Coming Out of Hiding


fear cycle 2014

We are all, I believe, suffering from Civilization Disease, struggling in varying ways and to varying degrees to cope physically, emotionally and psychologically with the stress, anxiety, violence, trauma, brutality, coercion, and the sheer unnaturalness of our global industrial civilization culture.

We are not meant to live this way, and we are all trying, I think, in our own ways to heal from this culture’s incessant horrors, and longing for what we have lost: a simple, connected, joyful, peaceful, leisurely, cooperative, natural way of living.

My way of coping, since I began suffering from the chronic stress-induced illness called ulcerative colitis, has been to try to avoid stress and anxiety altogether, and to avoid situations that trigger my long list of deep-seated fears: The fear of being trapped (physically or emotionally), the fear of injury, pain, deprivation, illness, manipulation, disrespect, humiliation, or harsh criticism, the fear of causing loved ones’ suffering (and inability to help/cope with that suffering), the fear of failure and of being disappointing or ordinary, the fear of loss of self, safety or capacity, and even the fear of nature.

These are ancient fears and anxieties, rooted in a lifetime of (often subtle) hurts, (often unintentional) abuses and pain that I suspect nearly all of us have suffered. Because our bodies were designed to respond to simple fight-or-flight fears, while the new ones are chronic, complex and interconnected, we are genetically and physically ill-equipped to deal with the cycles of endless and recurring anxiety, fear, trauma and grief (depicted in the graphic above) that are endemic in modern society. Hence, Civilization Disease and the staggering toll of violence, neglect and suffering it has wrought. We are all doing the best we can, and yet the disease grows ever worse.

This past month, I have faced the greatest stresses since my retirement nearly five years ago. I will spare you the details for now, since some issues are still ongoing. Suffice to say I have not handled it well. I am out of practice coping with stress and hence am even worse at handling it than I was when I was working and dealing with it every day. I have been physically ill, exhausted, depressed, and feeling crushed by my helplessness to avoid, resolve and prevent crises that bring out the worst in me, to the point of incapacitating me. On the outside, I am dealing with stress better, more usefully and calmly, but inside I’m a mess.

I think I am finally learning that my goal of avoiding stress and anxiety is an absurd one. Life doesn’t work that way. I’m realizing that the things I keep saying I aspire to in my personal healing journey  — the intoxications of love, lust and tropical warmth — are just escapism, distractions that are actually preventing me from living fully, presently in the real world, and learning to cope effectively with and self-adapt to the inevitable changes and crises that we all face and that no one can hope to predict or avoid.

A life driven by aversion rather than intention is a shadow of a life. It’s time for me to come out of hiding.

But I don’t know how. I have some guesses, though. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to lean on and trust others. I’m guessing I’m going to have to find ways to reduce my dependence on centralized systems, which are increasingly fragile and dysfunctional — notably our teetering and unreliable health care, security, legal, financial and technological systems.

I’m guessing I’m going to have to learn to be grateful, more fully inhabiting and treasuring joyful moments, and to let go of the desire for and illusion of control and safety, and the belief that crises and predicaments can somehow be prevented or ‘fixed’. I’m guessing that I’m going to have to learn to be more self-aware that my anxieties and fears stem from ancient fight-or-flight responses, ill suited to the world in which we live today, and when they arise, acknowledge them, respect them, breathe, and try to work around them.

I’m guessing that my newly-learned habit of asking myself, in times of anxiety, to think about how I might look back on this situation five years from now, to put things in perspective, will continue to be a useful one.

But all of this is hard for me. It runs counter to my instincts and is impeded by my pessimism, my distrust of people I don’t know well, my “you can do anything you set out to do” upbringing, my lack of presence, and my long-standing means of self-protection.

So while I’ve received a wake-up call, I’m still groggy, unprepared, aching to go back to the warmth and comfort of sleep. I have the sense I’m on the threshold of a great shift in my life, and that this shift will be a positive one. But I’m reluctant, even now, to give up this foolish stand and move forward. Scared. But here I go.


