As I recently mentioned I’ve been delving back into Stoicism and philosophy in general. Largely around the theory side of things, the stuff that would come under Stoic physics. Maybe more of that another day.
A couple of times in the last few days I’ve been reminded that Stoicism isn’t just about the theory – it’s meant to be practised. Which made me think I probably would do well to shift the theory/practice balance.
Having had that unexpected hike in anxiety the other day I also got to thinking about the tools I learnt about when I had therapy. And how I’ve not really been using those lately. Much. At all.
While I found the techniques learned in CBT useful, the intensity of the process was too much. It’s very focused, and needs to be, but I found it overwhelming. I need longer to assimilate and process information (one factor which points to me probably being in the HSP camp). As a result I struggled to maintain any kind of ongoing effort.
I’m not entirely sure why, but having become interested in Stoicism by way of learning about it’s relationship to CBT, it’s broader scope as a philosophy for life appealed. Perhaps it was being able to incorporate it into my thinking in a more general way rather than focusing my efforts on very specific and exclusively difficult scenarios. I do think it’s had an impact as I find I can handle some anxiety inducing situations better than in the past. I also wonder if the neuroplasticity that my meds should be creating have helped the process of getting better.
What all this brings me around to is that I think a more structured habit will help me refresh my memory of the CBT techniques I learned and implement them day to day alongside Stoicism. As it happened, I heard an interview with Greg Lopez the other day, talking about Live Like a Stoic, which he co-authored with Massimo Pigliucci. Structured as 52 weekly exercises, I think it might be just the thing to help me on my way.
Went to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester yesterday. Have been meaning to go for some years but learning they had an exhibition of some of the skeletons from the Driffield Terrace burial site in York that are thought to be most likely those of gladiators spurred us to finally make the trip.
I find it a powerful thing to be in the company of the remains of people from 2000 years ago. The studies that have been made reveal a brutal existence, from tooth abscesses and malnutrition to the teeth marks of a large carnivore.
Most of them were young when they died, one between just 16 and 19 years, so really still a boy. With my own son not much younger I found it affecting to wonder what were the few years they did have like and what happened that they ended up as gladiators.
Taking the dog out each morning around dawn means I am getting to hear the gradual shift from general bird twitterings into what will eventually be the full dawn chorus. I don’t know when that division occurs (at no specific point I imagine), but whereas a month ago there were just the robins actually singing, for the past week at least, a song thrush has been in full song and blackbirds have started up too.
Today I had the highest level of anxiety about stopping at a filling station I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s a scenario that I deal with on a regular basis in the course of my work, and one that has been the source of vastly disproportionate amounts of anxiety in the past. But then ‘disproportionate’ is part and parcel with an anxiety disorder.
I’m not sure why today my anxiety levels were so high. It happens like that though, and I can neither predict nor explain it. It was at a far lower degree than I used to experience but still noticeably up.
Anxiety is complex and unpicking all the reasons why a given scenario is anxiety inducing would take me all day. To try and explain it briefly, it’s about being observed, often from multiple directions, it requires a level of performance, it requires recalling information which can prove surprisingly elusive when your brain is taken up with processing anxiety, it’s looking for the exit, the need to escape, and it’s about the negative voice in your head telling you what a loser you are because you can’t even do the simplest of things without this whole thing going off in your head.
A couple of times recently I have heard the phrase ‘feel the fear and still do the thing’ or words to that effect. An idea that I wholeheartedly go along with. In theory.
In practice, it’s something which I can sort of go along with, but feels so counter-intuitive. For me, that fear is often the worst aspect of anxiety. Which sounds obvious given that is what anxiety is, essentially. I dread the physical symptoms of anxiety. And the internal process of fear. Because at the end of the day anxiety is just that – internal. All those external factors I described above are not really the problem, given they are just a product of my imagination fueled by my amygdala going into overdrive. It’s what goes on inside, and when it’s at it’s worst it is truly awful. And you have to carry that around with you – the knowledge that you can’t rely on yourself to function ‘normally’.
