I spend a lot of time scared, much more than I’d like to let on. I think a lot of people who know me would be surprised to hear me say this. I’ve put a lot of energy into making myself look like the brave adventurer, almost to a fault. I’ve been known to describe myself as “all the negative qualities of a Gryffindor” — not necessarily the brave and noble warrior, but the friend who would jump off a cliff on a dare. Fearlessness is a trait I strive for and a trait I want to be known for, but actually, as someone who suffers from anxiety disorder, fear is inevitable in my life. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s also temporary.
I heard a joke once that I think about a lot. If you have tattoos and you’re interviewing for a job, tell the interviewer that they’re just temporary tattoos. Then when you get the job, if people notice that you still have them, you can say, “All tattoos are temporary tattoos. Everything is temporary.”
Sometimes I’m terrified by the temporary nature of all things. Impermanence is scary. There are so, so many things in my life that I want to be permanent. Sometimes I lie awake in bed at night afraid that my friends and family will leave me, afraid that I’ll lose all the things I’ve worked so hard to build and knowing that someday I will die and enter a terrifying realm of the unknown.
Mostly, though, I find myself comforted by impermanence in a myriad of unexpected ways.
First, there’s the obvious layer of comfort, the wise voice in the back of my head, quietly telling me, “this too shall pass.” On days when I’m having back spasms, my pain is not permanent. On days when I’m having anxiety attacks, my panic is not permanent. I often feel like the world is crashing down around me, the bright colors of the sky colliding catastrophically with the earth like giant meteors, revealing the colorless void behind them like it’s the only thing that can exist anymore. On days like this, it’s hard to think about the future, but some part of me knows that it still exists, that the meteor-ravaged landscape in my head is not permanent. Even when everything feels bleak, there are good and great and perfect days ahead.
Beyond that, as I continue to explore the inherently temporary nature of my life, I can begin to feel a sense of freedom. Afraid of commitment as I am, I can begin to realize that commitments are relative. I have made very few decisions in my entire life that couldn’t be reversed if I really felt it was necessary. The fact that I could lose the life that I’ve made for myself is only one side of the coin; the logical consequence is that I could also choose to step away from my life and start from scratch. I’ve built everything around me from the ground up once and there’s nothing stopping me from doing it again. Suddenly, impermanence feels empowering. I’m only living this life because I want it and I have the power to change my mind. If something catastrophic did happen and it turned my world into a meteor-ravaged landscape, I have the ability to pick up the pieces and build something new, just as beautiful as it was before.
Comfort in the face of fear is a delicious thing, the relief and safety of it almost intoxicating at times. Comfort that’s derived from the source of the fear itself feels powerful, like taking that which frightens you, crafting it into a weapon and wielding it back onto itself.
When nothing is certain, nothing is guaranteed — but nothing is stuck either. Impermanence doesn’t have to mean destruction. It can mean reinvention just as easily. And I take comfort in that.