There is a distinct difference between anxiety and fear. I recently brought up my feelings of anxiety to my psychiatrist, and he recommended the learned tome, “Anxious”, by Joseph Le Doux. My psychiatrist has the style of a lecturer in a classroom. A conversation with him always includes mention of the latest conference at which he heard a talk by a luminary of the profession. He goes into technical details of the brain’s chemical functioning, and then flatters my intellectual capabilities by declaring that most of his other patients would be unable to follow along. He talks lightly of having been admitted to the same Harvard law class as the Clintons, before deciding to pursue medicine instead. He insinuates that my brain is of the same quality as his, saying “Your brain is such a fun toy that playing with it is reason enough to want to live.” I am sure that this is all part of his professional treatment of a patient, but I am flattered nonetheless. I must be special. My psychiatrist is charmed by me!
In “Anxious”, Le Doux distinguishes between the two parts of the brain that lead to the feelings of fear and anxiety. In short, fear is a feeling that has an object. We are specifically afraid of something, like getting mugged while walking down a dark street in the city. Anxiety is a generalized feeling. An anxious person can’t quite state the cause of his anxiety, even while adrenalin and other chemicals bathe his brain. In addition to the well-known fight or flight reactions to these chemicals, there is a third reaction — freeze. This is my brain/body’s preferred response.
The world news right now, with the terrorist attacks, and bombings, and domestic shootings in the US, is naturally anxiety-provoking. On top of that, if you have had a major medical incident, and been out of work on disability for over 6 months, it is normal to feel some anxiety. But what is not so normal is letting myself get frozen to a debilitating level — that is part of my illness. I practice talking myself off a ledge on a day to day basis. At least the weather gods are being kind to me — this winter is not as freezing as the last one. Even as I am grateful for that, I am anxious about what I know to be the cause — global warming. So, here I am, like out-of-date meat in a faulty freezer, partially thawing out and re-freezing, over and over again.