“Work and Love, these are the basics, without them there is neurosis.”
“The neurotic is nailed to the cross of fiction.”
We all hear the word neurotic but few of us really understand what it means. The fabled neurotic appears like an enigmatic Freudian malady, a throwback to a bygone era. The image of a shriveled homunculus retching and hand wringing while reclining on a psychiatrist’s couch shaking uncontrollably with scabs and such and chain smoking comes to mind. The truth is quite different but nonetheless still problematic. Neurosis appears in every manifestation of daily life, yet we know so little about it.
The truth is neurosis is about as normal as the common cold. Everyone is neurotic in some way. Neurosis is an umbrella over which we include: worry, anxiety, panic, compulsive behaviors, nervousness, or existential angst. It can be related to obsessive compulsive illness, phobias, and fears of all sorts. Words like unstable, unbalanced, and maladjusted can fit into what we call neurosis. So with that in mind, we plod along in our lives afraid that we may be a secret neurotic. We are supposed to be stand-alone creatures who are unafraid and stalwart in the face of any adversity.
We live in a culture that drives neurosis through a myriad of pressures. We pride ourselves on being self-sufficient which ultimately creates the neurotic cocktail of “Just get over it, pull yourself together, get on with it, just do it, stop whining, be strong, live hard die young, go your own way” you name it we have a neurosis building slogan for it. For men, there is the constant stress of living up to these ideals and always seemingly failing at every turn. Thanks to liberation women are working full-time jobs, taking care of children, being social, and working out the difficulties of being married or in a relationship while juggling workouts and friends. No wonder there are a ton of anti-depressants, Ativan, Xanax, Valium, and God forbid drugs of all sorts and varieties to take care of almost any kind of unhappiness, anxiety and yes, you guessed it neurosis.
Normal neurotics can be found worrying about countless things like terrorism or whether there will be another recession, the invasion of the body snatchers, or if their friends still like them. People who have money are terrified of losing it or the government will take it away. So in spite of how self-sufficient we are supposed to be there seems to be a credibility gap between our cultural ideal and the real deal.
The depiction that I like to use to describe the way neurosis or anxiety or panic feels is like a psychological fantasy that the shadow of Godzilla is approaching from around the corner and all we hear are the footsteps. Thump, thump goes our heart. Neurosis is kind of like a pulsing knot in our stomach and chest with a twist of fear that can be at times unrelenting and uncomfortable. Neurosis naturally follows from our national pastime of intense competition, the pressure to be perfect or special, do something with our lives, and of course, make a ton of money along the way. It sounds like Godzilla to me.
So with all this neurosis around us, how do we cope with the new normal? Instead of slamming a ton of drugs and alcohol down our systems which does not seem to be a long term fix, we might just find some other diversions that can give us a chance to cool our jets and relax. Being mindful, taking time to unwind, like actually sitting quietly, talking to a good friend or meditative activities can be better long term solutions. The critical skill with all neurosis is the ability to self-regulate or self soothe to neutralize worry, fear, phobia, or panic. The truth is most people don’t take the time to let their body do what it knows how to do. So what are we left with? Well, good old psychotherapy, building supportive relationships, and learning how to build healthy coping skills might be an excellent start. Certainly, pulling the proverbial wool over our eyes is not the answer.
So, as the travails of life mount up and we are struck with how there is no cure for life or how completely difficult life actually is for everyone and I mean everyone let us stop for just a second and come to grips with the fact that neurosis is part of the deal. The trick is to face it head-on and learn how to bring it down to a manageable level before we slog down that third martini or pop yet another pill. Neurotic is the new normal but it doesn’t have to tilt the board so we have to be comatose to get through our day.
First Published in the Huffington Post UK