There were once two friends.
One was stupidly optimistic, and the other was overly pessimistic. Aside from believing that life was something good, the optimistic friend was also a hopeless romantic who wanted to find love, and they were willing to put themselves out there until they found it. The other friend was the cynical and logical one who preferred the comfort and predictability that the sidelines had to offer. The pessimistic one had been burned before. Experience had shaped both of the two friends into who they were. Despite their differences, they found comfort in their bond with each other.
The pessimist, despite how they saw the world, saw the good in other people. The pessimist saw that people could be kind to each other, that it wasn’t all just anger and hate, but preferred to keep others at a distance. The thought of losing another person was too much to handle. The pessimist saw the optimist living their life, and in a way admired them. The pessimist appreciated how the optimist operated, even if the pessimist couldn’t relate or reciprocate the energy.
Life never leaves you in one place for long. I used to think that all of the insanity was behind me, but each day brings with it new experiences, and while some will be minor, some are spectacular and some jarring. Maybe things will calm down, but I doubt it. Life seems to give you enough time to get your bearings before you are thrown headlong into the craziness once again. Even a few calm moments can be a luxury.
After a crazy upbringing, life settled down, but I should have known that this peace wasn’t going to stay. Suddenly, I was brought back to the surface. I’d tried to insulate myself from real feelings and emotions. I was comfortable in my cynicism and sarcasm and I wanted to stay away from true connections. Instead, I was forced to confront parts of myself that I thought I’d buried, or that I didn’t even know existed. Nothing is ever buried, or stays buried, but you can hide it for a while. You can try to bottle up what bothers you, but you’re holding onto volatile materials, and any disturbance can bring them back up. You may feel like you’re in control, but you’re just hoping that nothing else bad happens. You’re holding out hope for a permanently sunny future, the kind that doesn’t exist.
Something breaks us down, and in that moment we’re absolutely terrified. We thought the walls we put up were strong enough to withstand everything. In that vulnerable state, we can choose to rebuild the walls that we know don’t work, or we can choose to open ourselves up to a new way of thinking. That new way may involve pain and tears, but it’s worth it to try something different when the original plan falls apart. If anything is constant in life, it’s that it never stops offering opportunities to learn about yourself and who you are. You may not always like the answers, but one of the worst things we do as people is see these lessons, witness these revelations and turn away, not seeing them for what they are. They are our impetus to change, the reason to become something better, but change means that things will be different, when so many of us wanted a simpler and more comfortable solution.
Life as an emotional being is difficult. You care about things you have no control over. You have so much energy, and you put it into the things you care about, hoping that the investment will be rewarded. The highs can be high, they can be satisfying, or they can be disappointing because you thought they’d be higher. The lows can be hard to deal with, or they can be devastating, the kind that make you change your entire perspective on life.
When you combine a moment of failure with anxiety that wants to ruin your life, it can make you feel like nothing you do matters. It’s a potent combination, potent enough to make you not want to try again. Rather than continuing to put myself out there, wherever there is, I’d walk up to the edge of the pool, dip a toe in, and decide it was too cold. Sometimes, I’d cannonball in, and realize it was all mistake. When it was all too much, I’d withdraw from it all, too afraid to deal with the emotions and feelings, totally overwhelmed by it all. I thought i was in control, that I was approaching life the right way, but I was letting the anxiety run my life, and I was holding onto a lot of bad memories that kept me anchored in the past.
Then there’s a change.
As you get older, as you mature, you develop healthier habits if you’re willing to work at them. I’ve spent so many hours talking to friends and therapists about the human condition, learning everything I could. Armed with a toolbox for dealing with my mental health and particularly my anxiety, I’m doing much better. You learn how to get control of yourself, and more importantly, you lose your attachment to so many things, things you thought you’d never be without, things you thought you needed, things that used to make you feel whole.
I’m focused on what matters to me, and I’m letting go of so many things that used to give me a tremendous amount of anxiety. I’ve realized that some of the things I’ve loved, that I’ve poured my love into, that they can’t love me in return. They’re just objects, and we have to learn to treat them as such. Through this process, I find myself caring less about what people think of the life that I lead. People can let us down, as we will let them down. We need to be compassionate, and realize that we are all just doing the absolute best that we can, given our respective circumstances.
And so the pessimist became an optimist, or at least they’re moving in that direction. The pessimist realized that life isn’t as terrifying as they made it out to be. They had tried to control the world they were in, and they realized that it’s just not possible to do so. Life needs to be allowed to happen, and the pessimist finally allowed themselves to step out of the shadow of the anxiety that was holding them back. The pessimist also realized that it is possible to use painful experience and memories, that it’s possible to use them in a constructive way, in a way that can help others. They also realized that forging strong connections with people can bring so much joy.
When we let go of the past and allow ourselves to live each day, and when we keep our minds open to the moment, we can begin to change and to become the people we were meant to be. I’m looking toward the future and not feeling nearly as apprehensive about it as I once was. I’m approaching life with an energy I didn’t have before, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. We may step into certain roles at different points in our lives, but that doesn’t mean we’re locked into them. We go through different phases and changes, and it can be frightening, but we can’t be stagnant. We must let the current of life carry us into new experiences, and allow ourselves to become different people than we were the day before. Thanks for reading.
2 thoughts on “The Journey (2 Friends)”
My therapist and I have worked on/through issues using an Acceptance/Commitment Therapy (ACT) model/approach. Some of what we have focused on aligns with or mirrors matters you identify in this post. I have found that invoking mindfulness helps when thinking about and tackling some of these challenges. So I clearly ‘get’ what you are saying about feelings, emotions and simply learning to accept matters as they are now… in the present moment. However, this is not something a lot of people can do at the snap of fingers; it takes time, understanding and considerable cognitive/emotional labor.
I can relate to these “two friends.” I’ve lived as both and being one and/or the other has taken tolls. Yet to your thoughts/words… when we are open to change (and resultant growth), what we are awakened to and invited to step in to can be amazing, rewarding and beautiful. I sense this is some of the transformation you are experiencing, Adam. How cool is this?!
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It’s very cool. I’m one for making proclamations, or saying I’ll never do something, and then I end up doing it shortly thereafter, or years down the road. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, but rather, I think it’s kind of silly to try and limit your life and what you can do. When you remain open, you never know where you can end up. You either fear or love the uncertainty, and it can be either at different points in your life. Thanks as always for the meaningful feedback, my friend.