Letters from Home

The Anxiety Drowning Us

Harris Telemacher ParkingIt’s taken, literally, 6 weeks to sort out the issue of a small car accident. Insurance, repair, parts, claims, ice, rental vehicles, customer service surveys, fuse boxes, indicator lights, supervisors, reports, emailed photos, DRUs, and more.

This is only one item on the To Do list for the week.


– the side effect of our non-stop lives.

You know– it’s buzzing in our purses. It’s pinging from our TweetDecks, it’s flashing from the answering machine. The nonstop demand on us is raising the bar of stress. And according to the New York Times, it is pulsating through our sick buildings and homes, electromagnifying our stress to epic levels.

My brain/soul/body has screaming at me to LEAVE for awhile now. Go! It says. Get out of here! This is ridiculous and it is not normal and it is killing us all!

I keep logically explaining to it that I am tethered. There is no escape. Leave to where, I ask? Waldon Pond or the Big Woods?

My mind keeps conjuring a magical land of disconnectedness where no one uses anything electronic.

And where the streets are lined with sweet old homes and porch swings, snuggled next to each other. And behind each door lives MikeTimPeterFrancesAlexMomDad JeannieDeronLaneFordBryanStacyBobAmy GregKarenMaryJayEllenPeterNickHeather KarinBonnieAbby and parade of other friends and family, tootling ’round in one lovely home after another in a Utopia of human Facebook life.

What we’d do then is just, like, shout out  our “status updates” to each other, across the way. Share soup and talk to each other a great deal.

Or maybe, if we are feeling really high tech, string up a Dixie Cup phone system.


From news of Libya (that’s going to affect oil prices which is going to affect the cost of our vacation!)

to Wisconsin (now I have to decide what I think about labor unions. And teachers. And the “state of education”)

to the economy, the housing market, job loss, which isn’t just numbers in the news, but the lives of our friends and our neighbors and ourselves: questions hovering around constantly about whether or not we go to work, sell our house, move, buy a new car. Everything buzzes now with questions and uncertainty.

The Actual Questions – Who Are We?

When I lived in London from 2004-2007, I felt a similar kind of cultural anxiety among the British. They were no longer the power they had been during the Colonial years. They were slowly becoming just an island in the Atlantic with its own currency and no special power.

Actually, at the time,  it was much worse. They were George W. Bush’s bitch. So there was the war so many of them disagreed with and the relationship with US cocky jerks which they didn’t like at all.

At the same time, the country was dealing with an unexpected crush of Middle Eastern and Eastern European immigrants that was rapidly changing every part of the landscape– culturally, politically, and economically. All in a very small geographical area, relatively.

The British were suffering from a painful, terrifying identity crisis.

I see this happening in the U.S. right now too. Here’s how:

1. The People  Issue. As individuals, we are redefining our understanding of personal relationships. We have shifting personal networks and “friends” that are sometimes more intimate with us than our own living-in-the-house family. Those friends might live thousands of miles away and, oddly, we might never have physically met. Meanwhile, we are barely maintaining the LOGISTICS of life in front of us: school, family, marriage, kids, church.

2. The Chronology Issue. Old friends and lovers from the past are popping up. We are making MORE friends than ever, from multiple time zones. We have access to them at any time through multiple platforms and devices. Our days are no longer chronological– they are amorphous blobs with no beginning and no end. We need more time for everything and there seems to be NONE and an unending supply.

3. The Work Issue. Uncertain economic situation + continuous feedback = imbalance in self-perception. This can be either positive or negative. We can either use this uncertainty to a more creative and purposeful end. OR, we can have the opposite response: to devastate ourselves with fear and to cling to the crumbs. At work this means that we settle, that we allow inferior perceptions of ourselves invade our mindset while real fears about economic stability try to tilt our priority scales.  Or maybe we cut the strings and become the next Apple.

