Monday, March 18, 2013

Introspection Part 2: Fear

So I was planning to write next on the idea of uncertainty, inspired by this post on the topic from Joanna Powell Colbert, but I've been sidetracked.  My buddy Colin, whom some of you may remember from previous posts about aping it up with the Caveman Ninja, wrote a marvelous piece recently about fear, which you all should go read right now so here it is.

Sidenote:  Colin I am never ever watching a scary movie with you anywhere on the premises.

Ok, back to semi-seriousness.  The post resonated particularly well with me because I've been mulling over this ongoing drive to seek out things that scare me, otherwise known as Project Fear Less.  I know I haven't provided updates on that in a while, but it's continuous!  Notable: the parts where I'm

  •  giving away or selling nearly all of my stuff 
  • closing my lease 
  • quitting all but one job 
  • going to Ireland for two and a half months with no perfectly clear plan of where I'm going to live or how I'm going to completely provide for myself when I get back.  
I'll still have the solidity of the programming/labwork gig I picked up with a professor of mine at Duke to go back to, but finding a place to stay in Durham while I'm milking goats in Gorey should prove interesting, to say the least.

But the specifics of what I'm doing (and in some cases specifically not doing, like making overt contingency plans) are less important than the general shift my life is undergoing, and all the action is less a cause of this than a result of it.

It started, as Colin suggests it should, small.  I cut my hair.  I did a(n assisted) handstand.  I wrote a fan letter to someone who wasn't an untouchable celebrity.  Then things began to get bigger.  I moved.  I shaved my head.  I bought a ticket to Ireland.  But also, and more interestingly, I think, the small things grew more automatic and unconscious.

Ever since childhood, I've struggled with anxiety about talking to other people.  Not just strangers, either - even conversations with people I know, like professors, for example, can be shot through with worry: am I being deferential enough? too much? what do I need to be saying? what should I leave out?  Talking to friends that I haven't known forever and a day can be even worse: is it ok to bring up this topic? am I smiling too much so they think I'm creepy or flirting or both? am I not smiling enough so they think I don't like them?

It's dizzying.


After some months now of practicing fear - not just acknowledging its presence but actually seeking it out and throwing myself into its maw - the clamor has begun to quiet.  My brain (which is becoming increasingly distinct from "myself" in my thoughts and reflections) doesn't automatically turn to the Incessant Mental Clattering station anymore.  I say what I think and what I mean, and I smile when I feel like it (which, more and more, is most of the time), and it hasn't turned out ill yet.  There have definitely been some moments when my head fills suddenly with panicky static (telling my professors and parents that I'm not doing internships this year in favor of gallivanting around Europe, asking a friend out on a date without even being completely sure what I mean by the term) but overall there is a slow-but-ever-growing calm in the absence of all the previous noise, and it's utterly beautiful.

This isn't just when I'm talking to people, either.  I used to feel like I was constantly walking the edge of a knife in regards to finances, even when I was relatively better off than I am now.  It drove me to work 70-hour weeks between multiple jobs last summer, and to keep working myself to the bone when school started back up, which resulted in completely breaking down once exams came around and the delicate balance of schedules I'd constructed was suddenly thrown awry.  I talked to my boss, also a good friend, about my worries, telling her "I know I'm doing fine right this second, but if anything goes wrong - I get sick, my car breaks down, whatever - everything else will go to hell too."

These days I'm still dealing with that, but it too feels lessened.  The more work I cut from my schedule (baking hours have already been massively shrunk before my official last day a month and a half from now, and two of my side jobs have already been erased from the planner), the more I feel like I can breathe a little better, even with the decrease in income.  The more small independent things I do on my own (throwing together a couch out of $50 worth of lumber with borrowed tools, installing a new hard drive in my laptop myself), the less terrifying even the worst of the scenarios my brain likes to taunt me with seem, and the sillier all the smaller daily anxieties become as well.

And that's really the best part of this entire project.  Big things seem less scary.  Small things seem less scary.  The more I run after all these different fears and stare them in the face and talk to them and find out all their secrets, the less frozen I am when confronted by something I didn't expect.  Life is bigger and more boundless, and it just keeps growing.



  1. I am definitely fearful of a lot of things so I think it's so great what you're doing!! baby steps are definitely the way to start!

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