This is not a post about gravity and you.
This is a post about the things that keep you from being the person you have the potential to be … and you.
Before I launch into what I hope might be a helpful analysis of dealing with anxiety, depression, and fear, I’d like to reveal to you a little bit of my journey through this universe, and how I often find myself pulled in by the gravity of things I don’t realize I can control. Realize then, that my purpose in writing this begins as a selfish pursuit – affirmation, if you will – and that you may find something in it only because you and I are humans.
Fear and Me
My life has been anything but typical, but I would struggle to find things in it that I could confidently label as “things that screwed me up”. No tragedy has made me who I am – no unfortunate set of events has mutated me into this person who speaks to you as I do now. My parents had their vices, their arguments, their rage, their divorce. My family has had their triumphs and their disappointments. I could say, with tongue in cheek, that I was abused, but that would be a joke. My principal whipped me, just like he did with every other kid that misbehaved during that time in history. That’s not abuse, and it wasn’t abuse when my father did it to me, or my mother did it to me, or my grandparents did it to me. That was life, whether that is life now or not.
I have always been a timid and introverted person. That’s not to say that I don’t long for friendship and fellowship. I do crave it, but it is not as important to me as being myself. I often find that during those brief interludes of actively seeking interaction with my fellow humans, I fear.
I fear embarrassment. I fear being judged unjustly. I fear misrepresenting myself by carelessly speaking without thinking deeply about how each connected word in a sentence could possibly be misconstrued by the person I’m speaking to and used against me. I fear being seen as something I am not. I fear that the person I’m attempting to engage in conversation is better at something, anything, than me, and that everything I say might possibly be wrong – as if every single thing I’ve experienced in life is just a bunch of bullshit I’ve been too stupid enough not to get right.
Therapy and Medication
When fear and anxiety began to affect my every day interactions, and ultimately began to prevent me from progressing as a human being, I fell into a depression. This happened initially at a young age, and as introverted as I am naturally, I found it easy to hide this from family, friends, and strangers.
My parents did not send me to therapy because they did not realize that I was becoming a depressed adolescent. I did well enough in school that I got by, when I could have excelled. That hurts me. It pains me that I fell victim to my own judgements of myself. It did not matter that I was bullied and harassed. It did not matter that I suffered severe anxiety attacks every day I entered the school cafeteria and had to wander for a table to sit at. In the end, I hurt myself with my own twisted logic and had no one in my life to debate my fledgling philosophies with.
While I absolutely agree that bullying and exclusion in school and other social settings is a terrible problem for kids then and now, I tend to disagree with how it is handled. The effect that bullying had on me was a result of my own natural defenses being inadequate to deflect or lessen the damage. You don’t teach kids to fight back, you don’t punish the aggressor, you have to let the child develop his own immunity. Shields up! Not divert power to weapons. When was I ever in danger of death? Not once. We were kids, not Klingons.
I did not learn that lesson though. It is easy for me to say “Shields up!” to my younger self now, but back then, the damage to my impulse engines was real. It was warp or stagnate – and I did not believe in warp speed.
I survived. I lost momentum and direction, but in the end I breached the frontier and set out into open space. Call it luck, or call it a verisimilitude of perseverance, I graduated, but it had been such a hell of a ride that I had no desire to continue it for another four years, no matter how much money, success, booze and casual sex might come with it.
In the year that followed, I quickly discovered that I was not being bullied or made fun of anymore, but that the anxiety and fear and depression was still there. Again, I withdrew from social interactions and found some solace in the virtual universe of the internet. Naturally, this led me down some paths I would have been better off not treading. This post is not about bad choices, though – this post is about gravity and you, right?
By the time I had good enough insurance to allow me to visit a psychiatrist about my social anxiety, I had already experimented on my own with Paxil. See? Bad choices.
