In past posts I’ve mentioned that I have been fighting with a systemic candida infection. In September of 2014 I put myself on an extremely low carb diet and I stayed on it for a solid year. Well, I got off for a week at Thanksgiving cuz I thought I was healed, and then of course there were those days where you’re just a mess and you have to choose between eating what’s not on the diet, or not eating at all, but generally I was pretty strict. When a year later I was still having symptoms every time I let off the diet I knew I needed help. Continue reading “On Being Healthy”
What is this feeling? It feels like my eyes are all the way open. It feels like the world is a little crisper, a little brighter. It feels like my body is lighter and my reflexes quicker. It feels like the boundaries holding me back have suddenly gotten a whole lot less intimidating. It feels like my lungs fill with air more easily.
This feeling is apparently the feeling of not being chronically exhausted. It is the feeling of not being sleep deprived and of having eaten well for several days.
I traveled through the past week in a haze. I couldn’t sleep at night and when I did finally manage to fall asleep, I would wake up again at 5:35 in the morning. Day after day this continued. I couldn’t nap in the afternoon though my body was heavy and slow and incapable of even washing the dishes. My mind would not stop spinning. No matter what I tried it was plotting, analyzing, planning, double checking and rethinking. I tried deep breathing. I tried visualizing beautiful flowing images of bicycles racing downhill (this is my version of counting sheep). I tried progressive muscle relaxation, hot showers, midnight snacks. Nothing could get my brain to turn off, and so while my body wasted away from neglect, my mind raced on.
It’s been almost six days since I had a proper appetite, too. Perhaps it was the heat, but there was nothing I wanted to eat. My insides churned on empty and yet whatever I put in me came right back out without leaving the slightest trace of nutrients behind.
About three days ago I decided that sleep was of paramount importance to get myself out of this hole. I turned off my alarms, canceled my appointments, set the AC to plenty fucking cool, closed the shutters, whipped out my buff all purpose everything which I use for an eye mask, and laid down to meditate. I find that wrapping the buff, which is just a micro fiber neck gaiter, around my eyes will actually keep them from opening, an odd reflex that happens to me when my brain spins too fast. With my eyes locked closed, suddenly my facials muscles could relax. I consciously sent my mind to wander, encouraging it to explore images and feelings it came upon as I sank deeper into the meditative state I know to give me the most peace.
It took me several days and several tries to finally get my body out of the tail spin of insomnia I was stuck in. I would fall asleep only to wake again a few hours later. With all the patience and kindness I could muster towards myself I would get up and perform some menial task like washing the dishes or checking in on the forum I moderate. After an hour or two I would try the sleep again. Slowly I was able to extend my sleep sessions back to over four hours at a time.
This morning was the first time I woke up feeling as if I could have slept more in over a week. That means that I broke the cycle and my mind has finally relinquished its hold over my body and is allowing it to rest.
With my newfound energy I let loose! The beast returned to burn its way down the streets again today! Practice this morning was short because of the Obon holiday (Japanese festival of the dead, but without the festivities), but I was determined to get the most out of it. I stayed right on the wheel of the leader and refused to let anyone pass me. It was rough. My legs were on fire. When we got to the turnaround point I hung back for about 500 meters before I saw my opening: a short straight between two moderately tight curves, just long enough for me to hammer it and overtake the two riders in front of me. I took them on the outside which put me on the inside for the next curve, but I had the confidence I could handle the corner even without swinging out for the set up. At one point on the descent the leader tried to over take me. Mostly the return trip is downhill, but there are a few blips in the road where my comparatively weak girl legs slow me down. I saw him coming up over my shoulder and I said,
“Nope! You’re not going to pass me that easily!”
I dropped a gear and lit into the pedals with a fury. Every time I turned around they were right on my tail. Fuck it! You wanna ride me? I’ll pull you! Don’t think I’m afraid to burn it and don’t think you can have your lead without having to work for it!
This is what I’ve been looking for. This feeling of having access to my full power, this feeling of letting go and racing against the wind. I must remember this feeling for when I find myself in the hole again. This is what I should feel like. If I’m not feeling like this, it’s not my fault, it’s a sign that I need to step back and care for myself properly until this feeling returns.
