Last time I wrote, things had gone from wonderful to chaotic, and I had to look backward to the words I’d written myself to carry me through the openings of a new chapter. That chapter opened just over a month ago, and right now, I feel the same need to do the same thing. Look back, grab my lifebelt and hold on tight through stormy seas.
So… things are hard right now. But they could also turn out great. I don’t know what the future holds at all, and that’s terrifying, but right now I do have things to be thankful for. My incredible friends and family, my imagination, people willing to indulge it, and a new job I think is going to be pretty amazing. I might not be able to turn off my brain’s rapidfire of thought, fear, worry… the list goes on. But I can choose not to be consumed by it, and let what will be, be. Deep breaths.
The month flew by faster than I can believe, but I think it’s partially through my own doing. I began my new job, and on the very first day I knew this was going to be something different. Something special. I even found myself sapping it up at the end of the first week sending out a mass e-mail with a lovely quote about having found a place to belong, and soon I was out and about at press conferences, fancy lunches, and being given the thumbs up to geek out on the company blog about the superheroes of science. On Facebook, I gushed incessantly about how much I was adoring my new role—I’ve never found anywhere quite so full of wonderful, genuine human beings that seem to see something in me and encourage it to flourish. They’re sincerely concerned about me as a person, recognize my strengths, and are here to help me learn and overcome my shortcomings. They know some of the dearest people in my personal life, and have taken me out for lunches to get to know me, to help me, and to make sure I feel included as part of the team. I’m loving it there very much, and though the pace of each day is incredibly rapid and is taking getting used to, I am constantly doing, and that’s what I do best.
But then the soldiers begin to awaken from their slumber in preparation for that old internal battle that’s raged for as long as I can remember. And I’m devastated that a war that’s been going on for so long, one I’ve done everything to end, continues. The battle between sticking to what I’m good at and becoming even better, or challenging myself to do the things I’m not in the hopes of overcoming the fear that keeps me from them. That fight against all the things I’ve been, for all the things I want to be. But someone said to me recently that I needed to focus on what I am. I’ve felt for a very long time that I need to be more; if you’ve read for a while you’ll know the very reason I started blogging was to write about the difficulties I’ve had with anxiety, explore ways to overcome it, to challenge myself constantly with the goal of weakening its grip to the point of just being free, and to connect, to grow, and hopefully, somehow, inspire. I’m turning thirty next year, and I spent far too much of this decade in the restraints of fear. When the realisation came that I had the power to choose to not be afraid, or at the very least be afraid and choose to march forth anyway, life began to open up. I made that list of things I was afraid of, and did every one of them. People asked me why the hell I would choose to put myself in a situation of such discomfort on such an ongoing basis, but I knew that there was a whole world out there of things to experience, learn; people to meet, and share stories and adventures with; people to show that they don’t need to be afraid either… that we can choose to open ourselves to everything in the world and pour it all back out there if we just recognise that power within us… but it’s not easy. Easy is staying still, and that’s a waste of life, of potential, of the book we’re all writing with every day that passes. I want mine to be the biggest adventure ever, and that urge, that desire, I think is a good one—to always be doing, creating, exploring, and connecting, but at the same time… it’s overwhelming. Can you like something about yourself that leaves you feeling both accomplished and burnt out?
I struggle with taking time not doing, but I get overwhelmed by doing too much. But I can’t stop. With every problem, I keep asking myself “why?” Over and over, deeper and deeper, until the answer is very simple. But I can’t get around this one. Is it a curse of the INFJ, the “most extraverted of all the introverts?” I have such an immense desire for deep, meaningful human connection; big, incredible feelings and experiences; projects that are hugely imaginative and unique and magical; knowledge to soak up and memories to be made. I feel so very passionately about so many things, and on one hand, I feel like I need to devote all my free time to all of them, but on the other? I’m wondering if I need to dial it down and learn how to be okay with letting go of a few things and focus on one thing at a time. Because right now, I’m trying to do it all. I’ve always been a “doer” (I have a hard time staying in the bath for more than five minutes because I get bored and think of all the things that aren’t just sitting there), but I think it kicked into high gear after the breakup. I feel so deeply I knew that if I didn’t dive into things I’d be consumed by the devastation. I just so happened to dive into all of the things, and while I feel productive and connected and present (and only get swallowed by loneliness very occasionally), I also feel like I’m running a mile a minute and I’m not actually getting any one thing done. (I think my lack of patience plays into things a little here, too.)
I’m doing cool photo shoots, I’m finally starting my series as a photographer, I’m investing in new audio equipment and learning the ropes there, I’m throwing myself back on YouTube back at square one so I can get back to where I was and hopefully become better, I’m seeing people probably six days out of seven… but I’m not getting results from any one thing. I haven’t worked on my book in the longest time—something I’m incredibly passionate about and I know I’m good at—but something that involves extensive periods of solitude. Is that why I’ve been avoiding it? Something I know, when I’m finished, I’ll be proud of, but something I’m scared to go back to because I know I can’t switch off my brain when I’m not in others’ company? And that brain, though filled to the brim with imagination and ideas, gratitude and determination, is still filled with a relentless fear and sadness? I am continually choosing to fill my schedule and engage in things—if I’m being honest, so I don’t get consumed by it. I don’t engage, and my thoughts tend to get the better of me. So I keep doing. But I need to learn to stop and breathe.
Part of me says to take action; fight your way to the surface because everybody truly has the power to take action to create the life they want. But what if what you want most of all is to be loved?
