My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in heaven, and he will not console me….
Not that long ago I felt the constant need to throw up after every meal –it was something I wasn’t able to control anymore– and I was taken to see a specialist who asked me to write down how I felt during these situations. “My body feels insecure, uncomfortable, and shaky … the only way to calm it down is by placing my finger behind my throat,” I wrote. He then diagnosed me with anxiety. This prompted me to do more research about the inner turmoil that takes on many forms and hunts many minds. I looked for more descriptions about how people felt during these moment and I came across the many existentialist descriptions written by Dutch philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Nothing made me reflect more about my existence and problem like his quotes and his metaphoric play of words, which are healing to read. Here are some of them:
Anxiety may be compared with dizziness. He whose eye happens to look down the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down.
When I first read this quote, I felt empathy. He is considered to be the first existentialist philosopher and probably the first one to write about his problems with anxiety. Those who have experienced the effects of this mental issue and have channelled it through their bodies, have a hard time coming up with the right words to describe it. Yet, Kierkegaard summarizes this for us with a description that is too relatable to be questioned.
Hence, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into its own possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself.
I believe in this quote Kierkegaard is trying to explain how anxiety restricts us from being who we truly are. There are instances when people freeze, become paralyzed, and even mute under stressful situations. These are some of the many effects of anxiety, which turns us into outcasts and we are labelled shy and timid.
Anxiety is a qualification of dreaming spirit, and as such it has its place in psychology. Awake, the difference between myself and my other is posited; sleeping, it is suspended; dreaming, it is an intimated nothing.
Kierkegaard wrote this quote in his published book, The Concept of Anxiety in 1844. In it, he analyses the sensations of anxiety through metaphors and analogies. His writing style is sometimes ironic and here we realize that anxiety splits the soul into two, the one we cling to and believe forms part of our selves and the other is an intruder.
Anxiety can just as well express itself by muteness as by a scream.
There’s so much truth in this quote. While anxiety can be easily detected when an individual is showing the obvious symptoms of an attack (an uncontrollable energy rush, dizziness, sweat, nervousness, etc.), the effects of anxiety can also be silent and often overlooked.
If man were a beast or an angel, he would not be able to be in anxiety. Since he is both beast and angel, he can be in anxiety, and the greater the anxiety, the greater the man
In his existentialist way of writing, Kierkegaard points out that mankind oscillates between two natures, the angelic and the beastly. One moment you may be kind and thoughtful and the next you might be rash or aggressive. These sudden changes cause ripples in people and affect the tranquility and peace of others, triggering more anxiety.
Anxiety can be replaced only by the freedom whose harsh requirements are its cause.
In this paradoxical quote, the philosopher examines the irony of living free without anxiety. He says that in order to become fully free from the sensations that trouble us, we must live through these same anxiety triggers to experience freedom. But how? His paradox is as ironic as the troubling feeling itself.
Being free requires us to release the brakes that anxiety represents in order to accept and appropriate our proper spiritual fulfillment or perhaps even to recognize, if that is what we in the end believe, that no such prospect is in store.
Learning how to accept anxiety as a part of our lives and overcome its challenges from an existential, yet spiritual, point of view; is what Kierkegaard is suggesting we do. Perhaps we were given this sensation for a reason, and perhaps our fate is the solution to the problem. Regardless of that, we must be optimistic when facing anxiety and not allow it to interfere in our search for happiness.
Kierkegaard wrote about many subjects, like religion, ethics, morality, etc. But he also analyzed life as a "single individual" and saw the importance of personal choice, as well as commitment. In 1843, he wrote a book under the pseudonym of Johannes de Silentio, and talked about a young boy who struggled with anxiety and depression. He has been pivotal in understanding the symptoms of anxiety and its links to psychology. To think a couple centuries later his paragraphs would still sympathize with many people facing the same problems.
You might like: