It’s Monday, I think.
What used to be my life has deteriorated into a repetition of sun-ups and sundowns wherein my tiny, soft cotton shorts are increasingly stuck to my ever-sweaty skin. Los Angeles is hotter than normal and I am grumpier than usual and for no real reason at all, I refuse to use the air conditioning in my apartment.
My apartment. Where I’ve eaten, slept, studied, read, cried, practiced yoga, called my mom, baked cookies, and devoured family-sized packages of pretzel M&Ms, pretty much without leaving, for three months. I recently read an article about the complexities of life at the international space station. How everything feels and moves and acts different in “zero G.” How the adjustment period for an astronaut is sometimes six months, even when their mission is three. How they have to re-learn how to do everything earth dwellers take for granted and even after years of preparation some of them, never adapt.
My life, studying for the bar exam, is orbiting in space.
By Friday, I’ll be back in the gravitational pull of the ordinary- brushing my teeth upright and sleeping flat on my back. Eating more than one meal a day and spending fewer than eight hours at a time in front of a computer. Crying only during Oprah’s Lifeclass and the occasional youtube video my mom sends me about a heroic service dog.
All day I’ve been simultaneously wanting to speed up time and stop it entirely. Torn between the intense anxiety of the impending exam and the anticipation of relief when it’s finally over. I’ve developed this habit of mindlessly looking at social media when I need an escape from the many sensations in my body.
“Please do not feed the fears.”
My friend, mentor, attorney-goddess and pro-bono life coach, Anne Collins posted a picture on Facebook of the above words, just in time. Just in time for me to abandon my newly formulated plan to blow off the exam all together and spend the next three days in Disneyland charging churros on my mom’s credit card and watching back-to-back showings of Captain EO, while contemplating whether or not my J.D. will help or hurt me in landing a gig as a Jungle Cruise skipper.
The fears have been creeping in on me all summer, but accelerated their approach about three days ago when I blanked on all 112 of my criminal procedure notecards during a mid afternoon review session.
“I’m going to fail this exam.”
I immediately retreated from my bedroom into the kitchen where I set out to bake three dozen chocolate chip cookies and plan the rest of my life.
“Maybe I’ll go to culinary school.”
I’ve been perfecting this pattern of (anxious) thought, (dramatic) reaction, since I was five years old. An uncomfortable experience or conversation sends me into a spiral of doing and fixing. My contingency plans have contingency plans and I can re-route my entire life purpose in seconds. I’d get in a fight with one of my girl friends and have the next five years of my social life mapped out before she even realized we were fighting. My dad swears when he looks at x-rays of our family members we have prehistoric bone density. For 31 years I’ve been navigating life like a cave man cornered by a saber-toothed tiger. I worry that it’s in the genes.
My fears are relentless, hungry beasts. They travel in packs, sometimes in disguise. They hunt me day and night and I am especially vulnerable when I’m alone, sitting still and quiet, for an unusual length of time.
I move around a lot.
After almost a decade as a single woman, adjusting to a new relationship sometimes feels like a space station mission I didn’t get to prepare for. Like my life was training for six months on a submarine and without warning I’m hurtling through the galaxy wishing for gravity to pull me back down to earth. I am upside down and backwards and helplessly trying to grasp at a vacuum dried sandwich that’s floating in mid air.
There are moments where it is calm and easy, but then, even a small challenge launches the fears into the orbit of my imagination. When they land, I’m in survival mode, swift into action on my plan to eradicate the sensation before it can settle in. I feed them old stories of disappointment and heartbreak. I toss them my self-sufficiency and complacency with being alone. I give them a hearty dose of how easy my life is without a partner and let them feast on my discomfort in feeling vulnerable and opening up.
The more I feed them, the more powerful they become.
Sometimes, in the frenzy, I hesitate. I pause to consider that the conversation in my head is not an accurate reflection of my reality. In my mind, I’ve been running, with my head down, as fast as I can move without looking up. When I pause, my legs stop, then I shift my gaze up and my eyes meet the warning sign I’ve been ignoring.
“Please do not feed the fears.”
I both hate and appreciate the reminder that I’m creating this myself. That there’s nothing wrong and nothing to be afraid of and that even when there is, dwelling in the anxiety of what might happen does not change whether it will, or not. That my version of the future is no more certain than the real one that can only be unknown.
I hate flying because I can’t see where I’m going. From the driver’s seat of my car the road is clear in front of me. And even though I know from both logic and experience that my vision in one direction does not prevent intervention or accidents or the unexpected from coming up on all sides of me, it gives me the illusion that it does.
And I feel safe.
My move to action in a perceived crisis is the same type of illusion. Even, or especially, when I play out the worst case scenario I feel comfort in seeing something even if I don’t like what I see.
My fears are a fuzzy outline of the uncertain. I feed them until they are strong enough to take shape.
Lately, I try to be still long enough to pause, and look up. To catch myself in the reaction before it becomes reality, to me. To sit in the discomfort of not knowing and not seeing. Of floating through zero G. To find acceptance. And peace. To adapt to a new environment. To take it in and take it on and give myself time to make the adjustment.
To know that I cannot keep the fears away from me, but I can open up the space and allow them to leave.