by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
We have always experienced some kind of anticipatory anxiety for what is to come.
This anxiety arises out of the anticipation of certain events or occurrences. We cannot know what will come, such a feat is impossible, and would likely bring much joy out of the spontaneity of everyday life. One cannot predict the screeching wheels of a car just as one cannot have predicted the eruption of a global pandemic.
As it is described on anxietyuk.co.uk, anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future. Rather than being a specific disorder in its own right, anticipatory anxiety is a symptom commonly found in a number of anxiety related conditions, such as generalized anxiety. One might wonder, from reading this description, whether non-human animals do also encounter such anxiety, if only from an evolutionary perspective; perhaps a mouse might see a shadow gliding over a field and scurry to hide, anxious of the impending doom that such a shadow might possess in its shroud; perhaps a deer might smell smoke from a nearby barbecue and run for the hills, fearful as its mother was of the cataclysmic possibility of the forest bursting into flames. But maybe these examples are less to do with anxiety that with mechanical reactionary behavior. Is there a difference? When we are anxious, by default, we might resort to comforts or hideaways, such as our homes and beds, or, for an animal, higher ground or burrows. Once, when I was younger, I went to a sleepover with some friends, and felt so very odd in myself that I called my mother to take me home. There was no danger in the situation, but I knew instinctively that I needed to return to my own sanctuary in order for the trepidation that I was feeling to dwindle away. What could I have been anxious about? Was it separation anxiety from being away from my mother?
One cannot imagine a life without some sort of anxiety. Of course, as it has been preached by many philosophers, we should strive to live moment to moment in order to best enjoy life. But such a feat is not simple, and could potentially even be counter-intuitive to our evolution. When people lived in mud and wood huts on planes of grass or sand, they must have been anxious at the first signs of winter, the frosted mornings and first thin layer of snow, and what these signs meant, or maybe they might have noticed the first fearsome days of summer coming where the sun would shine so hot that one could barely step outside. How would winter man gather enough food to survive the cold, and how would summer man manage to forage crops when all had but dried and withered? When deliberate cultivation first took hold of man, which was around 12,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic era, people must have begun to take even greater note of the skies and their foreboding signs. They must have stayed up late at night, tossing and turning, wondering what would become of their crop should rain await another month. The anticipation of a storm, with its strange winds and beginnings, must have made people quake for fear of losing all the seeds that he had sprouted.
“Anxiety.” Ink drawing by Jessica Browne-White
Covid-19. A haunting word. A close cognate might be Voldemort. I must not be the only person who has not yet encountered this terrible plague in the flesh, but I have had days and months whereby I have met eyes with strangers and wondered if, in their hot breath or on their pink fingertips, they hold the virus. It is a silent, lonely thing, to fear a benevolent stranger. Eyes have been whispering terror for years now. It is a difficult thing to shake off. And the anticipatory anxiety of catching this virus is not the only thing one might be anxious about of late. I catch myself panicking day by day about the probability of another lock down taking away all that I have once more. The possibility of a Christmas with my family and friends still feels far-fetched and ungraspable. The idea of the studies that I am undertaking next year being online brings waves of nausea over me as I write this. How can I plan, yet how can I wait? How can I look forward to something that has been cancelled so many times that I feared it would not happen at all? How can I live moment to moment when a moment could be snatched heartlessly from my loose grip? It seems that everyone is jumping on the travel bandwagon, journeying to far-flung corners that they couldn’t visit when the world was closed. I feel I should too, yet I have responsibilities and no funds to invest in such a journey. But what if all this happens again? What if we are all trapped in our homes once more, places that turned quickly from mere sanctuaries to encompassing our entire livelihoods? Where am I safe? My imagination is not safe anymore. I imagine being shut off from this life again; I imagine going home and bringing the virus with me on my clothes, hair, feet, and poisoning my mother and father.
Anticipatory anxiety has heightened considerably during this past year. According to a study by Qin Xiang Ng, Michelle Lee Zhi Qing De Deyn, and Hwei Wuen Chan published on PMC (US National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health), there have been increased rates of depression and anxiety present in frontline health workers. People so used to illness, death, gruesome infection – if these people are feeling the dreaded, engulfing anxiety of the virus and its implications, one might wonder when, or if, we can ever go ‘back’, as it were, back to a state of more peaceful living. But was it peaceful? I don’t know how I felt before all of this. I don’t know who I was.
This Carl Kruse blog homepage is at http://carlkruse.at
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other articles by Hazel Anna Rogers include Sleep and the Insomniac, Socrates and Weightlifting, An Appreciation of the Humble Map, and Paper Books, E-books Dreams.
Speaking of Covid, use your computer’s spare time to help the Rosetta project unravel virus sequences. I wrote about it in the other Carl Kruse Blog on Rosetta. You can find me on the Rosetta website itself.