Updated on March 31, 2017
I went bungee jumping despite promising my mother I wouldn’t.
Although almost regularly experiencing an irrational urge to jump from high places (it’s a real thing – check out “high-place phenomenon”), bungee jumping was never on my bucket list. In fact, I could barely even watch “Man on Wire” without flinching and looking away. However, something about Nepal, the Himalayas, and the feeling that life was constantly evading me, persuaded me to sign up to jump from one of the highest bungee bridges in the world.
After being informed that sandals were not suitable footwear for throwing one’s body off a platform, I quickly borrowed a French stranger’s hiking boots. I ran across the long, swaying, narrow suspension bridge and was immediately harnessed at my waist and ankles. Although a stream of brave souls waiting to jump had already formed ahead of me, I was ushered to the front of the line and directed to the ledge.
Looking hundreds of feet down to the rushing river below, I couldn’t believe the beauty that surrounded me. I didn’t want to jump; instead, I wanted to freeze this moment in time as I entered into communion with such beauty. Unfortunately, the guide had other ideas as he yelled, “3, 2, 1, BUNGEE!” Unlike many before me that day who “had a last minute change of plans,” I dutifully dove head first, into the clouds.
It’s true I jumped without hesitation, but not because I wasn’t afraid…because I was. I jumped without hesitation because I knew I was being filmed, and if I didn’t jump right away, or at all, my failure would be forever preserved on film…and that was something I just couldn’t handle.
While my bungee jumping tale may be an extreme example of the lengths I will go through to influence the way I am viewed by others, I’m sorry to say that it’s not atypical of how I’ve acted my entire life. In fact, I’ve been known to behave completely irrationally in order to prevent others from learning the truth about me…in order to prevent them from witnessing the anxiety that raged within me.
* * * * *
When I first began this blog last winter, my goal was to speak openly about social anxiety. After 23 years of silence, I decided that I could no longer keep quiet about the struggles I faced on a daily basis. Vulnerability was my knife, piercing the darkness of fear, insecurity, and doubt, and I claimed it was my one truth strength.
As with most writers (note: I don’t actually consider myself a writer), I became a curator. I carefully selected specific memories to write about that not only highlighted my anxiety and the havoc it continued to wreck on my life, but ones that also painted me in a forgiving light. I kept hidden the thoughts and memories that I found embarrassing…the ones that still held power over me. I finessed my language and made sure that each of my blog posts ended on a seemingly positive note (because who wants to waste time reading 1,000+ words that only lead to confusion…to a lack of resolution).
Reader, I care what you think about me. I so desperately care what you think about me.
However, because I care so much, I may have given you a false impression of where I’ve been…of where I currently am…of the role Anxiety plays in my life. I would so desperately like to believe the things I write; but the truth is that more often than not, I don’t. While I understand the words I write on an intellectual level, they oftentimes fail to cross the “valley of death,” the 18 inches from my head to my heart.
What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think I’m the person you think I am. And I’m sorry for that.
* * * * *
I graduated college more than two years ago, and since then, I’ve felt like a failure. I’ve felt an overwhelming pressure to prove my worth. Drowning in “shoulds” and “coulds,” I’ve heard a voice reverberate throughout my being, “You’re not living the life you were meant to live.”
Because of my privilege, and the opportunities I’ve had to travel, experience many different cultures, and work for organizations that I believe in, I’ve felt guilty of this voice. Yet, I’ve remained envious of those who’ve earned degrees from prestigious graduate institutions, landed fancy city jobs in finance (despite my disinterest in obtaining such a job myself), and traveled to lands I had yet to step foot in. I’ve spent hours worrying about my future, and have searched endlessly for the graduate program…the job…the country…that would finally lead me to fulfillment.
The other day, during what can best be described as a panic attack (laying on the cold wood floor of my bedroom, pressing my fingers over my ears to block out all sound, and closing my eyes so tightly that I saw the bright lights of an alternate reality), I had a breakthrough.
No, I wasn’t living the life I was meant to live. But no school, job, or travel could change that. Only I could. And as long as I continued to let Anxiety dictate my life, I would forever feel the heavy weight of living.