Thankfully, my anxiety is dialled down a long way compared to how it used to be. By and large. I think the meds improve my mood which frees up my mind to see the world more positively, and subsequently reduces my overall level of anxiety.
I’m not sure that what I’ve written makes much sense, but I wanted to capture the multi-threaded mess that anxiety is. I think today reminded me of how many layers there are to it. And how much of it is about the stories we tell ourselves.
Listening to Richard McLean Smith on the Unexplained podcast, I encountered for the first time the Gutenberg Parenthesis .
I was fascinated by the idea that the way information is disseminated in the internet age means we are returning to something akin to the pre-printing press world of oral tradition and the fluidity that came with it.
I really pissed myself off today. I responded to someone in a way that I didn’t want to and as a consequence it resulted in further ways to be annoyed with myself. It was a minor thing, really minor, but when anxiety and low self-esteem accumulate years of dictating how I respond to some situations, it’s really difficult to catch myself before I do the thing I don’t want to do.
I was listening to an interview with Stoic philosopher Piotr Stankiewicz earlier this week talking about narratives, the stories we tell ourselves. It got me thinking about, or perhaps a better way of putting it is observing, the stories I tell myself. Realising how instantaneously the negative inner voice responds to events. It’s straight in there, even over the very minor things, chipping away. Colin Walker talks about ‘negative feedback loops, plummeting into downward spirals.’ I can relate to this. If the stories I tell myself get the better of me I can find the hours, days and sometimes weeks get eaten up by a barrage of what I can only describe as psychological self-harm.
The thought of trying to rewrite those habits is daunting. And yet spotting them is part of the battle. I’ve certainly found with other aspects of mental illness that having an awareness of what’s happening goes a long way to reducing the effect of them. That moment of ‘Aha, I know you and what you do’ helps to mitigate their potency.
I did spot them today. Yes, my response to the situation pissed me off, but I was also able to recognise a little of what was going on. And it was probably listening to that interview that reminded me about those pesky narratives.
Just discovered I can run Obsidian via Linux on my Chromebook. I’ve wanted to have a Zettelkasten-type notes system and two efforts have fallen by the wayside due to changing platforms and such. I knew of Obsidian but had never really taken a look before. I can run it on Android and the aforementioned Chromebook and I love using text files.
I’ve managed to spot C/2022 E3 on two nights, but neither occasion have I been able to see a tail. Assuming I was looking at the right object. More of a fuzzy blob than a classic comet shape but the clarity hasn’t been at it’s absolute best so perhaps that’s why.
My one months subscription to Disney+ expires today. I don’t find there is enough content to interest me, or that I can sustain interest for, to warrant a continuous subscription. And in these straitened times the expense would be another unjustifiable, if small, outgoing.
I paid for the subscription to give us more viewing options over the Christmas break. We watched Rogue One, my son’s favourite film, and as such viewing it has become a regular occurrence. We all agree it’s one of the best films, if not the best, from the Star Wars universe. In essence it’s a war film and I forget what age he was when he first saw it, but it interests me that he loved it straight away.
I’d say the only thing that lets it down is the uncanny valley CGI appearances of Tarkin and Leia. I’m sure they could’ve got around that somehow else.
Another film I watched is Monsters. I first came across this via the soundtrack done by Jon Hopkins. The main theme makes a regular appearance on my playlists. The premise of the film – couple thrown together attempt to cross alien inhabited zone – appealed and it’s been on my watch list ever since. The chemistry between the two protagonists didn’t entirely convince me but it has a good atmosphere, a building Heart of Darkness tension and nicely handled visuals of the ‘Monsters’.
What I had forgotten was that Monsters was the directorial debut for Gareth Edwards, the very same who went on to direct Rogue One.
It’s good to be delving into Stoicism more deeply again.
There are some aspects which I don’t have a good grasp of, and others the logic of which makes a lot of sense.
One question that has been going round in my mind is if my actions are characterised as either virtue or vice, to use the Stoic nomenclature, do I also view other people’s behaviour as virtue and vice? If so, how to square that with the concept of externals or indifferents?