The Comfort of Artificial Anxiety 

The funny thing about growing up with anxiety is that you don’t realize you had anxiety until you’re done growing up. That was my experience at least. Living in a consistent state of intense nervousness, it was hard to ever acknowledge that what I was feeling was out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until I got to college and started to become overwhelmed by things that my friends wouldn’t think twice about that I realized my restless stress might have been an anxiety disorder. Needless to say, that was the case, and I have had the last year and a half to find my own way to navigate my condition. To be frank, it hasn’t been easy. To be even more frank, it’s been hell. A global pandemic doesn’t offer the opportunity for much respite or answers beyond the confines of my room, so learning more about my anxiety in a real world capacity has been nigh impossible. Still, I am incrementally learning more and more about how to manage this. Unsurprisingly, at least if you know me or have read some of my blogs, the one consistent method for making me shake a little bit of my anxiety is by watching films. 

But not just any films. The films that really help me escape from the dread prevalent in my anxiety are films that, well, make me feel anxious. Whenever I can think about film experiences that truly made me escape my state of mind and lose any sense of lingering restlessness, I think about films that have replaced my real-life anxiety with that of the world. I think of Uncut Gems (dir. Benny and Josh Safide, 2019) or Sorcerer (dir. William Friedkin, 1977). I think of The Trial (dir. Orson Welles, 1962) or The Thing (dir. John Carpenter, 1982).  

Why is that? Why do I feel a sense of comfort from something that is giving me the same feelings that I am trying to evade from the moment I wake up in the morning? Well, that’s sort of a complex answer, but I have ideas. I don’t want to get too far into the “psychoanalyzing myself in a public forum” rabbit hole, but I think it can be boiled down into the idea of escapism and the experience of temporary stakes. When I sit down to watch a film, especially in a theater, I can usually acknowledge that I am going to be sucked into that world for the next two hours. Now that I’m sucked in, I can be absorbed into the characters or their plot, living their stakes as an extension of my own. This allows me to remove the dread of my own experience from the equation, giving me the chance to experience anxiety as an artificial commodity instead of as my waking, corporeal experience. It’s like skydiving. You feel the rush of freefalling, but without the fear of consequence. 

The commodification of anxiety has not only helped me escape my own anxiety, it has also helped me understand those feelings a little bit more. Hell, me sitting here writing this has helped me understand my feelings a bit more. It’s a step-by-step process. A little bit more knowledge each day. The funny thing about figuring out you have an anxiety disorder in your early twenties is that you can’t figure it all out in your early twenties. But film can help.