See? The beast, he is good for me.
I’m very tired today.
I’ve been tired for several days lately. I keep repeating to myself something like a mantra:
You’re tired because you haven’t been sleeping, not because your life is too hard for you.
You’re lonely because you don’t want to go outside in the heat, not because you don’t have friends.
Lately I put so much effort into managing my oversized brain that I often lose my sense of what is true and what is a story I told myself. This is made more difficult by the fact that I know that truth and facts are as axiomatic as the stories themselves. It’s very slippery to operate at the level of stories because you end up redefining truth even as you are seeking it and in the end you are the only one who can say whether or not you’ve found it.
One thing that I know about stories is that they are easier to accept when you know they are a story. For example, if I told you that humanity today is not at the epitome of gender equality and that human rights have actually taken huge blows in the last twenty years that have put many swaths of society at a greater disadvantage than they were perhaps fifty years ago, you would probably try to argue with me based on facts that I am wrong. On the other hand, if I told you a story about a human society where men and women were interdependent on each other and selfish behavior was punished by death or banishment from the tribe, you would probably listen intently. There would be no reason to argue with me because it would be a story. Stories aren’t true.
…and yet, they create truth. Because once you heard the story of men and women respecting each other, working together and celebrating their complementary strengths, in your deepest consciousness you would know that such a world is possible. Possible and actual are only separated by experience.
Taking a momentary break from my self reflection and mourning, I would like to talk about where I am going next. I have a few goals:
- I will write a book. The theme of the book is the mythology of economics, in other words, it is the explanation and analysis of the Story that economics weaves for us about who we are and the world we live in. It is a critical work which will not only tear apart the foundation of a pseudo-science that has long ago outlived its use for society, but will also prescribe a solution to the problems it has caused for us. It is a happy book full of hope and promise for a better future, something economics has not been able to promise us since I was a little girl.
- I will consult as a freelancer. I have held back from this because I don’t know how to get started. Well, just yesterday I read a page on a woman’s blog where she offers writing services. Just like that. “If you want writing services, please contact me. My fee will vary based on the type of writing and projected time to completion.” So, if she can do it, I can do it. So I will. Just like that.
- I will return my legs to 100% of their ability for Sunday practice. I have been suffering and struggling with over training for nearly a month now. When I look at the rides I have been doing over the past four months, it is no surprise. While I am still reeling from a major bike related loss, I think I have enough stability that I can stop using cycling to medicate my anxiety, depression, and loneliness and start shaping my miles into something that will make me stronger. It is no longer enough for me to just ride, I need to ride with purpose. My coach said he will make me a training plan as I grow as a rider, but that I should prioritize both recovery and my Sunday practices above all other riding activities.
Goal number three is the most well formed, present, and exciting for me right now. It is also going to be very difficult. I am still struggling with my candida infection which means that fueling for my training rides is always a monumental task. Currently I am focusing on fat based fuel sources and just making sure that I have enough of them available on a daily basis to satisfy my caloric needs. When that becomes more stable I will shift towards incorporating the fats into more balanced meals, as opposed to just eating handfuls of sesame seeds as I am doing now. I am pretty confident I have enough protein, so right now the calories are the most critical.
The second part of my plan to accomplish goal number three is adequate rest. I ride compulsively, like alcoholics drink, and I know that. I am currently considering a 1-ride plan. That is, I am allowed one ride per week that has no purpose whatsoever except that I want to be on the bike. I can spend it commuting to work or riding with Mieko or some other friend (assuming I find one), but I only get one. Other miles are either easy recovery spins or tits-out leg burns. No pointless miles.
I hope to accomplish goal three in two weeks, but it’s ok if it takes me three. No matter what, though, I want to see what 100% of my ability looks like come August. I need this in order to know how to plan the rest of my year. I only have 10 months before race season starts!
