Getting Real with Anxiety

Anxiety is a constant companion, tied to every choice, decision, or plan that comes into my head.

Most days I fight with anxiety.

Well, some days I fight. Most days I just tolerate it, like a bad roommate assigned to me whom I’ve gotten used to, one full of bad advice. Or it’s like clouds at the beach. It’s there to dampen my day with whispers of confusion, doubt, and fear, hindering my ability to connect with others.

Anxiety is a constant companion, tied to every choice, decision, or plan that comes into my head.

Like right now. Should I be writing this blog post? Wouldn’t my time be better spent on another task? What about the grocery shopping, those plans I need to be making for my parent’s visit next month, or the yoga class I thought about taking today? What will happen when people read this? I’m teaching guys to find their bliss in the yoga classes I teach. How can I do that while I’ve got my own carefully hidden tumor of anxiety lodged deep inside me?

Well, I must write about it. If I’m going to stay true to my own value of authenticity, then I’ve got to talk openly about the anxiety I carry.

It’s real. It’s mine. And I’m not ignoring it anymore. In fact, I’m introducing it to all of my friends. With their help and my own internal work, I’m finding out what it has to teach me.

Consciously facing it has improved my daily meditation in that regard. I sit. I listen. I let go of the judgment I have (as best I can) for feeling it. I feel where it is in my body. And I identify what it’s trying to teach me. I explore it with a licensed therapist.

I think it’s trying to teach me how to feel.

Until now, it always seemed to come from another dimension, from origins imperceptible to my most intensely conscious reality.

I’ve come to realize that is because I have always tried to live in an empirically driven, measurable reality, a world where reasoned, rational thought prevails. Unfortunately, anxiety grows out of the world of emotion not reason. So guess what? Even after I’ve put every behavioral aspect of my existence into its own perfect little box, labeled it, categorized it, and sent it off to peer review to be validated, I still feel anxious.

That’s because I don’t know how to truly identify or have a feeling.

Sounds funny, and it would be if it were not such a serious impediment to another of my core values, the value of “contentment.” With regard to anxiety, feelings are all that’s left to explore. I’ve tried ballet, moving, extreme sports, sex, extreme sex, computer network administration…anything that’s formulaic and predictable.

I’ve tried to mitigate the clouds of doubt with extreme rational organization techniques, using: Frankly Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Master/slave roles of the BDSM world, Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and restructuring computer and permitting systems at my city hall job. I find all of those protocols helpful and edifying, but, for the most part, all they offer is an escape from the origin of all behavior, which is emotion.

I thought my gayness had forced me to be more advanced then this.

With prejudice, I observed that us gays were more willing to express feelings than the non-gays. And by comparison to straight men, yes, we are better at it, but only to a relational degree.

Guys my age (I’m 54) had to teach ourselves about the human homosexual experience on planet earth, all without any help from the dominant culture. With my other queer comrades, I thought I had learned about love, community, and compassion.  

We built an activist culture. A warrior culture. Practicing it brought me dignity, but it didn’t teach me much about how to process a feeling.

The primary thing I learned was how to identify a quantifiable policy issue that needed to change, like job protection, AIDS research expedition, etc. and then fight like hell until we won. And we won a lot!

But, I’m I still anxious…

Again, it’s because of this whole emotion thing. I was taught that feeling them would expose me to loss, rejection, or violence. I’m a man born and raised in the northwest heartland of the USA, a world where emotions are shamed if not expressed as anger or triumph. Even in Los Angeles culture, hell, even in West Hollywood culture we support each other if we are really ANGRY or totally WINNING (look at Facebook) but expressing doubts or any other vulnerability is like wearing a blindfold and walking down Hollywood Boulevard naked with the words “kick me in the balls” written on my body in black magic marker.

To be honest – and that really is what this exercise is about, being honest, and that’s why it’s scary – my anxiety is such a part of me that I find it hard to visualize my identity without it.

Who will I be without this constant companion? As uncomfortable as I am with this tumor of doubt, I’m not sure I would know how to live without it. Would I still be Mike? My ego tells me, “No.” I would no longer be me without it. Its loss would threaten my primary relationships and I would end up alone if I told anyone about my real fears, dreams, and regrets.

So that’s my anxiety. At least I recognize it.

I know how it limits me because of its affect on my behavior. I know it has something to teach me and those lessons are probably about grief, aging, and ego.

