Battling anxiety: facing fears

back in the day when I wasn’t afraid of anything

“Let Life race you out beyond your own boundaries over and over again until you are comfortable with watching the map of normal’s edge disappear behind you.
Let Life show you that it is safe to exceed your own expectations and reputation and prove that the only danger in following her into the wilderness is a loss of your own fear.
This is when we gain the warrior’s heart, the master’s eye, and the student’s mind. After that, Life holds our hand in every adventure and shows us things not possible before.”
– Jacob Nordby

The first time I talked to a therapist she basically told me I needed to confront my anxiety or it would continue to get worse. I thought she was crazy and had no idea what she was talking about. I wasn’t there to be challenged, all I wanted in that moment was to be told that I was important and my problems were valid. I wanted her to give me an answer for why I was struggling so much. Her suggestion seemed offensively simple, and impossible at the same time. I believed that instead what I needed was a diagnoses, maybe some medication, and a lot of solitude. I continued to opt out of social events, maintain minimal communication with those I lived with, and went on living life according to the roller coaster of my emotions. I let a negative voice boss me around, telling me that even eye contact with a stranger on the street was not something I could do. I convinced myself that I had just become someone who needed to be alone a lot, that my environment was toxic, it wasn’t what I wanted, it was all wrong. I let myself believe that when I didn’t hear from someone for a while, it must mean they weren’t interested in our friendship anymore. Bumping into familiar faces meant I would shuffle through small talk like it was a four-piece puzzle. Ask about school, midterms, offer some light compliments and depart.

I am aware that everyone sees anxiety a little differently, and each of our experience is unique. If it is causing significant distress in your life, please seek out professional help. In no way do I assume that my experience will look like yours.

I hate to say it, but I think she was right. Maybe she could have waited until a little later to say but it was true. I needed to face my fears. I just didn’t want to hear that yet. Because it wasn’t the fears that were the problem, I believed that I was unable to face them. I needed to challenge the negative, and question its validity. Was it providing support, or simply sorrow? Was it enlightening me, or just preventing me from trying? I can see a pattern that my mind follows, one that has led me down dangerously lonely paths. I enter without hope of a light at the end.

1. I get invited to an event, to a party, or I think of someone who I really want to see. A quiet voice states the possibilities, the opportunities within the invitation. But a louder, more familiar voice says “no”… it always says that. It grabs hold of each positive thought and twists them until all I can think of are excuses for why I can’t go. So I decline from attending with some sort of justifcaiton, or I refrain from even responding, shutting out the opportunity at the source.
2. I affirm the belief that I’m unable to go out, by not going out. By not making the first step, by hesitating. The hesitation only builds with more thought, more reasons why I was justified in saying no.
3. Anything that creates discomfort is met with agreement, and arrangements are met so those discomforts are dealt with in solitude. In an attempt to stay safe, I also manage to avoid connection.

This path is a familiar one, but I am realizing it’s never too late to change it. You can always stop, get off, and have a look around. Maybe analyze the scene a little more, maybe begin to look for something different. Maybe decide that you are worth the effort and discomfort that comes with risk.

So this is a new pattern, something that I challenge myself with almost everyday. It can be exhausting, and there are many days when I don’t have it in me. But more often then not, I am met with a reality that doesn’t match the anxiety story in my mind.

1. I think to myself, I’d really like to get to know people in my classes.
2. As I sit down next to a stranger, I’m met with familiar discomfort, an inner critic saying “don’t say anything, it will be awkward”. But this time I don’t listen, and before I have the time to build up an imaginary scenario in my mind, I start with something simple, small talk, “How’s it going?”
3. The conversation usually progresses just fine, names exchanged, and sometimes small connections are made with interests, other classes, or shoe brands, who knows.
4. The fear of introduction is no longer present, because I acted on it and demonstrated that it was not enough to stop me from living my life. It has no place anymore, it has been conquered, even if just for that single moment.
5. The next time it arises, I have a past experience to draw from, knowing that in reality I am in no danger, and I will most likely be just fine. Once again I take power away from the voice that wants me to be safe, and not to take any risks.

