• jess

Ru(i)nning my life on Fear and Helplessness

This is another story framed by my morning meditation practice of walking my ass off... but bear with me.

For the past almost 4 weeks I’ve been in Illinois at my mom’s little horse farm. To be clear, my time here has been both challenging and healing. So I’ve been sticking around, despite my complaining.


One of the biggest challenges I’ve run into is the disruption of my usual morning schedule – waking up at the crack of dawn, going to a nature-y place, and sorting out my shit for the next 1-3 hours while I take a long hike/jog/walk (whatever I can muster that day).


While I’ve been here, I’ve felt claustrophobic. Trapped. Unable to get out and do my thing, because “there’s nowhere to go.”


This morning, I got up, started walking down the road, and found that there’s nothing but space for me to explore. We’re out in the middle of the fucking country – cornfield territory – and I’ll be damned if there’s nothing but room to wander.


I realized that it’s all been less about having a place to go… and more about fearing being out in this environment on my own. There are TONS of places to go, but I don’t trust myself or my safety in them.


When I DID trust myself, motherfucker, I moved my ass for 1.5 hours on a long, undirected country walk before 9am. Saw some real nature. Got the alone time I needed. Let my brain go into meditative mode to sort out my random emotions and thoughts. And in doing so, I got way better energy release, emotional understanding, and mental clarity than I have in the past month or so.


Okay, so you took a fucking walk this morning, what’s the big deal?


The deal is, this is a metaphor for most of my life, jerk.


Fear and learned helplessness


For my dark years – that’s how I’m now referring to my 20’s – I didn’t get a lot done. I had a “highly successful” sounding job and I lived in an apartment with this friend or that one. I dressed nice. I wrote scientific papers and had a stable social circle.


Outside of that, I didn’t do a fucking thing. I was panicked at the idea of just about anything, including walking out my front door, staying in my front door, and humans (period).


Outside of that, I didn’t do a fucking thing. I was panicked at the idea of just about anything, including walking out my front door, staying in my front door, and humans (period).

I walked to work every day, panicked that someone was going to take me. I sat in my office, afraid to bother anyone or to walk out the door for fear of judgement or rapid firing. When I got back to my place, I did… nothing. I was too scared to go out on my own. I stayed inside, waiting... for something to happen.


I relied on friends for any exploration into the world. And while I sat in my apartment, miserably fearing the slew of bullshit that ran through my brain (everything from someone’s going to break in and murder you to you’re going to die alone after a life of utter isolation and sadness), I accomplished nothing. I was too scared to create, to write, to learn a new skill. I was afraid of failing, of judgement, of all the hate I already embodied in myself anyways.


I told myself I couldn’t do it. I was just stuck there, feeling claustrophobic and dissatisfied. Helpless to change my life.


I told myself I couldn’t do it. I was just stuck there, feeling claustrophobic and dissatisfied. Helpless to change my life.

One day I started to reduce the “fear behaviors” and making moves for myself. I finally got back into shape, started venturing out on my own, and having a little self-esteem as I realized that I was capable of doing things other people did too.


Then… I started dating someone and history repeated itself.


I fell into a relationship that I thought was going to “save” me. Someone came along, scooped me up, and offered me a life with less fear and worry. If you keep up with my story, you know where this is headed. Straight for an abusive, toxic, controlling relationship where I had nothing but fears.


At that point, again, I lost myself deep in the weeds of panicked disastrous thinking.


Now, I was too afraid to leave the house, to drive, to explore on my own, to make social contacts in a new city… and I was also terrified of the person that I lived with. I didn’t believe that he had my best interests in mind. I didn’t feel that I could truly count on him “for the rest of our lives,” like he insisted. I could tell that there was something “under the surface” that I didn’t trust. And his emotional outbursts and actions eventually showed me I was right.


Still, I couldn’t leave. I was too afraid of everything I didn’t know. Hell, I wasn’t comfortable walking in our neighborhood, let alone finding a new place to live with my limited financial and social resources.


Still, I couldn’t leave. I was too afraid of everything I didn’t know. Hell, I wasn’t comfortable walking in our neighborhood, let alone finding a new place to live with my limited financial and social resources.

I told myself I couldn’t do it. I was just stuck there, feeling claustrophobic and dissatisfied.


