The day is Saturday, January 15, 2022.
I’m sitting in my desk chair, staring into the lifeless void of Zoom for yet another session.
I think about cancelling. Just like I always do.
“No,” I say to myself. I already rescheduled yesterday.
Maybe I could say I’ve come down with something. That’ll be sure to prevent any further questioning.
Then, a slow and methodical, “How was your week, Kamryn?”
The line I’ve heard a million times and yet still elicits no particular feeling inside. I must have experienced a lapse in judgment and logged on in the midst of my race to avert this meeting.
I never quite know how to answer this question, and I’ve always been unsure of what to tell her when she asks how I am. Since this all started, I think I’ve become accustomed to treating these sessions like some strange version of a coffee date with a friend. Though, I suppose, if that were the case and if I were really doing as well as I try to convince her when answering her opening question, I wouldn’t need to spend an hour staring at her into my computer screen every week.
I feel the sudden panic over what will come out of my mouth.
Which route shall I take today?
The “I’m good! My week was okay, just the usual. Glad it’s the weekend. How are you?”
I decide to be honest.
The result of 3 seconds of bravery, I guess. Or stupidity. It’s impossible to tell the difference most days.
Now that I’ve made it through and am reflecting on the 45 minutes I just had, I think I’ll go with bravery.
“My week was hard,” I say. “I’ve had a few panic attacks, and I’ve been more anxious than I’ve felt in a long time. Since I left school.” She asks me why I think this might be.
I hesitate once more.
I warn her about the length and depth of what it is I have racing through my mind.
She reassures me, and bravery leads to honesty once more.
I tell her that I feel I’ve become enveloped in waves of immense overwhelm, perhaps best explained by a sense that I am experiencing my past, present and future simultaneously. As I reflect on my past self/life, and project my goals and dreams into my future self/life, I am struggling to be my present self and to live this life— here and now.
I am honest with her about how saddening and frustrating this intense anxiety has been for me, because everything in my external world (beautiful friendships, a loving relationship, an amazing new job that I enjoy) points towards nothing but peace and contentment, while my inner world continues to lead me into tumult and disarray.
I explain to her that I have made soft, deliberate choices to get myself to this place here and now— one of peace, joy, and relentless, growing hope.
Still, as joyous and peaceful my soul feels, a strange anxious sadness has risen up in me. How can I be more at peace than I have ever been, and yet…
What part of it— this beautiful and evolving life I am working to create— doesn’t feel right?
I frame this as a question, though I intend to follow the paths of my own mind to lead me to something resembling an answer, for I know that only I can navigate these storms.
I continue on, telling her that I’ve spent so much of my life (all of it, perhaps) working tirelessly. Taking the most difficult roads, and consequently priding myself on them. Choosing the hard thing, scorning at anything that came easily or felt anywhere close to freeing. Feeling the need to push myself past my limits, to seek more intense challenges, and to complicate life.
Somewhere along the way, I learned to define myself by the difficulty of it all.
- By the seemingly impossible goals I could set.
- By those I could achieve and reset. And reset.
- By the sports and hobbies I forced myself to excel in.
- By academics.
- By time.
At many points, I say, I even believed that if life wasn’t painful or I wasn’t being punished, that I thought myself to be inadequate; that that meant I was doing something wrong, for life was not designed to be easy.
“For years, I punished myself,” I admit to her.
I begin to cry.
I explain to her that for the first time, life has allowed for the necessary space and time for proper rest (and thereby) proper reflection. And it is now that I am beginning to realize just how harrowing things have been.
Through tears, I tell her that I feel as if my heart is growing heavy in the present with sadness and regret over my past. That I am thinking back to my old self and all those years I spent believing I deserved for things to be so very difficult. I tell her that I’ve only now come to realize how many years passed me by. Ones that I spent hating myself and pushing my mind and body far beyond any expectations I or anyone else could set.