I never wanted to believe that the way to conquer my fears was to actually conquer them. There must be another way. Maybe I’m just not meant to be social, or to achieve the things I thought I wanted. Maybe I need to look for other options. I wanted a way out, but I didn’t want to think that the way out was the way in. That everything I have told myself I couldn’t do was only doable when I… did it. It still seems too simple sometimes, too obvious to be a real solution. But as I say yes to opportunities, as I engage with people and lean in to the discomfort, I can see a difference. Instead of trusting in the fear instinct, I trust in the one that wants more. I begin to see that I have a choice in every situation, not of my circumstances, but of my perspective. I can choose to see the possible catastrophes, or I can choose to believe in success. I can choose to believe that I am capable of whatever I want. I can choose to focus on other people, rather than fearing their perception of me. I can do what I want, and not be filled with “what-ifs”.

It’s exhausting sometimes… okay lots of the time. But as long as I remember how exhausting it is to see the world as a terrifying unpredictable place, being exhausted from taking risks is a better option.

I recognize that this has been my experience, and your story looks different. But we all have fears, and sometimes they are what hinder us the most. And the worst thing we can do is simply dwell on how much we fear them. So maybe we can begin to face them, one thought at a time.

“We change our behaviour when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” – Henry Cloud

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Changing Perspectives

485504631_f743212a70_oYou are on your way to a family gathering. As you stare out the window wondering who all is going to be there, the ones you know and the distant relatives you’ve never met, your sibling pipes up with their shred of knowledge,
“Agh, Susan is going to be there. She’s the worst, all she ever does is talk about herself.”
You consider the statement, not having any prior experience with Susan, you side with this story, and plan for a meeting with your “self-centred” cousin.
When you are eventually introduced, all you notice are the things Susan does, particularly her choice of conversation topics. As the evening moves along, you now have a reservoir of all the things she has said about herself, further confirming your hypothesis about her, though based on outside opinion.
Now what if someone had told you that Susan was the most fascinating person you will ever meet? What if they said she was funny, interesting and caring? Maybe you would have looked for those things, maybe you would have something to support that idea.

We all have a perspective. We have a way that we are interpreting our world. A way that we see the past, present and future. Just like someone who colour-blind sees a banana differently than you, so everything in your world receives a similar variance in interpretation. Sometimes our interpretation comes from our curious interest, like a child discovering that the hot stove is red for a reason. Other times, our interpretations are shaped by what others have told us about life.

Regardless, there is a reality inside of our head, all of what we believe to be happening. This “reality” creates experience, memories, regrets and ideas. Sometimes, the reality that we see isn’t so favourable to us. Like when you walk into a room and it seems like everyone is staring right at you, sending mind bullets of disapproval right into your brain. When everything in your day seems to be going against you, or you are lost in the confusion of what to do. When pain arrives, when pleasure dissipates. When your heart beats faster, and your lungs expand quicker and quicker. When the noise is loud, and the lights are bright.

You are always experiencing something in a certain way. But when you are certain about how it is being experienced, then life seems to only have one hand of cards dealt for you.
So why do we often believe only the negative things about ourselves and our experience? Why do we allow our perspective to be one of guilt, anxiety, fear and insecurity? Somehow we have been convinced that the way that we see things must be the way that they are, but maybe they are not that way at all.

What if we could see our perspectives for what they are? Simply…perspectives. One side of the story, one flip of the coin. One grain of sand, a drop of rain in a thunderstorm, a star in the sky. Believing this, could we decide that we want to see things differently, and allow the flow of infinite sight into our lives? Could we set ourselves free from the traps of “this is always the way it will be” and open up to a “how will I see this?”. What if we questioned everything, especially whatever it is that tells us we are anything but amazing?

People will always tell you what is. Because, as A. Hughman would say, “It is the certain who stop searching”. And maybe a lot of us don’t always want to be searching. It is scary territory, to say the least. But when you search you have agreed that there is more, you have decided that what you know now can’t be all there is. And maybe we need to remind ourselves of the uncertainty of all that we think we know in order to let go of the ways that we are stuck. All the ways we let ourselves think that we are not capable of seeing more.

Are we only seeing one side of the story, yet writing the script like we know it all? Everything we do is from our perspective, and our perspective shapes everything we do. Why not change it for the better?

Photo Attribution

Love Yourself

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First.
Before trying to fix.
Before you return.
Before the repair.
Before the journey on.
Before you take one more step.
Please, love yourself.

Love the legs that got you here, and the ones that will
step bravely into the wilderness.

Love the heart that did not give up, the one that beats to a song, your song.

Love the eyes that trusted beyond the darkness enough to go without for a little while.

Love the body that grows, the one that will one day perish, for now it holds you, and you have it, it does not have you.

Love the mind that examines this landscape, constantly learning and responding to endless mystery.

