Fear of Welsh

A lot of people are afraid of the Welsh language. I think that there are a lot of complex reasons for this rather odd fear.

I have just done a whole week in the Welsh language, doing everything in the language, living in a house with fellow Welsh learners under the guidance of our tutor. I remember feeling somewhat scared about the prospect of only speaking in Welsh for a whole week as we sat around the dining room table preparing not to use English.  I was nervous of losing the comfort blanket of my first language for a whole week.

Yet, it was an enormous amount of fun. Perhaps the most important aspect of the no other languages rule for the week was not being able to ask: “What is the word for X in Welsh/ Beth ydy’r gair am X yn Cymraeg?”, not being able to use a dictionary and having to rely on finding ways to describe things with my limited Welsh vocabulary or simply using gestures. This also meant not being able to use the internet for a whole week.

The result of this single rule was to live in the Welsh language, to think in the Welsh language, to enter an entirely different world really. Instead of simply looking for the equivalent English word or expression, I  lived in Welsh, enabling a close personal relationship with the language. It was a very special and unique experience. Indeed it is one most Welsh speakers never experience, as Welsh speakers always encounter someone who can’t speak Welsh in any given week, or simply use an English word for somethign they don’t know how to express in Welsh.

It was very very mentally tiring not being able to use the vast amount of understanding of the English language I have acquired. English almost became a ‘foreign’ language, which meant that sometimes when walking in the street and overhear someone speaking English, it would sound odd and garbled as I was indeed thinking and being in Welsh.

There were a couple of occasions during the week when I would encounter fear of Welsh from English speakers. The first time was when as a group we were laughing and joking  about a Welsh sign. A man approached and asked ‘Are you lost?’ As we couldn;t speak English someone said ‘Dan ni’n iawn diolch [We’re fine thanks]’ and smiled. A smile is almost universal and I’m sure he understood that we needed no help, however he persisted ‘I don’t speak Welsh’. I made an apologetic face ‘Dan ni’n iawn, diolch, rhaid i ni siarad yn Gymraeg yn unig [We have to only speak in Welsh]’. Suddenly he raised his voice ‘ I said that I don’t speak Welsh, you are being very rude’. At which point our tutor, who was allowed to speak English, intervened to try and explain this unique circumstance and an argument proceeded. The thing is this is a fairly unique aspect of Wales and the Welsh language , in that almost every Welsh speaker can speak English too and many monoglot English speakers are troubled by the Welsh language as this man obviously was, he felt threatened by it, that he has encountered a rare situation where he was unable to communicate. The thing is in most of the rest of the world this doesn’t happen, you cannot assume a knowledge of English you encounter people who don’t speak English and you do communicate with gesture and tone of voice and broad feelings are communicated. Having said that there are Welsh speakers who don’t speak English, in Patagonia in South America, a bilingual Welsh-Spanish speaking community and indeed a few Welsh learners from non-English speaking countries. The man had an negative attitude to the Welsh language and was hostile towards it.

I experienced this again after the language immersion experience. For the first day after, i stayed predominantly in Welsh. I visited a local castle and asked for my ticket in Welsh, quite naturally, The lady at the counter responded ‘I don’t speak Welsh’ at which point i reverted to using English and asked politely for a ticket in English, however she shied back from the counter and another lady took over my transaction. Another encounter with fear of the language.

Of course as a learner of Welsh I regularly experience language fear when talking to strangers, particularly first language Welsh speakers, especially when you don’t know their attitude to a Welsh learner. It’s partly a fear of being judged on your ability and risk of appearing to be a simpleton, which in effect you are at the time, and this is coupled with all the incessant language politics we suffer on a daily basis in Wales. My week in Welsh, has helped me grow my confidence in Welsh so much, being in Welsh I don’t have the cloying memories of anxiety I experience in English. It’s like I have a different version of my personality in the Welsh language.

As English speakers, we are just incredibly lucky to be able to travel in so much of the world in our first language, so many British people, never learn another language, never placing themselves in a situation where they have to learn to use another language to communicate. I think that some of these people simply find it threatening when people use non-English languages in Britain, the phrase ‘Why don’t they speak English’ is often heard in the certain circles in English society, lobbied at the Welsh speaking community and other language communities. However, an I have learnt that being able to exist in another language is a truly wonderful experience. As a Welsh speaker, sometimes I want to experience the world in Welsh and sometimes in English. Hiding within only one language and being hostile or fearful of other languages is just a very odd desire, to want everyone else to be as similar to you as possible. As learners we now our fearful feelings are somethign to get over to leave behind, non language learners ar perhaps not ready to take a risk in a new situation and wish to remain fearful?

 

Awakenings

Waking up to a new day, a new start, a whole day of possibilities is a very wonderful thing. However, it often doesn’t feel like it, often we are worried about all sorts of things or just feel like we can’t face it this morning. So, when we go to bed there is a sense of not knowing what things will be like in the morning. For those who suffer from anxiety or depression this sense of the unknown is not a neutral thing, it grinds us down with excessive worrying.

Waking up in a broader figurative sense, with a full realisation that much of your own worries are unnecessary, turns those rare happy bouncy days into somethign more regular, more likely. When there is a bad day, there is a real reason for it, such as bad news. This is what waking up from or recovering from anxiety is like, the troubles come from the world rather than from inside ourselves.

