Les Damnés de la Terre

Anxiety is the enemy of patience. Having retreated to a more solitary, hopefully even meditative, situation, I wait for the fast-stumbling selves of my past life to catch up and stabilize, like in that photographic trick where multiple exposures trail behind and in sci-fi comics movies accordion in until the superhero or super-villain becomes one image. Anxiety leaves those multiple exposures dangling. Exposed.

Are spirits responsible for anxiety or playing it to their advantage? I tend to believe so, but then I tend to believe that something spiritual, or to use a more structured word, religious, is at play in everything human. A psychiatrist friend of my family once told the story of counseling a santero who had no experience or knowledge of psychotherapy and wanted to know what kind of trabajo the psychiatrist did. I work with the psyche, the doctor told him. And what is that?, the santero asked. The spirit, the doctor replied, I work with the spirit. The santero agreed to counseling.

Anxiety and its cousin, depression, are inherited it seems, though they are shaped by life experiences. How much control do we have? Hard for me to say. Control in my case has consisted of seeking professional help, taking medications, certain practices like meditation and prayer, and just plain waiting till they passed. Could I cowboy up and through them? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Succumbing to a panic attack used to be called cowardice, the kind that got a slap from General Patton. Now we have psychiatric names for all kinds of behavior. Some righteous folk decry this, seeing excuses for lack of moral fiber. My righteousness doesn’t go there, for in that case I’d have to judge myself harshly. I too decry lack of moral fiber, but never aimed at who succumbs to a panic attack. There’s far worse behavior than that.

Like everyone else I read Frantz Fanon in the sixties. What stuck with me was not his text on oppression and liberation, but the case studies, not of victims but of torturers. They were thoroughly fucked up. Well deserved, one might say, but their mental pain was real and harrowing. Karma? Maybe. Compassion for them? I felt it when I read it. We are all the wretched of the Earth because pain haunts us, some of which we manufacture ourselves. There is pain around the corner, anxiety whispers to me, from the torturer or from those you dreamt of torturing or from the devil or from God. Be afraid. And take your meds.