A Real, Live Personal Epiphany!
I spent last week designing my presentation for MBlog 2014 — The Anatomy of Great Content (and the fire that refines it) — but I did it mostly lying on my back in bed with my laptop propped up on my legs. Yay, flu! By the time I arrived in Winnipeg the day before my talk, I had not even had the opportunity to practice it out loud, because I was too sick and tired before then to have been able to sustain my voice and a coherent line of thought.
Needless to say, I felt a bit panicked the night before and stayed up until 1 a.m. pacing my hotel room at the Fort Garry, going over my slides and hoping that I would not ramble on until I was lost between points like I had been between fever bouts all week.
I used this as an excellent excuse to order in room service and scarfed down the best pecan pie I had had in some time:
Of course, I knew deep down that my talk would go decently well, because I knew the material, I can talk about it for days, and I'm really starting to get into this speaking business, but still I had to panic. Who would I be if I didn't?
No, really. Who would I be without panic? Sometimes I wonder how much of my anxiety and panic is just a habit, a groove worn deep in my brain's record. I do it because I do it.
I have been considering taking up a meditation practice for a while, and I even had a secret New Year's resolution tucked away in my brain that 2014 was the year to learn to deal with this aspect of my life. I even joined a Facebook group for meditators so I would see their updates and be urged along that path.
Surprise! I haven't done a thing about it!
My predictability is so damn predictable.
I've worked in a pretty solid groove. I think I was born with a thread of anxiety and obstinate rejection already scratching itself along the inside of my skull, but I've really worked it in deep and hard since then, and, as much as it grinds against my nerves until I lie awake at night listing the many very realistic ways in which I could meet an untimely and tragic end, I don't do yoga or take up meditation or practice breathing exercises.
Habits, even the awful ones, stick like demons.
I quit smoking 4.5 years ago, and I quit drinking 3.5 years ago. I quit a job in an abusive work environment and went to therapy. I stopped identifying myself as a shrinking violet too afraid to speak in front of people and became a public speaker, of all things. I can affect change in my life. I can alter bad habits. Still, though, I cling to the anxiety and tension that has complicated my life since my first conscious memories at one-and-a-half.
I hate change. It freaks me right out. I think that's why I kept drinking and smoking for over twenty years and sat in abusive work situations for almost five years running. I contemplated suicide on a weekly basis while I chased blackouts to avoid contemplating suicide, because, even though my life was a sucking chest wound in many respects, it was a sucking chest wound I understood. I knew what it was about, and it had a path I could chart, and if I squinted hard enough, I could pretend a guy like Bukowski was romantic.
And just like that, I know what this is.
I am holding on to my anxiety like I held onto drugs. It has described and circumscribed who I am, what I do, and how I do it since I learned to toddle along on chubby feet, and identity is a hard thing to crack, because what's on the other side? There is this diving board jutting out over a void, the Mariana Trench of the unknown. The choking fear, toes curled over the edge of the board, makes more sense than the leap, because this? I know this. I know how this life behaves and what it demands of me.
I've made this choice before, though, or at least with pieces of my life along the way that were born of this anxiety, and maybe that's it. Maybe this is exactly it. This is the thing that created all the others. I could get rid of the drinking and the smoking and whathaveyou, because they weren't the thing itself. They were all symptoms of the thing I don't want to stare down.
"How do you like them apples?" my Self asked.
"I hate them apples," I answered.
"You and me both," my Self replied.
This very special episode of Schmutzie.com is brought to you by live, personal epiphanies and the letter P, for Pecan Pie.
UPDATE: Due to a misunderstanding on the part of a commenter, I want to make sure that you know I am not at all implying that anxiety is not a medical condition that may require medical treatment. Here is my quoted response below:
I am not suggesting at all that anxiety is not a clinical condition (it is), or that medication is not an option, or that "letting go" is what will heal it. In fact, I never mentioned letting go as being the fix for this. Anxiety is a much bigger issue than just needing to relax.
What I did here is acknowledge the role anxiety plays in my life and that it is the thing I must pay attention to and work on. This may lead me to medication, and I am not a failure if that is what will heal me. Neither are you. Active pursuit of healing and wellness is not a failure.