Love the pockets of memories that it holds, and the ones that it will one day let go of.

Love the infinite consciousness that your soul holds in a cosmic embrace, love the fact that NOBODY can truly tell you who you need to be, because nobody really knows.

Love this moment, because it’s all you will ever have. It’s all you ever needed.

Love yourself as a companion, one that will never leave your side.

Love your fear, enough to know you can conquer it.

Love your ability to decide, the one thing that can never be taken from you.

Love yourself for all of this. Love the self you have been and what you will be.

Love.

Now carry on.

Photo: Justin Kern

The Pursuit of Truth

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I’ve been away. You see, I’ve been trying to find truth. But it seems to evade me. Many hold a version of truth, but I fear none are certain. There are many answers, but I always seem to have more questions. I wonder if truth exists.

That’s a scary thought. Yet the idea consumes my thoughts. So in the interest of being transparent, let me tell you how terrifying it is to feel like truth is unknowable. Many may argue, even attempt to convince me otherwise. However, currently, this is how I understand it. Though there are minds in the world relatively much more educated and intelligent than my own, the only reality I will ever be able to attempt to fully grasp is mine. No matter the knowledge I gain of policies, laws of nature, discoveries of quantum physics or neuroscience, I will remain inside my reality. I will remain inside this body, with this brain, the one that so longs for something true. Maybe we ought to pay attention to it.

I feel confused, that maybe the answers I have been told are not, in fact, the whole story. I feel confused for myself, asking what part of my own reality am I truly experiencing, and if the rest is a conclusion to help me navigate this world “successfully”.
The thing is, this confusion is not by one fault. The person who told you that in order to be happy you need the right car or clothes, they were likely told something such as that before, and are merely repeating it. Many times I have had the audacity to claim an opinion on ideas I don’t know I really believe to be true. This is because we learn what is available to learn. We learn within our culture, our environment. So maybe a lot of it is outside your control, maybe we have to actively swim upstream, against the ideas that are easy to passively accept when asking for a comfortable life.

Sometimes I wonder if truth exists, or if we simply cannot know it. Sometimes I wonder if we even need search for it. Is there really beauty without understanding?

So what are we supposed to do then? Gosh, I wish I knew. If that were the case, this message would be written in CAPS LOCK and I would do a better job of making it as flawless as the literature law-makers claim quality writing to be.

If I can’t know truth then what can I know?
People say “feelings can be deceiving”, does that mean I can’t even know myself? Is it really that impossible?

In the midst of my inner chaos, I am brought before one idea. I am choosing to begin believing that reality is not absolute, and what works for one, does not have to work for another. Truth may exist, but often I forget to look for the truths within myself right at this moment.

What truth are you listening to? Does it feel right? Or does it make you feel you are not good enough? Does it cause you to fall asleep on a wet pillow, knowing waking up will bring with it a new set of fears? Is it what puts you on auto-pilot, working every day for a pay check and waiting for another day off? Is it the one that presents one road, yet still you can’t seem to figure out how to travel along it?

Why is it that we listen to something, anything, that makes us feel inadequate? When did we allow our own voice to become unfamiliar?
Sure. We want to belong, we thrive in community, we are social beings, or so we’ve been told.
But maybe being social is about contributing the parts of ourself that no one else can. Maybe it need be less about the way we must strive to be number one, and simply about being with one another.

What could finally bring us to accept the inherent value in one another, rather than systems based on failure vs success?

We have created a dichotomy that does not satisfy the diversity of humanity.

Do you feel inadequate? Are you unhappy? Are you listening to someone telling you what you need to accomplish to be okay?

We live in a performance driven culture. One that expects input for output. Yet they choose what you are allowed to contribute. You are more than that. You are a multifaceted, beautiful, unique individual, and that does not change. There is beauty in relationships and community, and I believe that will flourish exponentially when you are able to be who you really desire to be. It means you will have the courage to seek out other people like yourself.

Listen to yourself. Listen to what you want. It is real. It is there within the wonder of a human brain that you have. You are powerful, you are intelligent, you are an innate problem solver. You can create life, instead of fostering death. You can promote growth, instead of allowing suppression. If you can find it within yourself to believe that you are everything you need to be, only then will you be able to begin to pursue ultimate truth.

As long as we let ourselves be told who we are, we will never truly know.

Who are you? I don’t know. Do you?
When truth is hard to find, will you be able to trust the truth within yourself?

You have a voice. May it be celebrated.