“What are you so afraid of?”
It’s hardly an innocuous query. Doesn’t matter if the stress is on the “you”, the “so”, or “afraid.” The posit reads exactly the same. It asks you to dig down and assess what’s keeping you from your predetermined greatness.
It’s a topic upon which I’ve ruminated endlessly, lapping potential solutions back and forth with my friends, family, therapist and myself – each new answer yielding five more, a series of dead-ends encapsulated within a perpetual cul-de-sac.
A wonderfully talented fella who I’m grateful to have met through my adventures in sportswriting wrote a little something earlier today: “It took longer than I expected, but I finally figured out who I am.” It’s worth a deep dive, but a couple of cursory pull-quotes cut to the meat:
My life is now about me – doing the things I want to do, the way I want to do them, regardless of what anyone thinks, says, feels, or likes. If you want to come along for the ride, awesome – here’s a helmet. If not, whatever; it’s your loss.
Being the guy who is way too into MMA and fantasy sports and Top Chef andElementary and the Alex Cross series and falling asleep listening to various ESPN podcasts is something I’m comfortable with, and I no longer care if anyone else is comfortable with it.
Falling asleep to various ESPN podcasts is something I do quite often – if only because without them, sleep for me is a perilous, futile pursuit. I’m particularly fond of the B.S. Report, as Bill Simmons’ nasal, hushed, smirking whimper is perfect for lulling one into a somnolent state of “meh, life could be worse.”
Additionally, I’m pretty sure the vocal tonics of Freddie Coleman and Ryen Russillo are the active ingredients in Ambien. (The previous statement has not been evaluated by the FDA.)
Overall, the piece hit home with me. A lot of the journey of self-discovery resonated. From school right on up through adulthood. I’m 30 years old, and I’ve known who I’ve been for years. The trouble is, I’ve grown increasingly dissatisfied with that person, and being that person has led to increasingly erratic and upsetting results.
To recap, in case you’re stumbling upon this blog for the first time, or in case you’ve only recently met me:
I am a master of all trades and a master of none. I get off on (and make my bread with) occasionally impressive turns of phrase. I’m obsessively passionate about music and sports. I’m charming, but laughably bad at keeping close friends. I’m a hard worker, but not a terribly diligent one. I’m tired at inopportune times. I’m pretty out of shape. Interests include: golf, running, whiskey, laughter, bike rides, mountains, maps, hip-hop, craft beer and Twitter.
And I’m scared as hell. And that supercedes everything I listed above. It’s No. 1 with a bullet. And it’s ruining my life.
“What are you so afraid of?”
Glad you asked. Here’s a list, which if this were Bleacher Report, would make for the saddest slideshow of all time.
1. Death, particularly by drowning or suffocation, though I can’t imagine anyway other than “natural causes” or “in his sleep” would be too pleasant.
2. Police Sirens
3. Being “found out” (this is particularly nebulous, but it is shorthand for feeling like I suffer from Imposter Syndrome except I feel this way from the time I get out of bed to the time I fall asleep.)
5. Disappointing my parents. (Which is, somehow, not the same as No. 4.)
6. Being yelled at or lectured, by anyone.
7. Looking at my bank statements.
8. Getting the mail.
9. Debt collectors
10. Serial Commas and Serial Killers
11. North Korea’s long-range missile strike plans which include Austin (If you’re going to schedule an apocalypse, please wait until I can opt out of my lease.)
12. Never seeing my family again.
13. Being found at home and stabbed to death by people I’ve disappointed in the past. (This is a totally legit fear, by the way, and I can think of at least 5 people on my Facebook friends list who have the means and motive to do it.)
14. Texas-sized cockroaches
16. Things that touch my eyes.
17. Terminal illness.
18. Never getting out of debt.
19. Loud noises.
20. Asthma attacks.
21. Waking up late for work.
22. Dirty dishes.
23. Objective evaluations of my character done by people close to me.
25. Airplane turbulence
26. Airport security
27. Rides that spin around
28. Small children
29. Maniacal laughter
30. Hearing the sound of my own voice, though that’s allegedly normal.
31. “Missing out.”
Anyway, you get the picture. There’s tons to unpack. There’s a litany of horror getting batted around in my brain from sun-up to sundown. I don’t sleep, and when I can, I don’t want to wake up. An exhaustive (and exhausted, I’m sure) nation of friends and well-wishers have blessed me with, “You need to get out of your own head.”
I believe them. I’m trying. But it’s hard. And every day it gets harder. And I become way more comfortable in my discomfort than I’m comfortable admitting.
