I’m back! (slowly)
I’ve taken some time out from kindling, but the thing about good fires is that they take a while to die. And I needed the time and space because I decided at the start of this year that I would dig deep in a way I never have before – draw all my energy back in to focus it on what I wanted. This post is an introduction to where I’m at, and I hope what I have to share is of some use.
When I shut down the blog it was because I’d realised that a few toxic experiences had come to dominate what I was writing about, but that the writing was not as reflective as I wanted it to be (you’ll find those posts are no more). I think many people can attest to 2017 being a bit of a clusterfuck, and mine was no different – losing friends, a lover, and my mind in one fell swoop. I can laugh about it now but at the time it was harrowing, not just for myself but the people around me.
I also had to face up to the reality that my biggest obstacle in life was fear. Makes sense, right? Anxiety is fear-driven, and my anxiety had gotten severely out of hand as a result of my experiences last year. Because of choosing the wrong people – and behaving out of fear – I reaffirmed my fundamental internal belief that the world was a scary, dangerous and untrustworthy place. And I never wanted to go back to that or behaving out of that belief, because no one deserves to be a casualty in your sad story. Save it for the Lifetime channel.
So what changed?
I started by understanding the roots of my anxiety. Where the fear came from, why I developed the responses and defense mechanisms I did. Why I chose the situations I ended up in, especially in friendships and relationships. And then I slowly started the work of dismantling that universe, smashing out the boards to let the light back in.
My major fears in life are being ignored, being physically or emotionally unsafe, being abandoned – so I just avoid people. I’m a loner, a hermit, and an introvert, but the minute I find people I want to keep around my fearometer goes haywire. I see my weirdness as a flaw and not a strength, and my bad experiences as a problem and not the source of my deep desire to be different and better to what I have known. I explain myself too much because I’ve been misinterpreted all too often. And I am obsessed with controlling my life because volatility, instability and disruption have been my norms for most of my childhood. So I worry, and worry, even when there’s nothing to worry about – especially when there’s nothing to worry about, I’ll dig up something just to have a problem to solve.
It’s a toxic cocktail to bring to interactions with people, and while I’ve sloughed off most of the behaviours that stem from those fears the residue will remain for a while, like an oil spill. But the biggest triumph I had was a mini-workshop I conducted with myself about two months ago, before one of the most important interviews of my life. I spent weeks alone, really alone, in my flat, talking to myself daily about these fears and their history. Talking to my professional about them, but trying quite actively to avoid asking for help or advice because in truth, for someone like me, advice is inertia – it stops me from trusting what I know to be true and acting only on that.
I recognised that I give up my power to other people’s opinions rather than recognising the subjectivity of existence itself. Instead I took a look at reality for the first time: that I had been chosen not only because I was good at what I did, but because the people meeting and assessing me had decided I was a good person; that my values were sound; and that my character was solid. And I accepted those facts instead of trying to think about every. single. thing. around them.
I could not control the outcome. I could not ask for anything more than the time they would be giving me, and as much as I could prepare I had no idea what they would ask of me. All I could do was show up as the best version of myself. And that version of me was calm, composed, assertive, warm and engaged, curious, and (as per usual) a motormouth of epic proportions. The workshop’s single lesson was this: You have to show up for the life you want. In every way. If you enjoy your isolation, don’t lose your social skills. If you want happy, comfortable, peaceful, interesting, stable, you have to be those things first. And I was, but only from the inside of an anxious, grouchy, untrusting shell. I’ll get to that in a minute.
The lesson from the interview was that if I could go into every day like that, wouldn’t life be amazing? [I spent the five days after the interview a stress-eating, movie-watching, frantic-cleaning hermit, but still] When they called to let me know I had won the scholarship, I walked from the city centre to the fringes of Salt River (between 4 and 6 kilometres). I felt free. And to me freedom is the absence of fear.
Doing something – succeeding at something – that scares you is a really good way to beat the nigglies back. I still had moments of anxiousness in the weeks after, but it was minor by comparison because I had learned – seen – how much good could happen when I let go. When I trusted that things would work out, and gave it the space to do so.
Anxiety – and a bit of a crazy upbringing – will teach you that everything in life is deathly serious. Especially when you develop it to cope with uncertainty it can be a blessing to convince yourself you have the power to change a situation that scares you, but just like a warm blanket, when the summer comes you might die of overheating. It’s good for the season but folding it and packing it away doesn’t mean that you don’t love and value the fact of its warmth. I had to accept that the time had come to pack away the baby blanket, to climb out of the carapace that had turned from protection to prison, too small to hold all of the growth I had been edging towards for months. To wake up to the chill of each morning and know, trust, that the sun would come.
The principles of this new phase I’m still wriggling into are trust and release. In absolutely everything. I said to a group of friends yesterday that too often, in life and in love, we take our pain with us into the next phase and not the lesson the painful experience taught us. We cannot grow from pain – it will always be agony, backward-looking, fearful, and destructive. It will always seek control as a means of self-protection.
I speak from personal experience. Control is the absence of trust. So since the rupture last year, I’ve replaced it with being upfront with many of the people in my life about difficult things, with trusting people to be good (rather than expecting them not to be) and focusing instead on being, and treating others, to the best version of myself – the girl who walked into that room that day and made a group of powerful people laugh.
It isn’t easy. Most days I’m at 50-60% of that girl (still as clumsy though). But knowing she was still in there – still breathing and badass underneath years of me drowning her voice with the toxic fumes of fear and self-doubt – gave me the kick I needed to dig her out.
I’ve also started gardening, so the metaphor is apt. We grow best from lessons and being open to the wisdom they bring – giving opportunities and good times space to manifest, to grow organically, with a little bit of light and understanding. And when you accept every new experience as the offering of a moment of growth, you learn to recognise that good always comes. It always, always does.