On Hope.

It’s been a weird week.  There’s not been anything weird that’s happened, but I’m experiencing a lot of internal weirdness that is probably due to ripples from the experiences of people close to me, and due to some stressors that I’m experiencing personally.

I’ve been feeling like I’m on the verge of something wonderful, but I don’t know what that thing is.  It gets to the point that I’ll be really excited to get to wherever I’m going, only to experience a moment of confusion as I wonder what it was that I had been anticipating.  This is a stressor; it builds tension that I don’t know specifically how to release.  Calling something a stressor doesn’t make that thing a bad thing, but it does acknowledge an effect of that thing.  We get caught up in the idea that things that are stressors are necessarily bad, and they aren’t always. After all, stress is a source of growth and change and all kinds of other good things.  But they can be uncomfortable situations, especially when that tension has no obvious outlet.

I was sitting here in my hovel, trying to take a short nap, and I could hear people walking around in the hallways; their footsteps and the odd muted booming of their voices.  This makes me nervous recently; as though anyone walking the hallways of my building is there to come to my door with bad news.  This is a feeling that I understand is not rational.  I think that the balance that I feel right now between hope and disaster has left me feeling like anything, any small thing, could disrupt that balance and pitch me to one side or the other.  The balance itself is a manufactured one.  It’s something that I’ve relied on as a preventative measure ever since I was a kid.

This was what I had learned about life as a child… don’t hope too much.  Don’t want too much.  Don’t expect too much.  Understand that good things are possible, but also understand that if we dwell too much on the possible good, then the inevitable bad will crush you.  Be on the lookout for disappointment; build yourself up against it, prepare for it.  Practice disappointment, so that you are prepared when it comes.  Become so small and impenetrable that nothing can crush you.  Protect, protect, protect.  Worry always. Constant vigilance.  And if you do hope, don’t admit it to anyone, or risk having to bear up under their pity later when things go awry.

This is a terrible way to live; it’s a prison that you build for yourself.  It isolates you from other people, and it also prevents you from succeeding at, well, really anything.  When you seek to minimize the risk of failure, you also reduce the chances of achieving anything.  Risk is necessary for doing anything of import.  Without it, you stagnate as a person; growth stagnates in all areas of life, and you wake up one day and you’re small and alone and unremarkable, and you don’t really know why your life isn’t working.

I’ve been trying to break out of this.  It’s a process that will probably never be finished, but even in these early steps, the last few years of my life have been the happiest and most fulfilling that I ever remember having.

The first thing that started to turn this situation around for me was to come to understand that I do have at least some amount of control over my weight.  One day, I sat down, wrote myself a diet plan, and set a start date.  That was around five years ago, and while the weight loss has slowed quite a bit, and while I can’t exactly afford to stick to that plan at the current time, here I sit, around seventy pounds lighter.  It was great to lose that weight, but the best thing about it was having proof positive that I could do something and have it succeed.

Since then, I’ve been looking for things that I find terrifying and trying to do them.  There have been small things, like talking to a stranger at a bar; there have been medium things, like dressing up for Krampusnacht; there have even been big things, like exhibiting my art in public.  When I do these things, it doesn’t eliminate the fear, but it proves that these are things that I can do, and that’s empowering.  I’ve come to understand that the only way to find out what I can do is to keep going until I find the things that I can’t do, and then adjust course.

I’m also trying to allow myself to have hope.  Hope and other good feelings, like excitement and contentment and joy.  This has not been easy to do.  It’s frightening to feel good; it’s just a reminder that eventually I’m going to feel bad.  I had duped myself into believing that the key to coping with my mercurial nature was to iron out the peaks and valleys by sheer force of will for so long, it had become habit.  But the peaks are definitely worth the valleys, and when I’m feeling like I just can’t cope, I can remember the times that I felt good, and I can come to understand those times not as a loss and not as a thing relegated to my past, but as a thing that I can look forward to in the future.  I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to my future before.  It always seemed like folly, to look forward to a thing that was so uncertain.

And one of the things that I’ve noticed as a part of this is that it has made me more capable.  I guess you could say, strictly speaking, that I’m no more capable now than I was then, but I don’t know that some potential ability has any real-world value until it is practiced.  Now, with more confidence, I’m trying things I never thought would work, or that I thought I simply wasn’t destined for, and some of them don’t turn out great but some of them do turn out great, and at least now I feel like I’m sort of actually a person.  That is another thing that has taken some getting used to… the idea that it’s okay to fail at first.  Validation was a very binary situation in my family… if you succeeded, you could have positive feedback, but if you failed, people wanted to know why, or sometimes people just shrugged and decided that you weren’t good at that thing.  Learning that failure is inevitable and is generally a step on the path to success has been a struggle.  So has accepting the idea that perfection is not always the desired result.  But that’s a subject all its own, perfection… I’ll explain more about that later.

I don’t really know why I’m writing all of this; it’s a little more personal and a little more exposed than my usual.  I just felt like writing about it, and I think that displays of vulnerability and honesty are a little scary and so, I should probably do them.

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Author: adrennan

An artist and writer in Bellingham, Washington.

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