“What are you so afraid of?”
Well, the world outside my own head, I suppose. Based upon what I just said.
There’s an old saying (or it may not be old, depending upon how badly I paraphrase it, it might be totally original!) that goes, “The truly insane don’t know they’re crazy.” And for the longest time I took comfort in that.
But I wonder, is it possible to descend into madness while being acutely aware during the entire procession of the downward spiral? Because I’m there. I actually, truly, think I’m panda-shit insane.
I can’t think clearly. I can’t form sentences. I have a hoarse voice, aching feet, and if I stand up straight or lay down flat, I hyperventilate. I’ve been to various doctors roughly 30 times in the past three months. Of course, I think I’m dying. Which I am afraid of.
And it’s gotten only exponentially worse over the past few months. I have trouble getting the mail. I dread picking up the phone. I respond to texts weeks late. I miss weddings. I have un-mailed cards. Writing work sits half-formed in my “Drafts” folder. Dishes pile up until I feel compelled to do them. Every evening I come home from work, tired and achy and foggy, and I do the bare minimum to get by. Except on Monday nights, when for a few hours I actually pretend I’m a rock star. And I socialize. And it is lovely. But, goodness, there’s so much more:
I have an album so unfinished after 10 years, I’m thinking of calling it “Chinese Democracy.”
I’m still stuck on Thirtyist No. 12 …. I was supposed to have 30 done six months ago.
I quit my first college and never made peace with it.
I quit my first girlfriend and never made peace with that, either.
I’ve been laid off or fired six times, and each experience was dreadfully scarring.
My default setting is, “Off.”
There’s a part of me that feels that I didn’t leave my hometown so much as quit it. Maybe I didn’t think I’d follow me here. Maybe I was afraid of what staying there would do to me. Maybe I was just afraid of never leaving. I don’t know. Please don’t ask again.
“What are you so afraid of?”
You had to, didn’t you. Didn’t I already cover that in the previous sections?
Since you asked. I’ll answer with another question. “Is this it?” No, I’m not afraid of the Strokes album. I mean, this. Life. Me. Is this the person, the person I know so well and have always known, is this the person I’m destined to be? Because, if so, then I want out. And I’ve pretty much tapped out, except for one small problem: I can’t truly tap out without truly tapping out. And unless I’m brave enough to do that – which I assure you, I am not, see Fear No. 1 – then tapping out is really no different than mailing it in, and I have experience mailing it in since I seem to have made that decision more and more often as of late. It is not pleasant.
Being “scared as hell” has led me down an increasingly fear-based path. I stopped setting goals. I stopped making to-do lists. I stopped taking care of myself and others. I’ve stopped doing the things I love because I feel guilty that I haven’t done the things I’ve needed to do to “earn” them. Hell, I have a beard. And I hate beards.
This Death Spiral has resulted in me batting around the title of the referenced piece above for a little while today.
IT TOOK LONGER THAN EXPECTED, BUT I’VE FINALLY FIGURED OUT WHO I AM
That’s a grand admission both of the journey and the conclusion of it. It encapsulates, “Yeah, there’s been bumps in the road, but check out where it’s got me!” So is this, but, no, sir, I can’t entitle this post that. No, I will need to alter it slightly and by doing so alter it completely.
IT TOOK LONGER THAN EXPECTED, BUT I’VE FINALLY LOST WHO I WAS
The “scared as hell” portion of my life has all but overwhelmed and vanquished all that’s come before. All that’s left is a writer too tired to write, a friend too afraid to continue being a friend, a living thing petrified of life. Without help, I will soon die – if not physically, than indeed spiritually. Medication, therapy, meditation, diet. These are treating me but I’m thus far refractory.
No, what I need is a reset. I need to take a deep breath. And start over. I need to quit. Again. But this time … I need to quit the one thing I haven’t quit yet. I need to quit Fear. And why not? I’m good at quitting everything else, hell, I’ve already pretty much done so. So … why can’t I quit this? Why can’t I quit the one thing I desperately need to quit? Which is the thing that causes me to quit things in the first place? Wouldn’t quitting fear be the best thing ever to happen to me? Isn’t that all I want?
What am I so afraid of?
Post Script: I realize this may break your heart if you are close to me and this is the first you’ve been made aware of my struggle. I’ve kept this private for months and have really only hinted at it before. I’m certain the same thing that causes this is the same thing that causes me not to speak of it. But it’s out there now. Because I’m trying not to be afraid anymore. I can’t apologize enough, and I’m forever grateful for every last set of eyeballs who happens upon these words.