I am a healthy 37-year-old male, twice divorced, now single. A couple nights ago, the night before my annual physical, I suffered my usual anxiety-filled dreams. My physical examination was at an unfriendly amusement park. I had to stand in long lines; I had to use a public toilet offering little privacy in preparation for the physical. The nurse, an ogre twice my size, gave me dozens of bottles, jars, and boxes and only one was to be used for my urine specimen. I had to figure this out on my own and my failure to pee in the correct receptacle would result in serious consequences. I could go on describing this hideous dream, but my point is that mundane, everyday responsibilities give me such anxieties that I’m constantly overwhelmed by nightmares.
My second wife, who left and divorced me five years ago, told me something about myself before she left me: The human race can be divided into two groups: Those for whom struggles are exciting challenges and adventures and those for whom every life task is equivalent to being lost and overwhelmed in a huge scary jungle. I am of the latter group, she said. She could not take living with me and my needy, anxious self anymore and she bailed. I think my first wife bailed for the same reason.
Was my second wife right: Can the human race be divided into those two groups? And if so, is there anything I can do to stop feeling like my life is a huge frightening jungle?
Living in constant fear,
Your second wife is correct. Humans are of the two opposite camps she described. Some face life, even its most arduous struggles, like a wondrous, thrilling adventure. These are people who are stimulated by problem-solving and are possessed by a giant appetite for life. These vibrant souls tend to be magnanimous and charismatic and are surrounded by lots of friends and family.
Then there are those who coil up into a ball when faced with even the most mild struggles. Their appetite for life is minimal, if not entirely nonexistent. They have no charisma, few friends if any. They usually hate their family. They tend to be bitter, pessimistic, depressed, prone to addictions, and are overcome with learned helplessness and a sense of victimization.
You should commend yourself on identifying yourself accurately. That takes courage and honesty.
Of course your question is can you change. The answer, without being glib, is yes and no. Fundamentally, you will always be an anxious, needy person. You will never possess the courage and magnanimity and charisma of those you admire. However, you can minimize your anxieties by doing the following:
- Force yourself to socialize or participate in some kind of group or community activities, at least twice a week. You are your own worse enemy, a prisoner of your self, and spending alone time magnifies your problems.
- Don’t be ashamed for being the way you are. You are fated to be a certain way and facing your anxieties head-on and carrying on with your life the best you can is noble and admirable.
- Don’t measure yourself against your brave heroes. They’re probably not as brave and life-loving as you think. I suspect you tend to exaggerate your shortcomings and the virtues of others. The disparity between you and the people you admire is probably not as large as you think.
That’s about it. I have no miracles to give you. Life is rarely as dramatic and cataclysmic as we think it is or want it to be. Few of us have earth-shattering experiences resulting in our self-transformation, like Paul’s vision at Damascus. Usually change is subtle, slow, gradual. Don’t expect life to be as dramatic as the movies. You’ll be less disappointed.
All the best to you.