Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Fear - of Deciding

Fear is never an emotion to be trusted, particularly when it comes time to make decisions.

I feel sorry for depressed people.  I feel somewhat sorry for mentally ill people (who are often depressed, too) except that they often are violent and victimize the rest of us.   But in either case, it is a shitty way to go through life - being depressed all the time - as life is so damn short and there is so much of it to live.

Fear and anxiety consume most of us on on occasion or another.  Just realizing this is somewhat helpful.  For me, at least, I realize when I am being anxious - over nothing.   If you have anxieties over things you have no control over, then sit back and relax and think to yourself that there is nothing you can do about it anyway, and thus you might as well enjoy yourself.  If the feared thing happens, you can deal with it then.  Worrying about it now serves no useful purpose, other than to destroy the now.

On the other hand, if there is something you can do to address you anxiety, then do it.   If you can take some action in your life that would alleviate the anxiety, then it would make the anxiety go away.  And that, in effect, is what your brain is trying to get you to do.   When I get anxious about an investment, for example, it is my brain's way of saying, "maybe it is time to get out of this investment!"   And I usually get anxious about investments when they go way up in value in a short period of time.   Which is why I sold my Boeing stock (or most of it, anyway) last year, when it shot up in value and it seemed Boeing could do no wrong, what with an "order book" backlog and constant triumphs over Airbus in snagging new orders.

Turns out my brain was right.  My anxiety of the "could do no wrong" company was tempered by my subconscious saying, "hey, this is one plane crash away from tanking."   Boeing will recover, in the long-term, of course.  But not before a lot of hair is torn and clothing rendered.

Depression is the same deal - and in fact related to anxiety.   It helps, to realize if you are depressed, that depression is not a normal condition and often a transitory thing, and that if you are depressed now, you will likely feel better later on.   Of course, for hard-core clinical depression, this may not be of much help, but for the rest of us, who are just occasionally "blue" it is helpful.

Both depression and anxiety (which are in effect different aspects of the same thing) are related to fear.  People with severe anxiety tell me that during an anxiety attack they feel they are going to die.  Their chest tightens and their heart beat soars.  They feel they can't breathe.  They are deathly afraid of...... really nothing.   Fear can do that - create stasis in an individual, causing them to be depressed as they are too afraid to do anything.

I wrote before about learned helplessness and I think this related to this fear, depression, and anxiety.   If you think nothing you do in life is going to make a difference, and you are so cowed by the lack of response to your inputs into society, then all you can do is cower in the corner in fear.

And this bootstraps itself.  Once a person is convinced that nothing they do will affect their lives, they become fearful of making the wrong choices.  So they make no choices, which in effect, is choosing - to do nothing.   As a result, nothing in their lives changes, so they feel helpless, which in turn bootstraps the fear, depression, and anxiety.   And that in turn makes them fearful of making wrong choices.

Fear of mathematics is a classic example of this on a small scale.  I wrote before how Mark is afraid of "getting the wrong answer" as in school he was told there was nothing but right answers and wrong answers in math, and you'd better not get the wrong answer, buster, or it's all over for you!  As a result of this excellent "teaching" (another reason teachers need raises, eh?) is that an awful lot of people are afraid of math.   When confronted with a math problem, their mind shuts down in fear - fear of making a dreadful mistake.

So when I ask Mark how much something is, he says, "I don't know!"   And I say, "more than a dollar and less than a million?" and he says, "of course!"  to which I reply, "well, we've narrowed it down a bit, haven't we?"

With a few more questions, I can get him to admit that the price of the item was "about $80" which is close to the $79.98 it actually cost.   He knew what the item cost - in rough terms - but felt that when numbers were involved, there was an exact answer or all wrong answers.  And this fear was driven into him by shitty school teachers who felt the same way - you are right or wrong, and estimating is not allowed!

So people get anxious about math class for fear of making a mistake.   And this leads to depression and lack of trying, so their grades in math suck, which in turn bootstraps their fear of math.  In our high school, you could duck out of math class after 9th grade - and many do just that.   And that is sad, too.

