As someone with imagination by the bucketful, I can always picture the most dire outcome possible for virtually every scenario. Which is great if you’re looking for dramatic tension in a story, but pretty much sucks if you want to live your live without being constantly hounded by worry and fear.
Things aren’t going well for me at the moment. Money is beyond tight; it’s a laughing memory. I’ve had to make some sacrificial decisions based on the lack of funds, and the future isn’t looking any-too-rosy, either. I’m having trouble sleeping. I’m having nightmares when I do sleep. And let me tell you, they are full Technicolor anxiety-inducing stuff-of-dreams that leave me more tense and drained than if I’d never shut my eyes at all.
I’ve gotten very little writing done this year, which is a problem because writing is supposed to be the back-up plan to supplement the income. Well, it’s a struggle to write anything worth reading when your head is up your ass. For one thing, it’s pretty dark in there. Yeah, I know, whine more, right? But when you are so busy chasing your tail and stressing about your future, it’s hard to focus on the here and now.
Last night I came home after a stressful day at work, which had included a disquieting conversation with one of my bosses. I hadn’t slept much the night before. I’d forgotten to turn on the AC before I left the house, so it was like a sauna when I arrived home. I was fretting about what to eat for dinner when it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps, given the difficulties of coping with everything in my life right now, it wasn’t a big deal that I am 20 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. (Okay, 25…) That maybe this was one goal that it was okay for me to put on the back burner for a while, as long as I didn’t let it out of sight completely. That, *gasp*, maybe it was okay to fail.
The sense of relief that I didn’t have to beat myself up over my dinner choices is hard to describe.
Like a domino-effect, I began applying it to almost everything else in my life that has been looming over my head like a Sword of Damocles for, I don’t know, the last couple of decades. With very few exceptions, nothing that I have been stewing and fretting over would kill me if it came to pass. I don’t become a successful writer? Well, it would be nice, but it won’t kill me if it doesn’t happen. I lose the house, lose my job, have to relocate, etc. etc.–none of these things will make me happy. Some of them will crush me. But they won’t kill me.
Recently I had to move my mare to a retirement farm where I can no longer ride her. I am still brought to tears every time I think of this. But I realize now that this fear of losing her has gripped me for years, impacting the time we had together when we had it. In the last couple of years, I’ve struggled to get out to the barn (despite the fact that it was easier than ever before in terms of location) because of the crushing weight of what might happen looming over me. I’m doing the same kind of ‘regret in advance’ with my dog, too. With everything I love and am terrified of losing. Perhaps if I distance myself in advance, it somehow won’t hurt so goddamn much when it finally comes to pass.
It’s still going to hurt like hell.
But far better to live for the moment, to suck the marrow out of the bones of life, to smile as you feel the sun on your face, instead of worry yourself sick over the rains of tomorrow.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that by giving myself permission to fail, I was able to take a deep breath and say, “Right. Got that over with. Now what?”
Oddly enough, I chose something reasonably healthy for dinner. I’d given myself permission to fail completely, utterly, and totally. And my brain said, “Why don’t you have a salad with your dinner?” Because for the first time in a long time, I could listen to what I wanted instead of what I should eat or what I ought to eat. And left to its own devices on a hot spring evening, my brain said, “Well, don’t eat that, you know it always makes you feel crappy. Why don’t you have this?” And I didn’t feel deprived or resentful at all. Given the freedom to choose, it didn’t do half bad. Maybe I should trust myself more often.
Or maybe the pressure to succeed ceases to be useful when it becomes the reason you fail.
There are events that happen in our lives that are beyond our control. The only thing we can control is our reaction to them. I’ve heard this and understood this for decades. But I think I might finally know exactly what that means now. You have to come to the point of smashing up on the rocks before you realize you have no control over where the tide takes you. Sometimes, you have to trim your sails and stop fighting the pull of the water in order to reach solid ground again.