Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The Anxieties of Futility

The Anxieties of Futility

After a certain time, when it has reached an unbearable pitch, we flee from anxiety, find refuge in a fugue state - like an autonomic stage of drowning where the brain has shut off, but the body still gasps for air.

There, there is a certain calm, dread pushed away a little. The mind has a moment to rest, the body to try to breathe. One tries to collect one’s thoughts, to make a plan, to invent strategies to escape the circumstances that make us so anxious.

Yet, to maintain that calm space, it is impossible to think of solutions, for that necessitates facing those same anxieties in order to unlock the way forward. So we have a state of screaming panic which forestalls thought, or a state of numb mindlessness which also forestalls thought. We are trapped in two opposites of futile stasis.

What about the transition, such as it is? Our precarious circumstances make us anxious. We seek to escape our circumstances. Yet every idea grasped at seems impossible, too futile to pursue. And with each blank moment of absent solutions, anxiety rises, and thought decreases, and anxiety rises, until we are back where we started.

The anxiety and the futility are two lines on a graph, each mirroring the other’s rise and fall. At any point along the axis, both added together equal full-volume; both states still inhibit thought and action in conjunction and combination. They are in essence two faces of the same coin. It is the coin that is the problem.

How do we lose the coin, spend it, or have it stolen from us? This world, lacking in any security or certainty, just tosses it straight back to us with indifference.


To be anxious about a specific thing is quite normal. To be anxious about a number of things is quite normal. There are many things in the world to be rightfully anxious about. But to be anxious about almost everything - so much that the brain is continually spinning about to see everything at once - is not usual, and very debilitating.

A specific anxiety can be reasoned with and addressed through logic, regaining a sense of proportion, and experience of having subdued it before. Add several other anxieties on top, and it becomes hard to concentrate on any one, and consequently more difficult to address any one of them. In other words, the more one is anxious about, the more anxious one gets.

We try to concentrate, to just focus on a single anxiety, to try to take steps to relieve it. But every attempt is sabotaged by the distraction of the others. Eventually, all the separate worries coalesce into an unaddressable gestalt of constant dread.

That is when the mind goes blank, trapped in that frozen desert of futility. Nothing can be made right. Our identities are useless, we are a waste of life. It will always be like this. What is the point in being alive? Just waiting continually for impending disaster, not knowing from which direction it will come. Will it be war, climate-change, drought and famine? Unemployment, illness, the punitive state? Eviction, starvation, humiliation? The asylum, prison? A car smash, the death of loved ones, the fear that one is not loved? Never to feel self-worth nor satisfaction for the rest of one’s life? Never to feel happy again?

Some of these are, of course, mainly out of our control. Others not so much. But so hard to address them, deafened by the admonitory cries of the others. But if we cannot even address our anxieties over the things we need to change, how then can we attempt to change those things? How do we escape the trap of feeling futile?

We need to accept that our anxieties have tangible causes, and that we can act to reduce those threats. Today, for so many people, the most basic needs are in question. Food. Shelter. To secure those two simple necessities seems impossible when living on the margin of society. But they are not impossible.

We can start by trying to move despite our paralysis, to prove to ourselves that we are capable of at least something. As the fly emerges from its pupa, we see there is some capability of movement, so therefore there is more capability of movement to come.

We can practise the most simple and beneficial actions. Leave the house, walk, admire the world, smile and talk to people, be friendly and engaged. Show love to those around us. By giving happiness to others, we can become happy ourselves. Aristotle believed that happiness is not a thing, or a state, but a process, a way of action. Practicing happiness leads to confidence. Confidence leads to ideas, opportunities, unseen paths. But isolation leads to despair.

We should, rather than think of an idea, and then reject it as impossible, take that idea and see how it could be made possible. Where skills are lacking, learn them, or refresh them. Devote an hour a day as a matter of course to thinking of ideas, no more, no less, and it does not matter if no ideas come. Manure the garden of our minds. Ideas never grow in barren soil. Read other things that are not newspapers, or frivolous babble. Exercise a little discipline and refuse to feel guilt if we do not meet our expectations. Be light and loving of heart, and keep a smile on our faces.

We need stability, and security of our needs and wants. Happiness is not going to appear as a result of obtaining those. Rather, those needs are dependent on happiness to be acquired.

This unrelenting positivity may make us retch in our very souls. But praxis is the only way to break this stasis. We have a choice, to remain still and sequestered, watching the hands of the clock each day tick forward, each day despondent at another day wasted. Or we can begin to move. We know what staying still results in. The only solution is to try the other way.

As Becket’s old truism states: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’ To try is all.

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