When I was in pre-school, I had dreams of sliding down the fire pole like the big kids. They were graceful. Mature. Daring! I was definitely… not. But I was determined. So, one day, I summoned the courage to take the plunge.
I fell on my face, busted my lip and nearly lost some teeth.
But I remember going home that day pretty proud of myself for hurling my 4-year-old body off that edge. (Seems a little sadistic in retrospect but you get my drift.)
Strangely, I think about this incident often. Because that was probably the last day of my life that I wasn’t completely consumed with fear.
Fear has been my longest friend. My biggest motivator. My accountability-partner. My perfection-meter. It has driven me to make good grades and get the jobs. It has fueled my competitive nature and ambition.
It wasn’t until I was well into my 20s that this fear crystalized into a form of mental illness – the dynamic (and soul-sucking) duo – anxiety and depression. Super fun!
The last post I wrote here 3 years ago was really the beginning of what would be and probably will always be – a series of battles (and sometimes wars) with mental illness.
I read once that living with anxiety is like having a “disease of doubt.” The relentless questioning that paralyzes and manipulates reality. That supersedes all logic and reason despite all evidence to the contrary.
The things I have convinced myself to worry about would shock you! Some of them would make you laugh. Or cry. Depending on how you look at things… and some were so outrageous I couldn’t even believe I was thinking them.
For most of my life I have functioned as normal. Anxiety hanging in the back of my mind like a coat you don’t wear but can’t get rid of. But as I progressed through the tumultuous years of my twenties and spent half a decade working in news, managing it became more of a challenge. I needed help.
I’ve never subscribed to the notion that anxiety is just “there,” ready to pounce at random moments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there is some level of chemical imbalance in my brain that causes me to worry more than the average person – but I’ve always believed it’s triggered by something tangible.
So, I set out on a persistent quest of what I like to call, “What the F*ck is Wrong with Me?”
I poured over articles on the internet, I bought books about anxiety, I obsessed and analyzed and almost ruined my life in the process. Could it be THIS!? Oh no, it’s definitely THAT. It has to be THEM. I put up walls. I tried to move.
I came close to sabotaging the richest, most fulfilling relationships in my life.
It was a dark time for me. I didn’t eat much. Going to yoga didn’t help. Drinking definitely didn’t. It was hard for me to look forward to even the simplest of joys…
So, found a therapist through a trusted friend and I started taking Prozac. The combination of those things helped me tremendously. It helped to slow the marathon of illogical thoughts racing through my cortex, but what still gnawed at me… was that I couldn’t find the root of it.
Slowly, after several sessions of therapy — different thoughts began to form. I found the root of my brain-defect was beneath many layers. But at the very, very heart of it — at its core — was fear. Good ‘ole reliable.
Fear of the unknown. Desperation for control. To predict my life. To know beyond the shadow of all doubt, that I was making the right decisions in my life.
For lack of a better hypothesis, I was self-obsessed. Not only with the things that were actually happening to me but with the stuff that may or may not ever happen to me.
And once I realized this truth, once I came to terms with my self-inflicted destruction. My world shifted.
There’s a quote on the wall of one of my favorite yoga studios in Atlanta that says, There’s no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
When I first read that (during my first class ever) I almost turned around and left. I had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
But what I have realized it to mean… is that happiness – in its elusiveness – is about acceptance.
Accepting myself. Accepting each moment as temporary. Accepting that I don’t have the power to control every outcome and that I will never move through life with absolute certainty.
I accept that joy is fleeting, and so is sadness. That no one career-high will define me and neither will any low. That I cannot place my value based on the people who choose to stay – and the ones who choose leave.
While I feel grateful for this realization, I know I will be forced to reckon with it forever. Through the brightest days and the darkest nights.
But instead of falling in love again and again with fear – maybe I could fall in love with life. In all its mystery and possibility.