Through the Eyes of a Stranger: Charity

Today, people from one of the local churches knocked on my door. They were collecting food for their food bank. I happily participated and was quite surprised that they neither asked for my religious affiliation nor were in any way daunted by the Star of David that was featured prominently on my neck.

The reason why this surprises me is that back in my country, my mother was once kicked out of a charitable Jewish organization for not being Jewish. She is married to a Jew and has two half-Jewish children but that didn’t help. Mind you, she wasn’t trying to get charity. She was trying to participate in visiting elderly people and in bringing them food and winter clothes. At first, people in the charitable organization were misled by her looks (she is kind of the most Jewish looking person of all of us, in spite of not being Jewish) but when the horrible truth slipped out, she was expelled from the charity.

It’s nice to see that one doesn’t need to prove one’s religious or ethnic credentials to participate in doing something good for others in the place where I live now.

When the people collecting for charity were leaving, one of them said, “Merry Christmas!” Then, he looked at my Star of David and corrected himself, “Or. . . erm. . . happy whatever you celebrate.”

“Christmas works for me,” I replied.

That Stupid, Stupid Borges

A student writes, “The entire first page of Borges’s short story “The South” is completely irrelevant to everything that happens after.”

And later, “Borges obviously didn’t know hot to explain this legitimately, so he just came out with something completely improbable.”

And then some more, “Obviously, not enough planning on the writer’s part went into the creation of this short story.”

I wrote “let’s not condescend to Borges” in the comments. Is there anything else I can add?

A healthy self-esteem is great but I’m not sure how healthy it is to consider oneself so much smarter than Borges.

Things That Make Me Happy Today

As part of the anxiety-battling agenda, I’m substituting the list of things I have to do with a list of things that make me happy today. At the end of the semester (or the calendar year), many people’s anxieties flare up. We are all constantly on a schedule, afraid we won’t be able to do all we need to do, and the avitaminosis kicks in at about this time, making everybody loopy and irritable.

So here are things that make me happy today:

1. We’ve got our first snow of the season! I love snow. I wish I could live surrounded by huge snow mounds all the time.

2. Our departmental meeting that was scheduled for Friday has been cancelled. I feel like a bad student who celebrates each class cancellation.

3. I’ve been asked to serve as a translator for the preface of the new book by my favorite Spanish philosopher. My name will appear right under his, which is huge for me.

4. I’ve just emerged from a very important committee where I managed to push through some very significant initiatives. I didn’t let senior colleagues intimidate me and achieved exactly what I wanted.

5. N is at his new job right now. He is probably playing table tennis during his lunch break. That’s one cool company if it provides table tennis (and also fresh fruit) to workers.

What makes you happy today?

P.S. I don’t want people to accuse me of bragging again, so maybe I need to show everybody how every point on this list can be used as an anxiety producing device?

Snow – the heating bill will go through the roof, and I need new boots => indigence, poverty, horror!

Translation of the philosopher’s preface – what if I fail and make an idiot out of myself? What if the philosopher thinks I’m stupid? => shame, humiliation, horror!

N.’s at work – what if he loses this job? What if I lose mine? => indigence, poverty, shame, humiliation, horror!

How to Stop Suffering From Anxiety?

Reader Tit for Tat asked me what I’d like to change about myself. I’d like to start this series of posts by discussing something that I already mostly managed to change.

I’ve always suffered from intense levels of anxiety. In the midst of happiest moments, I’d find opportunities to skewer myself with worries and doubts. I can create worst-case scenarios out of nothing like I’m getting paid to do it.

Once, I was working on my research at the library. As I was photocopying an article, I imagined N saying something really vile to me. He’d never said anything like that and there was no reason for me to imagine this utterly improbable situation. In my fantasy, I responded to him. He said something even more offensive in return. The situation escalated into a horrible fight.

I was so hurt and traumatized that I burst into tears right in the library. Other patrons saw me shaking and sobbing and rushed over to offer assistance. Of course, I couldn’t explain to them that I was so distraught over a completely imaginary situation.

This wasn’t an isolated occurrence. I kept what-iffing myself into really harsh depressive periods.

People who suffer from intense levels of anxiety often deal with it by engineering the situations that terrify them. This affords them some degree of control over their anxieties. Actually living through a traumatic moment is easier than waiting for it to happen. So if you are terrified of rejection, you will do all you can to provoke your partner into dumping you. If you are scared of getting sick, you will sabotage your health. If you are afraid of unemployment, you’ll make sure you suck during job interviews. When the worst-case scenario really comes to pass, the anxiety-ridden individual experiences a momentary relief because his or her bleak worldview is confirmed.

A moment came when I couldn’t take living with anxiety any longer, so I set out to combat it. The very first step in this battle is always to recognize that anxiety comes only and exclusively from within. The external events don’t bring it into existence. You do.

Here are some activities that have been useful to me in my fight against anxiety:

1. Remove highly anxious friends and acquaintances from your life and surround yourself with calm, secure people.

2. Stop fixating on the future. Whenever images of future disasters start crowding in on your mind, do something that brings you back to the present moment. It helps to have an object (a toy, a souvenir, a small book) that you can touch during such moments and that will bring you back into the present. I used a napkin from my favorite coffee-shop to ground myself in the present, for example.

3. When an anxious moment assaults you, stop what you are doing, close your eyes, clear your mind, and breathe in deep for 5 minutes.

Of course, these are all just cosmetic measures. To get rid of anxiety for good, you need to find its roots. Remember that the first 3 years of our lives are the time where we form our sense of security in the world. Or we don’t. That’s where you need to go to find the root of your anxiety.

These psychological methods are, of course, not the only way of resolving issues of anxiety. In my next post on this subject, I will share with you how religion can be used for this purpose. Obviously, that method will only work for people who are religious.