“You seem like you’re becoming more rigid.”
She said it in a kind way. In a gentle way. A way that only a mother can. Soft and giving but with tender truth. It wasn’t the words so much as the way she said them. Like she was floating them in the air, giving them room to flutter and land softly. Like she didn’t want them to leave a bruise.
Still, the words hit with a thud and banged and clattered all the way down.
“Oh.” I responded. “I didn’t think anyone could tell.”
It wasn’t just the words. It was the reckoning behind them. It was the way the sucked the air out of the room– the way they felt like truth. It was the mirror they held, the reflection I was seeing. And the one I wasn’t.
I spent the summer of my fifteenth year tanning as often as possible.
One day on vacation, I noticed I had a cold sore. I had never gotten one before, so I thought it was odd. One cold sore quickly turned to two, which turned to four, which turned to eight. Before long my entire mouth was covered in painful, oozing sores.
Sun poisoning. The cold sores would go away, but the virus was unleashed. It would hide in my body and come up for air periodically. I never knew when it would surface.
The virus was there all along. It just needed something to trigger it. And now it would remain, dormant for the time being, but able to erupt at any time.
That’s how my anxiety is.
Dormant, until it’s not.
A virus that was their all along. A virus that was unleashed. A virus that could come back at any time.
I first noticed it when I went to college.
It was always there, of course, underneath the surface. I was born a Jackson Pollock painting when I wanted to be a Gustave Courbet. I wanted to be something different, something literal. Something that I could hold and shake and feel with my own two hands. Something I could make sense of. I wanted to be someone of substance.
And so when I got to college, I saw a chance for a new beginning, and I leapt. And instead of feeling the cool rush of wind on my face, I focused on building my ladder on the way down. I wrote to-do lists and schedules and mission statements. I built my life on fact and I made everything fit in to tiny boxes.
I leapt and the net appeared. Not because I trusted. Not because I surrendered. Not because of anything resembling faith.
I leapt and I built that fucking net with my own two hands.
That’s when the anxiety started.
I have always been mystified by faith. It has been the thing I’ve chased and never found, the butterfly that never landed in my net.
Everything inside of me yearns for something bigger. I have holes inside of me that only faith can fill, and yet I cannot open my heart enough to accept the things I cannot see. I cannot trust enough to leave my fragile life up to chance.
I crave words that will help me grow my faith. I ask the Universe for help. I read books and consult mentors and seek wisdom in the everyday moments. Why can’t I trust that I will be okay? How do I surrender? How can I put my armor down?
My mother told me to relax, saying “if you fall and you’re rigid, you will break every bone in your body. If you fall and you’re flexible, you’ll float.”
When did I become the rigid woman? When did all my bones start to break?
I’ve been swimming for so long that I can’t remember what it’s like to float.
I can’t imagine success without anxiety.
The two are so closely linked in my mind. They tango together in the night. They are lovers, co-conspirators, business partners.
Isn’t anxiety the price you pay for success? Isn’t that what gets you there in the first place? The voice in your head that tells you that it’s not enough? That you need to keep going? That you are not there yet so don’t you dare quit?
As much as I hate it, I can’t deny that anxiety has brought me results. Maybe I’m not ready to say goodbye. Maybe the price for faith is too high, the gamble too steep. How do you work in a way that is disciplined and yet faithful? How can you surrender and still give it all you’ve got?
You can’t be a writer without familiarizing yourself with the concept of surrender.
The rules of writing are strange. You need many different things to achieve success. Creativity and aptitude are essential, but words don’t get on the page without discipline. No one will read your work if you can’t access the resilience to tackle the idea and pin it down on paper. Creativity is part one. Executing is part two. And relinquishing is part three.
When you bring your work into this world, you have to let it go. When you hit publish it is no longer yours. It belongs to someone else. It belongs to something else. It is of you, but not you. An extension, but not the sum.
This is where faith comes in.
It’s a balance, I guess. An art in and of itself. Start with talent, add in discipline, and multiply by faith. That’s the closest thing I can think of to dictate success.
Too much rigidity and your creativity suffers. Too little discipline and the words don’t land. No faith, no magic.
Some things aren’t meant to be controlled. Creative success is one of them. You cannot fit it in to tiny boxes. You cannot cross it off your to-do list. You have to surrender the outcome. You have to hold it up to your face, pull it close, and then let it go. You have to become a person who enjoys to float.
I wasn’t always rigid, even if I was born with the seedlings of anxiety buried inside me.
This stiff and logical and unbending woman I can be- that is not who I am. That is not my true nature.
I am a Jackson Pollock painting. I am messy hair and smeared make up and ketchup on my chin. I am falling in love for the first time and I am summer rain and fall winds and I am everything that cannot be contained. I am words that cannot be written. I am art and I am the artist.
I may be rigid, but I am longing to flow.
I may be tightly wound, but I am learning to surrender.
I may be hard, but I am not finished. I am not finished yet. I remember who I am and I know that this is not where it ends. This is not where I end.
I’m starting to remember what it feels like to bend.