Standing in the middle of the road.
I don’t really know how many years of surging anxiety it’s been. From childhood yes. But more immediately the heavier work started four or five years ago. The last 25 have been about avoiding pain but the five after that have been about facing it. That’s a long time. But it’s only as long as it takes I suppose. The control freak in me has been desperate every day for it to be shorter. Every day I’ve woken up hoping to be better, for anxiety and/or depression to be miraculously gone, and if I string a few good days together I look over my shoulder to see where it is and it runs towards me and embraces me again. I should never have looked.
This year alone I have woken up at 5am most mornings. And ridiculously every morning I am surprised that I woke up at 5 as though the next day would be the “breakthrough”. Maybe I had five days in a whole year where it relented. I never realized that it was this very control, this anxiety, this urgency to be healed that made me sick. It’s like wanting to get something off me in a panic. Like a bee flying down my shirt. It’s an immediate knee-jerk to be rid of it. Tireless questioning, analyzing, solving, seeking safety, asking, self obsessing. I kept it alive and breathed fire into it, as I wrestled with it with fury and fear. This beastly creature that clubs me over the head and drags me into the shadows, or tiptoes up from behind and terrifies the life out of me. Anxious thoughts, or the heavy downward force of depression want to hold me there. Their very presence radiates a flame that begs for more fuel. And until I stand still and feel it’s roaring heat burn my skin, actually welcoming it in and beckoning it to come closer, then it will always hold me tighter than the grip I have on it. It’s taken me years of therapy and mindfulness to just start to notice that (not even “solve” it), and I am not “cured”, because there is no cure, only resilience and healing. It’s taken this entire exhausting (adrenal fatigue) chase for a solution that has battered me into corner after corner. I can’t even believe I’m admitting it publicly. For three decades I used different strategies to keep it bright and shiny on the outside. Alcohol, drugs, overworking, being a great husband and father, son, but never really stopping to let in the pain of stuff I had never allowed in. And then once I’d let it out of the bag I spent five years trying to stuff it back in. Five fucking years. And then I realized that’s what had me stuck. This insistence on “getting better” or living a good life or being normal and fitting in. As I denied the existence of hard emotions or stuffed them down and jammed the lid on, it started to create compulsive behaviours, worrying, checking, solving, self obsessing, which then gave birth to more of the same. An infinity loop it seemed.
And just recently I met a person that told me the way to heal is to find out what’s true to you deep inside and express yourself through that, however frightening. So I started making videos, just talking to myself - really letting the truth out. Allowing myself to be so many things — self compassionate, angry, self-hateful, a disciplinarian, a chilled cat, a father, it doesn’t really matter, it was just a place where I started to be all the diverse parts of myself. Even doing the videos kind of obsessively was ok, because I am obsessive. That’s who I am. Why am I trying not to be? And I found that I liked creating. I liked not giving a shit what I sounded like or looked like. And that made me want to do more freeing things. I have been frozen for years, cryogenically stuck in my own boring fear, my victim story of not knowing how to help myself, how to step forward and take a journey, irrespective of the result. I had so many mastermind excuses. Health worries, money worries, relationship worries. It was all drama and distraction from taking one tiny step forward after the other, untying the black cloak knot by knot that was strung tight around my neck. The anxiety is of course now a health issue but it was caused by swimming upstream against the tide of who I am. I fell foul into being who I should be in society, and as an actor I could play two opposing roles, as opposed to being multidimensional - funny, dry humoured, self-effacing, obsessive, scared, caring and charitable but over empathic, loving but insecure. Good and complex things together. And I’ve been wanting to iron them flat. Get them into a straight line and erase the bad stuff. That would after all pave the way to safety and happiness. But what the fuck is that? It's a mirage. Life is suffering and Joy. There has to be fear, guilt, shame, grief, despair, belly laughing hysteria, crying, charity, selfishness, boredom, creativity. And so my body reacts every time there’s something “wrong” the presence of a dark or uncomfortable emotion or thought. And out comes the iron. Steam on. Ready to press.
But we’re dealing with linen here — after the iron creates perfection, the item dries and the crease naturally falls back into place. And I have got so tired literally that I can’t lift the iron any more. All I can do now, up until a few weeks ago, is to sit and let the discomfort wash over me, turn towards it, make space for it, and welcome the good and bad into the same heart space. I don’t even take the credit for it, for such bravery and boldness. I just can’t muster the same fight. My body is telling me to let go. And now I’m just sitting and watching it. And I can feel it coursing through me. But also making changes. Because letting go of the grip has allowed the beginning of healing. My body and soul are thanking me for letting go and getting out of the way so it can do its work. And every time I make a bold decision to do something — like say no, open up to my depression, or write (and actually post) this first blog post, the anxiety goes up, but as a response to facing fear, not running from it. Its building courage. The courage to step out and say fuck it. This is who I am. Sensitive not weak, mentally unwell not crazy, and underneath funny and insightful and a whole lot of deep care for others. So I’m going to take that mixed bag and do something about it. As I read somewhere this week, you can’t think your way out of depression, you have to walk out of it, one action at a time. So I’m saying to fear, come take a seat at my table. You can stay. There is no fairy tale ending to this story, no clever pun or conclusion. It’s open ended. I don’t know what happens next. The need for certainty has been a key contributor to this sticky mess all along.