I’ve always been a bit neurotic. I have a tendency towards obsessive worry, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, the occasional panic attack and mild to moderate mood disturbances. Ironically, I hardly ever worry about the things others might – things grounded in reality, such as money, work or retirement. I worry about things that aren’t likely to happen. I’m an alarmist. If my stomach hurts for more than 2 days, I’m picturing my funeral and beginning to deal with how my son will grow up without me. Despite the fact that most of these symptoms and past or potential diagnoses have abated considerably within the past decade as a result of therapy, self-exploration, and a lot of damn hard work, each is still with me in some small and distant capacity. And that’s ok. At least I’m consistent. And besides, it isn’t all bad.
The flip side of neuroticism and the deep way I seem to experience anxiety and sadness – at least in my case – is an intense appreciation for the things I have. Thankfulness is a direct result of that little dark cloud always looming, reminding me that one day this will end. The dark reminds me of the light, and for this I am grateful. That said, it was a rough road getting to the place I am today.
I have been the primary cause of the end of several very important relationships in my life and I’ve deeply hurt several people who, at one time or another meant the world to me. As a direct result of the way in which I chose to struggle – or avoided struggling – with my demons, I stayed for far too long in relationships, circumstances, and mental, emotional, and behavioral states that were no good for me, or those around me. I spent far too much time and energy just treading water, and I won’t do it again. My time here is too short.
About 10 years ago, I happened upon this incredibly powerful poem by Haelinn Seu printed in probably my favorite magazine, Adbusters (check it out, it’s creative and really smart: https://www.adbusters.org/). To this day, it reminds me never to settle or simply exist in my life, but to thrive – to do whatever I need to, to avoid the stagnant complacency that insidiously creeps into everyday life. Here it is:
In the beginning you held me all night long.
Rarely does this happen anymore.
And I know this is just one of the minor deaths
for which I, as an adult,
am expected to settle for
like I do with the mice
squealing at night
from the glue traps under the radiator.
I’m supposed to close my eyes,
and repeat the mantra,
But I lie awake next to you
and I imagine them
chewing off their feet.
After having spent several cumulative years in the client’s chair, I have recently begun my role as a psychotherapist, as I’m a 5th year PhD psych student. What I’ve learned about people both from my own life and from listening to others talk about theirs, is that many times we are just trying to keep our heads above water and we stay too long.
We all get to choose the way we want to love ourselves, our lives, and others. And we all get to be in or end relationships and circumstances based on anything we want. I’m a huge proponent of ‘the less rules placed upon us the better’ – but many times we stay in the lives we live for reasons we shouldn’t. And I don’t just mean relationships. We stay in jobs, houses, towns, anger, jealousy, and fear for reasons we shouldn’t – and it’s destructive. We stay because it’s what we know, or because it’s safe. We stay because it’s not as bad as being alone, or being somewhere else, or because we’re afraid of what people might think. And in the mean time, tiny pieces of our selves- pieces so small you wouldn’t notice any one in particular – are quietly peeling away, leaving us forever.
And so, live however you want to live. Make any decision you want to. Take or leave people’s advice – you absolutely have that right. It’s your life and you get to decide what’s important and what’s not. But remember, if you’re spending all your energy just treading water, there is so much more.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
– M. West