First, I would like to apologize. That title is a pun. It’s not appropriate to make puns about being in pain because puns are funny (even if only in the “har har…groan” sense), and pain is not funny. So, sorry for the poor pain pun.*
Recently I had the opportunity to practice being still in my pain. I have mentioned in previous posts about the Numbness — that feeling of excrutiating pain in your soul that just cannot fully manifest itself into tears, and ends up filling your body with an overwhelming numbness that claws at your heart and dims your vision, making you feel like an empty shell in a world made of cardboard. The Numbness is a kind of existential pain, and like all pain, it eventually passes.
I say I had the opportunity to be still in my pain because being still in pain, particularly the numbing kind, allows us to fully experience it, and by experiencing it, allow it to pass. For most of us, the reflexive reaction to pain is to tense up and brace against it. This is true of pain in our bodies, but pain in our hearts can do the same. We also instinctively try to run from the source of the pain. Pain in our bodies is easier to deal with because our bodies know how to deal with pain: remove the source, place a protective scar over the wound, then repair the damage. Pain in our hearts is more difficult. Sometimes we don’t know what the source is, so we run around in panic. Sometimes we put a scar over the wound without removing the source, sealing it in and preventing healing. Sometimes we place a scar so thick, and then forget to remove it later, so that we are emotionally crippled. Stillness is the salve that cures the wound and removes the pain.
Because I was able to sit in stillness for three solid days, doing absolutely nothing to relieve my pain or my fear of more pain to come, I think I was finally able to understand where the pain was coming from. As I sat on my porch, sipping a bitter sweet drink of cool honey-vinegar, the shade over my eyes began to thin and brighten and I began to see finally that my pain was bubbling up from two sources.
First, there was the pain I was experiencing from forcing myself into a role that does not allow for complete expression of who I am. I speak here of my job as an economist. In the past, I thought I was feeling a sense of inadequacy (maybe I was?) that perhaps I am not suited to be an economist because I’m not good enough at it. I thought that my lack of publications was perhaps the result of some flaw in my character — I don’t put in enough hours at work, or my attention deficit disorder prevents me from being able to focus on the minute details of formatting and submitting my work to professional journals. I also felt at times that my pain was perhaps being caused by the incessant judgmental nature of academia. Until you have tenure, you are constantly being evaluated and your livelihood depends on you outperforming in some measurable sense most of your other peers. It is nearly impossible to focus on producing good quality work that answers truly important questions when doing so puts you at risk of going against the greater body of academics who hold the power to decide your future.
In the past, when I have felt this pain of inadequacy and uncertainty about my job, my reaction was to run from it by taking steps to secure my future position. This meant spending more time and more energy devoted to something that did not fulfill me and brought me more pain and more discontent. Even as my conscious mind was aware of the reality that there is nothing particularly special about being an economist that I should bleed my soul for it, I was at the same time unable to see that my actions were at all times reactions to the pain and fear of losing that identity. Put another way, I was stuck in my unhappiness because I kept attempting to escape it by looking backwards at where I came instead of forwards at where I wanted to go. I had no idea where I wanted to go and I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. Rough, no?
The second source of pain that became apparent to me was my relationship (or lack of relationship) with my friends. I have always fought to have good friends and I to this day do not understand why it doesn’t happen. In the past I have often blamed myself for not being proactive enough; I didn’t tell the boy that I liked him (Thunder, I like you HARD, like I want your penis to like my vagina: HARD! There. I said it. Are we friends now? Hmm…), so I’m the only one to blame if our relationship never deepens; No one ever invites me out to play with them, but if I don’t invite them out, then I’m equally to blame that we don’t hang out. Right? What I learned from my stillness is that it doesn’t matter. I am not in possession of the friendships that I crave, and this lack causes me pain.
It took three days of silent, still, intentional inaction to finally understand where my pain was coming from. These days were difficult for me. At every moment, even as the Numbness threatened to suffocate me, I forced myself to remain still. If my thoughts reached out to try and find solutions to my pain, I brought them back. I said to myself, “No, mind, you cannot find a solution to a problem that you do not truly understand. First, let us understand why you hurt so much.”
I feel much stronger and more resilient now than before I spent my time in Stillness. Ironically, my relationships to my friends have not changed, nor have I found a new career path to replace the one that I am sure I must leave. At the same time, however, I feel that a stillness has come to my soul. Where once it felt like a sea under storm, it is much closer now to a windswept lake.
