“It did make Julia feel very nervous and she moved to Alex where he happened to be teasing Angela because he might be nervous too which would comfort her. People who weren’t nervous were useless because they did not know what it meant . . .”
—Henry Green, Party Going
Misery loves company?
I have a history of being a very nervous—or in modern parlance, anxious—person. I instantly recognized Julia’s impulse to seek out other anxious people. I remember thinking to myself (this must have been in my 20s and 30s) that I fundamentally did not understand people who were not anxious, and they fundamentally did not understand me; so how could talking to a calm person be a comfort to me?
And, boy, did I need comfort. I did not know how to comfort myself; I did not have the strategies or the art or the medicine. And so I sought out other people. Other anxious people. When you are anxious, it is quite comforting to commiserate with someone who knows what it is like. However, things can get out of hand if one person triggers the other, who triggers the first person back. And sometimes neither person is mentally balanced enough to truly help the other person at any given moment, beyond the basic help of understanding.
And then something fascinating happened. In my 40s, I started to learn the strategies and the art and acquire the medicine to be able to comfort myself. Meditation helped. So did medication. Slowly, I became less hair-trigger anxious and more empowered. Gradually, the anxious people I had surrounded myself with began to seem like aliens. Why were they so stressed out? I wondered. It is only a little thing. Worry is only a blip in reality. There are bigger, broader things in the world than that narrow focus of fear.
I am not saying that I have conquered anxiety. It is a lifelong process. And I am not saying that I have not had friendships of all kinds over the years. I have had many friendships, and they have all been valuable in different ways.
I am just saying that there was a shift. A shift in perspective. Where previously there was only trauma, now there is a wider space of blue. It was a step toward wisdom. Or at least I like to think.
Do you understand?