Last year was unbridled chaos.
Like almost evicted, failed relationships, I-don’t-have-a-home kind of chaos.
Like, being so broke some days I only ate a Snickers bar.
Like, living out of a broken suitcase on a friend’s couch for a month, credit score plummeting, couldn’t nail down consistent work. Four straight months of almost daily migraines. Bike accidents galore, stamping me with a myriad of injuries big and small.
You get the idea.
When I began studying massage therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine, I’d felt like I was in exactly the right place, learning about exactly what I was put on this planet to do for the first time in my life. But the more I learned, the more I felt an impending sense of discomfort with the life and lifestyle I was living.
I was anxious, resistant, and confused—afraid to admit that I was unhappy. I felt disinterested and often irritated. I am so thankful for all of the sweet souls that tolerated me during what I’ve (affectionately) titled the Winter of My Discontent.
I became more unpleasant the more I refused to look my depression in the face. This was the foundation for lesson number one that was bestowed upon me:
Once you make a commitment to see things as they are, there is no turning back.
You can’t un-see. Ignorance truly is bliss for this reason.
You see something, and it’s there, swimming around in your brain. Your subconscious is integrating this information into your body, and your body reacts accordingly. If you don’t consciously process your feelings, they will course through your veins and find some way to get your attention. For me, it was anxiety, headaches, irrational irritability and extreme lethargy. That might be enough to cue a “normal” person that something is amiss, but let me tell you, I am excellent at convincing myself that what I want is the right thing to do. I was excellent at letting fear motivate me into, well, changing nothing.
The idea of stepping out of my comfort zone felt wildly uncomfortable.
I’d never thought of myself as someone who was afraid.
I didn’t think twice about moving a thousand miles from home when I was a teenager. I didn’t think twice about flying to San Francisco with almost no money and no plan (not to mention, no car) to spend a couple of months driving across the country. I didn’t think twice about booking a last-minute flight to Mexico and winging a backpacking trip around Central America. I held a job for two years that revolved around approaching complete strangers on the street and shamelessly asking them for their credit card information (for charity). Heights, spiders, snakes, oceans, public speaking, wide open spaces, small spaces—whatever, bring it on.
If anything, I’d thought of myself as too fearless. If someone had asked me, “What’s your biggest fear?” I would have said, “Nothing comes to mind. I’m not really afraid of anything.”
Cue eye roll.
So I had (and still have) a strong sense of adventure and an adept intuition for avoiding dangerous situations. These things were part of my comfort zone. I thought that meant my comfort zone was limitless and that I was awesome.
I’m not saying I’m not awesome, but my comfort zone needed some serious expanding. Sometime in 2013 I began to realize that maybe the grandiose plans and trips were serving as a distraction, a way to avoid looking at all of the things that were preventing my growth.
The idea of being committed to staying in one place had always made me uncomfortable. The idea of breaking up with someone had always been near impossible for me to swallow. I would stay in relationships far beyond their appropriate lifespan rather than admit to myself that I didn’t want to be with my partner anymore.
Letting go of people I once loved, uncomfortable. Getting serious about starting a career, uncomfortable. Trusting other people, uncomfortable. Sharing any bit of my own creativity with anyone, uncomfortable. Seriously, ask anyone who has so much as glanced at my journal, or even alluded to the fact that they might have heard me singing in the shower. They will tell you, I would have just about had a panic attack. All of this served as the foundation for lesson number 2:
You cannot resist change forever.
That relentless b*tch will find you. If you don’t make appropriate changes to your life as needed, the Universe will swoop on in and tear it all apart for you. And if you don’t embrace these changes, you will literally keep living the same situations in different packaging until you learn your lessons.
We cannot avoid anything infinitely, because infinity is cyclical.
Change is the only constant. I remember my 8th grade teacher wrote this on the chalkboard and made us discuss what we thought it meant. None of us really grasped it, because we were 13 and being a teenager is the worst.
Hindsight is 20/20 though, and I thank Mr. Adams dearly for sharing this wisdom with us. I remembered this quote as pretty much all counts of stability I’d had in my life were suddenly absent. Within two weeks, my job, relationship and health had all deteriorated dramatically and entirely (well, not my health, I’m still alive).
We have all been in this moment before. It’s shocking, it’s difficult, and the only way out is time. I had known, somewhere inside my mind, that when we undergo big internal changes, the external must change as well, and vice versa. They are mirrors to each other, they create and depend on one another. Having my world turned entirely upside-down reunited me with parts of myself I’d long forgotten in the sludgy comfort of security. It was a slash-and-burn, clearing away all the old crops to make room for some new fruit.
Of course, there was that moment when my heart turned into a nervous little stone and my palms got all sweaty and I was just saying “Oh shit oh shit oh shit,” realizing that I had to just deal with some ugly and barren land for awhile. I questioned my own sanity and underwent a good dose of self-loathing before learning lesson number three:
Trust in the process of Life.
There came a point not too far after everything changed where I became overwhelmed with relief. It filled up my belly and left me with a sense of freedom that I had never felt before. In the same vein as lesson number three, lesson number four:
The thing(s) we fear either happen, or they don’t.
This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how these words affected my life once I realized their truth.
Many people let fear rule their time. Fear of being alone, fear of being poor, fear of not being accepted, fear of the unknown. But the thing about fears is just that: they might come true, they might not. If our fears don’t manifest, then we wasted a bunch of energy worrying about them when we could have been enjoying ourselves.
And if our fears do manifest, what was the point in exhausting ourselves by always being afraid anyway? Worry and fear do not prevent unpleasant things from happening. They keep us always looking backward or forward. They keep us from living in the moment.
I am not suggesting that fear is not a useful response sometimes. But fear has a way of keeping us stuck, of screaming louder than our other thoughts, feelings and desires. It was a monumental lifesaver to learn to make friends with this voice, to use its messages as suggestions instead of laws, to be able to quiet its manic demands and work with it symbiotically.
Beyond the panic that takes over when we undergo big changes, there is a well rich with growth, insight, epiphanies and self-empowerment. The most raw, significant and freeing lessons were taught to me in the series of “rock bottoms” I found myself in this past year. Perhaps the most freeing of all the wisdom is lesson number fice:
Accept everything exactly as it is.
I’m pretty sure this is the key to real-life love and happiness. There is definitely something to that old adage about the journey being more important than our goals.
We often reach our goals and we’re still unhappy. Creative goals, health, fitness, career, relationships, you name it. We are constantly comparing ourselves (and each other) to an evolving set of perceptions.
That means that there is potential for us to never ever ever be content with ourselves or the world around us. That sucks. You’re awesome. Yes, even though you ate an entire pizza by yourself in front of the television yesterday in lieu of going to the gym, or drunk dialed your ex, or were a raging jerk to your brother. Whatever it is, accept it. Learn from that thing you did that didn’t make you feel too good, but don’t beat yourself up over it.
Acceptance does not mean complacency. It doesn’t serve as an excuse or a free pass. It’s a tool that allows us to just be ourselves, that allows us the freedom to actually look at what is instead of trying to control the uncontrollable.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been plagued with anxiety and proceeded to get more
anxious trying to ignore and resist whatever my anxiety was trying to tell me.
Accept yourself. Accept your feelings, your thoughts, your desires. Fall into them entirely.
We all have a dark side. Flaws, shortcomings. If we can learn to accept, embrace and love those “ugly” parts of ourselves and others, we did it. We won at life.
So I sincerely thank the energy that surrounded my life during that time, for all of the highs and lows that brought me back to myself and showed me that nothing is good or bad. It all just is .
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran