Saturday, April 20, 2013

Some thoughts on Monkey Mind

Last week, I finished the book Monkey Mind, by Daniel Smith. The title, based on the Buddhist term meaning "unsettled/restless/indecisive/uncontrollable," is a sort of whimsical play on what can feel like a very serious topic we all know as anxiety. And I’m not talking about every day, bearable old situational kinds of worry, like “I’m gonna miss my bus” or “I can’t find my car keys.” I’m talking about chronic, life-altering, at times debilitating Anxiety (yeah, the kind that deserves a capital “A”). Also referred to as generalized anxiety disorder and/or panic disorder, Anxiety is different from fear, though close enough to be fear’s first cousin. In fact, Smith suggests that the accumulation of fear often leads to anxiety, and that the presence of anxiety often compounds our fears. Here’s an example from my own life to better illustrate this point:
  • My fear: Death.
  • My reaction/action: There’s a strange little bump on my neck (ever so small and totally painless, and one I detected only through my obligatory daily “body check” ritual).
  • My Anxiety: My inability to find a similar bump on other side of my neck confirms it: Cancer. I have cancer.  
  • My follow-up fear: I’m going to die a painful, lonely death.
Yup. The voices in my head follow a pretty predictable script. Sure, the story varies a little – sometimes I have lupus, or MS. Once I actually had Morgellons disease, a condition I only became aware of after some blurred vision and dry skin led me on a a wild Google search for the most painful worst case scenario.
All this is to say that in reading a book like Smith’s, I was comforted to know that not only am I not alone in some of what I see as my own borderline insanity at times, I actually find myself funny. Maybe more absurd than funny, but I was laughing as I read Monkey Mind and pictured myself in many of its scenarios.
Just when I thought I was uniquely crazy, I find out I’m pretty much a garden variety anxiety sufferer. We’re everywhere, it seems, even though we often feel rather paralyzed and alone with our rituals and our worries, our feelings of impending doom and our constant prayers for relief.
So there you have it. Anxiety – not so unusual after all. But the book will shed new light on an old problem, and may even lead you to appreciate the undeniable humor in your own misery.

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