I cried at the top of a Sydney bushland mountain bike trail today. Great gulping sobs, standing there like a blue banana, dressed in lycra bike shorts, a windstopper fleece, one of those ridiculous bike helmets, and a pair of holey blue ASICs, dripping snot all over my sunglasses, which had slipped over my nose.
Nothing to see here folks, no terribly hard, life-shaking tragedy, no heartbreak, no loss. Just a mountain bike trail, my husband and I on a little suburban ride, out for a morning of fresh air and a little physical challenge. But then there it was, a total meltdown, all confidence gone in the flash of an amygdala as I stared dumbly down the trail.
For the love of sweet baby jeebers; people all around are dealing with agonies of grief and real suffering, there’s a refugee crisis worldwide with lost desperate souls fleeing unimaginable tragedy, others have lost loved ones or been diagnosed with untreatable illnesses in the time I’ve written this paragraph, and here I am a bloody fortunate woman bawling like a baby at the top of a tricky bike trail because “Waaaaaah I can’t do it.” WTF call the waaaaambulance.
Jump off the cliff and find your wings on the way down
Let’s be clear, I’m a veteran of unpredictability, fear, and chaos. I’ve thrived in the random and unpredictable; moved countries more times than most people move house in a lifetime, often alone, knowing no-one at the destination. Each time, I have rebuilt a life, formed trusted solid friendships, found a home, a secure job, sometimes a boyfriend (or two) and varying degrees of happiness. I’ve been called brave, fearless, confident, ballsy, feisty. I could go on but you get the idea.
I used a milkcrate to mount Max, my enormous 17 hands high horse, we’d hurtle out of the competition gates jumping solid 3-4 foot cross-country fences, often from a full gallop with no fear. I ski too and can get down most black diamond pistes competently. Faced with a double black, expert run, I’ll baulk, but most times give it a go and find my way down in my own time.
We’ve got this, one jump, one turn at a time. We’re all good.
I’ve been the epitome of “jump off the cliff of life and find your wings on the way down” for much of my life. But, and it’s a big but, with that fearlessness has come an ignored and insidiously crippling anxiety, which when not manifested, sits in the gut and festers, and festers. Each time it popped up its head I would stuff it back down again, fear be gone. Anxiety smackdown.
Fake it ’til you make it. Or not.
There’s a massive difference between actual, viscerally-profound confidence, and fake it ’til you make it. It’s the difference between self belief to your core, or silencing Small Voice, and handing over the wheel to Platitude and Balls.
Even when I’ve taken the biggest jumps; founded a business, stepped into employment way beyond the scope of my experience, taken on a stepfamily, I’ve bluffed myself that I’ll figure it out. Most of the time I have. I’ve also had some spectacular failures, or as some like to call them, learning experiences.
A few employment decisions I’ve made have been terrible ones, made for the right reasons but with the wrong convictions. Told myself that I’d figure it out, tried to do so, and found myself wracked with too much self doubt to function at anything close to optimal. Brains flooded with cortisol cannot function effectively.
Worse, I would start to second guess, to look for proof that I couldn’t do it, look for criticism in every conversation, be afraid to ask for help for fear of exposure.
Let’s pause there, rationally I know to seek help, that it doesn’t make you look bad, or expose you. I’ve read Brene Brown’s works on vulnerability, I get it, yet I internalise and have become so goddam expert at appearing to jump and fly, that no-one notices I’m bouncing off the rocks, least of all me. I have become my own worst enemy, a central character in my own apocryphal fable.
Find your core conviction
I made it down the first part of the trail this morning, on foot, then started to enjoy the rest as my confidence grew. Now as I write, my quads are burning and I have a happy little endorphin smile on my face because I MADE IT. There was no-one judging how I made it, no points for style, no performance assessments, just one metre in front of the other. Just quietly, I’m a little bit proud of myself yet it was such a small thing, relatively speaking.
In the car on the way home, hubby and I dissected the meltdown. where had it come from, why suddenly then?
Listen to Small Voice
All I can say is this, the journey back to wellness from anxiety and depression is a long one. We must learn to love ourselves again but from a new perspective, celebrate the little milestones, change the old unhelpful thought patterns and above all, listen to Small Voice.
Small Voice has been hurting for a very long time, in my world she’s been silenced and stifled; criticised, manipulated and abused. By ignoring her, I’ve been guilty but perhaps it was what I needed to do then; to get through, to run, to be strong, to feel in control. To immunise myself from abuse and control to silence the vulnerability. Does it sound familiar? Can you too, hear your Small Voice talking to you?
Small Voice squeaked loud enough to hear today, and instead of silencing her, I stopped and listened. It hurt, for a little while, really hurt. I judged her, for a little while. Then I gave her a hug, whispered, “we’ve got this, let’s hold hands, wheel the bike, and walk the hard bit together.”
So we did, and over the past hours, the crippling anxiety festering in my stomach has given way to a deep reserve of purpose and peace. Small Voice is resting with a big smile on her face.
“We’ve got this.”