Perhaps the greatest thing about not being anxious anymore is being able to feel with other people, to be on the same track as other people some of the time, to share success together or even endure bad times together on the same emotional wavelength. This enables a real sense of connection with other people, enabling you to be open with people and it not to be terribly inappropriate and enabling you to empathise with what others are communicating to you.

To be anxious is to be living with a big shield around you, it’s stops people getting in and stops you getting out. It’s a pointless shield, cutting yourself off from your own emotions and those of people you care about. Of course you need to protect yourself from chaos, but some trust in the world and other people is necessary, you have to go an journey and trust that it will be all-right, that there aren’t monsters lurking around the corner. I think that in the modern world to increase trust in the world at the very time the world is becoming less trustworthy as our sense of community is under attack

This is what recovery from anxiety gives you. The first flush of super positivity and energy from getting there is amazing. Once you get used to it you realise some quite important things.

Firstly that modern society has got it so wrong, we are all increasingly living in our own worlds, we are not communities that bond together and share the ups and downs, we are on our own rides, much like the person suffering anxiety or depression.

Secondly, a sense that we post-anxiety people are always going to be on this different ride, simply because all those years we have suffered anxiety and cut ourselves off from the world we have learned social skills in a much different way to other people. We have learnt social rules in an academic way, through trial and error, to find ways of getting by and causing the least damage to ourselves and to other people. Whereas the non-anxious learn more ‘naturally’ with their feelings bouncing off others feelings and finding what works well, rather than what limits damage.

The difficulty with getting older is that we have more responsibilities and less time to play, less time to learn, so there is a sense of knowing that we will never really catch up with these abilities, the shadow of anxiety will always remain with us. This is compounded by the fact that other people do find it odd that as a more mature person you are acting like someone much younger and you just have to blot that out to keep learning and not drift back to anxiety.

It’s unlike learning a second language, where you can put the time and effort in to catch up on the language skills. Yet, second language learners know they will never quite gain that true fluency that comes from learning a first language. It’s like second language speakers miss out on being a child in that second language. Even though we can play like a child in the language we will never be children in the language. I think it’s a different thing with learning Welsh and being Welsh because many of us are learning a language that we wish we had been brought up in, rather than learning a foreign language to better explore a different culture somewhere else in the world. There is a sense of it being bizarre to learn a ‘native’ language later in life. Yet it isn’t!

It isn’t because it’s the same thing as overcoming anxiety, it’s learning a set of skills that we should have learnt when we were much younger. But, you can’t be young again, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn and make your own life better.

Anyway, I’m off to live in a closed community for a week, an immersion week of Welsh only, no English, no other languages, just Welsh, kind of trying to experience growing up in Welsh! I’m really looking forward to it, it’s such a rare thing outside of families and when grown up and so very special.

Oh, and the UK is suddenly having a General Election. I have so much to say about that. It seems to be about a battle for Britain and those of us who feel a part of Britain, whether Welsh, Scots, Cornish, Northumbrian or even just English, of those for Britain and those against. Those who seek to divide and those who seek unity. Those against Britain are miles ahead in the polls, it’s very disturbing, so I feel that I should do whatever I can for the dear people of these isles. Anyway, but that’ll be for when I’m back here at this keyboard and knocking on people’s doors. If you are in the UK and thinking about voting Tory or UKIP, please please please please think very hard about whether that choice is really the best for Britain.

Hwyl fawr tan tro nesaf / Goodbye until next time

Privileged Ignorance & Harrassment

I am a privileged white male. As such I haven’t ever really suffered from discrimination or harassment. I have never been racially abused or been sexually discriminated against. I have on occasion suffered a little homophobia from men who presumed I was gay.

Yet, in spite of this privilege, I have suffered from anxiety. I have been hyper-sensitive to discrimination that never really came my way, it was all in my own head. Having overcome this anxiety I ran into a new problem, that people were still behaving peculiarly around me, notably women and something seemed to be triggering it. This issue vexed me greatly and had me going around in circles trying to work it out for years, wondering if I had overcome anxiety after all.

I eventually worked out that the reason for the shift in the behaviour by these women, was that they had decided that I was seeking a relationship with them. The thing is, i wasn’t seeking a relationship, well no more than I do with everyone. I mean I wasn’t trying to force a closer or indeed a sexual relationship. Yet once they had ‘decided’ this, their behaviour towards me changed completely. In itself this isn’t a problem, the problem was that it bugged me for not knowing why the behaviour had changed and made me anxious again.

However, most of us are attracted to other people and it is a ego boost, a positive thing when we discover that other people are attracted to us. However the reaction to me seemed something much stronger, much darker and more sinister.

The answer dawned on me one evening in London. I was following a man and a woman down the street, they seemed to be having an argument. This seemed quite a normal occurrence until the man stopped and walked the other way, he seemed almost instantly calm as if he didn’t know the woman. It then dawned on me that perhaps he didn’t know this women, who was striding purposefully on, looking straight ahead, you would at least think about looking around to a friend or partner who had left an argument. I then realised that he may have been simply harassing her, or giving unwanted attention to this woman and quite possibly sexual harrassment.