The psychiatrist seemed overly interested in death, abuse, and suicide, and aggressively pushed me towards the conclusion that something terrible must have happened to me in my youth that turned me into this “thing” I had become. He never found it, because it wasn’t there. He grew frustrated when I explained that bullying had no lasting effect on me, and that I was anxious and nervous before the first hillbilly punk ever made me eat dirt. He resorted to meds, and lo and behold, he put me on Paxil.
When I explained that I had freaked out and descended into a three-day psychedelic space coaster ride to oblivion the last time I took Paxil for an extended period of time, he simply stated that I had not used it long enough to do me any good.
The only good thing that came out of that relationship with my psychiatrist was that he turned me onto a therapist for weekly sessions. As it turned out, she was a child psychologist. Interesting.
The therapy did me about as much good as airing my grievances to a blank wall at first, but eventually, after I’d told her everything that had happened to me, bad choices and all, she did something I didn’t expect: she told me that my philosophy on life was flawed – that for all my expansive cognitive processes and mastery of the creative founts of my soul, one thing was holding me back.
Yoda might as well have told me that he sensed much fear in me.
I quit Paxil cold turkey that week. The zaps started while I was in the middle of an extremely high-end mall surrounded by the worst kind of pompous people. I must have walked that mall circuit twenty times, sweating profusely and seeing every face like it was a demon manifested before me. It sucked – but I got it out of my system.
I did not try therapy again until I met my soulmate. Our relationship was so perfect that I was shocked and appalled one day when, at a sushi bar, I had a severe anxiety attack over the chopsticks. I had used chopsticks a thousand times, but this one time I fumbled them, I happened to hear someone laugh in the background. They weren’t laughing at me, but I could not convince myself of that. Even with the support and comforting touch of the woman I love more than anything in the universe, I could not get that laughter out of my head. Logic lost, and I resolved to try therapy again.
My first new session of therapy was with a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. He spent more time talking about himself than listening to me. I told him about the chopstick incident, and he immediately told me it was shame. “It’s all shame” he says. “Yer jest ashamed,” and “Everyone else is entitled to judge you how they see fit. Give them permission to laugh at you.” That was the only time I saw that therapist.
I took a deep breath and kept looking and finally found an opening with another therapist. This one was also a child psychologist, like my original, but at was a licensed professional counselor, unlike Mr. Shame who was surprisingly just a volunteer. I think JD was nervous – my new therapist was female, young, and dressed inappropriately. I could see the shock and discomfort on JD’s face when I walked away into a private room with a girl that was younger than me. I wish I could explain to her that at this point in my life, other females are no different than other males to me.
Three sessions was all it took. She listened to me talk about writing, and about JD. Then she asked me what I thought was holding me back. As soon as I mentioned “negativity” and “fear”, she stopped me and told me we could not continue that line of therapy until I came up with a different word for that “thing” that held me back and crushed logic in favor of anxiety and depression.
On the third visit, I had my word.
Gravity and Velocity
Let’s pretend I don’t care that you might be a physicist that sees fundamental flaws in the metaphor I’m about to explore. Let’s pretend that I took enough time to peruse my personal physics texts to get a general idea of how to correlate gravity and fear, or anxiety, or depression, and that in the end I’m not trying to create the science of General Relativistic Self-Confidence and Self-Actualization.
Let us instead realize that I found something that worked for me and my view of the world, and that it might at least help other people find their own paths.
The word I came back to my therapist with was:
For every time I began to say or think the words “fear”, “negativity”, “anxiety”, or “depression”, I substituted the word “gravity” and attempted to look upon the issue at hand as one would look upon the issue of defeating gravity with sufficient personal and sustainable velocity.
Before we get to escape velocity and propulsion, let us think about the individual and the universe.
Everything is in motion, you, your car, boats, airplanes, satellites, Earth, Luna, Mars, Sol, the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and on and on. If you’re not moving, you’re on something that’s moving. So let us consider then that an individual in its most natural state (as it relates to this metaphor) will be in motion, on its own, and moving through the universe without interference.