One day, I started to reduce my “fear behaviors” and making moves for myself. I began driving myself to therapy and work, I got more comfortable doing things on my own, and I started this project. I realized, I was just as worthy and secure on my own as anyone else.


And my entire world changed when I felt confident enough - depressed my fear enough - to leave that household.


Sounds familiar? Like you just read that before?


Loops, inner critic, and FUCBs


Yep, it’s one of my regular “trauma loops.” I get afraid, I get shut down, and I stop living.


Thanks to my maladaptive thinking, I don’t believe that I CAN live, at least not the ways that other people do. So I give up trying.


I succumb to my circumstances in some self-made hell. I start just “existing” and waiting for some kind of end – whether that be a knight in shining armor or a new job opportunity that’s just going to fall in my lap and change my whole life.


I succumb to my circumstances in some self-made hell. I start just “existing” and waiting for some kind of end – whether that be a knight in shining armor or a new job opportunity that’s just going to fall in my lap and change my whole life.

And, as stupid as this sounds to start with a story about walking down the fucking street instead of pouting inside the house… I really can see the pattern in smaller ways everywhere.


Most of this dysfunctional thinking/acting is based on our old favorites – inner critics and fucked up core beliefs.


Thanks to the voices in this messy little head, I defeat myself before I even begin new activities. I freak out and tell myself everything is doomed before I start. I’m not going to be good enough. I’m wasting my time. Everyone is going to call me out for my efforts. I’m better off just lying low and waiting for this predetermined future of misery to pass me by.


(Or for the murderer who’s been following me for 20 years to finally finish the job. One or the other.)


It’s all an extension of my inner narrative. My learned behaviors. The nasty words that have wormed their way into my psyche.


It’s all an extension of my inner narrative. My learned behaviors. The nasty words that have wormed their way into my psyche.

In this instance, considering just talking a walk for longer than a mile, I let my inner voice tell me:

1) I’m destined to be picked up and taken if I walk off on my own.

2) I shouldn’t go too far, because my body might not carry me back or I might get lost.

3) I literally don’t deserve the same space on this earth as everyone else (i.e. when I’m walking on the side of a country road, I’m inconveniencing a handful of motorists and just asking to get what’s coming to me).

Isn’t that fucked up when you consider it deeply? After years of maladaptive thinking and trauma, I literally don’t feel as though I deserve the same physical space where my body exists as other people do. Please, let me be in no one’s way, ever. I wouldn’t want my 120lb body to make someone adjust their direction by 5 degrees. I realized this today as I walked - and holy shit, that's a trauma-thought right there.


I literally don’t feel as though I deserve the same physical space where my body exists as other people do. Please, let me be in no one’s way, ever. I wouldn’t want my 120lb body to make someone adjust their direction by 5 degrees. I realized this today as I walked - and holy shit, that's a trauma-thought right there.

Besides, I think those humans are ready to drag me off the street and take me away, anyways. Everyone is out to get me. No one can be trusted. If you venture out on your own, you’re asking for someone to take advantage. Evil, demented people are everywhere, waiting to prey on you. This is a FUCB gone wild, if I’ve ever seen one. And too much Forensic Files growing up.


Then, I inherently fear that my body just isn’t going to be able to walk me back where I came from. It’s going to give out on me at any second. Where’s that born? Oh, my old body trauma from coming down with an undiagnosable illness out of the blue. How can you feel safe in your own shoes if you don’t even feel secure in your own body? After being told I couldn’t do things for so long, I believed it.


Lastly, I doubt my own mental abilities when I wonder if I can find my way back home. Who am I, Sassy in Homeward Bound? Like I’m going to get SO turned around walking in the open, grid-patterned country roads around here? As if there isn’t a phone in my pocket with resources. As if I’m going to forget what direction I just came from? What the fuck, self? That’s just a straight inner-critic lie.


Having no confidence. Having fears of the world. Presuming the worst is always waiting around the corner - these are all the same fears and fucked up core beliefs that stole years of my life. They contributed to my agoraphobia. To my stagnancy in a toxic relationship. And to all the times I’ve let myself rot away in a freeze state instead of taking action and just doing the thing – whatever that thing is.


Having no confidence. Having fears of the world. Presuming the worst is always waiting around the corner - these are all the same fears and fucked up core beliefs that stole years of my life. They contributed to my agoraphobia. To my stagnancy in a toxic relationship. And to all the times I’ve let myself rot away in a freeze state instead of taking action

It’s the same monologue in my head, over and over again. It’s been applied to all sorts of situations, but it’s always the same at the core of it.