Finally having the answer that I searched so tirelessly for, I breathed a sigh of relief, only to instantly feel chills stream throughout my entire body. This answer did not mean the end of my struggles, but merely the beginning. And truthfully, I wasn’t sure they were struggles I wanted to engage in.
* * * * *
I’ve officially labeled January-May 2016 as one of the darkest periods of my life. Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, but considering I typically remain silent when asked to give my opinion of any “bests,” “worsts,” or “favorites,” I beg to differ – this year hit me hard.
Whenever I think of those five long months in the desert, I begin to cry. More than cry, I weep. Uncontrollably. See, I lost myself during those months. I woke up late. I didn’t want to get out from under the covers, much less commit to doing anything productive. I felt isolated. So I isolated myself from those who could care about me. Each day ended in tears, a snotty nose, and a prayer that if I just closed my eyes, it would all be over.
Anxiety had a strong foothold on me and whenever it spoke, I listened attentively.
“Why do you cling so tightly to hope? Look where hope has gotten you. Stop fooling yourself.”
“You earned a useless degree and have no marketable skills. Why would anyone want to hire you?”
“Who do you think you are? You’ll never be anything but a failure.”
“You’re a burden to your family…to those you call friend. You have nothing to offer…in fact, you’re more work than you’re worth. It’d be best if you just disappeared.”
“Why do you even continue to try to fight? It’s a waste of time. Don’t you know that I always win? Come on, you know I’m right. Give up now.”
Over time, I grew tired of refuting Anxiety and began to believe everything it said. Despite falling prey to such demons, I began to blog about hope, a brighter future and how Anxiety was a liar. I even made a video proclaiming such truths (and that’s something, considering I hate myself on video).
Irony at its best, huh?
* * * * *
While I’ve since gotten a bit better at protecting myself from such psychological abuse, I still continue to fall prey to Anxiety. In fact, I’ve been absent from this space for the past two months because of Anxiety. Excuses and Anxiety.
Anxiety is a smooth talker, on a par with Odysseus or the serpent in the garden. Its silver tongue feeds me lies for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I eagerly consume them without giving it a second thought.
Anxiety tells me what to wear.
Anxiety tells me what I should be “when I grow up” (because let’s face it, I still don’t completely know).
Anxiety tells me when (or if) to leave my house.
Anxiety tells me who to trust and who to ignore.
Writing this, I see that Anxiety is a bully. And even worse, I see that Anxiety is an abuser…an abuser that’s been manipulating me for years.
And rather than being completely open in acknowledging the unfortunate role that Anxiety has played (and continues to play) in my life, I’ve pretended that it hasn’t affected me as much as it has. I’ve pretended I have more power over it than I do.
I’ve pretended, because as much as I hate Anxiety and the person I become when it’s around, I don’t know who I am without it. I’m afraid of change. Anxiety has been with me my entire life. It knows me better than anyone else. It provides me with a sense of security that no human being has ever come close to providing (even if it’s a false sense of security).
Despite the weight that Anxiety has placed around my neck, I’m so afraid to cast it off…to rediscover myself…to live. In fact, living scares me more than anything.
Reader, I know you’re waiting for resolve, but today, I can’t offer you anything other than these words: You. Are. Not. Alone.
In life, much to my dismay, we seldom find resolve. We can’t simply turn to the end of the book (like I have become accustomed to doing) to see how everything turns out before we even begin the first sentence…and we can’t look up plot spoilers online before we commit to watching a film or TV series.
We can only continue. Continue walking. Continue searching. Continue hoping. Continue fighting. Continue praying.
Life won’t get better unless we work to make it better…unless we do something to change our circumstances – even something small. Because when we sit, content in complacency…when we listen to Anxiety, we become stuck. Hopelessly and dangerously stuck. We must make a habit of continuing.
* * * * *
“This isn’t the life you were made for.” I hear it again. And again. And again. The voice nags and prods until it forces itself into the forefront of my being.
Anxiety screams, “Don’t believe that voice. You have everything you need here, with me. We can change the world, just the two of us. You don’t need anyone else.”
I close my eyes and put on my full armor, whispering, barely audibly, “But this isn’t the life I was made for.”
Today, I will fight. Today, I will continue.