So many things have happened in the past week that I feel, most of all, wrung out. I went to a conference over the weekend and it was full of new experiences, most of them amazing and the rest just ok. Then I came back to an emotional mess at home. I don’t lose my temper often, but I felt like I was going to erupt. When I did eventually lose control the seething frustration and anger seeped out from every crack in my composure and stained whatever it touched. I could barely keep from ripping to shreds the people that were caring about me. Thankfully I’ve developed a habit of extreme dogged persistence and I refused to give in to the helplessness. Truly my situation is a right disaster, but I was able to connect with someone because of it. The sense of entrapment that was so completely unbearable eventually eclipsed my fear of rejection and I was able to ask someone for help, bringing him one step closer to the range of true friendship, which I need very desperately.
The wave of emotions has somewhat subsided, and I feel like I can breathe a little, but I know better than to believe that this will be the last of it. I’ve gotten myself in deep and I know it will be a long way out. I’m happy, though, because today I can see the difference between living a life where the stakes are large and the going often difficult, and the deep crevasse of despair that is chronic depression. The difference, I think, is presence. While I won’t say for a moment that the last few days have been pleasant, or even tolerable, I can say that at every moment I was awake and alive. I felt the suffocating pressure of my limited options and the need to continue moving forward regardless of how imperfectly I was walking, but at the same time I could see, as if from a third eye, that the passage I am currently navigating does eventually open up. I was able to experience, digest and dissolve my circumstances each as the individual pieces of a greater experience and a larger, more permanent existence. In contrast to the view from the depths of depression, this perspective carried the comfort of knowing that things really would be ok, eventually, and that the issue at hand is not whether they will be but simply how to get from here to there.
I think, perhaps, this clearer vision is the product of experience. I have been practicing taking controlled risks and fully experiencing the revelation and resolution of my uncertainty. I think my greatest challenge in life is battling my anxiety. Anxiety is when you worry about something that you know you shouldn’t worry about, but can’t stop anyway. It’s that feeling that you forgot to lock the front door despite remembering clearly that you turned the key and twiddled the knob to make sure. It’s how you never worry about if you locked the door until you are sitting on an airplane on your way across the ocean and there’s no way for you to go and check it. Anxiety, I think, is the irrational fear of the unknown. For me, anxiety is the fear that something will go wrong and then it will be my fault. Either I forgot to prepare for some obvious contingency that everyone else would know about, or I read the address wrong or the date, or maybe I just didn’t work hard enough and people will think I’m lazy. When you live with this feeling of constant inadequacy it’s really difficult to relax and enjoy your successes. That’s where my depressions are born.
The great difficult in battling anxiety is that unless you become conscious of it, you never get the chance to prove to yourself that you didn’t have to worry. Sure, you come home from vacation and the door really was locked and you didn’t have to worry after all, but the fact is that you did worry. You worry all the time about this stuff and so you don’t have any experience to prove to yourself that it was really ok not to worry. The antidote for anxiety is, to be cliche, to face your fears. You have to go on that vacation knowing that you might not have locked the door, but consciously determined not to worry about it anyway. This part is key. You can’t just tell yourself that you don’t have to worry, you have to really stop doing it even if only for a few brief moments. Only then will you have under your belt the experience of not worrying about something and it being ok anyway.
Many people might think that it’s easy to think of circumstances where you didn’t worry about something and it turned out ok anyway, but that is somewhat naive. I remember my youth pastor saying that “God does not test your faith with easy stuff, because that wouldn’t be a real test. Bats are forbidden to eat, but that’s not a big deal because no one really feels tempted to taste a bat.” Bacon, on the other hand, this can be a problem. To be fair, I’m neither Christian nor Jewish, but I think this makes a good point. Anxiety tends to come with a theme. I feel anxious about being rejected by people. I live with a deep and constant dread of being alone and anything that can trace back to being abandoned will trigger those feelings. I can think of tons of situations where I gave a performance and wasn’t nervous at all and it turned out great. It’s a lot harder for me to think of situations where I shared an intimate piece of myself with someone, suffered the pain of being rejected, and still found the strength to stand up and try again with a new person. Most of the time I dance around the subject so quickly so as to distract them from what I’m really trying to say. This is my anxiety taking over and it robs me of the experience I need to be a stronger person.
So, I attribute my sense of clarity in the face of exhaustion and uncertainty to the growing collection of experiences that I have been building since my divorce. I really think of my divorce as a new birth because that was the moment that I decided I had a right to be happy on my own terms and that I would no longer allow others to dictate to me what should and should not give me joy. Divorce was a big risk, but sometimes that new restaurant with the shaded windows feels just as big. Sometimes simply saying, “I’m tired and would really rather sleep than go out to dinner with you” can feel equally as huge. The difference, of course, is that slowly, over time, I’ve come to realize that I am more resilient than that. The risks themselves don’t actually change, but my perception of them and my perception of my ability to recover from an unlucky draw has changed dramatically. From where I am now, I only see things as getting better.
“It doesn’t get easier, you just get [up] faster”