This may well have been an everyday incident on a city street. However it was new to me and I began wondering how much abuse has been taking place in front of my eyes, yet somehow I had been blissfully ignorant of it.

If you are lucky never to have really been abused, you do not know what it is like, or what it looks like. If you live within a privileged bubble, such events are not on your radar. Being a reasonably educated person, I tend to socialise with other educated people, so this world of discrimination and abuse must happen elsewhere outside this bubble. So safely enconsed in this privileged bubble we don’t even notice such abuses when they may be right in front of us.

The thing is, I’ve been an anxious person and am highly sensitive, why hadn’t I noticed all this going on before. If I hadn’t noticed it, then surely it must be even harder to spot for more conventional white males whom are more central in the white male privilege bubble.

This revelation opened up this horrid tawdry world of abuse that exists everywhere. In particular, it made me realise the shit that women have to put up with, probably on an almost daily basis. If you are regularly harassed you are going to develop strategies to protect yourself.

Hence, I had stumbled upon the reason why these women were behaving strangely towards me. They were detecting cues and clues for potentially abusive behaviour from me and raised their guard. This was such an amazing relief for me to uncover, there wasn’t anything wrong with me, I really didn’t need to be anxious! There was no reason, or anything about me as a person that was being  guarded against, but simply a manifestation of how awfully too many of my ‘fellow’ white males behave.

The great thing about this, is I can now detect it. So, when I start seeing a lady being uncomfortable with me, I am able to recognise it and back off and fortunately this doesn’t mean  I end up in uncomfortable situations anymore or lose friendships because of it anymore. I am aware of my own privilege, though I view it as a curse, it has clouded from me truths about the world. I am always welcoming people who are not members of this odd group of people called ‘white males’ into my circles and am always amazed now by how happy  people are to accept white males into their circles despite the potential increased risk of abuse.

And a Very British Coup

The enormity of what has just happened is slowly sinking in. Have my worst fears been realised, it seems so. It is why i have been so upset and concerned these last few days.

Today’s developments seem to confirm the worst. Today the deadline for nominations for the next leader of the Conservative party (the Tories) and the next Prime Minister of the UK, to be decided by the 120,000 odd members of the party. The coup is that all the candidates are from the hard right of the party, all pro-Brexit and all against holding a General Election in the autumn. So, what this suggests is that Brexit will happen after all, the members of the Conservative party will not be able to do anything about it, the ordinary people who canvas and campaign on local issues). ‘Well that was the democratic will of the UK’, I hear you say. If only it were that simple. what this  means is the completion of the wholesale taking over of the political establishment by the hard-right, a very British coup.

The market fundamentalists, the corporatists will then simply take over. Everyone left in the UK will suffer as more and more wealth is taken away from the general population to give to the few at the very top. Britons will become slaves.

The whole EU referendum was a stitch up job and not an exercise in democracy at all. a dreadful campaign was fought, the leave campaign was orchestrated to offer hope to appeal to those struggling from the effects of austerity, such people have been duped. Even if the vote had gone for remain, the result would have been the same, a victory for the neo-liberals, except orchestrated through the EU, with trade deals such as CETA and TTIP.

This right have been in power for over thirty years and they have been very clever: They allowed housing costs to escalate, trapping people into mortgages or otherwise insecure housing. One thing human beings cling to is having a roof over their head, so fear of losing this can be a very powerful tool. They have made work more insecure, less meaningful, again tying people into the system. Allowing the basic cost of living to rise so high, forcing people to make severe compromises in the attempt to earn a higher wage to strive for comfort and security. Essentially that have put everyone, apart from the lucky few at the top who can milk the system, in debt. Debt is essentially a powerful means of control, it’s not just housing, it’s education too, the ways out of poverty towards a comfortable existence entail taking on huge debts.

This right have also managed to wrest control of the political system. The Tories forced the Labour party into a adopting a soft right ‘Blairite’ position as the only perceived means of winning an election, allowing the situation to continue to worsen and ultimately leading to what has happened this week.

This week the Labour party appear to be imploding. The party members finally elected a moderate left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the very few people untainted by the Blairite shift. However as the Labour party benches in Parliament are full of those who have made it up the party machine adopting Blairite compromises, they have failed to see their own situation and have duped themselves into believing that a true alternative to this Tory right plan is possible. It may have been their last chance.

They have even cobbled the Tory parties ancient foes the Whigs, or the Liberal party, by placing them in the position of taking the blame for the worst policies of the coalition government, whilst miraculously escaping blame from those on the right themselves.

Even the real conservatives (the venerable party of old, pre-Thatcher times that believed in a level playing field, family, social mobility, equal opportunities) and the upstart UKIP  has been conned. The leave campaign from this more traditional right had at it’s heart  a campaign about freeing small and medium enterprises and family businesses from the excessive ‘red-tape’ associated with EU regulations, for greater democratic control to truly represent the people. The whole campaign of misinformation was designed to cloud the real issues. ‘To take back control’ was the slogan, these people will not be helped by the neo-liberals in charge as they will find they have even less control.