And of course, that shit goes all the way back to childhood nonsense. Being alternatively babied and completely left on my own. Watching all the people I knew act with malice and aggression. Feeling unsafe, in my own home and around strangers. Having older brothers who told me I was stupid, incapable, and weak.


After 20 years, it led to a pattern of creating obstacles, deciding I don’t have the power of decision or control, telling myself I’m “less” than other humans, and letting fear determine everything I did.


My outward-facing world has been so influenced by my inward-facing one. And I lose sight of the two on repeat.

Similar fear-based living, similar outcomes


Let me be clear, I don’t always feel this way. I go through periods of mental expansion and confident living when I don’t doubt that I can do anything. But… then I fall off the fucking wagon and get left in the dust again.


It seems like small things can trigger this change in perspective, autonomy, and realistic thinking.


Like, being back in my childhood home, this time. I think my mom’s treatment of me as a kiddo and personal set of neuroses really have contributed to my own ramped up fear-responses. An unfamiliar environment isn’t helping – and that was also the case in my two prior examples; both living in CU and in Atlanta, I felt out of my element, untethered, and unwanted. Plus, meeting a lot of resistance in projects and personal issues in my own life that make me question my abilities and worth.


No, these are not directly related to the fear-based example I described. But they kick start a defeatist dialog in this silly traumatized brain-box. And next thing I know, without my permission, with extreme subtlety, I’m back in the same “rightfully imprisoned” place. Stagnant, unhappy, and powerless.


No, these are not directly related to the fear-based example I described. But they kick start a defeatist dialog in this silly traumatized brain-box. And next thing I know, without my permission, with extreme subtlety, I’m back in the same “rightfully imprisoned” place. Stagnant, unhappy, and powerless.

It’s just a subtle nudge over the edge of confidence cliff that leaves me convinced I’m not of able body, mind, or consciousness. And my mental health plummets with my self-assuredness and belief in autonomy.


The result? Or maybe the cause? In all of these examples, my head was a fucking mess, from the moment I woke up until… well… the moment I tried to sleep and laid awake for hours.


My anxiety was out of control. I couldn’t settle down and make sense of my world, let alone find inner strength. I just worked, all day, everyday, as a form of pushing my discomfort away and maintaining a false sense of control. I escaped into comforts. I filled the void of activity and fulfillment with distractions.


Guess what I’ve been doing for this entire trip to my mom’s? Waking up, sitting at my computer, and rapidly working my ass off for 13-14 hours. Ignoring everyone I know. Hiding from the world by diving into my computer screen. Ending the night with snacks OR controlling my physical condition with starvation. Same old, same old avoidance-based behaviors.


It’s just a subtle nudge over the edge of confidence cliff that leaves me convinced I’m not of able body, mind, or consciousness. And my mental health plummets with my self-assuredness and belief in autonomy.

In short, I’ve been letting my anxiety run away and losing track of days because my head has been caught in a nervous spiral.


Why? Because I haven’t been getting my meditative, alone time. I haven’t been building my confidence or exploring my ability to control my existence. Because I’ve been too fucking scared to walk out the front door and get the experience I need to keep my shit in order.


The snake eats his own tail. Too scared to do the thing that I need to do to feel less scared. Just like before, when I was too nervous to leave the house and drive... and the remedy was leaving the house and driving.


It’s an endless cycle. Until… I break it. Until I take that random turn and wander down a new road, confident that I’ll figure out where I’m going as I make my moves.


It’s an endless cycle. Until… I break it. Until I take that random turn and wander down a new road, confident that I’ll figure out where I’m going as I make my moves.

Woah, life metaphor. Cool.


For a completely unplanned post… That worked out.



Wrap it


I’m going to get off the goddamn computer now, instead of escaping into it all day. Or, at least, I'm going to work on something new that scares the shit out of me.


It’s the only way to prove to myself that I can do it, I got this, I’ll figure it out as I go, and I deserve for everything to be okay – just like everyone else.


Boom. Thanks, morning walk. I owe you one epiphany.


Time to go watch my mom dress up a mini horse like a unicorn for money. Jesus Christ, this is real life. How can I be scared living here?




Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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