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The Alien Nature of Anxiety, Loving Your Customers, & Measuring Time (Reading Notes 6.21.18)

Resource: Little Panic: A Literary Laboratory Exploring What It Is Like to Live in the Stranglehold of Anxiety and What It Takes to Break Free


We all experience our humanity in different ways. There is not only no one right way to be human, but there is also no way to be human period. We all have unique ways of process experience. This uniqueness is compounded by mental illness.

Many popular understandings of mental illness still presuppose a kind of Cartesian Dualism where we treat the body and the mind as two separate things. This way of looking at things overlooks the important insights that come from seeing cognition as an embodied phenomenon.

Having a label for something, an official diagnosis can be helpful. It can help concretize and make sense out of a bunch of seemingly disparate and randome emotional experiences.

A common fear that unites us all is the fear that there’s one right way to be a human being an we’re getting it wrong.


On mental illness & the different ways of being human:

“There are innumerable ways of being human — we each experience life and reality in radically different ways merely by our way of seeing, but these differences are accentuated to an extreme when mental illness alters the elemental interiority of a consciousness.”

On the erroneous duality inherent in how we think about mental health versus physical health:

“The grave paradox of mental illness and mental health is that, despite what we now know about how profoundly our emotions affect our physical wellbeing, these terms sever the head from the body — the physical body and the emotional body.”

How anxiety interferes with present-moment-awareness:

“Perhaps the most savaging aspect of anxiety is how it kidnaps its victims from the present moment and hurls them into the dungeon of a dread-filled future.”

Amanda Stern on how differently life shows up for her due to anxiety:

“When people try to explain that uptown is not far, or that a weekend isn’t long, it makes me feel worse, more afraid that my worries are right, and that the world I live in is different from the world everyone else lives in. That means I’m different, something I don’t want other people to figure out about me. Something is wrong inside me; I’ve always known that, but I don’t want anyone to ever see that I’m not the same as they are.”

Amanda Stern on being perplexed over the right way to be:

“There is a way to be and I’m not being it, and I don’t know how to change. Is there someone I should be the exact copy of, and they’ve forgotten to introduce me? Or maybe a person is supposed to be a fact, like an answer that doesn’t change, and I’m more like an opinion, which the world doesn’t want?”

“Is this what real life is then? An endless effort to match the story of yourself someone else tells?”

Amanda Stern on the sense of solidity that came from being officially diagnosed:

“I feel weirdly solid, like I’m a valid human being. I didn’t even realize my feelings were categorizable as symptoms. Panic disorder. The air is softer, expansive, as though the world has suddenly opened and is unfolding every opportunity my panic had once ruled out. Every single thing in my life now makes perfect sense: the connections I couldn’t bridge; the choices I couldn’t make; the strange switches the natural world and all its sunsets turned on and off in me.”

Stern on having survived many fears:

“Over my life I’ve worried so much and feared so many things, and though many of those things actually happened, here I am, still alive, having survived what I thought I couldn’t. I didn’t turn out the way I thought I would: I didn’t get married and I didn’t have kids, and the not-having didn’t kill me either.”

On how anxiety orders, when left unattended, spill over into other areas of life:

“Left untreated, anxiety disorders, like fingernails, grow with a person. The longer they go untended, the more mangled and painful they become. Often, they spiral, straight out of control, splitting and splintering into other disorders, like depression, social anxiety, agoraphobia. A merry-go-round of features we rise and fall upon. Separation anxiety handicaps its captors, preventing them from leaving bad relationships, moving far from home, going on trips, to parties, applying for jobs, having children, getting married, seeing friends, or falling asleep. Some people are so crippled by their anxiety they have panic attacks in anticipation of having a panic attack.”

On managing anxiety in a social world:

“I’ve grown so expert at hiding them, most people would never even know that I’m suffering. How, after all, do you explain that a restaurant’s decision to dim their lights swelled your throat shut, and that’s why you must leave immediately, not just the restaurant, but the neighborhood? If you cannot point to something, then it is invisible. Like a cult leader, anxiety traps you and convinces you that you’re the only one it sees.”

How human life begins as another person’s story:

“For better or worse, we can only teach others what we understand… Each person begins, after all, as a story other people tell. And when we fall outside the confines of our common standards, we will assume our deficits define us.”

The terrible truth that binds us all:

“My fear and my conviction were the same: that I was the flaw in the universe; the wrongly circled letter in our multiple-choice world. This terrible truth binds us all: fear there’s a single, unattainable, correct way to be human.”

Resource: Do you love your customers?


Love your customers, not just the money they pay you.

Optimize for great long-term relationships with your customer over short-term profits.


“I think it’s fascinating to note that some of the most successful organizations of our time got there by focusing obsessively on service, viewing compensation as an afterthought or a side effect. As marketing gets more and more expensive, it turns out that caring for people is a useful shortcut to trust, which leads to all the other things that a growing organization seeks. Your customers can tell.”

Resource: How long is now?


How we measure time is essential for how we monitor progress. Lots of things are happening now, but they’re happening at a scale that’s big or small for us to notice in the present moment. Tiny and undectable changes in the present can lead to massively good or dramatically bad results in the future. What are your tiny happenings and how are they affecting your trajectory?


“Often, people who are happier or more effective than we are are merely seeing things in a different (and more appropriate) time window.”

“Yes, that dog is moving, but not that tree. Plants don’t move. Well, yes, they actually do. Trees grow and then they decay. It’s just that we can’t see it happening now. It happens over a longer span. Which means it is happening now, just not in a way that matches our frame.”

“Getting our time scale right is essential. It affects how we perceive the growth of our organization, or the changes in our planet. It changes the way we invest in education and how we react or respond to the news media.”

“ Dash’s Twitch: It turns out that the insanely stressful ticker that the New York Times had on their home page on election night, the one that kept flicking back and forth, taunting everyone who saw it, was actually using “real-time” data that only updated a few times a minute. Which means that the twitch was faked. Yes, the data was moving over time, but it wasn’t moving now. If our now gets short enough, everything is a twitch. And twitches, while engaging, aren’t particularly useful or productive.”

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