Anxiety comes in a lot of flavors; guilt, anger, regret, and shame are common synonyms. It can manifest itself as dread, jealousy, rumination, detachment, self-flagellation and loathing, and rage. Cognitive therapy and meditation are, in my opinion, key to getting out of those negative feedback loops. I know this to be true for myself. But, if you're like me, you mostly build walls to hold them back. For whatever reason, you rarely aggressively pursue those triggers or seek out the root issues. Maybe you're afraid that letting down the walls will release an unstoppable flood. So, avoiding the walls and the things beyond them, you search for mortar and release valves to keep the walls from caving in. If you're like me, the weight room is a release valve - the momentary solace of a comfortably numb place to hide from the monkey mind.
Remember Captain and Tennille? This monkey gave me nightmares!
You are sitting now in the Duomo - a Tintoretto here, a Pisano there, Jesus everywhere - and you are feeling down. What it is is something you've felt before when it seems as if life has placed you in a position in which you do not want to be. No, let's clarify: You have put yourself in a position in which you do not want to be. You are feeling (we're going to have to use that tapioca word quite a bit, I'm afraid) what you have learned to call "anxious," a term it's a little hard to define but that can include a number of psychopathological elements: fear, dread, self-loathing, homesickness, a desire to retreat into some place where the self-reflection can be total and you can luxuriate in self-abasement for hours (bed, e.g.), a tendency toward questioning your decisions both on the micro and macro scales (this one maybe should be moved to the top of the list)... let's see, what else? Ah yes: physical symptoms. These may include loss of appetite (in Tuscany! Sweet Moses!), nausea, a lump in the throat, lack of short-/long-term memory, lethargy, the icicle of course. No decreased libido. After all, you're twenty-three yrs. old.
There's got to be more... did I mention self-loathing? Yes? Did I really put enough emphasis on taking every big and little decision and scrutinizing it as if it were literally a matter of life or death? I did? Well, then, how about the insatiable (because who would do it?) urge to call your mother and cry?
Now, if all this is a disease, as I've been told, what is the cure? Is there a cure? No, probably there isn't. But there is a course of action. On the tortured decisions and catastrophizing and dwelling, always remember the following: IT IS MORE THAN LIKELY THAT THIS WILL NOT KILL YOU. Also: DANIEL, YOU MUST GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK. THIS IS NOT EASY. IT IS NOT FUN. BUT IT CAN BE IF YOU REPEAT AFTER ME: IT'S JUST LIFE. IT IS NOT PERFECT. THERE ARE NO ASSURANCES. NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOU. NOT EVERYTHING YOU HAVE TO DO WILL BE ENJOYABLE.
YOU ARE HUMAN!
YOU ARE FALLIBLE!
YOU WILL ENJOY LIFE MUCH MORE IF YOU ACCEPT - NO, EMBRACE - THE FACT THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A GOOD DECISION AND A BAD DECISION.
THERE ARE ONLY DECISIONS.
MAKE THEM. FUCK UP, ENJOY, REPEAT.
This passage was written in the central cathedral in Lucca, in Northern Tuscany - the Cattedral di San Martino, named after Martin of Tours, the first saint to have the dubious honor of having to endure his biblically allotted threescore and ten rather than being burned, beheaded, stoned, crucified, or tortured to death in his prime. In the marble composition notebook in which it appears the passage bears the title, "Painfully Obvious Letter to Myself." It isn't dated, but I know it is written in April 2001, in the middle of a two-week trip to Rome, Florence, Lucca, Siena, and Venice that I took with my then live-in girlfriend, Joanna. That, it rattles the mind to realize, is the undesirable "position" to which the passage refers, the event of which it moans, "IT IS NOT FUN": a luxurious Italian tour with a lovely young woman, filled with food, wine, art, and lovemaking.
The trip took place two months after Joanna and I met, and was expected to further cement the relationship we had both believed was progressing steadily toward marriage. Instead it harnessed and distilled the years of mounting anxiety that preceded it and showed Joanna that the young man she'd fallen for was far too caught up in himself, too nervous, confused, and deluded - too selfish - to love anyone, and therefore to be loved in return.
(Monkey Mind, pp. 179-181)