Friday, January 24, 2014

Smog and Anxiety

Did you all see the recent article about China broadcasting sunrises on giant screens in public squares because the pollution is so bad in Beijing that people can no longer see the real thing?

Alarming! Also, not exactly true. The video sunrises, it turns out, are merely shown momentarily as part of a routine advertising campaign. We all know China has huge problems with air pollution, but it was interesting how fast even the mainstream media (whatever that is these days) picked up this story and ran with it. Bad media! Bad!

I'm not looking forward to the air quality when we go to China, but we'll be there such a short time that I'm not too worried. I guess we could get masks if need be. I'm more worried on behalf of all the Chinese people who have to live with it.

Now that I'm between books, I've been trying to catch up on my old New Yorkers and Harpers and other magazines. I just read Scott Stossel's piece in The Atlantic about living with anxiety -- it was fascinating. I can't imagine living with such a crippling degree of fear, and in Stossel's case it doesn't seem to stem from past personal trauma, as one might think. I am tempted to wonder, in my armchair-psychologist way, if it doesn't come from an impossible need for control over the uncontrollable aspects of life, or perhaps just from thinking about things too much. I suppose that's too easy, though. It seems his entire family has a long history of anxiety and hyper-cautiousness. (I thought my family was risk-averse, but we couldn't hold a candle to his.)

I occasionally find myself feeling a pervasive sense, not of fear, but of dread -- not really related to anything specific. It washes over me for a few minutes but never lasts beyond that. I attribute it to some faulty fight-or-flight trigger in my brain that gets accidentally tripped from time to time. Fortunately it's not a frequent occurrence, at least not yet.

Speaking of fight or flight, yesterday a group of about 30 high school kids in the library began swatting around a balloon. I let it go on briefly, but when they didn't stop and began yelling to boot, I ordered them to take it outside, and when it still didn't stop I had to wade in amongst them and confiscate the balloon. I promptly took it into the back room and popped it with a paper clip. My anxiety levels were certainly high at that point!

(Photos: Waiting dogs in Holland Park, probably feeling anxious.)


  1. I think it's impossible for someone who has never really experienced Anxiety (with a capital "A") to know what it feels like. It might be like one of those illogical moments you have when it washes over you except that it stays every waking moment for days, weeks, months, and in the case of people like Scott S., years, a lifetime.
    It's horrible.
    And I still can't believe you're going to China.

  2. I do have a couple of friends who, because of menopause and hormone shifts , suffered from anxiety in the extreme! Could not breathe, terrified of movement, terrified of light...everything. One , in the end, went to live in a Buddhist community - the other on a farm. "your fears aren't real" "Snap out of it"...they could not. and yes, both are control freaks.You could be on to some thing there.
    Gee, have a great breath of fresh air in china! It will be interesting none the less.

  3. well, I'm glad I don't suffer from anxiety like that.

  4. What Scott Stossel deals with is way out of the park. I just read a review of his book in this week's New Yorker. Poor guy!

  5. As part of my monthly hormonal shift I often experienced a feeling of impending doom (AND thought I had the flu - every month for years - I'm kind of slow). I still get that feeling every now & then. That's just a tiny taste of what Ms. Moon & Scott Stossel describe - I can't imagine having that kind of feeling all the time.

    I HATE balloons that might pop at any moment. I would have been in high anxiety the whole time they were playing with it - and I wouldn't have been able to pop it myself. Lil phobia there :)