An Allegory for Anxiety

In the opening chapter of Por Vidaa survivor of the MX Invasion blows the head off a synthetic killing machine with a high-powered rifle. Later, a character uses virtual reality to plan an incursion into a heavily fortified office building. Technological wonders pervade the novel, but they are merely a smokescreen for the real issues hiding underneath.

I developed social anxiety in high school. As a military brat, we moved often, so I was constantly exposed to new faces and environments. Fortunately, most military bases abroad are small, and the population of dependent children even smaller. My anxiety manifested as antisocial behavior and stayed that way until college.

At the University of Texas, everything changed. My anxiety graduated to physical symptoms. When you grow up in a high school of 400 people and are suddenly thrust onto a campus with 50,000, any anxiety you might have felt can be similarly multiplied. Throughout college and for many years following, I did nothing about it. No doctors. No pills. To me, it was just who I was.

Then I met Dom. She simply refused to see the world the way I saw it: dangerous, judgmental, to be avoided. She encouraged me to seek counseling. She dismissed the stigma of medication. 

Everything changed after that.

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Social anxiety is an interesting condition, especially when it manifests itself physically. Just like being afraid of heights, new situations and new people can make me physically ill. My stomach tightens, I sweat, I stammer... it spirals pretty quickly.

Once I started treating my anxiety with medication, all of those physical symptoms went away (or were greatly diminished), and I was amazed to discover how much they were feeding into the anxiety attack cycle. It prompted the question: is social anxiety purely biological?

Only one main character from my previous novel Perion Synthetics was able to transfer into a synthetic body, and because it was towards the end of the story, I didn't get to explore what it meant to go from an organic body to a synthetic one. Since then, and coupled with my own transformation, I've been considering new questions about the nature of certain abstracts: 

  • anxiety, depression, mania, etc.
  • sexual orientation
  • love, hate, anger

Are these purely biological impulses? Would transferring to a synthetic body suppress them the way medication does (anxiety/depression/etc, not sexual orientation or love, unless there's a love drug I don't know about)?

To answer these questions, I began Por Vida with a character (Sepideh Ahmadi) who is socially anxious and sexually attracted to her own gender. Neither of these qualities are extraordinary on their own, but once Sepideh transfers into a synthetic body, there's debate as to whether her anxiety and orientation transfer over.

For that particular answer, you'll have to read the book, but generally speaking, suppose they didn't transfer overwhat would that mean for her relationship?

Without Dom, I never would have broken free from the shackles of social anxiety. With her, I've finally taken vacations, gone to concerts, and more or less reinserted myself into the world. I still struggle with social anxiety; the meds only do so much and I don't want to be on them forever. It's something I want to overcome, but to do that, I rely heavily on her.

Similarly, Sepideh relies on her girlfriend Natasha. It's one of the many ways they need each other. Tragically for them, it might be the main reason they need each other: Sepideh needs someone to help her cope, Natasha needs someone to take care of. So if Sepideh's anxiety is cured by transferring to a synthetic body, will she still need Natasha?

Luckily, my relationship with Dom is richer than the oversimplified relationship between Sepideh and Natasha, but the emotional content is the same. If you've ever asked yourself, however flippantly, will I still need her if I get better or will she still need me if I get better, then you know what I'm talking about.

If you've never felt that, then I encourage you to read Por Vida. I've written a story to share the emotions I've felt dealing with social anxiety and all of the fallout that comes with it. Judging by the posts I see on Facebook, I know some of you struggle with it as well, even if you don't realize or want to admit it.

And if you are, please seek out a counselor. Try some meds. Read books about people with similar experiences. Or write your own book, like I did.

There are so many things in the world that can go wrong: an international conglomerate destroying the Internet, synthetic soldiers invading the US, peer-to-peer mesh networks infecting our brains with malware. Don't let your body imprison you. Break free. Like Sepideh and Natasha.

I hope this insight gives you a little appreciation for what appears, superficially, to be just another Science Fiction Cyberpunk-wannabe story about robots and explosions.

Just like the blank looks and fake smiles you see out there in the scary, scary world, there's always more below the surface.