I remember, maybe a little less than a year ago now, my first (and perhaps only) true light bulb moment. Do you ever find yourself in a place where all around you, you can see things in life you wish were different? The year from summer 2009 – 2010 has been one of self-discovery for me, and it all began with that moment. The moment when it dawned on me, for the first time, that my circumstances were never going to be what I wanted unless I took the steps to make them that way.
If you’re reading this on my blog, you’ll know that I’ve written on and off about my past struggles with anxiety. I think this is the first time I’ve ever written about them in the past tense. If you’re reading it on Samantha’s (I’m guest posting for her today; do check out her blog, as she’s just wonderful!), then I should probably give you a little bit of a back story.
This time last year, I was seeing a therapist for a social anxiety disorder. I don’t like the idea of therapists, really. I also don’t like the term “social anxiety,” and I especially dislike the word “disorder”. It evokes images and feelings of being afraid, of allowing something to control you, and of something being wrong with you. Although perhaps that was the motivation I needed – I’ve learned over the last little while that the bigger the discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be, the stronger the motivation to change. I think it was a result of years of low self-esteem – with friendships and relationships, I often latched on to whoever showed the slightest interest, even if it probably wasn’t a good idea to have them around. I learned my lesson the hard way – got kicked out of where I was living, had one ex-boyfriend jet off halfway around the world never to come back, and had another gradually sap about $12,000 out of my bank account, start doing drugs, and get arrested for physically abusing me in the street. I think these things, combined with my ongoing self-doubts to make me want to retreat from the world. I gave in to the inner voices that told me that I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t worthy enough to be treated well, and that I had nothing of value to offer the world. That I should keep my mouth shut, because everyone would see how useless I “was”. I was terrified. But I allowed it to happen.
Looking back, I want to take hold of my 22-year old self and give her a good shake, but at the same time, I have to remind myself that things happen for a reason. If it hadn’t been for the bad, I never would have been fuelled to grow in order to find the good. I think in life, we can be nudged slightly, reminded that what we’re doing isn’t good for us. This can be in the form of a simple daydream, wondering what our life would be like had we made a different choice. Or a series of negative events paving the way of a relationship; warning signs to get out. Unfortunately, if we allow our self-doubts to win, bad circumstances are going to continue until something catastrophic has to happen in order for us to open our eyes and truly listen. What happened to me was a megaphone in my ear telling me to alter course from the road I was taking. And had it not come to that point, who knows where I may be now?
One night last summer, it was a low point. I was upset that inside, I so desperately wanted to be able to break free of this fear that was holding me prisoner, and offer myself to the world, hoping to find friendships and new situations, and growth in my career. I wanted to be happy, to be content and comfortable in my own skin, to be able to stand up in front of people and do something inspirational without being plagued by nerves. I was upset because things weren’t the way I wanted them to be. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. And on came the light bulb; a literal shining light of hope on my self-induced darkness.
Dreams are never going to become reality unless you become an active participant in calling them into action.
I’d been wishing and waiting for things to be different… without doing anything about it. It’s so easy in life to victimize ourselves, because I think, sadly, people have a tendency to gravitate toward the things that don’t require as much effort. I was upset that things weren’t the way I wanted them to be, yet I hadn’t played a part in making them happen. Silly girl! I decided from that point forward, things were going to be different.
I made a list of all the things I wanted to be able to do without fear. All the things I wanted to be without worry. A great piece of advice I got was remembering to remind myself that I only have a finite amount of mental energy. I will never be able to control what other people think of me, so instead of using that energy worrying about judgment, I should use it to focus on the things I can control. I can control what I put out into the world. I can control whether I allow myself to take risks with the hope of coming out stronger on the other side. I can control how I take the words of others. “This is a big change,” I was told, “and it’s not going to happen overnight. These things take time.”
But why should they? We all have a choice in how we decide to live our lives, in the way we choose to see the world, and in what we put into it. Just because I’d spent the last twenty-something years making the wrong ones doesn’t mean I have to ease myself into making the right ones gradually. Every day is a new opportunity to change everything, if you only have the determination. Since last summer, I’ve made the choice instead of retreating, to dive headfirst into everything that scared me. I can choose whether I allow things to control my life, or if I want to control my own.
It started off incredibly hard. Just because the mentality is shifting doesn’t mean the physiological signs of anxiety shake off so easily. The first workshop I facilitated, I went in trembling and stuttering. The first workshop I came out of, after telling the students why I decided to give it a shot, I left to the sound of applause. It was the best feeling in the world. A tiny victory that fuelled my desire to keep growing, keep trying anything and everything that used to terrify me. It’s definitely been a journey of ups and downs – chairing meetings to a room full of people twice my age is intimidating, facilitating a workshop as the youngest person on staff is daunting, singing to the Internet was nerve-wracking, and sharing my story perhaps the scariest of all. But I’m determined to keep trying. Of course there are things still on my list. Real life karaoke, speaking to a class of 30 instead of 10, and reading my writing in a couple of weeks in a public bookstore to a bunch strangers. I’m still apprehensive. But determined to come out stronger on the other side.
Sometimes, all it takes to change what you don’t like about your life is making a choice and sticking to it. Having the courage (or at least pretending to!) not only to recognise what it is you don’t like about your life, even if it’s admitting past mistakes, but to venture forth and take control. None of us need be a prisoner of fear. We have every right to be able to be the person we want to be. You can’t control what other people are going to think about you. But you can control what you put out into the world. And if it’s positivity, and determination to better yourself and the lives of the people around you? I don’t think anyone could ask for anything more.