During the past year and a half, life was tough for most people. But, let’s be honest, it was already tough before, right? Anxieties are on the rise for years now. A trend they say, but I believe our modern life often is the culprit.
There is more to it than anxiety. Fear is everywhere in various degrees: the inexhaustible individualization led to isolation and alienation, the workplace became highly competitive, economy and technology (cookies) reduce people to measurable and predictable statistics, and the media spreads fear to increase sales. At the same time, politicians use fear to manipulate our electoral behaviour. Anxieties are not a trend, they are an outcome of a fear based society.
Through this blog I would like to deconstruct fear in the upcoming months because I am so fed up with ‘the terror’ of fear.
The reason for these texts is twofold. Firstly, it’s a personal intention. Moving to another country triggered a lot of emotions and risks: Hiding under a layer of ‘work hard, play hard’ was no longer possible. I had my first panic attack in Porto during a vegan workshop, of all places, and they kept occurring more and more often. Ironically enough, in my search for freedom, I had started to build a wall around myself. Anxiety, like depression, is not always visible, even to yourself, and, by the end of 2020, I hit rock bottom. I only realized what was happening when I lost my short term memory and my hair was dried and broken. I was afraid to be myself and felt guilty about it. I was worried about social interactions and being judged by friends and family, or even people I hardly knew.
My second reason for writing about fear is because I honestly don’t know many people who don’t have walls around them, who are not traumatized or troubled in some way. Money or not, everybody seems to have issues, or stress, or a lifestyle that is hard to keep up with.
In the last couple of months (with in between long breaks), I tried to find ways to “heal” or deal with anxiety or stress, from the feeling of being not good enough. And how to prevent it.
The light went out
In January, I started writing consistently in a notebook, mainly from a personal perspective. In the beginning, it was filled, primarily, with questions like: How can a person survive in this kind of society? What is a meaningful way to occupy my time? Why is there is such a big difference between what I do and what I want or need? Why can’t I think less and let go of things?
I tried to face my fear of failure and tear down that wall by eliminating stimulus: I rented a room in Porto and switched off the light for two weeks.
I experienced a kind of estrangement that reminded me of My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Mosfegh (a great writer, by the way). Not that I engaged in a drug experiment, but the alienation was similar. I had a genuine sense of not being connected to the world around me. After those two weeks, I started searching for the answers to my questions.
For each question, I stuck a flashcard on the wall. To some, I assigned courses about body, mind and nutrition. I listened to various podcasts about the nervous and digestive systems, decision-making and habits, change, minimalism, healthy food, the human tendency to adapt rather than change, contra-intuitive thinking, how the brain functions, routines, rewards, and nudges, the difference between a comfort zone and a safe space, empathy, security, the confrontation with yourself, and how to fall back on yourself. This was a slow process, dealing with my own fears at the same time.
Gradually, another driving force emerged from my flashcards: love. For myself, for starters, but also for the other.
Love and fear: two powerful motivations behind human behaviour that empower and prevent change.
In short, fear is a primal instinct. It’s easy to rely on, but often destructive. Love, on the other hand, is more conscient; complicated, but more sustainable. That doesn’t mean fear is always wrong. Without fear, we wouldn’t existed anymore as a species.
But then I discovered another theme, maybe the most important one: change. Again, for yourself, but also on a social level. There are alternatives, only we never learned about them.
Big data, big trouble
With this project, I want to enable myself and others to exercise better control over this one, beautiful life — the only one we’ll ever have. Over a unique identity, a piece of independence in a world that pushes us in a single-sided statistic.
To get a hold on ourselves and what we actually need in this final state of consumerist society, we can start by understanding how our minds and bodies function and the mechanisms behind our habits, routines and subconscious. Big Data already understands and influences our patterns more than we do ourselves; if we remain blind to this, in the end, we actually will become easily measurable statistics, defined and lead by algorithms and cookies to become the perfect consumer.
These mini-essays are the result of my search. A way to transform fear into love because once control our humane wishes and motives better, industry (and politics) will follow.
That is the power we have and the resilience we own.
Disclaimer: I don’t consider myself ‘an expert in change’ because I read a few books. But I do speak from the experience of falling and rising, and making mistakes while building a life that feels meaningful.
Books & info:
Ottessa Moshfeh: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-06-04/ottessa-moshfegh-profile