All this in a society where the mainstream media outlets are very right wing and highly selective in what news they report, have become active conspirators in the coup, even the BBC, once seen as a bastion of fairness, is no little more than a government news agency. If the Tories proceed with Brexit, they can still claim they didn’t think it was a good idea and then blame Brexit for whatever ills befall the UK economy whilst entrenching their own power.

How has this final, coup been achieved. The Tory party contained both this new nasty breed of corporatist, neo-liberals and the more traditional ideology of the real conservatives. for the past thirty years the Tory party has been divided over the issue of the EU. the referendum was portrayed as an attempt to once and for all end Tory squabbling over EU issues and as a sop to UKIP to enable the Tories to win the last general election. However what it really achieved, which I was afraid of, was the effect of eradicating the pro-EU pro social co-operation, real conservatives from positions of influence in the party. Even Cameron himself, can be viewed as the last real conservative, but he couldn’t achieve anything, constrained by the powerful forces in his own party around him and a misplaced party loyalty. The real tragedy is those traditional centre right people, who seem to be the last to notice what has happened.

The people who are wealthy or are people of the hard and moderate right, are probably celebrating. Everyone else now faces some tough choices: Stay and suffer, Stay and fight or  leave and seek a life in one of the few remaining nice places left in the world.

So, what to do? In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we have a developed civic nationalism (a solidarity with all people who live in our community) and should campaign in earnest now for independence from the UK. Yes, our economies will suffer even more, but we can ensure the basics of a roof over our heads, heat in winter, food, the opportunity of productive work and hope. Real economic growth will take time. England, will sadly have an even tougher battle, as those in power have been so effective in dividing opposition.

In the pub last night, conversation turned to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ being reasonably educated it is easy to forget that not everyone has read and understood this important book. I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about this, it just seems that the whole referendum was about the destruction of European culture, of support for our fellow human beings, for working together to solve problems, of the social contract. going back to the feudal system, which I don’t think is the country anyone really wanted back.

The thing is there are lots of positive things to come out of the referendum: increased political engagement, a greater understanding of issues and a strong call for a change to address the issues raised. But, my concern is that this hard right government, will continue not to listen and impose some kind of Brexit in it’s own narrow interests that doesn’t resolve the problems but will increase it’s own power and influence, rather than deliver for all the people of Britain. The UK should not to anything other than commit to listening and addressing. the real problems

 

I want my country back

This phrase has been heard numerous times over the course of the UK EU referendum. I have wondered what exactly it means to the people who utter it. Most accounts of this phenomena describe it as a  nostalgia for a society from the past, for simpler times and a desire for some of those elements to make a return. This is a sentiment to which anyone over over a certain age can relate to at some point.

For some it is a desire for a monocultural monoethnic conformist world where everyone thinks and behaves the same way. Quite why anyone would want that is beyond me, I grew up in such a world and hated it, I couldn’t wait to get away and explore the world. This view betrays a fear of the different, a fear of our fellow human beings. We are all different, so such a view just seems nasty.

However, often this nostalgia is for positive things. A friend and I of similar age were talking about growing up when we just went off exploring with our friends, climbing trees, building elaborate dam systems in local streams, making complex underground maze systems in barns full of straw bales, generally getting very muddy indeed. As long as we made it to someone’s house in time for tea or not home before it got dark, we were not reprimanded  (well only about getting muddy and we sensed our parents didn’t really mind, that the criticism was for forms sake). This is a world that can be longed for. a world where children are not stuck inside, lacking socialising with their peers, exploring themselves and the world around them. Longed for because it was a healthier childhood.

This EU referendum has highlighted this desire for better things from the past, such as affordable housing, education, secure employment or food. however it seems that instead of looking for the fundamental reasons why, much of British society is now worse, people are instead looking for someone else to blame, in this case immigrants (whoever they are, as we are all immigrants). There was a video on YouTube of a man being shouted at in Bristol to be told to ‘Go back where you came from?’, to which he replied ‘Do you mean Cardiff? [where he was from!]’. I don’t understand why anyone would blame people for things, or specifically people who are in some way different, for the problems. It is systems, governmental policy, not thinking things through, that are the problem.

A hatred of people, creates it’s own destructive downward spiral. Once you start blaming ‘other people’, you disconnect yourself from other people. This is highly dangerous and antagonistic. This is the force that creates terrorist groups such as ISIS, who hate everyone who is not a member of their group. So, people then hate ISIS, which leads to hatred of the people in ISIS, then fuzzy thinking and group-think take hold and suddenly it is all Muslims who are to blame, then all Arabs, then one day you have a referendum on membership of the EU where the debate becomes about immigration. Culminating in today, where a MP (member of the UK parliament) was shot by a gunman because he apparently disagreed with his locally elected MPs views.

For me, the country I want back is one of respect and tolerance. Where you behave as you see fit, without fear that some maniac isn’t going to shoot you, where children will return home at the end of the day.  A world where extremism, such as Nazi Germany was something we read about in history books.