Is that not what life should be? Moving through space and time of your own power, in whatever direction you decide to travel, without the influence of other bodies?
I think that is perfectly achievable … if you learn how to cope with gravity.
Gravity, in this illustration, is not fear itself. Fear can be one of many things that allow us to be more easily attracted by gravity. Consider gravity to be an event in space-time (life) with enough mass to attract and hold nearby objects. Some events are larger than others, some events are in orbit around larger ones, and some even revolve in perfect uniform stasis around each one another.
In the crude illustration above, you are represented by the blue triangle. You move through life (the red path being the past) as a result of your own velocity (which could be created by any number of propulsion systems: confidence, insanity, idiocy, greed, etc.)
You’ve managed to avoid being affected by the Evil Rabbits because the event is not massive enough for the gravity of it to overpower your own velocity.
However, let us say that you get fired from your job, and that you did not see it coming. One of three things is going to happen: you’ll either be confident/insane/idiotic enough that it won’t affect you (the green path), you’ll be affected by the event enough that it changes your trajectory but does not impede your forward progress noticeably (yellow path), or, the event will not only pull you off course onto the yellow path, it will then keep you off course indefinitely (the pink path) and into orbit around the event.
Simple enough, right? Just be confident, insane, or idiotic enough to not let it affect you.
Well, good for you, if you can do that. I cannot. I’m more likely to be a yellow path or pink path traveler.
Those that can keep themselves on the green path will do so by having enough velocity to not notice the pull of gravity. Either they have other means of income, slip easily into a new job, or continue to go to their job as if nothing happened regardless of the fact that security has been called to remove them. The yellow path represents someone who maybe struggles through a few bad bills while having a hard time finding a job, until eventually they find something that leads them down a different path that if they’d have kept their job. Now someone on the pink path either refuses to look for a job, takes a job they don’t like, or did not sufficiently plan for disaster so that they enter into a never-ending cycle of debt.
It’s a generalized example, and I’m not going to go into how its unfair to suggest that some jobless people out there are jobless because they are affected by fear or laziness. That’s another volatile post for another day when I feel like starting an argument. Hopefully, you get my point with the simple illustration.
The gravity of certain events in our lives can suck us in or knock us off course, and the only way to counteract the effect gravity has on us as independent bodies moving through space-time is to generate enough velocity (speed in a specified direction) that either gravity has no effect, or we are only temporarily taken off course by it.
You are the captain of your own starship, boyo. At any moment in life you can power down and drift, veer straight into a supernova, or set a course for debauchery. Everyone gets a ship, and we’re taught from a very early age how to pilot that ship, what fuel we can use, and how to use its defenses to protect against attack or stagnation.
If you’re a skilled captain, or have taken enough time to equip your ship with what it needs to stay on course, then gravity and fear are just small annoyances. Everyone fears, but we don’t all have to become shipwrecked by it.
I can’t tell you what your particular ship needs to survive, but certain propulsion systems are going to cause you problems. If you’re greedy, selfish, sadistic, evil, then you need exotic fuel to reach a reasonable velocity – most often the suffering and pain of others, and that always runs out. This type of propulsion is highly volatile and prone to meltdown and the eventual premature destruction of your starship. If you’re confident, courageous, and humble, you can go just about anywhere … you might even reach warp speed to get where you want to go. Most of us, however, just get by on simple propulsion systems. We do just what we need to in order to survive and be comfortable. We save enough fuel in reserve for emergencies, we divert power to shields before weapons, and we follow the easy space lanes that billions have traveled before us.
The universe is infinite, but not if you’re not moving on your own. And guess what, you generate your own gravity as well, cap.
Some events are just too massive to escape. Disease, war, disaster, drugs, crime. These can be black holes from which there is no escape, no matter how great a pilot you are. You will get sucked in, and there will be nothing you can do about it as you reach the event horizon and your life is over.
