Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anxiety and NaNoWriMo 2011

Anxiety, which can encompass an entire spectrum from apprehension and uneasiness to complete self-doubt about one's own ability to cope with a perceived threat, comes from the Latin anxietas, which basically means the same thing. Someone who has anxiety is said to be anxious,

Ambrose Bierce. Portrait by J.H.E. Partington.Ambrose Bierce
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But you can also be anxious if you're just very eager. This is one of those "disputed" usages. Many grammarians will swear up and down that anxious cannot and should not be used to mean eager, but a closer look at where this proscription comes from reveals some surprising facts.

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (pp.101-104), the proscription against using anxious to mean eager started in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. This "rule" first appeared in print in "The Black List" in Write It Right, from that curmudgeonliest of grammar curmudgeons, Ambrose Bierce, though his explanation is unexpected:
Anxious for Eager. "I was anxious to go." Anxious should not be followed by an infinitive. Anxiety is contemplative; eagerness, alert for action.
No other source bears out the idea that anxious shouldn't be followed by an infinitive, and before Bierce, using anxious to mean eager wasn't uncommon, especially in Great Britain.
  • From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, published in 1814: "We are not rich enough or grand enough for them; and she is the more anxious to get Miss Darcy for her brother, from the notion that when there has been one intermarriage, she may have less trouble in achieving a second . . . "
  • From Lord Byron's "Don Juan," the first cantos of which were published in 1819: "His manner was perhaps the more seductive, / Because he n'er seemed anxious to seduce . . . "
  • From Anthony Trollope's The Macdermots of Ballycloran, published in 1847: "[Mr. Webb] was, moreover, a kind-hearted landlord — ever anxious to ameliorate the condition of the poor — and by no means greedy after money, though he was neither very opulent nor very economical."
Perhaps more common than anxious as eager is a sort of middle ground indicating excitement and worry, but without the dread or uneasiness:
  • From Sense and Sensibility (1811): "He had just compunction enough for having done nothing for his sisters himself, to be exceedingly anxious that everybody else should do a great deal . . . "
  • From A Tale of Two Cities (1859): "Defarge gave into his anxious hand, an open scrap of paper. It bore the words in the Doctor's writing. . ."
  • From Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett (1908): "'Oh, but you must tell me, doctor,' Constance insisted, anxious that he should live up to his reputation for Sophia's benefit."
True, using anxious in the sense of anxiety is by far the most common, but anyone who says that anxious can't ever mean "eager" has two centuries of literature from careful writers to contend with.

The history of and controversy about anxiety and anxious isn't really all that interesting -- at least, it didn't seem that way when I started writing this. I bring it up for another, personal reason, though. The word nerd portion of this post is finished. After the break is a more personal look at what anxiety is to me.

I decided to write about the word anxiety because I have anxiety disorder, and it has unfortunately been a big part of my life recently.

I had my first anxiety attacks about five years ago,* and until recently, I thought I had it under control. But it has been creeping back into my life inch by inch since school started up again. I had two small panic attacks in the middle of my last performance with the Indiana Wind Symphony in September. Because I knew what what was happening, it was easier for me to just ride it out (knowledge is power), but it didn't help my concentration any. They were also easy to write off as a lack of food.

But last Friday, it really hit me. Hard. The combination of anxiety, depression, general stress, and lack of sleep combined to completely wipe me out. I was fine through lunch, but then it went downhill: By 3:00, I had absolutely no energy, I couldn't concentrate, my stomach hurt, and I was jittery. (If you've ever taken a nighttime cold medicine, you know approximately how I felt.)

It felt so weird and so intense that I was sure it wasn't just anxiety — that my anxiety problems were masking the real illness. So I went to the nearby MedCheck, certain that there was something more serious attacking my body — a virus, diabetes, food poisoning, something.

They took my vitals, blood, and urine but couldn't find anything physically wrong with me. But the good doctor did start me back up on an antidepressant that has worked for me in the past.

Things didn't get better immediately — they even got a little worse. I spent most of Saturday either laid out in bed or curled up on the couch. I managed some editing Sunday night. I made it through work Monday, but I didn't get any sort of appetite back until Monday night.

And now, I'm just starting to feel normal enough to write about it.

And that's the big reason why I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. Last year, I managed to put down about 30,000 words, which turned out to be the first half of a novel that I still need to finish. But now, with my anxiety problems on the rise, I really shouldn't be adding stressors to my life. So, no NaNoWriMo for me this year.

I do, however, recommend NaNoWriMo to any struggling writer or aspiring novelist.

But there's also another reason why I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year: I have another book idea that I want to work on based on the types of things I put on this blog, taking the No out of NaNoWriMo. But I don't want to elaborate much until I actually have a few thousands words put together.

* If you're interested, you can read about my first experiences with anxiety and panic attacks here.
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