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15 Responses to Coming Out of Hiding

  1. Sue says:

    Oh boy. Can I ever relate to this. I am at the same sort of space – of recognizing I need to find better ways of managing my chronic illness, and that they will sometimes include “No” and that that no is not avoidance but necessity. And that that’s okay. So much of my stress and anxiety comes from feeling stressed and anxious about how other people will perceive me not doing much. What a mess, eh? My mantra has been a reminder – “what other people think of me is none of my business”. And the new one just over the last week is, “it’s not what happens, it’s how you respond to it.”

    But what happens on those days when you are feeling super fragile and you go out into the world and you can just about see the curling sneers of people who see you simply as an object in the way of their desire? I haven’t worked out yet how to hold myself safe in those spaces when I feel so unsafe myself. My first instinct is to run and hide away from these people who seem like living zombies

    Oh, for a few extra layers of skin, bought in a roll off eBay! :)

    But also that Thanks for posting.

  2. Sean says:

    Hey Dave,
    As I read your post I could not help but think about the Kleshas, the five afflictions described by Patanjali. They are ignorance, fear, ego, aversion and desire.
    Personally I have found them a great “window” through which to analyse, and then heal, both my self and the world at large.
    Take care

  3. Paul Heft says:

    As you suggest, putting things in perspective is key. I have trouble reconciling my belief that mostly my life is inconsequential (I have practically no effect as an individual), with my longer-held belief that the Story of Me is critically important–as Adyashanti chides, What would the universe do without me?!

    Which perspective is more appropriate? Guess I’m stuck here in the middle. Your stasis is probably different. May your wake-up call enable you to find a useful perspective and shift to a stance that feels true and more appropriate to this crazy world!

  4. Jan Steinman says:

    C’mon over to a different island for a while, Dave! We don’t have time for stress here!

    We’ve got 20 goats to care for, and due to poor hay (and admittedly, not enough time to check on them well), some of them are having a tough go of it this year. I hauled one kid, nearly dead, out of the goat shed and into the laundry room, force-fed her raw goat yogurt, and now she’s wobbily standing. Don’t know if she’ll make it before my roomies, whom I need because we can’t pay the mortgage without renting out rooms, rebel. I mean, really! Why should they object to wading through goat shit to do their laundry when I am trying to save a life? Anyway, I go feed her every couple hours. I’ve spoiled the damn doeling — she won’t eat unless I’m holding it! But she just might make it…

    Then there’s BC Hydro, who has disconnected me, then docked me nearly $3,000 for attempting to resist Smart Meters. Poof! There went almost the entire growing season’s profit, spending some 41 days in Saturday and Tuesday markets, smiling while hippie deadbeats sampled all our wares and left without buying anything, on to the next booth — I wonder how many calories they harvest that way… between that and the food bank, it sure seems like an easier living. (I actually see the people I rent rooms to taking food out from the food bank as I bring in our excess vegetables in!)

    I guess I don’t know how to pick my battles very well. But I have so many potential stressors competing for my attention, that I don’t have any time left to stress over them!

    Grow food. Harvest energy. Oh yea, a squirt full of tulsi tincture in my tea in the morning, sometimes several times, if it’s a rough day. (I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff, but tulsi is about the easiest adaptogen to grow!)

  5. Alex Smith says:

    While I can’t speak to Dave’s condition or situation in life, I can say my own life has improved greatly by moving out of the city.

    I’ve battled with chronic pain for years. There are a lot of factors to help with that, including things like a change of diet (I became a mostly vegetarian and prepared foods that are easier to digest); getting my sleep routine in better shape; walking every day; the usual stuff.

    But I also had some strange things happening, like skin cracking on the ends of my fingers and thumb (to the point of wearing bandages sometimes). Things with no apparent cause of cure.

    Those have disappeared completely since I left the big city. So have some of my paranoid fantasies of surviving the big crash, the need to lock up doors behind me at every move, a lot of things. I came to realize that even in my walks in the city, I was concerned those “driven” drivers might come up on the sidewalk and run me down (almost happened twice, and pedestrians are hit almost every day).

    Now with a garden, living near to a major food producing area, canning, and the eyesight of big hills and the sky every day, my health and mental health have improved (even though I still deal with horrible and frightening news every day for my radio show).