That doesn’t happen to everyone, and even the act of worrying about black holes can create events massive enough to pull you off course. These anomalous gravities can both aid and hinder you. Yes, you have the ability to create phantom gravity wells just outside your own starship – call it unfounded anxiety, you have to conjure it out of thin air … or thin vacuum as it were. I do this often, and my solution has been to either increase velocity or discover the source of the phantom gravity well and eliminate it (by leaving the sushi bar, exiting the karaoke bar, or turning off stupid television).
Consider the gravity assist maneuver, you can use a tragic or unexpected event to slingshot and change course for the better. Maybe you get laid off, but use the sudden freedom from a stagnant career to jumpstart the pursuit of your life long dream to become an evil rabbit, er, lawyer.
Think about those people who let certain events in their life pull them down to the surface where they are forced to exist, moving through the universe only by the guidance and movement of the event. There are people that never recover from drug abuse, or sexual abuse, or physical abuse, and while it does not kill them, it never lets them escape. It would take a tremendous amount of velocity to escape the surface. Some people do it, though. It is possible to continue your life beyond your imprisonment on a massive planet of despair and tragedy, but it takes so much personal energy.
And not all gravity is bad.
Romantic relationships are an example of how gravity can be both bad or good. Firstly, your relationship will not survive if you are not both headed in the same direction – it is just impossible. Like I said earlier, you create your own gravity that other people are going to be attracted to, and likewise, you’re very likely going to meet some other sojourner in a shiny ship that you’re attracted to. I don’t even need to illustrate this – relationships can suck you in, pull you off course, and completely change your trajectory. The mutual attraction has to be so carefully managed that both vessels maintain equal velocity without overtaxing the ships themselves. A timid mouse of a pizza delivery boy, or a junker running on steam engines, is not going to survive in a journey across the universe with a gorgeous, super-intelligent neurophysicist, or a sleek, shiny starship with a holodeck, transporters, and a warp drive. It’ll tear his ship apart.
Take JD and myself as an example:
We may not be piloting the same models of starship, but they complement each other. While I have better shields, she has more reliable engines. Her ship has seen battle and been forced to escape gravity more than mine and her crew is full of skilled (and sometimes ornery) veterans, experienced tactical teams, and empathic advisors. My ship’s full of engineers, artists, and navigators. Our science officers are matched evenly – we love science and science fiction.
There are days when JD’s engines are only running at 70%, but we can use our mutual attraction to keep moving forward. I can pull her along, and likewise she extend her shields to encompass my ship when the generator’s on the fritz. What’s really special is that when both our ships are in prime condition, we can reach warp speed with no trouble at all – and when those major gravitational events do occur along our path, the joint efforts of both starships can be enough to avoid being affected even when alone it wouldn’t be possible.
Don’t misunderstand me when you’re applying this philosophy to yourself, if you choose to live on the surface of an event, or an ideal, that you are perfectly willing to let guide you through life at its pace, then there’s nothing wrong with that.
What I think is unfortunate is that there are so many people out there, with so much potential to go where no man has gone before by the velocity generated by their own energies, that are stuck in orbit around things that will serve only to stagnate them. Sometimes they know this and are not willing to do what it takes to escape, and that’s fine, but there are also people that don’t realize their potential and don’t realize that they can escape into the freedom of space. Maybe there are others trapped there with them that have convinced them that space exploration is useless, or that since the previous generation could find contentment on the side of a rock, there’s no reason for the next generation to go further and faster.
My point is, you are the only captain of your starship, unless you let other people take that seat from you. Whether at warp nine and going boldly where no man has gone before, or dry-docked on a bad break-up, you control the destiny of your ship beyond the present.
While all this may seem like common sense to some of you, it took this realization for me to get a handle on my anxiety and my depression. I’m not completely free of the influences of gravity yet, but I have my engineers working on more efficient and powerful propulsion systems so that the nasty space rodents on the surface of the next evil rabbit event that comes my way won’t even pick up JD’s and my warp signatures until we’re three galaxies away.