This modern curse of extremism affects all of us, whoever we are, wherever in the world we might be. Last week another gunman killed around fifty people in a nightclub in Orlando, USA. Once we got over the shock that another fifty lives had been lost to this extremist disease, we realised that this was an attack on the LGBT community. I am not a member of the LGBT community and being a white, male heterosexual I haven’t encountered or really able to empathise with such discrimination. Anyway the attack was in a LGBT nightclub. LGBT nightclubs are safe spaces, places where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, with less fear. If you are not discriminated against you don’t know what it is like. I’m only really getting my head around this myself.

Last year I was in Germany. I was walking down the street and a guy shoulder charged into me and ran off. I turned to my friend (my host in Germany) to ask what had happened. He said “Well if you are going to walk around in a floral shirt, this sort of thing happens”. I was wearing a floral shirt and it was pointed out to me that almost all the German men wore striped shirts. It wasn’t for being Welsh, or foreign that I was charged at, but because my attacker assumed that I was LGBT. This incident didn’t affect me, I continued to enjoy my holiday. However if such things were a regular occurrence, an everyday thing, I would feel more and more excluded and perhaps seek out safe spaces where all the other non-stripey shirted people went.

So it seems that extremism enforces sub-cultures, which is the opposite of this nice simple world everybody really wants. So to get out of extremism perhaps requires strange things to happen.

And then there’s me. I have written about how I used to be an extremely anxious person. Someone who tried to exist in the shadows, not stand out, not say what I really thought. I tried to say and do what I thought people expected me to do, but I couldn’t, I failed at this, it is just easier to be myself. I was behaving as if I was being discriminated against, when I wasn’t at all, so I was really happy to realise that I am able to be myself, to do such things as cry when Wales loses to England at the football as I did today. However I have since learned how much of this awful discrimination there really is. It’s not just race, it’s gender, sexuality, age, nationality and many other things. There is this ‘expectation’ that we are supposed to be able to conform to, but no-one can say what this conformity actually is, or what it is for? Traditional values? like living in mudhuts, scraping a living off the land with no modern tools? Following one interpretation of a contradictory religious text, written thousands of years ago, when most people did live in mudhuts?

It’s quite simple, there is nothing wrong with respecting other people. Jesus taught that we should respect other people, why do so many ‘Christians’ act contrary to Jesus? Respect has to be learned. We do all get angry. Anger wells up for all sorts of reasons: when we hear people whistling when our national anthem is sung or when a gunman shoots a hard working woman with two young children. We all get angry.

Anger does not have to lead to hatred, we should all learn to control our anger. Like as children climbing a tree when the branch starts to break because of our weight, after getting to safety our first instinct was to blame the tree! We learn the folly of anger. When our football team loses, we don’t hate the winners, we learn to walk away knowing that our day will be some another day, when a gunman goes on a gun rampage in Florida, we do not blame the non-LGBT community, we feel sorrow for those with lost loved ones. When a politician is killed, though we do really get angry at politicians a lot of the time, we appreciate that they are a human being too and that the gunman is a flawed human being too, just like the rest of us.

So, lets stop blaming the tree. Lets go back to a world where we listen to each other with respect, where we exclude no-one, where our mothers would scold us if we ignored the new kid, where we don’t have problem with people being different as we are all different.

 

 

 

Coming Out

One of the main problems with being anxious is a fear of being misunderstood. This fear can be so pervasive that it prevents the anxious person from being themselves expressing how they really feel. so, the anxious person will hide their true feelings, act in a way removed from their real lives. The anxious person has created a wall between the world and themselves. The anxious are sensitive people who don’t like to cause upset to others.

Progress in overcoming anxiety is often hampered by genuine misunderstanding. Often the anxious person is different, is unconventional, so people may not understand them. This is often why being a social outsider is challenging because socially there isn’t often the time or opportunity to make it clear where you are coming from, what the back story behind how you are acting or what you are expressing stems from. Really, convention does hold everyone back, it stops people listening and humans often seem to be hard-wired to leap to a quick conclusion. Thus outsiders are generally at a social disadvantage, unless communicating with fellow outsiders, leading them into sub cultures of fellow outsiders.

Regardless of whether someone is an outsider or not, anxiety itself causes exactly the same problems,  the fear of being misunderstood holds the person back and they send out unclear unconventional signals.

When I was an anxious person, all I wanted to do was be myself, do what I wanted to do and express how I really felt. Essentially, the anxious person wants to ‘come out’ to make a statement to the world:

“I am going to be myself, express how I really feel, do what I want to do. I know that sometimes some of you will misunderstand me, I’m happy to explain, but the fact that you misunderstand me is actually your problem, it’s not mine anymore.”

Having taken this step, it is a very liberating step and there is a sense of release and for a while, you can be too open, seem over-excited by little things, because of this it seems that there is a greater misunderstanding of you. So, there is a temptation to ‘crawl back into your shell’. however it is important to push on, such a person is new at being themselves publicly, they are new to a whole different way of socialising, it takes practice to re-develop social skills in a new way, to learn when it is appropriate to talk about themselves and to learn when it isn’t necessary or important.

 

 

 

What was Anxiety?

Much of this blog has concerned facets of my overcoming anxiety, though I have perhaps neglected to explain what that anxiety was like.