- The late nights into early morning hours I spent every day of my grade school years staying up completing homework, sure that I would never make it anywhere if I didn’t find a way to maintain the #1 spot.
- The many years of my childhood I spent overtraining for my athletics, certain that my potential and talent rested solely on the performances my body could muster.
- The years I spent throughout college (and even now) restricting my food and counting every calorie, weighing myself 6x a day and measuring my wrists, believing that my beauty and capacity to be in control of my life depended on the presentation and desirability of my body.
I tell her that I am realizing that the expansion of my life and self has, in many ways, forced me to grow into newer and realer versions of myself. That I am discovering things I never knew about myself whilst reimagining familiar things that have never left me.
And yet, I find myself grappling with the truth that even amidst the mountains of positive change, that change is never unaccompanied by valleys of loss; deaths of the past deserving of mourning, movements away from that which is known, and wandering amongst blurry visions of who and what used to be.
“I wonder if I’ve lost the parts of myself I used to love. Even amongst all the layers I have been so happy to see fall away.”
Is life too easy now?
Surely, something is bound to come up and complicate it all.
Do I deserve this joy?
Surely, I’m underserving somehow.
Am I still a hard worker?
I must wonder— who am I without the hardship?
I fear I’ve wasted so much of it.
I explain to her that I’ve spent much of my life embedded in works of literature and enmeshed in the world of characters, those which I most deeply identify defined by a type of nostalgic reminiscence— those who spent so much of their lives preparing themselves for their futures, worrying about making the right choices, and living their lives “correctly” (whatever that may mean), only to reach a point of deepened reflection and come to find that in the midst of oscillating between memories of the past and visions of the future, that their present had been lost.
That even though they vowed to live with intention and to live an examined life, that the pressure and constance of the examination had taken away from life.
“I’m worried I’ve become them,” I tell her.
I strive, I achieve, I reflect, and I hope against hope everyday that the choices I’ve made will lead me to flourishing and that the reflections I ultimately come to do not illuminate my deepest, most sincere fear— that I have done it all wrong.
This period of my life is, above all, defined by space. I refrain from calling it emptiness, for I feel anything but. I am perhaps happier than I’ve ever been, and yet, the peace I am experiencing is not without a bit of uneasiness.
I fear I may be aimlessly wandering.
I have no idea what I’m doing.
I know that I am not alone in this, and I also know that such is the truth of life: no one knows what they’re doing, and we all do our best with what we have to make the life we believe ourselves to desire.
We build castles out of things that are important to us, and the paths our hearts lead us through bring us the meaning we’re searching for.
The hard part? Sometimes we don’t know what we’re searching for. And other times, the aim of our insatiable searches change along the course.
I’ve come to find that we change as life changes. And as difficult as this truth is to grapple with (for it consequently means that who and what matters to us changes), there is beauty there.
That we get to make choices about things and people and lives that matter to us. Everyday.
And though we may arrive at these thresholds of reflection and realize that we have made mistakes, that we have built castles out of the wrong things, and that we have outgrown what was once meaningful to us, our corrigibility allows us to make tomorrow different.
We have the opportunity to say, “Maybe now.”
The gift of hindsight has granted me the perspective I once needed, and it has illuminated the holes that lacked the grace and kindness I always wanted.
That I will never fully figure it out, and that maybe it’s all going to be okay anyway.
That perhaps will be nothing more than a cycle of action, evaluation, and reflection, and that at the beginning and end of each cycle, I may very well be a different person than I imagined myself to be.
That I will continue to make choices in accordance with what I find meaningful and beautiful, here and now, with the knowledge that there is no guaranteeing these same sources of meaning and beauty forever.
That there is no telling what change will come, for I will evolve alongside the world.
And that the risk of life is choosing to believe in it all anyways.
To believe in the things that matter to me, here and now.
To believe that I deserve the love, joy, and peace I am experiencing.
To believe in the love that those who surround me are offering me so limitlessly.
To believe in both today and in tomorrow, whatever change may come.