There was a time when damn near everything scared me – on some level.
I’ve always been paranoid – I could be running down the friendliest country lane on a sunny afternoon and still glance over my shoulder every couple of minutes to be sure I wasn’t going to be jumped. Or, worse, a white work van was going to pull up and drag me inside in the blink of an eye to disappear without a trace, forever.
I’ve got a pair of Bluetooth headphones that I constantly second guess wearing; to wear the Bluetooth headset and enjoy myself and de-stress (arguably the whole purpose of the run) or be hyper paranoid and vigilant of kidnappers?
My brain chooses paranoia as a coping mechanism for how wistfully and stupidly unobservant I am. So, in all fairness, I should be thankful to this level of paranoia and anxiety I carry with me in certain situations – it’s probably what’s kept me around so long.
But, the first time I remember having genuine fear I was with my sister.
And no, not because she used to pin me down and poke me repeatedly in the same spot to induce internal bleeding. Or because of that one time she held me under a blanket long enough to make sure that I would carry a fear of tight spaces and asphyxiation into adulthood.
No, this moment is conveniently frozen in time by the invention of the photograph. Please see below.
In said photograph my sister and I are tanned to the nines, dawning bright yellow SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirts, and our mouths are agape in a scream. Megan’s is a joyful screaming and mine the expression of someone that’s just realized their whole life is about to change for the worse. This sounds incredibly ominous without context.
We were actually at the indoor waterpark at the Mall of America on the waterlog ride.
I’m convinced my sister is the reason I repeatedly question Stuart when doing just about anything, “What else do you know about where we’re going? Who’s going to be there? What should I wear?”
The Spongebob photograph is a literal snapshot of the reason behind my worst-case scenario disposition with everything in life (that I’m now learning to gain control of now that I’m nearly a quarter of a century old).
Why? Because my sister told me there were no sheer drops on said waterlog ride.
You can imagine the expression on my face as we started chugging up an incline. “Megan, what’s happening? Why is it taking us up? If we go up, don’t we have to go down?” to which I’m sure my sister gave a non-response or feigned a lack of knowledge about the impending horror about to take place for my nine-year-old self.
Megan, if you’re reading this, you’re the reason I have anxiety. Just kidding, having you as a sister has made me a more robust person on every conceivable level. Hopefully that’s a compliment. I love you.
This disposition in life – to imagine the worst-case scenario – is great for those that are action oriented like my husband. He’ll pack three different kinds of outerwear for a day trip to Seven Sisters, a country park by the sea, just in case. But also because he knows my capacity to complain when I’m even slightly physically uncomfortable. Moreover, he can imagine what may go wrong and prepare for it. Me, on the other hand, I tend to freeze up with anxiety and stay cocooned in this miserable state until something gives.
Or at least, that’s how I perceived what I might do or how I might be.
I’ve heard somewhere – forgive the fact I have no source to back this up – we perceive our physical appearance so differently from the reality of the way we look that if we saw a replica of ourselves walking around we wouldn’t be able to recognize that it was a carbon copy of us. I would argue this might also be because no one expects to come across his or her literal doppelganger.
If you think about it, this might be true for our perception of our mental and emotional selves, too.
Over dinner last night, one of Stuart’s best mates described me as smart, brave, and charismatic. I was secretly hoping to be called funny, too, but we all know I did not miss a calling to be a self-made comic. Even if I secretly wish it were so.
This floored me.
To be described by someone else is a trip. Whether good or bad, it’s a dose of the reality we can’t recognize of who we are to others – in the same way we wouldn’t recognize our own physical doppelganger. Think about it; it’s always someone else that says, “Wow, that person looks a lot like you.” We’re never the first to realize someone might look like us – it’s those outside ourselves that can identify the similarities.
In the same way, I couldn’t recognize I might be charismatic. In particular, brave is not something I would readily identify as.
He went on to explain, “I couldn’t have done what you did. Britain and America are completely different culturally.”
It suddenly dawned on me – somewhere along the line over the past four years – I grew up. I chopped and changed. I grew sideways and upwards, winding like a vine around the thing that was shaping my adulthood, which was living in England. I budded a couple of leaves too.
To hear someone say, I couldn’t have done that about something I never thought twice about was eye opening.
I never worried about the big changes – like getting married at twenty-one or moving to another country. I do what scares me all of the time without blinking an eye because I enjoy a challenge.
Although, I still stress and worry about the nonsensical things; What if a kidnapper grabs me on the side of the road? Or there’s a huge drop on this waterlog ride? What if I don’t bring the right coat and I’m cold?
These little worries – the kind that prevent me from wearing Bluetooth headphones or double-checking what kind of jacket to wear – made me believe I was still the scared little girl on the waterlog ride. It impacted my whole perception of who I was.
So, it was only when someone else gave their two cents about who I was that I thought – hey, maybe I don’t give myself enough credit.
Do you give yourself enough credit?
Maybe you’re not what you’ve told yourself you are – maybe you’re not self-sabotaging, or insensitive, or whatever the hell your negative inner dialogue tells you. I bet you’ve conflated one thing for another based on past experiences without accounting for the experiences that have shaped who you’ve become. Small anxieties that I’ve carried with me from childhood don’t mean I’m not a brave person.
As people we are subjective anyway – we’re not one thing all of the time. We experience. Then, we grow from experience. Finally, we change from the growth inspired by the experience.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, Charles Dickens said it well: “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.”“Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.” – Charles… Click To Tweet
Like the budding rose, one day it isn’t and the next it is. So subtly we grow and change into who we are. Somewhere along the line I became a braver version of myself – but carried the image of myself as a caterpillar when I’d outgrown that person ages ago. I’d blinked and become someone different. This is all a bit airy-fairy, but you get what I mean.
We’re fundamentally the same – a rose bush, in time and in its season, will create the rose. A caterpillar will turn into a butterfly. Rachel will turn into a slightly braver version of her kid self.