I didn’t speak much throughout childhood, but I paid attention. I appreciated the way others seemed to converse so effortlessly, and I would dream of connecting with people like that.
For me, language was sticky. It would clog in my throat on the way out, and I would feel my face grow hot as I tried to search for words that didn’t make me sound like an idiot. I was perpetually worried about embarrassment.
Back then, I thought that others would not only dislike me for being imperfect but they would laugh at me, humiliate me. I suppose I held this belief because someone had hurt and humiliated me, and the memory seemed to blur all other experiences.
Few children are able to completely escape judgment. The fact that I was picked on, or even beaten for being different, isn’t a unique story—it’s a story that those of us who have been through it can find either empowering or damaging.
I was extremely sensitive—ah, the perils of an artist or writer—and I understood it enough to fuel my worries. I was a girl who made herself sick with false predictions about the future.
Notice the past tense? Notice the shift in perspective?
The sudden escape from “I” and the journey toward “her” has been a long one. Yet, I am here and “she” is gone—the girl who worried endlessly, until her anxiety peaked in a series of panic attacks. “She” is in the past.
I still find trace worries about what people might think of me floating around my mind, but when such thoughts arrive, I wave them away like fruit flies, or simply watch them buzz about. When I do things that could be considered humiliating, I laugh along with the rest of the world because I am human.
How did I get to a place where I can leave the anxiety-filled young woman behind, and step into the world, divine in my imperfection?
I did it the same way I fed my worry, in fact. I found relief through storytelling, just as “she” had used stories to feed her worries. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and well-received technique for coping with anxiety disorders. In general, people go to a therapist and learn ways to reframe the thoughts that keep them from the peace of mind. Self-examination, reflection, and redefinition is a non-clinical way to put it, but it is how I see the therapy. This is the framework I used to develop my own coping strategies.
Stories saved me from my own anxious mind by offering me a different path than the one I’d been down hundreds of times over. The same observant nature that used to torture me allowed me to reprieve when I dissected my thoughts. In paying attention to the world, I realized that what I saw as imperfect and what I was worried about was, in fact, divine imperfection.
If I had a worry that someone would judge me, I’d write it down. Could this worry be based on illogical assumptions? Maybe. If not, if it’s perfectly logical, then could the worry be natural and something to embrace? Perhaps. But even if not, could I do it anyway—go to the party, call the person, stick up for myself—and just see what happens? Yes, hell yes, I can. “She” could. “She” did.
And here’s the thing: the stories I began to tell myself about the future became less concrete and more exploratory. As any writer will tell you, good writing is not preaching. Rather, it is a divine exploration of the human condition. And life, the day-to-day, the speaking engagements and phone calls and classrooms, can be fertile ground to reinvent ourselves.
Not everyone is a writer, I realize, but I have a challenge for anyone who worries about being judged for having bad skin or a stutter or a ketchup stain or for simply not looking or acting like those around you: reframe your story. Tell it from the hero’s point of view, the one who fails and succeeds, and who we root for because we know that something larger is propelling her forward.
Be a hero who explores the world and looks for beauty even in the murk of pain and disappointment. Be the hero we see rising up, beyond circumstance. Be the hero who grabs worry by the balls and moves forward.
Because you are that hero. The “hes” and “shes” of the past had to exist to give you a backstory.
Bonus: 5 Mindful Things to do Each Morning.
Author: Jen Knox
Image: Andrew Smith/Flickr
Editor: Angel Lebailly
Copy & Social editor: Nicole Cameron