On Giving Fear a Bear Hug




As you may know if you read this blog regularly: I reached a point recently in which I realized I had taken on way too much in my life. I also decided to use this experience as a catalyst for change. You can read the post I wrote about all of that here. It’s been almost a month since I wrote that blog post. For context, let me also say that the period during which that blog post was written I had a small but intense nervous breakdown — a breakdown in which I fantasized every day about leaving my life and my work obligations and running away to Hawaii.

I am happy to report I am making progress and no longer having escape fantasies (details to follow shortly).

I wrote another post recently about Owning All of It, and in that piece I was mostly talking about the experience of writing a book (which I am doing for the first time ever), and earlier in February I was thinking a lot about Embracing All of It, which is sort of the same thing. The idea is that life is always filled with some difficulty — no matter how hard we try to avoid and escape it. Sometimes our choices create the difficulty, sure (and we must work to make choices that support our well being) but sometimes it’s just stuff that happens in our lives that we cannot control. The idea is to not fight or try to escape the hard stuff (whether we’ve chosen it or not), but rather to give all of it a big bear hug. I am not a Buddhist, but I love to read Buddhist teachings because I think they offer a lot of wisdom in this regard: don’t try to run away from your fear, but get to know it intimately. Use it as your teacher. Let your difficulties make you more human and compassionate.  Easier said than done, but ultimately, if you get to know your most fraught emotions, they will no longer control you. And you will also become a more loving person toward others.

I am working on getting to know my fears: fears about having too much work, fears about not having enough work, fears about who I am, my identity, my life, my future. Just sitting with stuff, not necessarily trying to fix it. Every day that I do this I feel slightly more relaxed and my fears are having less and less power. But I also realize that getting to know my fears is a lifelong practice — meditation and yoga help, as do reading and writing, taking walks, and breaks and time to relax. I have been doing all of those things in spades in the last month since my breakdown. But I also realize I can’t just do all of those things now. I need to do all of those things as long as I am alive. I am naturally wired to worry. I have been a chronic worrier since I was six. This is my life’s work.

Like everyone, I have a yearning to be happy. I have a lot of things in my life that I thought would make me happy: a gorgeous and loving partner, ample work with great clients, a lovely home. All of those things do bring me joy; but ultimately happiness comes from not being blown by every wind, from being at peace, from not giving in to fear, and from relaxing in the present moment, whatever it is.

Over the last month since I had my breakdown and wrote about it, I have gotten countless emails from people who have gone through a similar experience or are going through one right now. This reminds me that we are never alone. We think we are alone and that our experience separates us. But, in fact, we all experience this to one degree or another. Thank you to everyone who has written to me. I have not had time to respond to everyone, but your emails and thoughts are heartfelt.

Have a great Thursday.