I did suffer from anxiety for years and years, without quite knowing what it was. I think I would have become aware exactly what it was if I felt free to talk about it, to get concrete answers from outside my own head. I did perceive a reluctance from people to talk about it,  it wasn’t given enough respect, people didn’t want to discuss it in enough depth, which is understandable, it’s not a fun thing to talk about. Sometimes if I pushed it into conversation too much, people would often distance themselves from you. so, if someone has a chronic anxiety it is easily not addressed and the anxious person keeps it inside their own head, where it lingers and festers.

Anxiety is really merely a label to cover a complex range of mental phenomenas. In many ways it is simply over-thinking. I am a deep thinker, it is something I enjoy, however sometimes such a questioning nature leads to not only a paranoia about other peoples feelings and motivations. This paranoia also extends into ones own thinking, a constant questioning about whether you as an individual are doing the right thing, so one becomes paranoid about your own feelings and motivations. so because you are never really happy doing anything all the time, almost any activity becomes tainted by these paranoid thoughts. This anxiety used to rarely go away, so activities are rarely enjoyed, they just become part of the escape so the journey kind of stops, as you are always questioning why you are doing it and negative thoughts pervade everything.

This anxiety is like building a wall inside your own mind, where your personality is trapped and kept away from even the things you love, even your own memories as you can eb anxious about those too. For example I love reading, especially novels, however often anxiety and fear, the wall, keeps a distance between an enjoyment of the story and the simple act of reading.

Staying behind this mental wall, seems a terrible way of being, what it does offer is a safe place, an escape from a constant nagging anxiety. Reading in itself can be done from this safe place, however a distance is kept from the story. It’s like watching a film but not allowing yourself to fully engage with the plot. Now I am no longer anxious I do find myself bursting into tears during sentimental moments in films which I never used to do, becuse i am properly engaged.

Of course, sometimes this anxiety is escaped, with a close group of friends, people who knew me well enough not to be perturbed by my behaviour and I was free to express myself, or drinking alcohol, also helped with this as it stops you over thinking. Such escapes were always blissful and I wanted them to last forever, so sometimes, when enjoying myself I would be the last to leave the party. So, the anxious person, is always looking for the next chance to escape for a little while from it and then desire that moment to last forever. Problems arose when I would meet people, whilst escaped and then meet them again and I would feel overcome by anxiety, I would feel a fraud and taken over by worries of how to behave and what to say.

The anxiety spread into social anxiety, where in conversation I would constantly fret about being appropriate, not upsetting people, paranoid about how I was being perceived, whether what I was saying was correct, or influenced by negative ideas. There are parallels with the autistic spectrum, anxiety causes you not to understand how other people are feeling (because you are not really engaged in the moment) and act due to your own reasons, rather than reacting to what is happening live.

I was worried that people only ever saw me as seeking a relationship with them, when all I wanted was to talk and hopefully get to know someone well enough so felt I could be myself. As such, I gave out signals that I ‘needed’ a relationship with such people, whereas now I am not so concerned whether I am understood or not, i can have ‘normal’ inter-relations with people.

Anyway, I was able to make the escape permanent! What I needed was to be escaped from anxiety for long enough for myself to recognise it as ‘normal’, that i could exist in a more or less anxiety free state. I achieved this by spending months living and working in tropical forests, in Madagascar and Honduras, the long term blissful experience I craved came about, away from the constant need to interact with such a range of different kinds of people, or with people I shared some core beliefs with. I was happy, not anxious long enough to make sense of it, to feel like  ‘normal’ person.

Transitioning to being a unanxious person, was itself quite a journey. Whilst I felt free to be myself, express myself and fully engage with things I am passionate about, this exuberant newness, the zest of a new convert did seem overwhelming to other people, especially the people who helped me realise not to be so anxious. I don’t think non-anxious people quite get how someone can be so thrilled to just be ‘normal’ or accepted, healthy to be able to fully engage and concentrate on tasks.

I know that people can be disturbed by someone overly being open with them, because I still had the habits of an anxious person, who clings desperately to each escape and each person that helps them escape anxiety. Now free of anxiety that openness is always available and doesn’t just come out during a drunken evening. People seem to perceive this behaviour as seeking a relationship, which it isn’t. Really, the whole politics of social interactions are suddenly opened up and one quickly realise that your skills and knowledge are far behind everybody else, but that you are learning quickly. i’m also aware of lacking such development by being an only child in a family that had anxiety issues and was poor at expressing their feelings. I have realised to not be concerned about any negativity towards me, it is simply that they don’t know where I am coming from and react to my behaviour according to sets of social rules that have been developed with non-anxious people.

 

 

Fear of Ideas

All people fear new ideas to some extent, a fear of change and the unfamiliar.  Such fears are natural, but often embracing new ideas or ways of thinking can be immensely positive. The familiar, the status quo, seems safe, so why even consider change? Well, sometimes the status quo is bad for people as individuals and wider society. sometimes it is easy to forget that everything is a journey, we can take small cautious steps, we can always turn and go back or in a different direction. Such a steady cautious approach is safe, rather than leaping crazily across to another place, a place that is strange and unknown. Accepting new ideas doesn’t change who you are but can make you a better person, just take small firm steps.

