I started reading Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith today. It has been an interesting experience so far in that reading words describing feelings that are entirely too familiar to me makes me feel simultaneously reassured and less alone as well as on the verge of an anxiety attack at any moment because the words feel that familiar. When I am deep in the well of anxiety I am usually aware of how irrational I am being, but I feel so helpless to do anything about it. This is why I am often so afraid of talking to anyone about what I am going through, and often feel so alone in my anxiety. That’s my favorite part about Daniel’s writing. He does a great job of capturing the irrationality of anxiety in an amusing and familiar way.
The thing that hit me the hardest was when he started talking about how freedom is often the biggest downfall for the anxious. There is a deep-seeded anxiety in knowing you have to make a choice between one thing or another and constantly fearing that you will make the wrong choice and set off a regrettable chain of events. The more options you have to choose from and the bigger the choice, the more intense the anxiety. This is easily the biggest hurdle I am often faced with.
A good friend of mine once told me that I am the kind of person who wants everything all at once. And it is completely true. This is exactly why I have such a hard time figuring out what I want to be when I grow up and why you’ll often get a different answer every single time you ask me.
No seriously if you had asked me two weeks ago I would have told you with complete conviction that I want to go back to school to study nutrition. Today? I want to be a high school science teacher.
Except it’s not that I no longer want to be a nutritionist. It’s that I am just leaning more toward science teacher. The desire for both has always been there – and still is. In addition to that I also want to be a writer. And a race coordinator. And a professional party planner. And a teacher of English abroad. And an EMT. And a marine biologist. And a social media guru. And a TV and movie critic. And an international volunteer. And a physician’s assistant. And a worker of seasonal jobs in exotic places. And an imagineer creating magic every single day.
See? I want to do it all.
And the thought of committing to just one of those things – even though I know that is the key to being successful at any of them – is what keeps me up at night the most. I know that the second I commit to my life as a high school science teacher I am turning my back on my life as a professional nomad. And listen, on a rational level I completely realize that that isn’t actually true, but that isn’t how anxiety works.
Anxiety tells me that once I make my choice that’s it. Forever. So I might as well not pick and be a ball of indecision until the end of my days. Except the anxiety of not choosing is worse. It’s a terrible cycle of suck, really.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, this is mostly what I dealt with for the greater part of 2012 and in to 2013. I know it all sounds kind of silly – that I am blessed with so many amazing opportunities – but the crippling anxiety I felt at not being able to figure out what I want to do with my life is exactly what led me to one of the darkest years of my entire life.
These past few months I have been focused on taking things one step at a time because I know that has played the most significant role in bringing me closer to making the big choices. I know that one day I will figure this all out, and that I am not alone in facing this kind of uncertainty. I’d probably even figure it out sooner if my damn monkey mind would stop getting in my way.
But what is the fun in that?