I think that in our world we are told to take action too often. There is this idea that if you do nothing, then you are at fault for your lack of success. I think that this advice at one time used to be good, but has become warped in a society that lacks opportunity for stillness. When one’s default is stillness, then only action can bring new insight. Sometimes, even the switch from inaction to action is enough to focus our intentions and make clear to us what our hearts are craving. However, when we are constantly bombarded with new stimuli, new claims on our attention, new ways to numb the pain, then action can never be wholly separated from reaction and we cannot know if what we do is in fact what our unique being is directing us to do. When this is the place we find ourselves in, only inaction can be trusted to reflect our true desires.
As a result of my stillness and inaction, I have hope now that, at least for a short while, my actions are springing forth authentically from my own Self. I have hope that the steps I choose to take forward, even as they terrify me, are steps towards something that is better than what I am leaving behind.
To close my thoughts, I want to share with you a conversation I had with the manager of my favorite bike shop. In my frustration at their lack of support for my development as a cyclist, I went searching for a shop or a group that I could ride with. I found, on that fateful day that I decided to chase the boys in their team practice, a shop most appropriately named You Can. I ventured in and they enthusiastically offered to train me and support me as an athlete. The catch, however, is that I have to leave the Giant Store. This hurt, and it was not an easy choice to make, but I decided in the moment that I would do it. There is no other way for me to chase this dream. Out of politeness and respect for everything they have done for me, I went to talk to the manager at Giant. He was understanding. He’s a good guy. He’s very dear to me. As we were talking I said to him, “Lately, all I can think of, all I want to do is ride my bike. In the last year of my contract I should be working hard to bolster my resume for my impending job search, but instead I am riding, even taking shortcuts at work in order to have more time to ride. The reality is, no matter how successful I am at my job, I could win the Nobel Prize for all it matters to me, there is nothing that will comfort me if I don’t find out how fast, how far, how hard I can ride. There is simply nothing that I would regret more than not chasing this dream right here and right now.”
My friend was understanding, supportive even. “Well, it’s not a big deal. Somehow things will work out,” he said to me.
I have to trust that. I have to believe that somehow things will work out. There’s just no other way to do it.
*alliteration is also funny and not appropriate. I will not apologize for my alliteration.
It’s a cold, rainy morning in Tokyo. I have all my heaters on, included my electric carpet, and a pot of ginger chicken broth simmering on my kerosene stove. My weasels are in all likelihood cuddled up deep in the folds of my goosedown winter comforter. With a pot of tea at hand and my home filled with the warm smells of winter, this is the perfect time to share the cumulation of many years of thinking on the subject of happiness, health and the future of our planet. So pour yourself a mug, put on your fluffy socks and grab a blanket; this might be a long post.
To say my journey started when I decided to get divorced would be a simplification of the process. Indeed I have felt a strong need to be resilient ever since I was a child. I had asthma and I had to wear glasses and I lived in a house in a suburb surrounded by concrete. I grew up in Miami and hurricane Andrew arrived when I was ten years old. Much to my dismay, I slept through the whole storm. However, when I woke up the world around me was pulsing and shuddering with the aftermath of natural force that had just blown through the city. I felt alive walking through the debris covered streets, climbing over and under fallen trees and feeling the wet exhausted wind against my skin. My house was old, made of solid concrete and we had bolted it down well. We had plenty of water and food so I did not feel afraid, only exhilirated by the jungle that had grown around my neighborhood overnight. To me, the days after hurricane Andrew were not a calamity, but a brief foray into the wilderness where all things truly alive reside.
I remember walking the streets and thinking to myself: I have to do something about my glasses. If a true disaster were to befall us I would be crippled without my glasses. When five years later Lasik became a thing, I couldn’t get the procedure done fast enough. While my Grandma encouraged me to see a doctor for my asthma and always carry an inhaler with me, I chose a different route. At twenty I decided I was done with being physically handicapped and so I began running. It was terrible. I couldn’t make it to the end of the block without a stinging pain spreading through my chest followed by an acute sense of hardening in my lungs. I was ashamed of my weakness and so I would run alone and in spurts. Sometimes not running for months at a time because it was just too difficult for me. My lungs were my weakest point back then and somehow I knew I had to make them strong. Eventually I ran a full marathon and raced a half-century. It took me nearly ten years but now my body is finally strong enough that I can say I am ready.