I have written much on this blog about my overcoming anxiety. Making such a change was scary, there was a fear of my personality changing, a change in my values, a change in how I think. I think this was why I rejected, like many other anxious people, the calls of people to just let go of yourself or to just not be anxious, this is taking that giant leap into the unknown. Better advice to the anxious is to take cautious steps, allow people to reflect that the direction they are going in is one they are happy with.

This process of change, of alleviating fear, occurs in many areas of life and realising this, has helped me understand why other people are cautious of other ideas. For example, my becoming a Christian.  When I was young, I lived in a traditional Christian community in rural Wales. My generation were highly sceptical of religion, we regarded it as a load of nonsense. We regarded religion as scary irrationality. Growing up there seemed to be this maniacal street preachers, evangelicals waving their arms around as if possessed by spirit, a seemingly very conservative culture that stifled innovative ideas. Then one day i was exposed to the joy and wonderful music of renaissance polyphony and the choral works of J.S. Bach, this music helped me understand some of the core ideas of Christianity, that they were good, open ideas, that the complexity and suffering of human existence, could be understood as a whole, that it was okay to accept this and that doing things to make the world a better place was a righteous thing to do.. This music led me onto a journey of discovery of the Christian faith and along the way I became a Christian. Becoming a Christian was not scary, it didn’t change how I am, or my other beliefs, it simply helped me become a better person. It has helped me appreciate that there are no easy answers, no single mantra to base your life on, that faith, like anything else is a journey.

Another issue, I am passionate about and  often write about is food. I became a vegetarian at the age of 15 because I became aware that many animals reared for the meat I ate were kept in inside with restricted space, this seemed cruel and wrong on animal welfare grounds. I now ethically source meat, I don’t believe it is wrong to rear animals for meat, but in rearing animals there is a contract that the animals should have a reasonable quality of life and be able to express natural behaviours. What I have come to realise is that there is a wonderful synergy that can be achieved with animals welfare, sustainably looking after agricultural land and the wider environment, sound economics, healthy food and a greater enjoyment in eating. Though it seems there is a fear of changing diet and shopping habits, even with such positive outcomes. Though i appreciate I arrived at this synergy by taking slow steps and consideration of each step. I used to fear that having high animal welfare standards may mean that it was not possible to feed all the humans on the planet by farming in such a way and may cause environmental damage. I was so pleased to realise that this isn’t the case, positive change benefits other areas. My message on food is that only eating meat as a treat and not everyday is healthier, cheaper, more sustainable and maintains animal welfare. Meat from animals that can range freely and are fed in a sustainable way, develops muscle, which makes the meat tastier and increases nutrients in the meat, making it healthier for the animals and the consumers. Rearing animals, working with nature, rather than against it, not only seems better, it is also better economically. So, I would encourage people to ethically source meat and save money by cutting out eating low quality meat in every meal, ultimately it’s cheaper and more enjoyable.

I think the idea of being open to new ideas and ways of being is so important, to better ourselves individually and wider society. However it is important to journey slowly and carefully, keeping our feet firmly on the ground as we do so.

This is why I was upset by the words of Donald Trump this week. Often politicians and other orators need to be regarded cautiously, they appeal to core conventional beliefs of a culture, then can take great leaps into the unknown, without questioning, without scrutiny. using Trump as an example, he states that there is a fear in Western societies of terrorism and in this most people will agree. However then Trump leaps onto blaming Muslims moving into the US as part of the problem, when there is no rational basis for this belief, it simply plays on fear and encourages fear, when fear is the actually the enemy. If Trump was a great expert on the history and politics of the Middle-East, then he may be worth listening to, however Trump himself has stated that he knows little of the history or politics of the Muslim world, thus he is not qualified to make meaningful comment. We are perhaps fortunate in Wales to have a significant Muslim population, there are a part of our communities, our workplaces, so it is clear that they are as decent people as any other sub group. The knowledge that the family down the street are ordinary decent people and are not secretly plotting the overthrow of civilisation, to think that they were would be extreme paranoia. However where there isn’t a normal family living in your locale it is much easier to play on the fears of the unknown.

Anxiety and Understanding

Generally, there is much misunderstanding of mental illness in the world. Mental illness doesn’t receive the same support and sympathy as other ailments. I suffered from severe anxiety for most of my life, as did my mother and my maternal grandmother. for which, we as a family received little support or understanding. It is partly that I grew up surrounded by anxiety, that it seemed normal, that anxiety seemed to be a part of me. It was wonderful to discover that anxiety wasn’t a part of me, that it was simply an illness and it wasn’t something I had genetically inherited.

I fortunately managed to to self diagnose and work through a solution to this chronic anxiety. I still get anxious from time to time, because anxiety is a natural part of existence. It is perhaps for this reason that people don’t understand anxiety or such conditions as depression, because there is a perception that people are simply wallowing in it or using it as an excuse. Most of the time people with such conditions aren’t behaving that way out of choice, they fervently wish that they were healthy.

One of the issues that I struggled with in overcoming anxiety, is that often people don’t understand what it is like to recover from such a condition, to become ‘normal’ [by normal I mean mentally healthy]. It’s like being re-born and you realise that there is this whole world of social interaction that you can now participate in fully. That the people who like you and you share positive experiences with are no longer confined to people who suffer from debilitating conditions themselves. you no longer find the need to seek out the vulnerable to find people to be open and honest with. The issue has been for me, one of being more open with ‘normal’ people. Being open with ‘normal’ people is great, it’s only a problem if you open up about your past anxiety, because ‘normal’ people don’t understand it.

