I think there is a great utility in feeling negative emotions. For myself personally, and I think this is true for a lot of people, and definitely most addicts, we have a tendency to want to numb out or not feel our negative emotions. We’ve gotten to the point in society where persistent negative emotions such as anxiety and depression are actually considered mental illness. I’m not necessarily refuting that point, and I think a demarcation can be made to distinguish between a person who is feeling the appropriate amount of anxiety for a situation, compared to someone who has a proclivity to blowing things out of proportion, and making their life completely joyless. I definitely think that heightened anxiety and chronic depression are things that need to be treated and if left untreated, can debilitate an individual.

That being said, I think there is a great purpose in feeling depressed and anxious that people often overlook. There is a reason that we feel certain ways, and I think a lot of it, if not all of it, is useful. I think a better remedy to chronic anxiety, which I am a sufferer of, isn’t just chalking it up to a chemical imbalance, but to actually figure out what exactly about my lifestyle, my thought patterns, and my actions, are imposing an unwarranted amount of worry on me. When I’m feeling anxious, before I wanted to numb and escape the feeling, but now I understand that most of the time there is actual reasons why I’m feeling this way. Feelings are generated by the brain to tell us something, and a negative feeling is there to make us recognize that something we are doing, or letting happen, isn’t something that is aligned with what we are comfortable with.

I think the severity of the anxiety can be too strong in certain individuals, but I do believe that self-reflection is a much better long term remedy than anything else. I think disciplines like psychiatry can only go so far in aiding a person. The genesis of most mental illness is a person’s own unwillingness to confront their problems and properly live their life.  There is a Carl Jung quote that states “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” And I think that sums this up perfectly. When you’re feeling massively depressed, or overwhelming anxious, reflecting on the impetus of these feelings is key to rectifying them. What exactly aren’t you facing? When I get anxious a lot of the time it’s because I’m procrastinating, and I’m letting things build. The more things continue to build, and the more I ignore the problems I know I will have to eventually face, the more anxious I become.

Anxiety, in my estimation, is rooted in the inaction of fixing or facing a problem in one’s life. If you have a problem, and you’re actively seeking a solution to the problem, and you know you’re doing your best, then you have far less to worry about. The problem arises when you have all these problems or situations in your life, and you become incapacitated by the fear of having to face these problems, that you’re driven into inaction or avoidance. And once you live in the realm of inaction, it’s a hard cycle to break. Worrying about things isn’t going to solve anything, but being worried often times points to you having to realize that there is something in your life that needs you attention.

Depression is similar, but instead of being rooted in the future, it’s anchored in the past. But even if I’m depressed, guilt ridden, or full of shame and regret, I have to ask myself if these feelings are really incorrect or not. A lot of the time we are over ruminating and that leads to depression. But I think if we are feeling depressed, there is most often something from the past that we haven’t quite extracted yet. Something in our past that haunts us, but that we have yet to fully learn from. And until we confront it, and learn from it, we have a harder time letting go.

I suppose the point I’m driving home is anxiety and depression might be a mental illness, and they might inflict far more harm on an individual than is necessary, but that doesn’t mean the solutions don’t reside in yourself. You might need assistance from a professional like a doctor, and you might even need medication to even be able to face your problems, but I generally think there is an underlying reason for these feelings, and it can be sourced. I’ve found that simply being aware of what the cause of these feelings is can go a long way in subsiding them. It’s hard to fix a problem that you’ve yet to diagnose, and in the case of anxiety and depression the diagnosis transcends recognizing the feeling, and is cemented in the cause of the feeling. Living in the moment and deep breaths are temporary fixes to the problem, but in my experience, for long lasting results, I have to actually confront the initial cause of the feelings themselves.

The good news is, often times with anxiety we are worrying about something that is never going to happen. Most of the time we are stuck in a loop of fear and dread about something that isn’t even going to occur. And even if it does happen to occur, we can rest assured that we can’t really do anything about it until it is occurring. All we can do is face situations in life as they happen. There’s no use of thinking of solutions and running it through our heads ad infinitum thinking that will somehow change what is going to happen. We aren’t controllers of the universe, and we aren’t erasers of the past, all we can do is learn from the past, and confront the present. I’ve never once heard a successful person say they got to where they were by worrying excessively, and that somehow changed the course of their future. All people have are the tasks of the present. Learning from the past helps you act correctly in the present, and acting correctly in the present creates a better future. It’s not only more complicated than that.

  • Jack A. Bingham

Author of Obsessive-Compulsive Dramatic: My Fight Against OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Addiction