You have nothing else to do and nowhere else to be. There’s only this. This page. These ideas. Now is all that matters.
That’s what I told myself. I didn’t believe it. My brain was everywhere else.
Lately, it’d been rising to the forefront that my creative tap was stalling due to a mix of past-history paralysis and worse-case-scenario projection. Before I moved forward with any task, I ran through 200 ways I’d already attempted, rehashed feelings of failure and convinced myself out of a fresh start.
I was so scared.
Scared to live and try new things, meet new friends and say what I really meant.
I was scared of being ridiculed and criticized and taken down by new determinations of “right” and “wrong”—more labels, more designations, more ways to separate ourselves by judging one another. Everything so heightened and defined these days; I felt the pressure from all sides and wondered if I could speak my heart without it being ripped open by the interwebs.
This was only a small part of it though. Sure it was there, but ultimately, in that regard, we were only setting ourselves up to lose, stirring up more division and distraction that cast us further from the compassion we sought in the first place. I didn’t have to participate or engage or feed the beast by throwing another opinion in the ring. The writing could speak for itself. I could trust myself. [I hoped. *cringe*]
But, surprisingly, even more than critical opinion, I was afraid of small, embarrassing shit that felt HUGE to me.
I was afraid that I couldn’t handle a career that required me to show up regularly. (Get dressed. Put on makeup. Go somewhere other than the living room. Wha?)
I was afraid of losing myself to the hustle again—getting swept up in the relief and thrill of money, so much so, that I failed to draw clear lines for self-care and say no to opportunities I knew would push my well-being into the red.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t stand up for myself—my wants and needs, the integrity of the vision–what if I wasn’t clear enough to know what to stand up for? What if the people I worked with were too intellectually intimidating or physically attractive and I went along with anything they said because of my inferiority complex?
I was afraid of my work becoming popular, and having my words extracted and picked apart, a tiny error blown into a lawsuit or contraversialized somehow—the higher you rise, the farther you fall, kinda deal.
I was fucking terrified of proper formatting, in fact, every time I thought of preparing my manuscript to submit to agents, I traveled back to the root of this aversion: third grade, library period, the first time we were required to attach a bibliography at the end of our paper siting our references. It was the same year that I constructed a six-foot paper-mâché alligator to the praise of my teacher. Impressive as it was, she had to track down my mom in an effort to bring down the hammer, because a month had passed since the original deadline of the accompanying research paper. I had slyly circumvented the undesirable portion of the assignment with a six-foot distraction—anything to put off the dreaded bibliography.
I was afraid of doing my taxes. (No explanation required.)
I was afraid of being seen. I was stuck in the vortex of 2015—my skinniest and most tumultuous year. I vacillated between stringent, restrictive clean eating protocols and binge eating. Like, four fast food joints and $40 worth of grease in my tummy within an hour, every night for days on end, kinda binge eating. Racking up credit card debt on crap to induce food coma—anything to replace the unbearable stress of struggling, surviving . . . just trying to make it. To this day, I hold back from conceding how unhealthy, and in crisis, I was at that time. I don’t want to openly admit that I was in the throes of a full-blown eating disorder. I gave a TEDx that year, waxing rhapsodic about SelfLove leading to an extraordinary life. I shared my healing journey: full-body skin rejuvenation through diet change. I stood on stage, in long sleeves and jeans, because I’d been binge eating so bad in lead-up, I was covered in psoriasis rashes. Now, seven years later, I’m heavier and happier, yet still clinging to presenting the image of the skinny, healthy girl, because I saw how people looked at me—like I was doing something right. I’m scared that people will never take me seriously at my current weight. Scared I might be this weight forever. Or, if I start losing weight, it will trigger all the old, restrict-binge cycles that deeply damaged me. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the razor’s edge of spiraling back into that desperate way of coping. At the core of this fear: What if my life takes off and I can’t handle it?
I’m afraid of receiving too much, and I’m also afraid that I am too much. What the fuck do I do with that?!
Well, I’ve tapped my face off. Done many a meditation. Drawn back to the breath. Journaled like a fiend. Shared my story in a relentless array of formats.
It all works. And . . .
I’m still so scared.
Gently, I gear up again. Tick off a task. Move forward. Break through a barrier and do, it, anyway . . .
The fear subsides. Sometimes I forget it altogether.
Woop—there it is—again.
My brain is vigilant in generating advice, justifications and courses of action aimed at helping me avoid reliving hurts. But often, it recreates the feeling of that hurt so the fear can rise up. Halt. Pause. Procrastinate. Hold back. This didn’t go so well last time. It’s going to be another flop. You know what it’s like here, so stay here where it’s safe. You’re broke and still playing small, but it’s familiar . . .
