This month’s National Novel Writing Month (NaBloPoMo) theme is ‘risk.’ All of the prompts are focused upon the concept of taking risks, accepting that even a slight chance of success is worth risking failure.
I enjoy NaBloPoMo and have been participating by at least writing one blog post per day since last November. This month’s theme struck a little close to home, which has inspired me to write this post.
I have an anxiety disorder. It’s hard to explain what that is like, though those who have anxiety know exactly how anxiety relates to taking risks. With anxiety, everything is a risk. A heart-pounding, life-threatening, fight-or-flight risk. For many, that level of panic sets in if, for example, they find that they have to make a presentation. Or go to the dentist for a root canal. That level of terror is me every day! Making a phone call can be terrifying. Heck, some days, getting out the door to go to work is a horrific battle.
But I do all these things. I have to. You know that you can’t get very far in life if you can’t make a simple phone call. So I fight, and make the calls anyway. I take the risk that I will open my mouth and nothing but embarrassing noises will come out, because in making the call, I will have accomplished something and taken a step toward success. And in facing my anxiety every day, and risking failure, I have made it far enough that most people who know me personally are completely astounded to find out that I have potentially crippling anxiety.
There are things in modern technology that have helped me overcome some obstacles. E-mail and the Internet for example are really very helpful. E-mail allows me to carefully formulate what I want to say, so as to insure that farting noises aren’t what the recipient hears. I can use the Internet to research things carefully, so that I know where I’m going and what, exactly, I have to do, so as to insure that I don’t have to ask any questions. (My first doctor, from whom I got my diagnosis, was absolutely astounded to hear that I had found floor plans of the entire hospital where his office was, so that I could walk directly to his office without asking directions or reading signs.)
I’ve been through a lot of therapy, wherein I’ve exposed myself to the most anxiety-provoking situations we could think of. I had to call a series of restaurants and make reservations, then call them all back and cancel those reservations. Oh, it was horrible! I had standing instructions to order take-out once a week and pick it up, because it forced me to use the phone. You chuckle. I died, but I did it.
One thing that did really impress my doctor was that I could walk into a classroom in front of 100+ students and deliver a lecture without passing out. How could I do that and also have social anxiety? Well, the first time I ever gave a talk in front of a class, I did very nearly pass out. But I wanted to be able to give talks. I wanted to be the center of attention. So I just kept doing it, until I didn’t feel sick. Now I can walk into a classroom and deliver an off-the-cuff lecture, no problem. Don’t be fooled though. When I open the classroom door, I still feel momentarily as if someone has punched me in the chest. The difference is that now, I know it’ll be all right.
Two things I’ve discovered since getting my diagnosis. 1) I am actually a extrovert. An extrovert with such bad anxiety that I thought I was an introvert. 2) If I want something bad enough, I’ll fight past the anxiety and get it.
Which brings us to swordplay.
I was always interested in swordplay. I’ve written about this before. What you might not realize is that to make the first step, attending the swordplay symposium at the Higgins Armory Museum, was absolutely HUGE for me. Just to go and be there. I was frozen, terrified, speechless, most of the time. I asked a few questions and got some advice on how to find some local sword instruction, but none of them really paid off. So then I had to do a second HUGE thing. I asked around, on Twitter mostly. I starting following swordsmen and various sword academies, then finally, someone had a useful suggestion. (Thanks John!) Then another HUGE thing: I had to actually contact my (now) instructor and arrange to go visit. But, wow!, I did it!
I still get that fist in the chest feeling every time I go for a lesson. I doubt I can handle the rigors. I’m worried I’ll be too early, or too late. I’ll do something wrong. I have a million excuses to not go, all finding their origins in my anxiety. But I have as many reasons to just plow forward, too. I know the rewards completely outweigh the initial terror. I will keep plunging ahead. I won’t accept my excuses, unless I can validate them through a third party. (That third party is usually Twitter or Facebook. My friends and followers won’t let me get away with anything!)
Where does this leave me? I know that taking risks, despite my anxiety, is the thing that has helped me move toward where I really want to be. I’ve seen the results of people allowing anxiety to win. It’s horrific. I can’t let that happen. Studying the western martial arts helps me in two important ways. 1) It forces me to work outside my comfort zone, which is about the best thing I can do to combat anxiety. 2) The mental aspects of the western martial arts in themselves benefit anyone who ever faces a risky situation.
I mean, you’ve got a sword and so does the other guy. It’s inherently risky, but there’s no running away. You gotta face it, or you’re dead.
Anxiety in day-to-day life is the same. You’ve got to face it, or you’re dead. Maybe not physically dead, but emotionally and socially, and in every other way that makes life worth living. If you can’t face your fears, then you’re done.
It’s an every-day battle. And I intend to win.