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Posted by Philip on 29 February 2016, 11:40 am in , , , , , , , , , , ,

The age of anxiety?

I'm working with some folk on a project around anxiety and depression, sharing the story of the two years I spent living with hostile neighbours. It's made me wonder if we are living in an age of anxiety, because I meet a lot of people who struggle with it, as well as depression, to varying degrees.

Anxious nerdy guy

Since doing this work, I've come to realise I've actually struggled with both for most of my life. Anxiety as a kid about being different, or Mum being late to pick up me up, thinking she'd died in a car crash (no "Running late" texts in those days). Depression as a teenager about, well, everything. Anxiety in my early 20s about living independently and getting my support needs met. More depression in my mid to late 20s about feeling isolated and not fitting in.

But the anxiety I felt — and still struggle with now — while living with the two neighbours I had in 2011 and 2012, had a different hue. Perhaps it was — or is — age-related, but I think the big difference was the lack of power and control I had over the situation. Housing NZ knew what was going on, but no-one cared. So little did anyone care that I was put in the same position, twice consecutively.

The scale of society has increased significantly in the last couple of decades. I used to feel this when I travelled overseas — a sense that systems and processes dominated over people and relationships — but I'd return to Aotearoa feeling connected and secure again.

I've lost that feeling here in NZ now. Like the US, UK, Australia, Belgium and other larger countries 10-20 years ago, I now feel insecure and untrusting of bureaucracy that turns people into numbers and relationships into anonymous call centre interactions.

Elements of an age of anxiety

But it's not just the powerlessness of bureaucratic anonymity that creates anxiety for me and, I suspect, others. Here's a sample of the things that, I think, indicate we've emerged into an age of anxiety:

  • It's the constant reminders of the threat of terrorism and being eyed suspiciously by airport security. It's the never-ending images of war in the Middle East.
  • It's the awareness of climate change and knowing Governments value boosting economies over lowering carbon emissions. It's realising that the corruption that caused the GFC went unaddressed and is likely to create another crisis.
  • It's reading research that tells you everything causes cancer; articles that tell you you're eating too much or eating too little; ad campaigns that say you should drink less (alcohol) or should drink more (water).
  • It's the constant pressure to email, Facebook, tweet, pin, blog, tumbl, insta and get up to speed on that new app NOW!
  • It's hearing about every natural disaster in the world and being helpless to do anything. It's the continual requests for online donations and signatures to help save the world.
  • It's knowing how badly animals are treated by global, mass food manufacturers, yet having to eat. It's feeling pressure to recycle, reuse and reduce when manufacturers are lawfully able to produce a lot of what we buy in unrecyclable, unreusable and unreducable packaging.
  • It's wanting to know your neighbours but not knowing them. It's being wary of knowing them in case they may harm you or your children.
  • It's when politicians sign trade agreements in secret and scoff at protestors. It's when flags are more important than feeding kids.
  • It's watching ads that clamour to sell you the best deal. It's having to mute the ads every ten minutes because they are so fucking annoying.
  • It's feeling like you have to be more and more and more productive with fewer and fewer resources. It's feeling you have to be productive every day even though research shows productivity is (pro)cyclical, at both economic and individual levels.
  • It's feeling like you're rewriting an Alanis Morrisette song that was thoroughly ridiculed by Ed Byrne.
  • But really, it's knowing you're living in a world where anxiety is pathologised but that, actually, if you weren't anxious, it would mean that you didn't know what's actually going on.

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