We Can Help Ourselves
We only have to let go of our own baggage
We hold ourselves back
Last summer, my bike had air in the brake line.
You don’t need to know much about the technicalities behind this. You just have to know that the way you realize you have air in your brake line is that your bike will do one of two things:
(1) Either brake when it shouldn’t, or
(2) Stop braking altogether
Riding the bike either way is, obviously, incredibly un-fun (and, in the case of the latter, so unsafe it leaves you shaking.)
But the former — braking when it shouldn’t — is equally unpleasant, because even as you roll the throttle, the bike is fighting with itself to do anything or move forward, and you’re on the engine harder than you should be, in order to overcompensate for brake pads combating and beating down all its energy. I rode the bike like this for weeks before I took 30 minutes to simply bleed the brake line.
And this is precisely what we do to ourselves.
We fight ourselves. We hold ourselves back. We throw more energy at overcoming something instead of taking the time to address and fix it.
Like most writers, I have mountains of notebooks.
Because, like most writers, I’ve been writing since I was old enough to know how.
I got my first journal (which I probably called my “diary” at that point, because #childhood) at some point in elementary school. I wrote sporadically but did eventually fill it. And after I filled that one, I got another. And then did it again, and never stopped.
Over the years they’ve accumulated in boxes and bags, starting out with whatever style of notebook I was gifted or could get my hands on from the Barnes and Noble bargain bin, but gradually trending towards the black, hard-covered, spiral-spine variety, and to this day that’s what they all remain, each neatly labeled with the date range on the outer or inner front cover.
At some points of my life, one journal only represented a few months. At other times, a single journal will last over a year.
I almost never re-read them. I finish one, box it, and start a new one without looking back.
But at my parents home — my childhood home — over Thanksgiving break, I busted them out. I was looking for something specific. I didn’t find it.
What I did find, however, was pages upon pages saturated in emotion, much of it sadder than I recall. Sometimes self-doubt, sometimes self-loathing, often times just garden variety disappointment (i.e., the guy I liked went for another girl) or directionless-ness (i.e., “I don’t know what I want.”)
Which, frankly, I found odd.
Because looking back, I thought I always felt worthy and knew what I wanted.
And it’s amazing the sort of things we misperceive — either at one point, or another.
Now, the thing with journaling is that most of it is always going to come out kinda bearish.
i.e., more bearish than the whole picture actually was at the time.
My journaling does anyway. I tend not to write about the good things as much as I write about the bad. But there’s also a very important reason why:
There are no feelings worth exploring when things are good.
Or rather, perhaps more accurately: when things are good, I’m far too busy out there actually enjoying them and living life.
It’s only the “bad” feelings that take work, that have to be processed, worked over and chewed on and written down, at length and sometimes repeatedly, until they make sense. And so this of course means that most journals read “bearish.”
(And now, before you tell me about the merits of a gratitude journal: you should understand that, baby, I already know it. So as long as we’re both here in my moment, just let me have this quiet honesty. And know that if you lean into it and talk “optimism” at me, I’ll counter with the Lieberman study before quietly shutting down and just agree.)
I knew I was unhappy, and I knew “unhappiness” was what I was writing about.
Looking back, I was 100% right about these feelings. I didn’t feel 100% right at the time — I was filled with doubt and guilt and anxiety and all kinds of other half-baked but gnawing emotions. And they weren’t 100% the full picture, but I was 100% right to turn and look at them and see them for the rabid dog on my ankle that they were. I knew, deep down, these weren’t good things — the boyfriends I broke up with, despite looking good on paper. The uncertainty around a career choice. The finance problems as a broke college kid. The strained relationship many of us have with our parents.
But I also knew it would get better.
I knew it would all be okay. And I knew, as it happened over time, that it was.Each year of my life has been better than the year before that. And I know this; saw it happening and turned to face it straight on, like sunshine cutting through a snow storm, when everything that’s cold suddenly glitters with hope.
We are our own salvation.
I didn’t write for two whole weeks straight November. Because I wasn’t sure what to write.
I write about people.
I write about values, love, behavior, healthy versus unhealthy mindsets, what’s “real,” what’s not, and why we do what we do. But for some reason, I suddenly wasn’t sure what to put out anymore and it took me two weeks to realize that that was my problem — and what I should write about.
It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t need to be the last essay. It doesn’t need to be the dream job, or love at first sight, or the perfect life right off the bat.
We simply have to keep moving forward, and press on, and stop holding ourselves back.
And as we move forward, we have to combat the negative as best we can — working through it by bleeding or writing it out.
But above all else, we have to move on. To celebrate the positive, incredible moments of life. So that when we look back on things, we’re surprised to remember that the brake line ever had air, or we ever had guilt over making tough decisions in the name of the happiness we did eventually find.