    I suppose I’m trying to find life on a scale that evolution designed us for. We were not born for the industrial civilization. It’s like living on the wrong planet.

  6. sunweb says:

    Dave – In 1968, while fishing on the causeway between Miami and Miami Beach, I had an epiphany. I had just finished a BS in anthropology and had studied psychology for many years (and went on later to get a degree, become licensed and practice for 20 years). I was looking at the skyline of Miami (boy I bet it has changed) and realized that it couldn’t go on. “Civilization” was asking too much of us. In 1972, Limits to Growth came out. Besides not being healthy for humans psychologically, sociologically or spiritually, we were creating an unsustainable, environmentally devastating world.
    Here is some of my path:

  7. sunweb says:

    Wrote this in 1998, it underscores my post above.
    Consider it this way. If humanity is seen as a person who is 100 years old, the first 99 years of her life would have been spent as gatherer and hunter. She would have only one year to adapt to the changes in family structure, living arrangements, child rearing and all the other pressures and stresses that the shift to agriculture brought. This same 100 year old person would have five or six days to adapt to the enormous changes brought about by the industrial revolution. And less than a day to adapt to the mass of information made available by electronics.
    Each adaptation moves us further away from the original social and physical environment of our emergence. Is it bad or wrong? This is not the criteria. There is no fault. Each accommodation comes from necessity and is the best we know at the time. At the leading edge of human history is an accumulation that expands and deepens the knowledge of our travels.

  8. Sean – I think I need to swing by and visit you and Linda for a dose of wisdom and healing ;-)

  9. Yes, this resonates muchly with me. So much to say on this topic, but way too little time! And I suffer the same syndrome as Sue whenever I take a step back from it all: “So much of my stress and anxiety comes from feeling stressed and anxious about how other people will perceive me not doing much.”

    Although I concluded that I’m so wrong on that it’s not funny – my actual experience is that when I step back others breathe a sigh of relief as they’re off the hook too!

    So, I’m cognitively aware of much that I’m getting wrong, but that’s one of those things that’s necessary but wildly insufficient. I still need to develop a suite of coping strategies (I mean *real* coping strategies – not the bypassing bollocks that passes for self-help these days), and scrambling though all the self-help bullshit out there to find quality information is an arduous task I wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially anyone who doesn’t have a background in psych (which thankfully I do).

    I chatted with Carolyn Baker about it (and I should probably have already pointed out that I think we all could benefit from therapy because our society is so toxic) and her take is that somatic experiencing may be more suitable – particularly for the collapse-aware – as it doesn’t try to re-frame anxieties like CBT does, or treat all sufferers as though they are insufficiently mindful, as the current mindfulness paradigm does. In my view, CBT is the psych industry’s guardian of the status quo, pathologizing the individual’s response to their toxic environment. And I once saw a therapist who said I was perhaps ‘too mindful’ – perhaps comes with the Overthinking territory – so mindfulness therapy would be of no service to me! Somatic experiencing seems more related to getting in tune with the body’s natural fight/flight/freeze responses. My own default response is ‘flight’, which I think speaks volumes about where to go next re: coping. I have to learn to stand my ground and fight in certain cases where I’m reluctant to – even though it can seem counter-intuitive from the point of view of self-preservation (there are plenty folks plenty stronger than me in so many ways).

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks to all the commenters and those who sent me e-mails privately about this post. Also thanks to all those here on Bowen Island who have helped me deal with the situation that gave rise to this realization, and are helping me figure out how to move forward. Not used to ‘needing’ support, and overwhelmed at how much I’ve been offered, unconditionally. Amazing what can happen when you have the courage and humility to just ask.

  11. Max says:

    It’s interesting that you take up the “fight or flight” scenario. I believe that you are in a constant flight mode. You have stated in your earlier texts that you gave up on being an environmental activist because it is pointless. You say that, for you, it is better to prepare for the inevitable end of humanity by accepting it while meditating naked on your porch under the moonlight.

