Twenty-some-odd of us sat in the living room on plush chairs, recliners, and an elegant sectional. Conversations among friends began to have the feel of a twelve step meeting, what with everyone confessing all manner of anxious thoughts. On a whim I asked, "how many of you struggle with overwhelming anxiety, like the need-to-breath-into-a-paper-sack-and-tuck-my-head-between-my-knees kind?" The hands shot up, nearly all twenty, to which my only response was, "whoa."
Some said the breakneck pace of life was wearing them thin. Others spoke of work pressures, or material need. Some noted that the stress of weddings, or house moving, or the yada-yadas of life had upended them. [tweetherder]The world loads us down with external pressures, I thought, and we pack it on. It's what humans do.[/tweetherder]
Pack it on.
After our impromptu group therapy session, I stopped to consider how to train my children about the pressures and anxieties baked into their one little life. And so, writer as I am, I jotted a simple list--7 things I want my sons to know about anxiety.
1. In this world, there are neither winners nor losers; there are only brothers and sisters. 2. Stress and anxiety do not make you weak; it is part of the human condition. 3. The well-adjusted men are not those who stuff their anxieties; the well-adjusted men are the ones who face their fears. 4. Find a good therapist. Talk to her. Tell her about your daddy issues, even though your daddy issues relate most directly to me. 5. Materialism breads anxiety; don't give in to the myth of scarcity. 6. Lying about your own anxiety creates a barrier to presence; it keeps others from knowing who you really are. 7. Perfect love casts out fear; learn to accept perfect love and know you are perfectly loved.
Granted, the list has subparts, and so perhaps it's more than seven things. Let's not dwell on the minor details; deal?
The point, more succinctly, is this: I want my children to grow into authenticity, truth, and the tenderest expressions of manliness. And so, I'm training them to know their anxieties, to speak them to the wind, to pray about them, to accept them as part of their humanity. I think it's only fair.
I jotted that list, and then I turned to poetry. It seemed, perhaps, a more permanent solution for sticking these principles in my kids' craws.
To My Sons #3
The world of men will try to classify you as one of two types: winner-winner-chicken-dinner or loser-looser-skid-row-boozer.
The winners, says the world, have an appetite for anxiety, and they choke it down like brussels sprouts or year-old protein powder. No pain no gain, says the world.
The others? They wear anxiety like mustard stains on frumpy frocks. They sit on therapist couches and talk about their daddy wounds, says the world.
There will be days these falsities feel truer than any shooting star. Your boss tossing an aloof air of success around the trading floor. "Never let 'em see you sweat."
Your brothers who buy the shiny this-and-thats or zoomy such-and-suches on credit--buy today, pay from the grave-- say, "work hard; play hard; die hardboiled."
There is nothing to see here, no flip-floppy anxiety, says the world, hiding tenderness under a bushel.
"Never trust a man selling a horse with two names," my grandfather used to say. "She'll likely answer to neither."
"Never trust a man who doesn't name his own anxiety," I say. "He'll likely answer to no love."
Do you struggle with anxiety? Do you feel upended by the stresses and pressures of life? If so, welcome to the human condition. The real questions, though, are these: 1) what are you doing about your own anxiety; 2) what are you teaching your children about their own anxieties?
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