That’s where the mind does me dirty. Nothing’s safe. Not moving forward or taking the leap or even staying stuck. Hurt, discomfort and risk live in every stage. Sometimes that pause the brain generates is helpful—more thought is needed, another solution is marinating, universal timing requires personal alignment. But when the whole body fills with angst, pings, pains, agitation and resistance . . . it’s time to move on that fucking scary ass thing even though I just don’t wanna.
I can throw tantrums, but no one wants to listen, not even my cat.
Circling back to “I don’t have the answers”—as I so often do—feels like a cop-out, but, when it comes to fear, I haven’t quite cracked the nut.
One of my favorite transformational teachers, SARK, recommends giving our inner critics jobs. For example, when Sir Moustachio Fear saunters in, with two gleaming old-fashioned six-shooters holstered around his thick waist, jittery and nervous and ready to fire off in every direction . . . I can plant fists to hips and puff up my chest in a power pose, and boldly command this nonsensical bundle of Southwestern nerves: “Go treat and dig out all the weeds in the yard! . . . And don’t come back until you’ve pruned the lemon tree!”
My problem with this is, Sir Moustachio Fear works mind-bogglingly fast and then demands a dinner of hot dogs and popcorn. Not only that, but because he’s imaginary, all those weeds and the citrus tree still require my very real attention. I can’t help but feel like I’m losing on this deal.
‘everything you want lives on the other side of fear’ ‘don’t be controlled by fear, be led by dreams’ ‘courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway’—we’ve all heard encouragement to work through fear in some way. Even with the aid of countless self-development texts, spiritual teachings, intensive one-on-one and group coaching . . . fear remains a constant in my life.
A boyfriend throwing a phone at my head . . .
Interrupting a break-in at my condo . . .
A dog jumping over a wall, chasing and knocking me down when I was little . . .
News vans swarming the parking lot of the Budget Suites across from our complex, where a man had shot and stabbed his wife and children to death . . .
My tires being slashed outside a bar one night . . .
A bully spitting in my face and screaming at me in front of hundreds of kids during lunch in middle school . . .
My roommate’s rims being stolen right outside our window (the next day, they came back and took the car) . . .
Being told Boogey Man and Bloody Mary stories that gave me night terrors I still have to this day . . .
These traumas live deep in my sinews. Actually, not deep at all. They are the second layer of skin.
I, like you, could tumble out one instance after another of hurt, harm, pain or loss.
Fear lives large in our everyday lives and collective consciousness.
The tap, it seems, keeps flowing. Not a day goes by that I don’t witness, in one form or another, the atrocious treatment of animals, degradation of human life or abuse of this beautiful planet upon which we live. And I’m the last one to get on a high horse about that—I used to throw cigarette butts out the window of my car. I consume way too much. I buy stuff I don’t need. I’ve hurt people and, in ways, neglected animals. I feel the trauma of my own poor choices, too.
How can we massage and meld this current of fear that courses through us? Can it be healed or transformed? What is its purpose?
I really don’t have the answers.
Fear is possibly the main reason for filling my life with creature comforts. Hippie shit. Soothing herbal teas. Himalayan salt lamps. Cats. Books. Lee Harris. Anything to smooth the anxiety just a notch when I live amped up, and shaken, so much of the time. I unplug, live quietly, chip away at simplifying. Sometimes I roll down my window for someone on the streets and palm them what change I have, look them in the eye and beam them all the love in that moment, driving away in tears, simultaneously full and utterly crushed, helping and hopeless. At times the suffering seems beyond reconciling. That’s why, on other days, I drive by and don’t even look, holding that person with the sign—who’s my neighbor that’s burning in the sun—in my periphery, leaving them behind. These are the moments I’m consumed with the feeling that I can never do enough.
My heart hurts.
I take a bubbles-to-the-ceiling bath and soak up every luxury of that experience. Joel Osteen assuages my guilt—I plug in his podcast and rise a little higher. Butterflies bigger than birds glide through my yard. I know they’re here because of the passion fruit vine I deliberately planted that hosts their larvae. The caterpillars repeatedly munch the vine to shreds, but the resulting yellow and black beauties bring endless smiles on sunny days. I pluck fresh catnip and toss it on the ground for the house tiger that visits our backyard daily. She gets wily, rubbing her face all over it with that crazed look in her eye. At night, when worries threaten to yank me down, I watch Modern Family and laugh. And when I just don’t feel like cooking, Chipotle or veggie lo mein + egg rolls always hit the spot. Slivers of relief. Peace. Splintering cracks in the dry lakebed of fear.
When it comes to fear’s inevitable presence, whether from long-buried wounds or simply witnessing the world we live in every day, these are attempts at healthier coping. Tried and true self-soothing. Deliberate Joy seeking.
Maybe it’s enough to keep us going, growing, giving and taking terrifying chances on ourselves. Living more. Feeling freer. With chunkier wedges of contentment spliced into our experience.
This one’s definitely YTBD, yet to be determined.