4. The Health Issue. My friend Tim posted a photo of his lunch on Facebook. It was ALL sorts of Burger King. His caption read: “just having a cr@p day so figured I would fill my body with the same .” As we feel anxious, we respond with higher blood pressure, emotional eating, depression, dieting tragedies, and eventually, that place of “ignoring” — where too much information sends us into overload and we say: Enough. We give up on being “healthy” and just do what “feels” right.  Even if it means sitting on the sofa for hours on end, eating a whole box of donuts, and watching “Jersey Shore.” (You aren’t telling me that DOESN’T sound like some good crack right now? Mmmm, glazed!)

5. The Information Issue. There is no more Edward R. Morrow or Walter Cronkite to guide us. We live in an information dumping ground and there is almost no way to know what is credible, what is reliable, what is meaningful. It is all noise, and we are slowly becoming deaf.

The Anxious Result

To me, this is nothing less than living in a devastating earthquake zone and experiencing aftershocks day after day. How can we do anything well or with any meaning in this kind of climate? How do we even get our feet under us?

The daily pressures of a culture working through identity crisis is affecting not just me, but all of us, individually, and as a community.

I know why now the moments in yoga, or floating in the swimming pool, or just weeding the garden feel so precious. They are slices of pure escape from the electrified hamster wheel that has become “our modern life.”

The “normal” things — peeling and eating an orange, talking to a friend in person, uninterrupted, sitting on the front stoop — are no longer even halfway considered a regular part of our lives. They are extras.

Forget for this moment the smog and the cars and the restaurant and the skating and remember only this. A kiss may not be the truth, but it is what we wish were true.

— Harris Telemacher – “L.A. Story”

What can you do to reduce Cultural Anxiety today, tomorrow and for the future?

14 thoughts on “The Anxiety Drowning Us

  1. There were so many times reading this that I said to myself: “me too!” and “I agree!”….especially regarding technology and social networking. How do we feel so disjointed and disconnected in an age when Connection is the word we live by?

  2. Having vast networks of virtual friends doesn’t do it for me. I network for business purposes and that works well, but most of my network is not via LinkedIn or other other sites like that – it’s phone, email and in person contact when possible. I try to be more personal about my contact and it works better, for me and for them. I’m remembered more for it. As for old lovers popping up, I have received many a phone call from a friend who has been invited to friend an old lover on Facebook and wanted advice on what to do. I think this is easy: if you’re not comfortable with that person anymore, don’t add them to you electronic network and don’t talk to them. It’ll simplify life and reduce useless anxiety. Know who you are and always move forward.

    As for work anxieties, we’ve all had that over the past few years with the waves of layoffs, frozen salaries, poor bonuses, hiring freezes, etc. My approach is to stay out of the lunch room gossip and panic and just do what I do and do it well. Worrying doesn’t help. Delivering better work product than those around you does. Stay focused, stay confident and you’ll be fine. If you’re let go, stay focused, stay confident and find a better position with another company.

    Keep everything in perspective. If you have ever watched someone fight a real threat (like cancer), you will understand that a cracked bumper or a possible crappy bonus from your job or a Facebook invitation is all irrelevant and not worthy of anxiety. A few things matter in life. Just simplify your approach. Use electronics to facilitate life, not complicate it. I have done on-the-spot medical research on my phone, found a restaurant nearby to meet a client on the fly, etc. And that’s pretty terrific.

    And take care of your body. It’s the only thing you’ve really got on this planet that can’t be replaced.

    1. Thanks Mario for the comment. I am working on the taking care of my body part, which I agree with. Work, for me, has changed a great deal in the last 7 years and I am still re-discovering who I am as an artist and writer and how I can feel confident in that identity and work at that same time.

