Other people’s words about … anxiety

It took me years to work out that what the experts tell you isn’t always right, no matter how expert they may be, nor how much you may have paid them to tell you what they’ve told you. Fiona Wright explores this theme in the passage below, in relation to her own experience of searching for a cure for her anxiety — a cure that the experts she has consulted have not, despite their expertise, as yet been able to help her find.

This was not supposed to be the lesson that I learnt, she writes. And that, right there, is the power that those so-called experts can hold over us: that they can make us feel that way; that we can come to believe, from them, that there is a lesson — one particular lesson and no other — that we are supposed to learn.

It’s enough, I think, to struggle with poor health, mental or physical or both, without also coming to feel a failure for not responding to the treatment or advice that the experts offer us. Betrayal is the word Wright uses — a strong word, but it is apt.

This feeling, I was right to be nervous, is to me the worst of all the things I think and feel out of anxiety, at least in part because it feels like a cruel joke. Clinical psychologists insist that the problem with anxiety is that the anxiousness — that tension in the gut and shoulders, the clamped jaw and cramping rib cage, the wildly circulating thinking and breathless panic — is always disproportionate, always misplaced; that the fear itself, that is, is always worse than the thing that makes us afraid. And so the treatment focuses on exposure, on deliberately coming into contact with the things we fear and then coming out the other side unscathed in order to learn the hollowness of the focus (and locus) of our fear. So when I get this feeling — I was right to be nervous — it always feels like a betrayal: this was not supposed to be the lesson that I learnt.

From ‘A Regular Choreography
in ‘The World was Whole’
by Fiona Wright

Wildly circulating

Fiona Wright is an Australian poet and writer. In her essays, she writes with candid, almost forensic insight into her experience of living with chronic physical and mental illness. You can read more of her work here.

3 thoughts on “Betrayed

  1. From the cradle we are taught to validate others’ opinions and thoughts before our own. The answers are all ‘out there’ and we must find the ‘expert’ to help us. Now that I’m ‘of certain age’ I’ve come to realize that we are all learners and while some may have studied a subject long and well, I’m ultimately the only ‘expert’ on me. How much time I wasted looking elsewhere!

    1. Oh, me, too, Eliza, me, too.
      And isn’t it interesting, though, that, along with the qualified experts we pay for their answers whom I mentioned in my post, the ‘self’-help gurus are just the same? By which I mean, they don’t simply say, ‘Look to yourself for the answers’; they say, ‘follow me, buy this, do that, and then you will have the answers’.
      It’s an industry that’s designed to make us feel unhappy/ill/dissatisfied, I think, so that we keep coming back and buying more ‘answers’.
      Or do I sound somewhat jaded? 😉

      1. Not jaded at all. After dumping a few grand on these guru trainers’ books and seminars, one figures out that the answers don’t lie with them. They may provide helpful nuggets, but it is really an ‘inside’ job. Also, we are never ‘done’ until our last breath. We’re constantly unfolding.

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