It took me quite a while to appreciate the difficulty of discussing anxiety, an issue the other people have scant understanding of. It’s kind of a taboo subject, something people don’t want to think about. I can completely understand this taboo, as it’s like the fear of trying to understand the motivations of a terrorist or a serial killer, the fear that this mental condition could happen to you, the fear that you may contract anxiety and not have the skills and knowledge to get out of it easily.

It was especially problematic for me as I didn’t know anyone else who had overcome anxiety, to ‘compare notes’ and to realise that I wasn’t the only person in the world who this had happened to. I kind of needed some reassurance that not being anxious was really a good, healthy way of being, that I could just stay not being continually worried. Also the people who had encouraged me to be more confident and less paranoid, were people I couldn’t thank properly, as they didn’t understand, that what happened to em was more profound that simply building up confidence and experience of situations; even as an anxious person I still built up confidence with experience of situations.

Seeking Relationships or Not

Beginning heterosexual relationships is a weird, complicated, fraught, scary process. There is perhaps only one reason for this, that there is the possibility of a romantic or sexual attachment.

I’ve always been somewhat jealous of the ease with which my gay friends establish friendships with women. I think that the reason is purely and simply that the possibility of romantic attachment isn’t there. I have many female friends, with whom there is an ease with each other, this has occurred as at some point the possibility of a romantic attachment was settled and moved on from, this settling usually happens sub-consciously, it is perhaps a product of time and getting to know the person. some women who I meet sometimes start acting dismissively as if I am seeking a relationship with them. What has disturbed me is sometimes men, even heterosexual men, start acting strangely towards me as if I am seeking a romantic relationship with them.

The thing that has troubled me about this is that it seems that everyone deals with this issue differently, and sometimes distressing situations can occur whereby individual systems clash. In Western society this is a particular problem, the society is so socially liberal that etiquette has been largely rejected, anything goes. Etiquette is a essentially a set of social rules to make social interactions easier. So, why has Western society adopted a position of making social interactions harder?

This has been an issue for me as I suffered from anxiety for so long that it has perhaps warped my own interaction system. Basically in my system I don’t seek relationships. I enjoy communicating with people, sometimes things click and there is a kind of understanding of who the other person is, sometimes there is a liking of that person,there are then three possibilities: 1/ Nothing, 2/ a friendship begins to form, 3/ a romantic relationship begins to form. For me, these things just happen.

It seems as though everyone has, perhaps it’s another personality spectrum, a degree to which interactions are monitored for the seeking of relationships, perhaps people always invest some effort in interacting in seeking a relationship. If this is the case, then perhaps I am at an extreme end of this spectrum.

What I have struggled with is that I am sensitive to people thinking that I am seeking a relationship, because it annoys me, as conversation dries up, the question you are asking is is no longer about the question but responded to as if by asking you are seeking a relationship. I feel like crying out ‘I’m not seeking a relationship, I’m just talking to you”. It seems that people once they get the idea in their head that you are seeking a relationship, normal relations are no longer possible, that can be very awkward, particularly in environments where you spend time together, such as a working environment. I find it quite ridiculous as both parties then go out of their way to avoid each other.

It is quite understandable how this situation arises. I do speak to women just because I am attracted to them. Fairly quickly one realises that they are not interested in a romantic liaison, I immediately take that on board and move on (Well I might find a corner to cry in at some juncture). However, some men, continue to seek relationships after this point, this continuing strategy does work, sometimes, as it is possible to change your mind after getting to know someone better. Such a strategy is generally acceptable, however if it continues it becomes harassment, how much to employ such a strategy varies as people are different, it is a grey area. Once members of a population use a strategy, there then arises a counter-strategy, the women develop strategies for dealing with unwanted attention, to monitor people for seeking relationships to trigger the defensive response. Really, the whole ‘game’ of finding a sexual partner is complicated and some people actively play this game.

This is perhaps why it becomes problematic for people such as myself, who are very low level relationship seekers. This group don’t seek relationships, so such people don’t really know what is going on when people are analysing a situation for relationship seeking. It is possible to think that this group are victims of being in a game they don’t know the rules of. It is tempting to join in and simply ‘play the game’, however fighting against your own personality is dangerous.

Of course, this non-relationship seeking is a strategy in itself, it is simply not purposefully used as a strategy. I have many male and female friends whom I’ve formed relationships with precisely because I wasn’t seeking a relationship. I like having relationships, I just hate all the faff involved in getting to a point of mutual trust and respect. The thing that perhaps bothers me is that social groups form due to social type, one only socialises with people like yourself. There are positives to only socialising with like minded souls, but it is also limiting, the perception is missing out on understanding other types of people.

Non-relationship seeking does tend to be the preserve of introverts. Because introverts are really happy to be alone, there is no need for social interaction to be fulfilled. Introverts simply like social interaction, but are equally happy doing things by ourselves. Then there is this low self-monitoring issue, whereby low self-monitors don’t change their behaviour to suit others.