  3. Hey; I bet if you send me a letter I’ll send you one, too!
    I was reminded of a recent conversation with one of my patients after reading your post.
    (Keeping in mind this is a stranger – about my age – drugged to the gills and lying in an uncomfortable hospital bed with tubes and wires coming out of her…)
    We tried to get her mind OFF her pain by trying to list all the fun games we played as kids;
    Catching Fireflies (I call them lightning bugs, but same dif)
    Hide and seek
    Red Rover
    Double Dutch
    Dodge Ball
    Building Forts (inside the home)
    Building Tree Houses (outside)
    Cats Cradle
    Cowboys and Indians
    Wild Horses
    Three-legged Races
    Water Balloon Fights
    Snowball Fights

    And all the memories and ideas were
    with minimal rules – which could be changed continuously…
    And just simple memories
    kept her pain away.

    Simple things
    keep pain away.

  4. Really good stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I really need to detox from my electronics. Shut everything down, even if just for a week. We should start a club.

  5. It’s true Elizabeth – life can quickly get quite overwhelming I find too! I’m slowly learning to handle it by working out what I realistically want to achieve by the end of my life, and making the necessary sacrifices to ensure I get as close to that pinpoint on my map as poss by making a weekly plan and daily list based on that plan, to ensure I’m on the right track. That may sound geeky but it helps me no end.

    a large part of these priorities include being a good daughter/sister/girlfriend/friend, and I bear this in mind when I schedule my time.

    To be on the right track re: my priorities above, I try to do something each day/week towards reaching that outcome, which involves daily focus (the plan and list) and some sacrifices (no TV and limited email correspondence, etc).

    I also recommend scheduling in daily journaling, yoga and/or meditation if poss – to help deal with the daily onslaught of feelings that come up with all these demands (guilt, fear, etc). It certainly isn’t easy but I do try to ‘keep my face to the wind’ and start each day afresh, forgiving just myself for failing to do this when I get round to, and I just keep on trying! (And failing!). Hope this ‘adds’ something, for what it’s worth.

    1. The idea of starting each day afresh– oh! how I wish I could do that! The guilt is what gets me… the carryover of things from past days. It’s tough.

      1. This is so true… and I have yet to find someone who has understood this as much as you! My anxiety onset (at maximum strength) hit within the last couple of months. I not only cannot sleep, but I wake up major anxiety every morning. Have to do breathing exercises before evening stepping foot out of the bed. For me, I get myself overwhelmed trying to please everyone I can, and forget about myself in the process. Now I am so far behind on myself, I am not sure I will ever catch up. =/

        To trudging on –


        1. Rachel, I am sorry about your anxiety! I totally empathize. I hope you will understand when I say: You are no “far behind on yourself” — in my humble opinion. I believe it is a matter of looking down at your feet and checking to see just where they are. If they are still attached to your ankles, then –phew! — you are all caught up! Would you like to go for a walk with me? I’d love to have some company.

  6. Say no more! Say “no” more. Say “no more”. Set your own pace when you can. Prioritize and make the time for personal face time. Don’t worry- it doesn’t solve anything and burns energy. Focus on what YOU can do to make the world the world you want to live in. Don’t let the problems outside your reach or influence eat your brain. Don’t let the voices that stress you play over and over in your head. Tell them to be quiet. Find what’s real, hug it to your heart, and love it. Don’t give in to the pressure to be/have/do more if it isn’t what you want. Cut yourself some slack. Eat the donut, but walk later. This is your life. Seek joy and peace.No one is keeping score. There is no final exam. Live the life you choose.

  7. Recently I was watching an episode of “Harry’s Law” and a very violent scene came on the screen. I cringed and felt myself wanting to turn it off and then I caught myself saying, “just wait, it will be over soon.” And then I told myself to shut up and turned the thing off. I felt this strange sense of liberation and pride. The calm, inner voice that holds moments of peace is there, it’s just been ignored for so long that we don’t recognize it. I’m trying to listen to that voice more and if it says, “Go play Legos instead of reading or surfing” I try. And when it says, “It’s Sunday, no need to check Facebook or email. Watch a movie with the family, read a book, take a nap,” or “No more news for a while. Take a break,” I try. It may only be a few weekly hours of floating in the river or weeding the garden, but cherishing and respecting those moments help me most.

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