Gloominous Doom

Apr 29, 2008

I have learned the name of my Nameless Anxiety.

That's what I've been calling this creeping feeling that I get, the certainty that I've forgotten something important, the worry over things out of my control, the knot at the pit of my stomach that appears for no reason at all. The result of spending too much time with my own brain and not enough with anyone else's.

It's a hard feeling to dispel, when you place a lot of faith in your own intuitions. The difference between Nameless Anxiety and intuition is actually pretty stark most of the time, but a part and parcel of the Nameless Anxiety is a little voice that says that ignoring this feeling is just wishful thinking, pretending that my fears aren't true. Even with the little voice I can usually distinguish between that and proper intuitions. But the voice is still there.

In Faerie to know the name of something is to have power over it. I actually just finished reading a book on the subject; The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz. Dr Schwartz, trying to find a treatment for OCD that didn't rely on drugs or on traumatizing the patient out of their obsessions, found an answer rooted in the Buddhist philosophy of mindfulness. He taught his patients to recognize that their compulsions came not from their selves but from faulty brain wiring, to name OCD thoughts as OCD thoughts instead of as truths about the world, and to act on these thoughts by specifically turning their minds to something else and doing something more productive. It worked, to the tune of producing brain changes demonstrable by MRI, and he cites similar treatments working similarly well for sufferers of clinical depression. To know the name of a thing, even of a thought, is the first step toward binding it, or banishing it.

"Don't be ridiculous," I told my Nameless Anxiety -- the Gloominous Doom, and isn't that a ridiculous name -- "there are three more days in April, the papers from the grad school are not late yet. It doesn't matter if you miss your first bus this evening, you don't have a curfew. Your landlord thinks you're awesome and will not throw a fit about something that you did not break in the first place. And what do you really have to be worried about, anyway?" And he looked at me with sad, fishy eyes and slunk away.

image by Brian Froud

A quick link, and a ...something

Apr 19, 2008
I found this post linked from a political blog today, and I really think it ought to be required reading for everyone; it expresses eloquently many things I've been thinking about religion in the news lately. (Those would be the small, "bad" religious things; not the big, "political" religious things. The things I think about having a "Presidential Candidates Forum On Faith" are really not suited to public airing.)

It's spring, and I've been reading more, thinking more, and writing less. I'm not sure if it's an aspect of depression, this form of uncertainty that makes me unwilling to post freely about my own opinions, or if it's just part of the cycle of things that I have to absorb a lot before I can put myself out there again. At any rate, know that I've not abandoned this blog, and I'm still reading other peoples' writing, I just...don't have a lot to say at the moment.

Not like I have an answer or anything.

Apr 2, 2008
This weekend the news was all full of the story of an eleven-year-old Wisconsin girl who died of diabetes, untreated by traditional medicine because her parents were Christian Scientists and believed in healing through prayer. They were discussing it on NPR the other morning -- with a pediatrician as a guest, possibly not the best choice there guys -- making this the second NPR show in a month I've had to turn off to make the stupid go away.

Stories like this make me hugely uncomfortable, and it's hard to explain why without people assuming that I think parents have the right to abuse their children in the name of religious freedom, which I don't. By the gods, who would?; children don't get to pick their parents' religion, and there are some things that just cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

But not taking a child to a medical doctor isn't abuse. It is neglect, although it's also worth noting that it's entirely legal in the state of Wisconsin to rely on prayer instead of medical attention. Mostly what this is is a violation of social norms: our society places an extremely high value on medical science and a relatively low one on the efficacy of prayer, and when presented with people who not only feel otherwise but act as if their beliefs are really true, there's a bit of an outcry.

I'm not saying the values of our society holds about healing are arbitrary; they're supported by a good deal of experience and trial-and-error. They're also values I agree with and support myself. It's not so much that I'm on the side of the Christian Scientists as that I'm put off by the people who are against them. The NPR callers were going on about how irrational this decision was, how it showed a lack of common sense. Look, people. Their daughter died. I doubt that they didn't consider the possibility. Maybe they have a different definition of common sense.

I don't want to dismiss the fact that this isn't just a theological dispute but one that has -- had -- very real consequences, but that's part of what gets under my skin. Why is it that so few theological disputes do have consequences? And I definitely don't want to make it a noble-sounding thing to let your child die of diabetes; there's an air of martyrdom that can creep into the discussion there. I just don't find the parents' decision particularly irrational.

All it is, is here's a minority religious group with some fringe beliefs (and some very mainstream ones; they are Christian Scientists after all) that a lot of people, myself included, believe ought to be legally prevented from following all the tenets of their religion. And that makes me uncomfortable.