Why do you always get the best of me?
I’m out here living in a fantasy
I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing
—Jason Isbell, “Anxiety”
Chronic anxiety is no joke. I sometimes wonder if patriarchal, conventional American masculinity demands anxiety—about status, about being enough, about proving yourself to others. But for those of us men who struggle with mental illness, our masculinity becomes especially “less than” if we show vulnerability, fear, or any emotions that we’re taught to not show.
My attitude toward that kind of denial of feelings is f— that toxic bullshit. I have a right to be anxious, and if you don’t like it, well, that’s nice.
I understand that the conventional mores of our society might demand that we me,n stuff our feelings, but to avoid my anxiety exploding, I need to be vulnerable—at least with those close to me—when I struggle. I also need to maintain healthy boundaries, but I deserve to be heard whether or not I am understood.
I recently went to a relative’s wedding, and my anxiety was showing up all over the place. My Autism complicates and multiplies my social anxiety, so, as part of what’s called stimming, I manage my anxiety by pacing.
I’ve been doing it for many years now. I paced before my 9th grade English class, and it made others nervous.
At one of my recent jobs, in retail, I’ve done a lot of pacing across the store, partly because I’m looking for customers, but largely because that’s how I manage downtime.
Americana singer-songwriter Jason Isbell’s song, “Anxiety,” came out in 2017, and it resonated with me like nothing else did that year. “A crowded room is a burning battlefield,” Isbell wrote and sang with more courage than most anything I’ve heard from a man in music in some time.
James Taylor’s classic 1970 song, “Fire and Rain,” was born out of his experiences in a mental institution, and when I try to sing along with that song, as some friends found out last year, I get choked up. It hurts.
What I know today, however, is that my anxiety does not make me less anything that matters to me: not less masculine, not less intelligent, and definitely not less worthy. It might make situations uncomfortable—for me and for others—but my anxiety is part of who I am.
I pace; therefore, I am (anxious).
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