resistance. Heretics were burned, lunatics were spurned and slackjawedhicks were gol-durned. Science was compelled to combat this worrisome religious mindset and its threat of ultimacy. Field studies were begun in the nascent discipline of Psychology.

[Dwight Frye as Renfield]
Southwestern Indians were examined. It was found that preindustrial societies worried less. Hopes ran high that simple living could reduce stress, but science also brings disappointments. The Indians had long traded with the Freudians to the north, and with them pooled anxieties to use in psychological warfare against the Harridans, who had them both surrounded. The rest is grouchy Biblical history.

Again and again, anxiety proved universal. In order to keep their new jobs, about which they'd begun to really worry, psychologists published the conclusion that anxiety should be limited to things that always go wrong but we seldom think about. This created a whole new industry, and is the reason roofs are now made of stuff that goes to pieces. Does this cause me anxiety? Pffft! No, it causes me grouchy --there is no pill for grouchy.

And "Pffft!" is so much more effective with smoke in it. I keep a pipe and tobacco in the pumphouse for sentimental reasons. Sentiments I must brave the heat to exercise. Excuse me.


  1. A brilliant post and one that I can fully identify with. Anxiety is indeed a fear of fear. I've suffered from severe anxiety attacks most of my life (are they lately called "panic attacks"?).
    Long ago they were so debilitating that I couldn't leave the house. I chose not to rely on drugs - - only on booze occasionally.

    In recent years I've learned to control anxiety simply by convincing myself that I have nothing to fear but fear itself. The very worst thing that could possibly happen is that I'd drop dead. Then my problems would be solved. And my relatives would be pillaging my possessions.

  2. Thank you, Jon. Your honest response means a lot to me. We know the sound of constant self-diagnostic machinery running in the background, like a fridge.

  3. I wonder what you would call a fear of anxiety? I knew a girl at work who got so worked up at the thought that she might get an anxiety attack that it gave her an anxiety attack. No, I'm not kidding.

  4. Delores, I know you're not kidding. Much of the problem is the sort of anticipatory anxiety you described. It can topple the dominoes.

  5. My ex used to say that if I had nothing to worry about I would invent something. She was right. Thank goodness those worrying days are behind me. Mind you I still have today to deal with. Who knows what might happen?
    Don't tell anyone Geo but I still enjoy a pipe of tobacco occasionally.

  6. Ugh. I've struggled with social anxiety (amongst other things) since I can remember. The fear of going red/brain turning to mush/shaking and generally looking like the idiot I was always told I was growing up (not nearly so glamorous as the lounging lady!) was constantly enough to bring it all on just by itself--especially in a corporate environment. Unlike Jon, I did go the medication route out of desperation (became afraid to leave the house too) and what a mess that was. I am finally free of meds and feel safe, and basically don't interact with people unless I have to. I've gotten a lot better with reading and learning, and realizing why this all happened. And if my blog friends were my neighbours and work-mates, I suspect I would do okay. :)

    Sorry to babble on. Been a thinking sort of weekend.

    Top notch post, Geo.

  7. As a fellow pipe-smoker, I will share the following joke:
    Q: What's the difference between anxiety and panic?
    A: How much money you have in the bank.

    I must have screws loose. Fear turns into anger in my system almost instantly. Maybe a Viking thing.

  8. John-- I won't tell anyone if you won't. Here in California, you hear sirens if somebody lights up behind the barn.

    CarrieBoo-- Glad you had a "thinking sort of weekend" because you've just contributed something valuable. Your excellent comment about neighbors is echoed and well-received here.

    Austan-- Good Q and A. and effective emotional morph. But remember, Viking(!) is always written in the exclamatory case.

  9. As a longtime friend of Geo., my former HS student and good buddy, I'm glad he asked me to chime in.

    Ever since my early adolescence I have had panic attacks, only precipitated for many years when I was alone in a house (my parents' or later my own) and had the feeling that I would suffocate unless I went outside or at least opened a window. Otherwise , I was sure I would scream at the top of my lungs.

    It was only when I got into my late 50s when that tactic no longer worked. I saw my longterm primary doc and he suggested Zoloft, which has worked for me--and I know not for some others uniformly--for over 20 years (Now there is a generic, sertraline, which costs much less). In any case, this experience convinced me even more that illnesses, physical as well as mental or psychological ones, are frequently caused by biochemical imbalances, increasingly so as we age because there are no longer as much of those 'juices' in our bodies as when we were younger.

    It interests me that this recourse has not so far helped my friend Geo., and several of my age-mates, so I know there must be more to the story.

    Whaddaya think?


  10. Thanks Will! You bring up a good question. I had trouble with unfortunate SSRI side-effects like the trots, which set me back socially. Why it works for some and not others is clearly an enigma.

  11. good post,I am glad to visit your website.. This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality and it is very useful one and gives in depth information.
    Roof repairs poole


I value your comments. Say hello. Reach out a bit. I do.