There have been some truly fantastic posts over on Brazen Careerist these past few days, which have really helped me to put things into perspective. Couple this with the insightful comment a reader left on my own post a couple of days ago, and you’ve got me doing some heavy thinking.
And that needs to stop. Immediately.
Who am I kidding, though? Thinking too much has always been my Achilles’ heel…
When a reader recently commented by asking who I was apologizing to for wanting to leave my hometown, it seemed like a straightforward answer to a simple question: I was apologizing to myself, right? But the more I thought about it, the more I began to analyzed the reasoning behind the “why” of the answer.
It had always been difficult for me to reconcile childhood and adulthood as synonymous because I always believed they were separate entities: once you reached adulthood, you left your childhood behind for good. Because I was so lucky to have such fond memories, this thought scared the crap out of me. I didn’t want to be thrust into the adult world; I wanted to remain the little girl who still played pretend, who read her Berenstain Bear books way past lights out, who couldn’t wait for summer because it meant day camp and vacations and playing flashlight tag in the dark. Growing up meant change, and change is what I have always feared. I foolishly believed that once you entered adulthood, it meant leaving a part of yourself behind. And I absolutely feared doing that.
All of these thoughts eventually developed into an anxiety disorder. I’d always had this predisposition; in fact, in hindsight I can pinpoint certain circumstances dating back to kindergarten where I had clear separation anxiety, bursting into tears as soon as my mom dropped me off at school. Only then, there wasn’t a name for it. Then, all I knew was this overwhelming, breathless fear that gripped me, and no one could console me with a hushed voice or bribe me with a cool game.
I was diagnosed with anxiety, or more specifically, panic disorder, during my junior year of high school. The feeling is fairly inexplicable to someone who has never experienced it — it was paralyzing, there was a sudden feeling of dread that was so oppressive, I couldn’t breathe, and the only way to stop it was for me to go home, to see that everyone was happy and safe. I was probably seventeen years old at the time, but I felt like I was so much younger. I knew that these feelings were completely unfounded; I always tried to talk myself out of it, the rational side of me screaming, “what the hell are you crying for? You’re nearly eighteen years old, get over it,” but the emotional side just couldn’t make myself stop crying. Because that’s just it — it’s irrational; it holds us back and keeps us stationary, a prisoner in our own lives.
And I wasn’t about to let that happen; there was too much I wanted to do.
The more I talked about it, the more we came to the realization that the trigger was, in fact, the idea of change. In less than a year I would have been heading off for college, away from my family, away from my comfort. Of course, I had been away from them before — I’d traveled to France with my school when I was sixteen, but then I was with my peers, I was only there for a short duration, and, quite frankly, I was having such a blast that I probably forgot all about being afraid (I do remember that I was homesick the first few days though — what can I say, old habits die hard). Besides, I was across the sea in another country…it’s not like I could ask them to come get me.
But they could come pick me up from college. Which they did, once.
Going away to college is probably the one thing I am most proud of because there were so many times I could have let my anxiety hold me back. As soon as I arrived, though, I knew I would be happy, I knew I would make it another home for myself, but the change it would take in getting there and what it would (hypothetically) mean was scary. I had panic attacks while I was there, to be certain, but I adapted very easily and they eventually became fewer and fewer; I was slowly regaining my sense of independence, I had a great support group of friends, and I had my car — just knowing I could go home when I needed to escape was a tremendous comfort. In fact, I think it was just the simple reassurance that I could always go home that primarily helped me through it.
But there was something else that I kept in my pocket — knowledge, self-awareness. Because of this experience, this part of me, I learned how to deal with situations that are beyond my control and to make the most of new experiences; I learned that change is something that is inevitable, and you can either fight it or follow it. I learned that growing up doesn’t mean leaving anything behind, but rather finding out how to carry it with you. I learned that I can become an adult and be independent, and that won’t mean that I love my family or need them any less.
So when I’m trying to convince myself that it’s ok to move away again, to leave what has been my source of comfort for nearly 25 years, I’m really remembering what that change felt like years ago and how similar it all seems now.
Only now I’m a little bit older, a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser…
And a hell of a lot more prepared.