    I think you have misunderstood one thing. It is self evident that humanity will eventually kick the bucket, we are to smart for our own good. But by laying down your sword and retreating to an island is the same as being on their side. By saying “it’s hopeless, so why bother”, is the same as changing sides in the battle of the Worlds future. It may have no difference at all. I totally agree that the problems are extremely complex and the course that humanity is heading on is impossible to change, but living according to the phrase “If a problem is too complex and too big, adapt to it and accept it” is the very cause to the problem of humanity. We legitimate our destructive actions by telling ourselves “I can’t change it anyways, so it doesn’t matter “.

    Just take a look at the indigenous peoples in the amazons. They are actively fighting against the state of Brazil and the oil companies that try to take their land through “REDD”, that is just another successful propaganda program the Oil companies can use to deforest the Amazon without anybody disturbing them. My point is, the indigenous peoples know on some level, that they are fucked. When you live on land that a multibillion dollar company wants, you know that they are going to get it. For fucks sake, the make the law, they own the governments. But they still fight. There is nothing else. Either you chose the ignorant side, or the fighting side. There is no such thing as being “above” all this, full enlightenment that relieves us from this reality. We are just creatures of nature, that think “we have it all figured out”, that mother nature eventually will get rid off.

    We must not forget what we are. Just food for the earth. We can chop down as much fortress’s as we want. We can build as cozy houses as we want where we can distract ourselves from the fact that the earth WILL demand that our body is laid back in the ground. So why not go out with dignity by respecting the cycle of life, fighting for the nature that keeps us alive. If nothing else, we can do it so the creatures that will study the human civilization in the future will know that we eventually realized what it all was about.

    (English is not my native thong, so this would sound much better in swedish)

  12. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Max: I think there is a difference between just accepting that we can’t stop civilization’s collapse (and in the long run it is for the best) and acquiescing to the atrocities that are being perpetrated in its final years. I’m totally behind those who fight against the corporatists with all their heart, and support them any way I can. But I acknowledge that I don’t have the constitution, at least not yet, to risk my personal security and even my life in that fight. That may change, if my sense of what is happening to me is right. I do tend to prefer flight to fight, but even worse I tend to choose the third “F” — freeze — to either. It may work well for possums, but it’s usually pretty dysfunctional in modern humans.

  13. Dave Young says:

    Reading all this – boy, am I glad I live in Africa!

  14. Living in gratitude, we release every fear, practice to do no harm, so that all beings can grow in peace, knowing love.

  15. Jim Meyers says:

    I am happy to have found your blog. I enjoy reading about your view of world. You have obviously given a tremendous amount of thought to human existence. I understand your feelings about the universal suffering in the world and I think those feelings can be a natural response for anyone who has an intimate understanding of their own mind and is somewhat educated about how the universe and how the earth’s inhabitants function. If we press the fast-forward button, utilizing the current level of knowledge, life ends in a blaze of suffering no matter what scenario we use.

    We may be suffering from Civilian Disease, but are there really more stressors today than any time in human existence? Currently there are many people on the planet who exist on the first two rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but for most of our history everyone existed on those lower levels as they tried to survive every minute of every day. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like having no access to medicine and worrying about being eaten by wild animals.

    You said we are not meant to live this way. There are many diverse opinions about how best to live, but I cannot comprehend “supposed to” in regard to life, because it implies someone is an authority. And I do not understand your comment about longing for what we have lost. For most of our existence we did not have time to think about anything but survival. The natural way of living was not a choice, being connected and cooperating was a method of survival, and peace and joy were most likely a product of having a full belly and surviving the night.

    Yes, nature will end humanity as we know it. You would think that the thought of our future demise and the natural disasters we experience every day would be enough suffering for everyone. Yet we inflict much more suffering upon ourselves. I think this is because many cultures have not satisfied their basic needs or hold on to misguided ideologies.
    Even if the world seems bad, I agree with Max’s earlier response to your post that giving up is not the answer. Why? Because we have a choice. Happiness is a choice. Trying to improve others by helping them climb the ladder is a choice. The choice of retreating and drawing the curtains does not make things better. We have forever lost the time spent inflicting upon ourselves unneeded suffering.

    The fact that you wrote this post, and have received such and outpouring of understanding and empathy with your personal situation, is evidence enough that there is a lot of good in the world. The human condition ultimately yearns for actualization and transcendence. Circumstance and time may not allow everyone to realize their full potential—but we can try.

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