Rather than simply feeling rage or pride – being less than or greater than – I now give myself permission to feel, no matter how vulnerable that makes me. Because inside my vulnerability is where the juicy stuff is hiding.

I’m willing to hug it and love it until it no longer serves me. I’m willing to be with it until I attract a world of men who have done the work already and can teach me, or are willing to walk this path of emotional exploration with me.


Subscribe to receive my blog in your inbox.


Related Posts


29 Gay Men Murdered in Fire – “The Lord had something to do with this.”

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the largest gay massacre in America. I did not know that until I saw this post on Facebook today. In June of 1973 I was enjoying the summer break between my 2nd and 3rd grade years in grammar school. Forty years have gone by and not one of my educators mentioned this massacre. I have worked and lived in a gay city my entire adult life and I have not heard about his until today. How is that possible?

Tomorrow the SCOTUS is going to announce their decisions on marriage. If it goes our way, do we just say “thank you” and blend neatly into hetro-normative society forgetting all the hate? Do we continue to bury this type of history because it makes the middle class assimilationists uncomfortable?

I’m just asking here, because the burial of this story for forty years – the story of my people being hideously murdered in mass – is outrageous.

Again, how is this possible?

Angst vs. Satisfaction: it’s your choice

It’s a choice between happiness and angst.

You can focus on the possibilities all around you or commit yourself to seeing danger in anything that changes.

I recently sat in a meeting where a new technology was being introduced to streamline one of the organization’s most complex systems. It promised to make the process more secure, faster, and simpler for both the provider and the consumer. Those in the room embracing its possibility where animated, relaxed, and in good humor. Those clinging tightly to the, “but we have always done it this way” paradigm were bristling with angst.

The word “angst” in German means “fear.”

Be aware that you are creating your own angst. The discomfort is not being done TO you, it is being created BY you. If you see change as a nemesis to be avoided, you are doomed to a ceaseless and ever growing angst ridden existence in a world that is changing faster every day. Open yourself up to the process and infuse it with the diversity only you can bring to the table. Close yourself off and the project suffers, and you suffer as well.

Fear makes people miserable.

It’s your choice.

MikelGerle.com

I am a Heretic

Seth Godin says, heretic = artist = leader. I like that. ​​

This heretic is here to change your life – our lives, the lives of gay men and anyone who is effected by gay men. The change will not be easy. It never has been. But it is necessary, and the rewards are enormous. No matter how comfortable it becomes for gay men there will always more work to be done. For gay men, the status quo is not only unjust, it is dangerous. What is true today will not be true tomorrow. The era of change is upon us. We either lead the change or accept what happens to us and our culture by external forces. The good news is that there are more opportunities to effect change than ever before. Social connectivity platforms have suddenly given us all a voice more equal than at any other point in man’s history. What are you saying with yours? How are you using it to effect change?

The challenge, is getting past your own fear.

Writing these words on a public web site is not done without fear, but I am doing it nonetheless. I have faith that others in the tribe will be moved to create their own change, your own change, that is parallel to my own. Create something that is true to your own authenticity, that is diverse, and is vibrant. Let me be clear, I am not asking you to follow Mike’s prescription for change. I am asking you to create your own, give voice to it, and lead others who respond to your message.

I will not be deterred from action or agree to “not now” assertions by those whose fear has paralyzed them. Many of these assertions are coming from our usual enemies or the institutions build by GLBT people. It turns out my own tribe is not immune to the lures of the status quot.

I will not accept attempts to shame me by those saying I’m being selfish by focusing on the needs of my gay brothers when so much work remains undone to save the planet, on human rights, on minority rights, and on GLBT rights in general. What I will do is focus on the dignity of my own tribe and celebrate the leadership other leaders give to their tribes. When that happens, not only will the lives of gay men get better, but so will the lives of GLBT people in general and those of the entire planet.

The ripples of dignity fueled change lift up the lives of everyone. Feed your tribe.

​Stop asking permission. Start leading.
​​
Be the heretic that ads light to the color band of the rainbow that speaks to you. Celebrate its uniqueness, promote its message, and foster the people who are drawn to your light. It will happen. It is happening. And every time that it does, we all win.

Do not be deterred by the establishment; by those asking you to wait, asking you for the polls to change, or for  permission that comes from a hierarchy. The hierarchy is no longer vertical, it is horizontal. YOU are the hierarchy. There are no longer people above you and below you. There are only people beside you. I am beside you. Many more are beside you waiting for you to lead them.