You Have Always Been Independent
A Review of Fear, Time, and the Physics Associated with Existence
By Valkyrie Holmes
One year ago, I attempted to hike the Mt Charleston South Loop trail for the second time. This trail takes you to the peak of one of the highest mountains in the Sierra Nevada range, bringing you to a total elevation of 11,916 feet. Hikers gain almost a full mile in elevation and the whole hike rounds out to about 19 miles. On June 4th, 2021, my friend Amanda and I finished the hike in approximately ten hours. It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.
And one month ago, I decided to do it again.
Only this time, I wanted it to be somewhat different in terms of the thoughts that occupied my noggin. I decided that at the beginning of the hike, I would pose a question. I would think on and off about that question throughout the hike and eventually come to a conclusion at the end of my triumph. That did not happen and I actually thought a lot about it after the fact, hence why I feel confident enough, one month later, to tell someone about it.
The question I posed was: “What does it mean to be truly independent?”
I would say that, at this point in my life, I am the most independent I’ve ever been. That may be relatable to some and not so relatable to others but regardless, everyone will experience some form of independence at some point. It’s a part of the human experience.
Independence is something a lot of young people rush into. From childhood, we’re exposed to older people who seemingly make their own rules and get to do what they want without punishment. Mothers that skip meals to lose a couple extra pounds because in their world, it “works”. Older siblings that sneak out of the house to go out and party and it “works”. We like that sense of independence.
I was taught to look away from adults who did bad things because they were older, more experienced, and they had more authority. Even when adults stole or cursed or said things that caused me to feel less than, something that I knew was inherently wrong, I still operated under this idea —
“I’m a kid, I have to stay silent.”
It took a long time for me to speak up about things that bothered me. It wasn’t until this last year where I’ve felt comfortable bringing up issues with partners and friends and fully expressing myself, and I have a feeling that a lot of young adults and teenagers feel the same way. That lack of confidence came from something deeper than not liking how I looked or feeling unworthy of things, it came from a pattern of thinking that stemmed from not being able to feel independent.
This idea would simmer in my head until my “teenage revolution” era and I eventually grew to believe that “when I’m an adult, I’ll get to do whatever I want.” I gave myself an end-date, a single time period that I’d be able to look forward to. When I yelled at my parents or felt disrespected, I’d think to myself and say to others:
“When I’m an adult, I’m moving out. I’m gonna live by myself and have a little apartment in New York and be making my own money and be completely self-sufficient. I’m not going to need anyone.”
And that’s how it stuck. I told people that exact thing for years. I would daydream about being in my studio apartment looking out onto the street, a cup of tea in my hand and college textbooks around me, studying for whatever biology degree I wanted at the time. And it wasn’t just a dream I had, it was a REQUIREMENT.
I would give myself rules. No drinking alone. Never gamble. Only three meals a day. And one of those rules was: No living with anyone else until you’re completely self sufficient. And I repeated that over and over again until I became obsessed with this idea of being independent. And in truth, I gave myself these rules because I was scared I would become to dependent on others and lose some of my own individuality. More on that later.
Now, my parents didn’t mean to instill these thoughts in me. It just happened. A lot of people reading this would agree that in most cases, when someone is being hard to get along with or doesn’t want to admit they’re wrong, the best thing to do is to just leave it alone and walk away. My dad would say, “Being right doesn’t matter in 99% of arguments.”
And, to some degree, he’s right. Most arguments don’t matter in the grand scheme of things and, therefore, being right doesn’t make that big of a difference. And I still operate under that thought most of the time. But I started to wonder if I was really just letting arguments go or not standing up for myself. Was I really being the bigger person? Or was I letting the other person win because I didn’t believe I deserved the alternative?
Now, being more independent is a part of my life that I cherish. I love being able to wake up and do what I want, more or less. I love having the courage to plan things and ask people how they feel and most importantly, show people how I feel without feeling like a burden. That’s taken a lot of time and effort but it was all worth it. But there’s a part of independence that teenagers and young adults don’t fully grasp until they’re in the thick of it.
FEAR FEELS DIFFERENT
Fear in relation to independence is an interesting phenomenon. It’s the thing that drives us towards individuality and pushes us away. We’re afraid of being codependent and not being able to think for ourselves but also afraid of what thoughts might come to us when we are fully responsible for what happens to our minds, bodies and other people.
Cinderella Syndrome describes one side of this phenomenon perfectly. It’s a concept that defines women who fear independence and gravitate toward a man’s protection. The syndrome is “like a psychological dependence for women and in this dependence, the situation of being patient and moral is important for being rescued by a man as a reward. In the syndrome, women expect a man to come and take control of their own lives so that they live happily.”
Notice how it’s called a “syndrome” instead of a mild condition or phase. It’s referred to as such to draw negative attention towards it, like a disease or illness. This is what fear does to us, it makes us afraid of being independent and in turn, pushes us into a world of codependence when most haven’t even figured out what being independent actually means.