Ready for what? I am only now beginning to see what it is that I have somehow always known I needed to prepare for. As a child and then as a young adult in school, and even now as a professor of economics, I keep hearing the same story over and over: our world is dying. The foxes have disappeared from the neighborhood, the fish are disappearing from the oceans, the trees are disappearing from the forests and the mountains are disappearing from the horizon. I know that “global warming” is a subject of political debate and many treat it like a religious belief, too, “Do you believe in global warming?” I don’t need scientific proof and I know better than to believe that the health of our planet can only be observed through the minute fluctuations (+/- 4ºC) of the average annual temperature. I can see the death and destruction all around me. Never once in my life have I seen a building torn down and a forest or a park put in its place. It has always only ever gone one way. To me, the growth of human civilization is undifferentiable from the death of the planet. Economists talk about the efficient “allocation” of resources, but we don’t allocate them, we just use them up. We don’t move a rainforest to build a cattle pasture, we simply burn it down.
If you look at the history of humanity it is tempting to conclude that this destruction and greed is just human nature. The endless and single-minded pursuit of profit is built into our DNA. The commercial conquest of the world is simply a modern expansion of our Darwinian need to survive and become fitter. Just as the Europeans outsurvived Africa in the colonial era, and men everywhere have outsurvived women always, today the countries with bigger and more profitable corporations will outsurvive those who have not caught up to technological speed. Underlying this story of human nature, conquest, growth and destruction is the belief that over time humanity has only ever improved its lot over what it had when it first branched off from the rest of the apes. This belief, however, is dead wrong.
While the old story that women are subservient to men because we are physically weak and therefore necessarily reliant on the stronger sex for protection, food and shelter never sat well with me, I could not until recently put into words my objections. If you believe the story that humans have always and forever been a selfishly competitive lot, then the historical use of women as breeding livestock makes perfect sense. So it wasn’t until I read Sex at Dawn that I learned that humans were, in fact, profoundly happy, healthy, lazy and incredibly promiscuous right up until we figured out how to farm and store food. It’s certainly not an expected connection to make, but it was in my efforts to understand human sexuality that I made my first discovery about the reality of our global economy: The damage that we have caused over the last 10,000 years is not the inevitable result of our evolved human selfishness, but instead it is the result of putting humans who were evolved to be carefree and lazy into a world where they had to work and compete with each other for survival.
My own field can be described as behavioral economics. I study “anomalies” of human behavior that have been evolved into our decision making process, but have not adapted to the modern world of global trade, advanced marketing, financial assets and long range economic planning. Because most economists are still very antagonistic towards the use of behavioral theories in their traditional models, much of my effort goes into justifying why I am not studying a world composed of homo economicii (my pluralization of homo economicus, the fictitional human that embodies the economic ideal of decision making). One of the major sub fields of behavioral economics is what is called “other regarding behavior.” In essence, whenever a person chooses an action that benefits other people when they had the opportunity to benefit themselves even more by ignoring those people, we call it other regarding and label it an anomaly. Most people who are not economists are familiar with this type of behavior and use the colloquial terms “having manners,” “showing respect,” “loving,” or “being decent” instead. It really isn’t a foreign concept at all, and yet it is aggressively defended against in areas of public policy and economics.
In the process of researching my dissertation on violence, I came across a lay article on biological taxonomy and evolution. Many animals have physical features that cannot be explained well by the simple application of “survival of the fittest/strongest.” In this case, the article was talking about social versus solitary distinctions. The degree of cooperativeness of a species can be measured very reliably by the amount of white that shows around the colored parts of their eyes. The theory goes that a lone hunter would not want to give away the location of its quarry by allowing another hunter to see where it was looking. On the other hand, animals who act as a group for protection or for hunting would want their clan to know where they were looking in order to better coordinate. Among all mammals, human eyes are the easiest to read, moreso than dogs, wolves or even the great apes, considered most cooperative among mammals. Humans, therefore, can be proved on a sound scientific basis to be profoundly cooperative.