What got me started on this, and how it is related to this blog, is that I see friends and acquaintances become fearful of making decisions, sometimes about the smallest things.  People who live in a house and use a milk-crate as an end table, not because they can't afford something nicer, but because they are afraid of buying the wrong furniture.   They have no faith in their own tastes and preferences to make a decision, so they decide not to decide, which itself is a decision - a decision to decorate with milk crates.

Or they live in fear of the restaurant menu.   So many choices!  What to order!   Even in a restaurant they have visited dozens of times, they cannot make up their mind.   Suppose they order the wrong thing and have a bad meal?  The horror!   Yet, so many people live in fear of a bad meal that they visit the same chain restaurant over and over again and order the same thing, out of fear.

Being around people like this can be annoying, to be sure.  It is a form of passive-aggression, which itself is a form of depression.   They cannot decide what to order in a crowded busy restaurant, even through they've been there several times and have had just as much time to peruse the menu as you have.  They tell the waitstaff to "come back later" - several times.   This pisses off the servers, whose time you are wasting, and the restaurateur, whose table you are hogging (a table he could be seating other people at).  It also pisses off your table-mates.

But annoying as it is, it is also sad.   I am not so much annoyed by such people as feel sorry for them.  When confronted by a menu dallier, I simply go ahead and order.   If they want to play indecision, fine for them - they can wait an hour for their dinner while we are walking out to the car.   Letting fearful people control situations like that is always a bad idea - once you let them vacillate, and act like you are vacillating too, nothing gets done and no decisions are made.  On the other hand, if you are bold and take the lead, they may think, "that sounds like a good idea!" and follow suit.   Like I said many times before, people crave normative cues, and if you act decisive, sometimes this gives others permission to make a decision as well.

Nevertheless, I feel sorry for anyone who spends their life living in fear - which is to say, depressed.   because life is over very quickly, and too late on your deathbed, you realize all the things you could have done or should have done.   And then, it is too late.

I noted before that at age 40 or so, I was not a big fan of seafood - an irrational fear stemming from my childhood, when I was forced to eat some Mrs. Shaw's Frozen Fishsticks that had thawed and re-frozen in the freezer.  They smelled like an aquarium.  It took me a long time to realize that not all seafood tasted like rancid fish sticks.    And I realized that I had squandered more than half my life not trying things, like some small child, and thus missing out on greater experiences.

Fear takes on a number of forms.  Fear of trying new things - or even allowing others to try them.  Mark's family, from Maine, was fond of saying, "you don't want to do that!" whenever someone proposed doing something new or unusual.   And maybe in snowbound Maine, where life never changes much, that is some sort of perverted survival skill.  For the rest of us, in a dynamic society where change is the norm, fear of change or trying new things can be determinedly or even deadly.

This is of course, not to say that being reckless is the answer.  I hate extremism.   Only that living in fear of even the smallest decisions in life is no way to go through life.  And maybe fighting this fear is one way of fighting depression and anxiety.   Having faith in what you think is right - even if it goes against societal norms - is sometimes the answer.  As I noted early on in this blog, it may be safer in the middle of the herd, but then again, in the middle of the herd, the grass is all trampled down and pooped upon.  Being on the leading edge of the herd is dangerous and scary, but the grass is much better.  Being on the trailing edge is worse - much poop, little grass, and most danger.

Making decision is indeed hard to do, but deciding not to decide is still making a choice.  And dilly-dallying around and delaying decisions by days, weeks, or years, often amounts to the same thing.  By the time you have decided, it is too late to take action.

I guess some people never get this - the fear overwhelms them.  They need medical help or something.  And like I said, I feel sorry for them.   I try not to fall into that trap.  I make decisions, good or bad, and sometimes horrible things happen - but not as horrible as I think they would turn out to be.    In retrospect, making bad decisions often was a better choice than making no decisions at all.   And the good decisions, well, they trumped all the bad decisions by a factor of ten to one.

Be fearless.   Because living in fear sucks.