Anxiety and the Art of Asking

“Ask and you shall receive.” That seems to be the core message of Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking. Whilst Palmer applies this logic to the world of funding in the increasingly crowd-sourced arts scene, though, my challenge is to do with anxiety, and the world of near-constant fear my life is suspended in.

That is not to undermine Amanda Palmer. I have the Vegemite Song on my iPod, and on rainy days, her bright ukulele cuts through the grey fog of life and makes it all a little more charming. Whilst I haven’t yet read her book, beloved by so many (if my Twitter feed is anything to go by), the internet provides enough of a blurb to add it to my bucket list, and make a not entirely tenuous connection here.

Palmer asks for what she wants — a novel and precocious concept, in an industry peppered with high-faluting dreams and low expectations. And now, too, must I — but the peace of mind I’m asking for is a nebulous concept at best, and the people I am asking simultaneously bear no responsibility, yet hold the weight of my emotional future — and stability — in their palms.

Sometimes it’s the small things — nipping the daily niggles of anxiety in the bud. Do you like me? I ask. Are we friends? I feel I might have upset you. Strung together with passive, convoluted sentences that put the moment of admission off to the very last second,my questions are usually answered with patience, kindness, encouragement, even; I had one person recently tell me my forthcoming approach was “refreshing.” I was grateful; but I also wanted to sneer. Refreshing? Try exhausting.

“To understand, I had to ask; but the art of asking is a painful thing.”

The worst was a recent confession of romantic feelings I had been harbouring for around four months. It was just a crush; but my obsession over its potential consequences had me fixated on rigorous over-analysis, and it was killing me. My frustration was amplified by knowing that I do understand people — the intricacies of their feelings, the little things they try to hide — with somewhat alarming perception. I’ve been told repeatedly that I seem to have a door into someone’s brain, and even suffered altercations over my unwitting violation of their private headspace; it’s a talent I can’t control. But when it comes to understanding how people see me, it ties itself in knots. Like a mirror facing a mirror, there are endless reflections, cascading possibilities beyond sight. Everything has meaning, but with so much to interpret, it becomes meaningless. To understand, I had to ask; but the art of asking is a painful thing.

In the end, I barely told her how I felt. I urinated four times in the space of an hour, explaining the minutiae of anxiety by way of context before sputtering a perfunctory admission into my teacup. She didn’t scream or cry, possibilities I had factored into my prediction of how this terrible confession would turn out. We strolled into town, me in a stupor, her making unsure attempts to rouse me from the post-traumatic, surreal state of mind the whole affair had plunged me into. We’re still friends, if her repeated patience with my anxiety-ridden questions is to be believed, and the crush is burning itself out. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Perhaps it is refreshing to see someone asking hard questions such as these; it must be unusual to know precisely where you stand with someone, if only because they enunciate every syllable of feeling. And it does alleviate the stress of wondering, of weighing the indications of tone and facial expressions and gestures against one another in order to come to some consensus on my worth to another human being based on a version of logic that is beyond recognition to most, anxiety-free people. But these questions are so hard to ask; and the more often I play this refreshing gambit, the more likely it is I won’t be met with patience and acceptance.

I will ask, and I will receive; but I can’t predict what response I might be given. And therein lies one of many fears.

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