Yesterday, for the first time in a very long while, I ventured outside alone to go to the corner store. I wanted to see if it was open so that I could buy something cheap and sweet, but the store was closed. It was only a short block I had to walk to get there, but I felt so exposed, so far from my nest of safety, that my collar bones ached with the tightness in my throat and chest.
I am sometimes afraid to leave my home.
This fear happens when I am shifting, when I am changing my patterns of thought or behaviour. I panic, and my panic turns inward, where I question all the good of which I am capable. I have spent a week sure that I cannot write or make or do valuable things, that my faultiness far outweighs my abilities.
This insecurity is usually followed by the hatred of my own appearance, and this week was no exception. I became convinced that my own appearance was so terrible, so below acceptable standards, that I did not want to be seen by strangers who did not already love me.
"I can't go out," I sometimes say. "Strangers will see my face, and I can't have that."
I came home from my harrowing trip to the corner store with that familiar burn of shame running up the back of my neck while I tried to catch my breath, and I immediately asked the Palinode to come for another, slightly longer walk with me. I knew that my well-being depended on killing this thing in the moment.
I know my mind. If I let leaving be so terrible that it scares me back, and then rest into my safe spot on the couch again, I will more deeply train a pathway in my brain that confirms the messages that Leaving Is Bad and Staying Is Good. I imagined myself in the future on a talk show saying "I don't know how it happened, but one day I just stopped leaving, and now it's been 17 years since I walked out my front door."
The Palinode and I walked to another drugstore further away, and as we chatted about things like whether grease is wet or dry1 and what the actual elements of moisture are, my chest loosened. The stuck feeling in my throat eased up.
That pathway in my brain, one that could have so easily become a deeper groove, unkinked itself a little bit. I bought myself some more time with freedom.
I haven't said much about my depression, anxiety, or addiction issues over recent months. As much as I've written about them before and talked about them in front of audiences across two countries, I am afraid to write about them here.
I am afraid that no one will believe me anymore that shame can be used to see rather than punish yourself, that your courage is bigger than you know, and that fear is surmountable. I am afraid that I don't have what it takes to stay on this path I have fought so hard to find and bushwhack my way through. I am afraid that people will second-guess hiring me, thinking that I am not up to the job.
Part of my job on this earth, though, and I deeply hold this to be true, is to be very publicly human.
I do have the strength, though. We all do. This is a bones deep knowledge I can't shake.
I'm just experiencing retreat after battle, or, as Brené Brown calls it in I Thought It Was Just Me, a "vulnerability hangover". You shouldn't trust someone who hasn't lived their subject, and so I'm treating this phase of change as intensive study. I'm diving in.
In the end, Ghandi said it most succinctly2:
We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.
This course I take repeatedly through anxiety, depression, and the hard work of sobriety is difficult and terrible at times, but the most beautiful parts of my whole life grow out of the soil it helps me to turn over.
Fear is gripping, but love and belief birth hope, growing capital-c Courage larger than the self.
And, so, a beautiful thing will grow out of this very hard thing, and you will not see me on a show in 17 years wondering why I never left my home again in all that time. This, I can promise you.
1. It turns out that grease is a non-Newtonian fluid that can be both wet and dry. Thanks goes to brainiac @jannymarie for the information. ↩
2. This paragraph is often paraphrased as "be the change you want to see in the world", which is an unverified misquote that Ghandi never actually said, because he didn't speak Bumper Sticker. ↩