In addition to being strategically cooperative, humans participate in what Professor of Sociology R. Collins calls interaction rituals. By participating in a common and ritualized activity, we synchronize our emotional states with each other. A successful ritual leads to greater cohesion in the group while an unsuccessful ritual leads to feelings of isolation or even existential unease. Broadly defined, even sexual intercourse falls into the category of these interaction rituals. Church, spectators sports, and drum circles are other less ubiquitous examples of the same. By synchronizing our emotions we also synchronize our incentives and are more inclined to act towards the unified interest of our group rather than in an independent selfish direction.
Anthropologically, biologically and psychologically humans are clearly a cooperative species hardwired to care for each other and take group actions to benefit the whole. So why is our world so bloody fucked up? Let’s go back to the Story of Isolation*. Even though the science says one thing, “history” says another. History says that we have always been selfish and single minded, but the problem with relying on the historical record is that it does not include the part that happened before we started keeping track. It does not include the part where we did not have civilization and instead lived in relative, albeit primitive, harmony. In essence, history is a biased data set on the nature of humanity.
Now that I know that the wisdom and common sense that I was brought up on is built on the invalid conclusion that humans are selfish utility maximizers, I can begin to unravel the many layers of “fact” that have clouded my perspective over the years. For example, consider the “fact” that land prices always rise. For those of us who love the unbridled wilderness, we must accept that nature is a scarce resource like oil, gold, and leg room on airplanes. That it gets more expensive every year is the inevitable byproduct of human population growth. Those who are most willing to pay for it are those who will be able to enjoy it, and for those of us who “can’t afford” to buy our own piece of nature we must just accept that the rich obviously appreciate it more than we do. Moreover, not only do the rich and the corporate appreciate the land more than we do, they also put it to better use by ripping it up and consuming its natural resources. For years I thought this was the truth about everything I loved. Sad as it was, I thought it was an unyielding fact about the human condition.
If anything, I think the progression through agriculture, feudalism, colonialism, industrialism and globalism was inevitable, but I don’t think that this is the end of the story for us and I don’t think that the future will follow quite the same course. Instead, what I see as the only sustainable future course for us is one of deep appreciation for the natural world and for each other. Money has proven ultimately inefficient at allocating resources when they are truly scarce. Until now there has always been another continent, another ocean, another oil field… but there are no more places to expand to anymore. Furthermore, we are consuming the earth’s resources at so great a rate that we can no longer afford to make decisions independently of each other. In economics we talk about the Tragedy of the Commons which is the simple premise that if everyone has to share and no one regulates how much each person can use, we will all take too much and cause the collapse of our community. What we are looking at now is a global tragedy which is here because we have repeatedly failed to regulate the use of our shared resource, the planet.
Community will be key in the future to survival on a very very basic level. The tower we have built our civilization on is swaying terribly in high winds and very soon we will have none of the far reaching support we have grown accustomed to. International bananas and avocados, Canadian tomatoes in winter, American beef in Japan, all these things will go away because they will simply become too expensive to continue to consume. Many other luxuries that depend on oil as a material input or for transportation will become very scarce and this is almost everything we consume on a daily basis, right down to the shrink wrap our food comes in. The only viable alternative is one of community resilience. Without the tentacles of a bloated government and commercial system to sustain us from thousands of miles away, we are going to have to make do with what we have available nearby.
This making do is what I call resilience**. It is the ability to live, indeed to thrive, on what is available with what one has on hand. I know now that my calling all this time has been towards personal resilience. Ironically, it is not towards hermithood somewhere far removed from society, but in fact it is towards a strength of spirit and body that will complement the community around me. Because the crises we face are multifaceted and immense each in its own right, the solutions will have to be holistic ones. I believe at this point my body and my spirit are ready. The remaining steps will be to put myself in the right position to act when the storm finally breaks.
Part 2 “Preparation”
*words given to me by Charles Eisenstein.
**words given to me by Chris Martenson.
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”