You can do and make and engage and organize your life as much as you want, and you can feel good about using your time on this earth to actually do something, but at the end of the day, you have no control over whether someone will think you’re wonderful and want to maybe share a life, a life of magic and passion and adventure and beautiful, secret, safe adoration and unity. I engage myself in all these things for the most part because I am incredibly passionate about creating and imagining and learning and doing. But I also do it, partially, to avoid the loneliness. This brings me back to what my friend said to me recently about how I think so much about the past and the future; I’m so focused on changing who I was and my shortcomings because I’m not yet the person I one hundred per cent want to be—in my heart I am; but externally, no. I’m still on my way, and I’m happy with my values, the person I am inside… but I’m not happy with the hold fear and nerves still have over me. I’m not happy I’m not really good at some of my passions yet. I’m not happy there’s so much on the inside I wish people could see that gets masked by my own self-doubt. Not even doubt; I’m infinitely less insecure than I used to be, and some of those things from that list, though initially terrifying, have led me to things I absolutely adore now. I’m more confident in my abilities, I’m more determined, and I’m more secure with myself knowing what kind of a person I am. I can recognize the good qualities within now whereas before they were invisible. I’m stronger and those dear to me have shown me I’m not a doormat. But I can’t lie and say I’m still not afraid of being in the spotlight (then why do I pursue music?) or of isolation (then how am I an introvert?).
I initially wanted to write this post about the dilemma of being given a finite amount of time each day and either using it to stick to what you’re good at and become amazing at those things, or to challenge yourself and expand your skills. I’ve always leaned more toward the latter, but again, why? I think something about having been balled up in the tangles of an anxiety disorder for a long time propelled me to want to do everything, but maybe everything is just too much. Maybe this feeling of being overwhelmed is something I should listen to, and start restoring some balance. Balance including alone time to just be, and be present. I have a hard time even thinking about that, but I think it might be kind of necessary. Pick one creative project at a time that I can devote my time to instead of splintering it between five. Pick a few evenings a week where I deliberately schedule time for just that. Pick some time to have no plans. And only make time for the things and people that genuinely contribute to life being awesome. It’s easy to do what’s easy. But I think it’s better to ultimately do what might be difficult, but what’s definitely right. We’re all stories, in the end. Let’s make it a good one.
Time to focus on learning how to slow down and to live more in the here and now. I will never lose my enthusiasm, but it’s time to simply accept every possibility and to focus on the things within the realm of control. To stop worrying so much, to stop being afraid, and to be okay in my own company. (I think I’m pretty good company!) To never lose hope, but to stay strong through the sadness. To acknowledge every day how much good there really, truly is around me. And to remember that it really isn’t about the destination, and maybe, in this moment, I’m okay after all.
When my friend told me I just needed to be loved for who I am right now, I burst into tears and couldn’t stop. (Not ideal in the middle of a busy lunch hour in a restaurant!) I may not have control over whether anyone else does, but I can make some changes in lifestyle, in focus, in belief and in presence, that I think may just steer this ship out of the storm and onward to the horizon.
” I think something about having been balled up in the tangles of an anxiety disorder for a long time propelled me to want to do everything, but maybe everything is just too much. Maybe this feeling of being overwhelmed is something I should listen to, and start restoring some balance.”
Exactly this. I almost lost an entire decade of development to crippling anxiety and depression (without even being aware of what it was for several years) and it really left a huge void to fill. The problem has been in the past year after (mostly) conquering these issues I’ve started to make all these plans on what I want to do, what direction I want my life to take, the things I want to learn. The problem is I’ve spent this entire year making all these plans but I’ve yet to really accomplish any progress on anything.
Lost, adrift on a sea on thoughts…
“Can you like something about yourself that leaves you feeling both accomplished and burnt out?”
Of course your can. When I used to tell people how hard I was working on my novel – my parents, my friends – they always seemed to misunderstand, like the hard work was the mere act of my typing hands, my butt placed firmly in a chair for eight hours a day. What I was really referencing was the emotional toll that it takes on you, the process of finding those nooks deep within you, those hard places which are necessary to “create,” and also the vicarious existence that we attach to our characters, like their plight is our plight, like our journeys are intertwined. When you can do those things, and better yet, when you can produce quality from it, you certainly feel said accomplishment, but you burn out hard. And it’s lonely. Writing is not just lonely because it is something you do by yourself, it is lonely because the world and the experiences you are creating are confined to your mind, it is lonely because, suddenly, the people you feel closest to don’t actually exist, except inside your head. So there is no question, it is hard to work through that intermixing of fulfillment and affliction, but it’s part of the process, and it’s what makes us creators.
As for your decision to focus on the things you’re good at (which, if I’m reading correctly, is what you decided to do), I think as we age that sort of thing is an inevitability that we all face, and I don’t think we should be afraid of it. When I was young – my early twenties, perhaps? – I kind of absorbed the philosophy that the world is grand and soaked with endless possibilities, and that I need to grasp every one of them, to do and attempt a bit of everything. It’s interesting that you talked about approaching your thirties, because I think it was around thirty that I finally started limiting myself, concluding that the world is in fact TOO big, and, to steal a quote, “life is barely long enough to get good at one thing.” (The ingenious response to that comment – “You gotta be careful what you get good at.”) You may look at it differently, but I truly think that my decision to crack down and actually complete a novel was my saying to the world, “THIS is what I’m going to get good at.” If I didn’t make that decision – however subconsciously – I honestly don’t think the novel would have gotten done. I would have let the world’s other possibilities become too distracting.
I think you’re making the right decision, and I think you should head full-force into those things for which you feel most passionately. And I think you’ll be surprised to find that it helps you in other areas as well, that things you thought you were abandoning are in fact a part of the grander picture. That is, by narrowing our focus, we actually come out of it with an even broader focus. Deciding what is most important is the best way to give importance to ourselves.