That quote is from one of my favourite books, The Dharma Bums.
Anxiety seems to be the buzzword of the moment. Most people are sick of hearing about it. We seem to flip-flop between calling vocal sufferers ‘brave,’ and calling them out as overly dramatic or sensitive.
Call me what you want, but last year anxiety crept into my life. It happened so slowly at first that I couldn’t tell the difference between these new feelings and my normal, high-speed neuroticism.
My head whirred all the time, telling me I took up too much space. I was too loud, I was too brash, I was obnoxious and my very presence was repulsing people. I needed constant reassurance to stop the little voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough. Every time we left a social situation I would ask Wayne, “Was I annoying, did I Bogart the entire night?”
“No”, he would answer at first with concern and then eventually with frustration. “Why do you keep worrying about this? You never used to care.”
It’s kind of true. I always cared – I think everyone does, but I never let it bother me.
During this time, I stopped doing me and just focused on how to get through everyday without disgusting everyone around me. It was exhausting.
One of the only things that shut the voice up was pushing my body into rhythms and routines. Things like music and running, formulaic tv shows and reading.
One book I found to be particularly soothing was On The Road. The rhythm is so simple and clear, you are removed from the idea of reading and swept up in Sal’s journey.
While a completely different style of writing, I found similar shades when reading the Edible Woman. Both books are about relentless, unconscious searching and both books manage to intuitively pour into you. I read them both over and over again.
Two things happened at Christmas time. I stated having physically painful panic attacks and Dad gave me a copy Dharma Bums, saying he preferred it to On The Road.
If the Edible Woman and On The Road worked to anaesthetise my anxiety, Dharma Bums helped to pull me back to reality exactly when I need it.
I’m not under any illusions, I know it’s not a perfect book. Kerouac’s depiction of zen buddhism is often misogynistic and confusingly contrasts with Ray’s tendencies to live to excess.
Now I’m writing about it, it’s really hard to say exactly why this book helped me. It could just be because the happier ending is more clearly spelled out, but I feel like it’s because Ray found something. It reminded me there is a bigger picture, regardless of how your spirituality (or lack there of in my case) manifests itself.
So what’s the point of all this self-gratuitous introspection?
I hope that by talking about my feelings I can help take some of that ‘drama queen’ stigma away from anxiety, even just for one person.
At the moment I’m on my Desolation Peak in the Cascade Range stage. While it’s not easy to see the forest through the trees, eventually we will all come down off that mountain and feel ready to face the world again.