I’m in this new phase of my life and I’m experiencing new things as an independent woman and let me tell you, fear feels DIFFERENT.
I’m not afraid of being disliked as much as I once was when I wasn’t independent. I’m not afraid of making decisions or organizing things or taking charge. Now I’m afraid of being codependent and going back to the way things once were. I’m thoroughly spooked about the idea of looking in the mirror and seeing someone timid, someone afraid to run the world and show people what they’re made of. I know what that feels like and it’s not something I would ever recommend.
I’ve grown and the fear has grown but lays dormant most of the time. It’s only certain times where I’ll take a step back from the work I’m doing and think to myself, “Who the fuck am I to be doing this stuff?” It’s this consistent nagging in the back of my head that I shouldn’t be where I am and that I won’t be able to handle it in a couple of years. And that shadow over my head, those dark, billowing clouds forming up top, it really does affect me.
I’d like to take a bit of time to go back to the initial question: What does it mean to be truly independent?
Now by this time, I’ve gone through how I started, how I feel now, what my hopes and fears are and I’m finding that I haven’t gotten anywhere near where I wanted to be when it comes to nailing that definition. My thoughts on true independence are settling in between:
“There is no such thing because you’ll always be codependent on the earth. Your mind and body will always need to work together to achieve greatness. The only independent thing in life may be your subconscious but we don’t even know enough about that to tell.”
“True independence means connecting with yourself and making decisions that only you would make. Sure they could be influenced by things you watch or read, but at the end of the day, you’re the one sticking your hands in the dirt and growing that garden.”
While I think there’s truth to both, neither are quite there. It’s too abstract of a concept to put a finger on it just yet. So I’d like to take a bit of a deep dive into another aspect of the world that I’ve recently learned about and explore how that relates to this idea of “true independence.”
And that aspect is time.
IS TIME INDEPENDENT?
Time moves differently at every point in the universe. Let’s say we had someone living at the top of a mountain and someone living on a beach for their entire lives. Time would move slightly faster for the person on top of the mountain. Why is this?
Einstein proposed his theory of general relativity in 1916. General relativity explains gravity and the idea that it has the power to curve and warp space. It also describes the relationship between the mass of an object and its ability to warp the space around it (i.e. the larger an object is, the more it warps the space around it). We’ve had this theory for over a hundred years now but I never truly knew what it meant for me or my life. Now, I’m finally starting to realize how it impacts the way I think and experience things.
When we think of time, we think of it as a concept we’ve created to keep track of how things unfold, a chronological recollection of events. In physics, time is seen as an uncontrollable part of life. You can’t go backwards in time, you can’t change the speed at which time moves. It exists as a completely independent variable, incapable of change. But that’s not true.
We can’t even say that something like time is completely independent. Time is molded by gravity, by bodies around it with larger masses and, therefore, larger pulls. The reason why people experience time faster at higher elevations is because the further you get from the center of that mass, the less it can pull you down– the less gravity and earth can use that force.
When scientists truly measured this, it was a major scientific breakthrough. This thing that we’ve thought of as constant and absolute was suddenly, not. I recently read a book called “The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli in which he describes this exact scenario and more specifically, that the way we view time, as a constant forward motion, is more subjective than we realize.
“If I observe the microscopic state of things, then the difference between past and future vanishes […] in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between ‘cause’ and ‘effect.’”
The only reason we view time as “moving forward” is because things happen in a series of events, one “after” the other, meaning we percieve things as happening over time. Our brain molds our way of thinking into a series of memories that happen at different points in time, all bundled together to form a rough timeline of how events unfold. Some believe time is an illusion, others believe its just a single strip in which everything is happening all at once and yet, not at all.
The original point of this article was to conclude that time was the only uncontrollable part of life we could count on, the only thing that defines true independence from outside forces. But that’s not true. Time is just as wavering as anything else in the world. So how can I answer this question?
Does this mean that the only thing truly independent of outside factors is gravity? It moves on its own, it warps time itself, it seems to be the only thing we can’t manipulate. But then maybe its the fact that EVERYTHING is independent. Everything has its own gravitational pull that molds the space around it, making each and every particle contained within a single space different. Everything is independent from everything else because its gravity molds time differently, making every point in the universe unique because of that object.
This goes beyond what humans can understand and to be quite honest, I don’t even know if I fully understand any of it. But if we operate under the idea that everything is independent from everything else, doesn’t it make it easier to become more mentally independent ourselves?
When I explore this idea, I come to the conclusion that everything is independent of eachother, no matter how connected they seem. You know what that means?
You’ve been independent this whole time.
If we start to operate under this idea that everyone is independent and responsible for only themselves and prove it on a fundamental, molecular, biophysical level, wouldn’t it make it easier to step outside of that fear and become more comfortable with the idea of being independent?
So, to answer what it means to be truly independent, we are ALL truly independent. The very definition of existence, by these standards, would mean we are all independent. This gives us the strength to continue making tough decisions and changing the course of our lives. And I like to think that it gives us all a bit more courage to pursue what we really want.