Hey, Here’s a Fun Little Exercise to Figure Out Why Life is Such Shit
Here’s a fun little exercise: make friends with fear. Don’t cackle at that. I know it’s a kind of trope, but go with me on this for just a minute or two.
Give it a try, make friends with fear. Why? Because your life is a fucking nightmare and what do you have to lose and it’s worth it if there’s even a chance you’ll be happier with yourself. Right?
Seriously, you’ve got to look into this. I mean, all the shit you feel right now — right? Like, the anxiety about your career — the whole “am I heading in the right direction with my life” thing. Or that deep down fear about your partner that doesn’t go away no matter how good things are or how long you’ve been together; you’ve always got that disquiet place you can kind of go where you’re, like, “damn, am I with the right person?” Or, you’re on the other side of that and you haven’t found someone and you’re dealing with that whole fucking roiling boil of fear and hope. Then of course there’s the depression that just kind of settles on things for no reason like fog over a city… just fucking laying there, getting everything damp. Such a dick.
I mean, think of how much of your life you’ve spent in your head trying to untangle knots like these. When you’re driving and the All Things Considered report starts fading off as the goddam Professional Worrier™ part of your brain (is it the Medulla Oblongata??) begins turning over shit in your mind like a Slovenian housekeeper who couldn’t give a shit about if you’re still sleeping, she’s going to clean the room now. All these worries start popping up — I should call Dave. No, he’s at work, lets not bother him. Oh shit, Shannon’s birthday is coming up; I’ve got to get her a good card. She can be such a bitch. Why do I tolerate people in my life I don’t even like that much? Well, that’s not true, I do like them, but it’s so tiring to try to keep up appearances for them. This professional worrier Slovenian house cleaner who barges in uninvited whenever the fuck she wants, she’s just ripping up the room, throwing off bed sheets, collecting glasses and dishes and napkins from last night’s party, mumbling to you the whole time, you know you’re fucking clueless, right? You know you don’t have any control over anything, right? Your employer could just go underwater tomorrow for something something tax law or some shit. Your Mom could just up and dementia herself out of the building. Your own body might just fucking grow a cancer or some shit. All of this shit’s gonna change. And, also, fuck All Things Considered and this “liberal perspectives on the hijab” bullshit story. And you’re, like, damn… I wanted to listen to that.
All this damn dust being kicked up by this professional worrier lady. And you’re somewhere inside that scene trying to keep your shit together, but all these ideas she’s spinning up come with these feelings in your body. The weird, buzzy nervous chest tightness, the sort of acid-in-my-guts feeling of shame, the sluggish and severe lethargy of depression. Even though these feelings are so intense, we barely notice the feeling at all. Instead, we grapple with the ideas they’re kicking up! The part of our brain that takes in all the data and makes some predictions about what’s going on and what we should do, the thinking part of the brain (is it the prefrontal cortex??) elegantly brings all these feelings and thoughts together into a chorus of: everything is fucked; we are, each one of us, profoundly alone; there are no answers and no strategies that will get us to safety and security forever… Ha! Such a dick. But he’s kind of right. Right?
Almost done, we’re winding down here. Stick with me because this is the good part.
And so you kind of reach a bottom limit in these moments. Holy shit I’m profoundly terrified of losing things I love and nobody knows what’s going on and I am going to die a very real death at some point. The bottom, which would make you feel better — like, “hey, I found the bottom guys; it doesn’t get any worse than this!” — if you weren’t smart enough to realize that the bottom just keeps going. It’s a bottomless bottom, endless bottomness. So, instead of the “found the bottom and we can work our way up from here!,” you’ve got oh shit, it just keeps going forever… profoundly alone… etc.
So, anyways, listen — you’ve got these intense fears. You just do. And nobody else sees them in you with clarity. Nobody knows how hard you’re working to fucking keep a goddam balance going. Nobody sees how hard you are on yourself. Nobody knows about the night terrors, or those lightning flashes of intense fear, or that goddam fog sadness that just sort of lays on everything whenever it wants to — fucking dick. Nobody can see that in you because just about every single one of us is caught up being so hard on ourselves that we can’t use other people in any other way but to soothe a little of our own need for security. You’ve got these intense fears, but your dad or grandpa or grandma never looked into your eyes and saw it and told you how fucking amazing you are for keeping going — how strong you are to tolerate all this shit at once, how sensitive of a soul you are to feel these things as heavily as you feel them. None of our dads looked into our eyes, saw that, and said to us: You’re doing a great job, and I can’t say it gets easier, but I’m really proud of you. Because for someone to do that…
When someone bridges that gap, from bottomless to bottomless, it is… it’s just enough. Enough for a whole new feeling. It’s like love, but it’s better. Love in the world of certainty and progress and the kingdom of modern man on earth is just kind of like an agreement. But love in the upside down world, the world of bottomless and bottomless, unqualified and sincere insecurity, love there is… transcendent.
So, c’mon guys! Look into those fears you have. Do the Sandberg and Lean In™ on this shit, because these things that are so terrifying are the things that can take away the terror. The fears are their own antidotes.
How do you do it? Here’s what I do: start a running list of things that scare you. Write one down when you think of it. At first it was tough to get used to seeing the fears (because I had spent the last 15 years being the fears, like, living inside of them and mistaking them for me-ness). But after you’ve seen and written down a few it gets easier to see more (like Pokemon Go??). And that’s basically the only step. From there you’ll notice the fear, you’ll remember it’s name, and you can watch it like it’s a troubled student having a hard time fitting in with the others at school. If you feel any love from reading this article, maybe you’ll have a little love to give that troubled kid so that, instead of isolating them in a special classroom, you can actually get her integrated. The student body needs her, you guys. Otherwise she wouldn’t be there.
As an example, here’s some of the fears on my running list:
- Losing another child, or spending the next 10 years keeping trying to have children and losing too much of my wife in the process. I’m sad and scared about that. (And since writing this down, my wife and I can actually talk about this. Bottomless to bottomless, guys!)
- Career, success and money certainty stuff. I mean, I want to be a big deal, guys. I’m not afraid to admit it: I really think I could be. And it’s not the fame thing; it’s the going into the grave with my songs unsung thing. Life’s too miraculous (and maybe too endlessly meaningless) to not shoot for a great fucking ride. This one, right now, is scary in a kind of exciting way.
- That thing where I’m asleep and I half wake up and it feels like there’s someone standing by the bed. What the fuck is that about?? Haven’t learned anything from this one yet; bet I could, though.
- I’m afraid that following my heart — really listening to my gut and trying to pull that thread of curiosity and delight every day — will cause people I really love, like members of my family, my son, my wife, my coworkers, to lose trust in me. Feels like a calculated risk (because I’m still a charming motherfucker and can work hard to win people over), but it makes me sad to think of ever hurting these people.
- Here’s a sadness, not a fear: I’m sad to think that every one of us is going to die and that might be it, the end of the show. That there’s nothing beyond all the learning and development and beauty and experience acquired here in life. I want my grandpa to be rewarded for how awesome he did life. And if the quality of your life is, itself, the reward of life well lived, well then, that’s actually very beautiful to me. But still, it’s sad that we all die, that your brave soul will get tuckered out and do something completely final. I’m sad that you’ll have to go through that, I’m sad I will and my son will too. We have these great rewards in life, these tremendous feelings and experiences… I still kinda think you and I deserve more though :( But, if I’m honest, this makes me double down on the best feelings this side of the grave. That’s something.
So, there’s a fun little exercise. Make friends with fear, you guys. There’s good stuff to learn there. (The only stuff??)
I have been Chase Wardman Reeves. Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to my email list if you want more writings like this over time.