Anxiety is the most common problem seen in my line of work. It seems to be a struggle earlier in life for more and more children. Teens who are perfectionists really get beaten up by their own expectations. Perfectionism, obsessing, pervasive self-doubt, fear of encountering either the larger world or unfamiliar people and avoidance of conflict are just a few of anxiety’s symptoms. Anxiety is crushing because it makes your world too small. Anxiety interrupts risk taking which is costly in a world where fortune favours the bold. Anxiety means you will allow yourself to be invisible to others because you swallow your wants. Anxiety means you endlessly question your own decisions. Your insecurities will exhaust you. Anxiety often leaves you hyper-sensitive to criticism and hyper-vigilant. Anxiety often means you are judgemental of others. Anxiety triggers depression.
Monk, the character on television, has extreme anxiety and is obsessive compulsive. A far more interesting character than Monk is to be found in crime novels, Kurt Wallander the Swedish detective created by the author Henning Mankell. Wallander suffers deeply from anxiety. He even (like many people) self-medicates by drinking too much. Like so many cops, he’s divorced and very isolated. Wallander is drowning in doubt even though he solves difficult crimes. Michael Ondaatje, my favorite NY Times book reviewer says “For me, Henning Mankell is by far the best writer of police mysteries today.”
The second book in the series is The Dogs of Riga takes place in Sweden and Latvia in 1991. Most people in Latvia live in fear because the communists are in charge. Reading this shows how fear infiltrates daily life. Wallander is besieged with worry because he sneaks into the country (legitimate fear) and never trusts his own tenaciousness. His ordinary life is constantly interrupted because of the disease of anxiety.
Anxiety means that someone will stay silent rather than risk being authentic. A friend who is anxious will hesitate to tell even their best friend the truth. Instead of sharing “I miss my Dad even though he died four years ago” it will be stashed within. Sharing is the only way to be truly known.
When people are anxious they tend to want to people please, and then too much truth goes ignored. When hurts and wants are unspoken they go underground and build into resentments. Anxious people suffer with short term thinking and are afraid of hurting others. One of the most important things anyone can do to build more authentic relationships is to be able to talk about hard things. Inability to talk about hard things means the pile of resentments deepens and it can be tough to dig out from under it. People tend to get self righteous about their resentments which then makes it hard to consider the truth of the other person’s point of view. Truth always lies in between people. Hearing the truth from someone who loves you is one of the most important ways to grow.
If you are anxious and people please you will lose track of yourself. Love is meant to help you be more of yourself, not less. Diane Keaton was asked why she never married and she responded that she knew she would lose her identity. Kurt Wallander does get lost. His father was disgusted he became a policeman. Kurt still plays with the idea of quitting to be a security guard, to regain his father’s approval. Though he’s in his early 40’s, his anxiety clouds his ability to recognize he only needs his father’s love. These are a terrific series of novels and Wallander is a very three dimensional character who makes mistakes in relationships because of anxiety.